Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Decline and Fall of Politics in Britain

The three major political parties in Britain are reeling from a public backlash against them. The symptom is a scandal over expense claims by elected members of parliament. These include claims for digging out a moat, refurbishing chandeliers and reimbursing mortgage payments that had never been made. It’s a mess, and will likely lead to a major upset in the June 4th local and European elections. It has already led to a cabinet resignation and its increasingly likely that the Speaker of the House will suffer a no confidence vote this coming week in Westminster. He will then have to resign. There will also be more cabinet resignations and a cabinet shuffle.

All of this is a symptom of a deeper issue – the growing inability of politicians to show leadership through integrity and their own ethical behaviour. All expenses claimed were “within the rules”. The problem is, the over generous rules were not the basis to guide behaviour. The disease here is the absence of integrity and ethical behaviour, whatever the rules, amongst politicians.

The people are angry. They have a chance to show this in just a few weeks when Britain elects its local councilors and members of the European Parliament. It is very likely that the beneficiaries of this anger will be three non mainstream parties - the British National Party (BNP), the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and the Green Party.

The BNP is a right wing organization. They dislike Jews. They dislike of international capitalism, the USA, gender equality, homosexuals and liberal democracy. They are in favour of massive reduction in immigration into the UK and of returning many who have settled in Britain back to their “own” countries. The leader of the BNP, Nick Griffin, has been very cunning in repositioning his party as a all-purpose anti-Establishment national front, rather than as a slightly less intellectual version of the Sturmabteilung. But don’t mistake the reality: this is the Oswald Mosley fascist party in a twenty first century guise. Griffin recently suggested that British born citizens with Asian parentage were not really British. Despite its racialist and protectionists views, the party has a core support amongst white working class voters and may benefit significantly from the backlash against the mainstream parties.

The UKIP, in contrast, has won political favour with some and has nine elected members in the European parliament, one elected members of the House of Commons and has secured, through defection, two members of the House of Lords. They are focused on getting Britain out of the EU – believing that the growing amount of regulation and law that emanates from Brussels which Britain has to follow is an affront to democracy. They experienced some problems in their troubled history. Their leader, Robert Kilroy-Silk, defected to form his own party - “ego the size of a planet”, as one observer said of Kilroy-Silk at the time. Some initial members were seen to have ties to former right wing organizations – they were removed. They will likely secure a significant number of new votes – enough to secure additional seats in the European parliament.

The Green Party stands for the things you would expect it to stand for – emissions reductions, no nuclear power, no new runways at Heathrow and so on. It is growing in popularity – it has 116 local councilors and two members of the European parliament. It has been gradually growing its vote and gives the impression of being ethical, imbued with integrity and focused on doing the “correct” thing. In the current climate, it should do very well in the coming election.

But none of these parties are significant enough to challenge the stranglehold on power of the Labour Party and Conservatives. The Labour Party have that look right now of a rabbit caught in the headlights of a truck, driven by a man with a long rifle. The Conservatives have dealt with the current politicel mess with more decisiveness and clarity, though it is conservative politicians who can claim the record for stupidity. We are witnessing a spectacle of politics – the final demise of Labour but not with a sense of victory for the Conservatives. The electors will, reluctantly, favour the Conservatives but send strong messages by voting for these three other parties.

It is sad spectacle to watch. Someone should advise the Queen to dissolve parliament and require her Prime Minister to go to the people. It is the first step to cleaning up politics.

1 comment:

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