Bird that Sings

May 14, 2010

The Little Kingdom—UK elections and what comes after

Filed under: Politics — admin @ 11:08 am

Gordon Brown–(with apologies to the Stranglers)

“Gordon Brown, they called him a clown
Just a prat, heart could not be found
But now that’s he’s gone, it won’t be long
‘Til you raise a song to old Gordon Brown”

Well they’ve done it now. A right coalition of the Posh it is, Eton, Oxbridge and all that: Tory-Liberal, where the metro sexual elite meet.

What is most striking to American eyes though is how the clueless Brits desperately sought renewal with American style televised political debates aimed at approximating the vacuity of our own.

When they announced the debates you knew they were heading for trouble and sure enough; there was Nick Clegg, a wide-eyed Nick if ever there was, emerging as the fresh young thing of the moment.

The debates made Clegg into a phenomenon, a cross between Barack Obama, Homer Simpson and the New Musical Express cover band of the week until after a meteoric two and half week rise he, not coincidentally, fell to earth like a burning piece of cosmic crap. Or so he would have if the Conservative Party had managed to come up with a majority on their own in the House of Commons. In the absence of that majority, Clegg’s Liberal Democrats were suddenly thrust into the breach of a hung Parliament.

Nick, who in a fairer world might have made an excellent British consular deputy in Trieste or Ljubljana, is now deputy Prime Minister.

Nick had a choice: to form a minority government and rule with Labour, or go whole hog and rule with the Tories. If he had chosen Labour, they would have bided their time and screwed him royally, but . . .he would have gotten a referendum on some form of Proportional representation–and a fair bit of Labour support for it–and ultimately gone down as the man who saved the Liberal-Democratic Party.

Instead Nick chose the Tories and now the odds are 50-50 on whether he actually lives long enough to regret it, or whether Cameron and he are carried out of Whitehall with their heads on pikes first, well before a new election can be called. Meanwhile all the issues dear to Nick, proportional representation, civil liberties, the environment, have been ransomed off to some future time, presumably after rising oceans subsume most of the Little Kingdom.

Yet as always in British politics, it didn’t have to be this way.

The roots of the British dilemma actually go back thirty-five years or so, to the early and mid Seventies.

It was in those long ago days, under the rule of Labour PM Harold Wilson that then Secretary of State for Industry, Tony Benn and his deputy, Eric Heffer first proposed a National Enterprise Board. It’s intent was to provide struggling British Industry with investment funding and give the government the ability to take failing firms into public ownership.

However Wilson, after agreeing to the plan in principle tabled it, moved Benn to the Energy Ministry and sacked Heffer. The Industrial plan as presented in Parliament was watered down beyond recognition, and then voted down.

The failure of Labour to reorganize British Industry when it had the chance heralded the end of manufacturing in the first manufacturing country on earth.

Today, even the famed British Auto Industry no longer exists.

The British economy is now over seventy percent service based, and much of that is dedicated to the Financial Services Industry, based in the “City of London.”

All through the end of Tory rule in the Eighties and into the New Labour, Blair years, when Finance looked to be endlessly expanding, this didn’t seem like a bad deal. Now, with Finance seemingly subject to an endless cycle of booms, bubbles and busts and maybe even, dare one whisper, the end of the Capitalist Road, the prospect doesn’t look as bright.

The Tory-Liberal alliance will not want to face that of course. They’re busy planning cuts to public and social services, in a fanciful attempt at alleviating the enormous British budget deficit, even as the gathering tsunami of Finance Apocalypse is sucking up the cold grey sea off the rocks at Lyme Regis.

Labour, now in opposition, seems equally clueless. Unfortunately, in post New Labour Britain, clueless is about as good as it gets, so until the coming Financial collapse sends Cameron and Clegg scurrying for their miserable lives, the best show in Britain will be the battle for leadership of the Labour Party.

Here, the cast of possible entrants alone makes the show worth the price of admission.

There is the redoubtable and fortuitously named Ed Balls, formerly a stalwart of New (capitalist) Labour, now a born again Socialist, or so he says. There is the left wing hope, Irish Jon Cruddas and finally, the two Milliband brothers: former Foreign Secretary and New Labour whiz kid, David Milliband and his younger brother, former Climate Change Secretary, Ed Milliband. David is an already announced candidate for the leadership post and Ed, a likely entry, setting up a Shakespearean “War of the Millibands.”

The Milliband boys are the sons of the late and revered British Marxist theoretician Adolphe “Ralph” Milliband, himself a working class Polish Jewish refugee who escaped from Belgium in 1940 just ahead of the Panzer Divisions.

They are said to have been a very close knit family which makes not only the War of the Millibands, but the politics of the two boys, even more interesting.

In the early Seventies–about the same time that Tony Benn and Eric Heffer were getting the run around–Ralph Milliband came to the reluctant conclusion that the British Labour Party, despite it’s professed Socialism, could not be trusted to stand up for the interests of the Working Class–let alone Socialism, because it was too tied to the political self interest of its Parliamentary members.

An obvious conclusion, but a truism nevertheless. Because of it, Milliband ultimately became a signatory of “Charter 88,” a movement for Parliamentary reform, proportional representation and the creation of a written Constitution that was initiated by Agit-Pop star Billy Bragg among others. Twenty two years later, it is the principals embedded in Charter 88 that Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats were championing and which, seen from this distance, seem worth championing.

Since the Little Kingdom keeps borrowing all the worst stuff from us, it seems reasonable to propose that they at least consider some of the best. This would mean abolishing the bloody House of Lords and replacing it with a 100 person Senate elected by–I dunno, proportional representation, to go with a written Constitution.

They should do this, but probably won’t and frankly in their current straits, it doesn’t matter much anyway. The progressive possibilities of the Labour leadership battle, and for what happens to a Labour Party cut adrift after almost twenty years of now discredited New Labour ideology is the thin strand of hope to which UK citizens might cling.

It’s not much, but then as Ralph Milliband taught us and Barack Obama keeps proving everyday, in electoral politics, Hope is just a four letter word.

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