The Collapse of the Political Class

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Friday, April 11, 2014
Ben Harris-Quinney

In 2008 Peter Oborne wrote a seminal modern political work;"The Triumph of the Political Class", identifying and bemoaning the replacement of the British Establishment with a new, self-serving, cross-party, incestuous political class in Westminster. 

The book was a crystallisation of the frustrated yet suffocated reaction most people in Britain have had to the rise of third way populism that was ushered in during the Blair years, and has remained ever since. 

Like many entities that quickly fill a vacuum once occupied by strength and longevity, they often wilt and pale in comparison to their predecessor. The British Establishment that has been replaced by the modern political class is raught with catastrophic imperfections, but it was at least a structure that held honour, duty, patriotism and stewardship at its heart. The political class is of none of these tenets but a self-serving cancer that, in the space of a mere few decades, has rendered a great nation bankrupt, deeply divided, and crashed our democracy into the doldrums of homogeneity and stasis. 

And yet, the system that ruled Britain for a few decades, and was so incisively exposed by Oborne just 6 years ago, now seems to be crumbling as swiftly as it arrived.

Taking the legislation she oversaw, the manner in which she approached politics and her abuse of expenses, I cannot think of a single person who has been more damaging to the (real) Conservative Party than Maria Miller. Indeed Michael Portillo, a man who has experienced his fair share of crises, assessed the Miller episode, and specifically the post-facto handling of it,  to be the worst political shambles he had ever witnessed. Yet Miller is the archetypal third way moderniser and quota filler, supposedly the model solution to the "nasty party" problem, full of identity politics and smiles cynically designed to appeal to the mumsnet generation.

The lesson to all those who believe that spin, centrism and homogenisation is the answer to politics, is that the result of putting what is perceived to be the correct image before talent and authenticity is that you end up with an indendtikit Maria Miller, and far from being the antidote to the perception that the Conservative Party is out of touch, they become the proof. 

I don't believe that any significant part of the country wishes to see her, her ilk, or the theory behind her creation back in government "very soon". Upon the appointment of Miller's successor Sajid Javid, the Conservative MP Harriet Baldwin tweeted "Proud to be @Conservatives - the party of equal opportunity. First female PM and now the first Asian in Cabinet.". I fear it is a happy coincidence that Javid deserves to be in Cabinet not because he is "an Asian" or "a Muslim", but because of his stellar career and ability. I don't doubt that Baldwin meant well, but the perception that immediately follows the removal of Miller is that politicians are still trying to force the perception of a modern diverse party on a largely disinterested public, that are far more interested in character than they are in a "right on" overly stage managed image.

As the title of political class suggests, this is a trend to be found in all major Parliamentary parties, that's a crux of the problem, but it was clearly thought that the Conservative Party could be lead down the same path as (New) Labour, discarding its hard won and strongly held ideas for short term, calculated centrism. I am pleased and proud to say that it is large parts of the Conservative Party and the wider conservative movement that have fought back, and it feels at least to me, whether you look at "loongate", the NickVNigel debates or the Maria Miller episode, that the hands of the political classes are now slipping from the tiller. No one wanted the heir to Blair, they wanted an end to Blair, that was my and many other's biggest motivation for campaigning for and voting for the Conservative Party throughout the 2000's.

A poll Conservative Grassroots and Breitbart London carried out this week found that 60% of the public felt that Maria Miller was representative of a political class, across all parties, that needs to leave politics. There is, moreover, a clear dissatisfaction with the major political parties themselves, who are from a public perspective seemingly  roundly disliked, but present in their current form chiefly to due to the intransigence of the political system. UKIP has manifested as a reaction to the entrenched political classes, but as with trends of political populism throughout history, the danger of one form of short term populism following another is ever present, and since their co-option into the mainstream of British political discourse there is evidence that UKIP too are adapting to the norms of the metropolitan political classes. 

As Oborne theorised, much of why the political class exist, and why they have failed, relates to their stockade in London; a giant media, political and financial salon in which an internal conversation occurs that no one else in the country can understand or identify with. There can be no doubt that modern London is a truly great city, but as Tony Blair said in 2006, it can no longer be described as a British one. Boris Johnson similarly described London as an international metropolis: New York, Washington and LA all rolled into one. It is that over centralisation and disconnection, often from communities and civil society but a short train ride away, that has produced a generation of politicians that are of and for themselves, and no one else.

Maria Miller and the recent furore surrounding her is therefore a totem and symptom of the failure of third way politics and its political class. A figure with without great discernible talent, integrity or character, promoted to the very top of British politics to do the bidding of a narrow "progressive" metropolitan elite with little regard to the long term future and security of Britain, and much to their own careerism. 

The model will be heavily defended by the political classes and their cohorts, but it must fail, because the people of Britain are just not stupid or lazy enough for them to hold on to power. However they pivot and re-brand themselves, from consensus to conviction politicians and back, those that are of the modern political classes are done for, the grinning dis-ingenuity, hypocrisy and spin don't cut it any more, it's the only game they know, and the game is up.