2010 Election, Army, Blogging, Brendan O'Neill, Coup d'Etat, David Cameron, Electioneering, Gordon Brown, Guido Fawkes, Harold Wilson, Kyrgyzstan, Labour, Left Foot Forward, Liberal Conspiracy, Liberal Democrats, May Election, Military Coup, Nick Clegg, Opinion, Politics, Tony Blair, Tories
Tychy wishes that we literally had “snap elections” – that the electorate would awake one spring morning to unexpectedly discover that all the workplaces and schools – or as many as were feasibly possible – had been closed for the day, that the streets were decked with bunting, and that polling stations awaited invitingly. Britain on election day would have the same pleasantly-surprised holiday atmosphere that it does after a moderate snowfall; and just as psychoanalysts construct rapid-response word games in which their patients are supposed to blurt out their true feelings, “snap” voting may come to express a certain impromptu honesty. And the best thing about these “snap elections” would be that the electorate were not bombarded with “electioneering”: an uncertain practice in which the political class will treat the electorate with respect – as if they were a part of civic society – for four weeks only. The rest of the year, the political class largely consider themselves to be in a state of privacy, unobserved and oblivious to the world outside Westminster.
I occasionally address political questions on this website (although I try to avoid this as much as possible), and for the sake of clarity, I should really declare which political party has my backing throughout the forthcoming electoral squabbling, scaremongering, and shenanigans. I would like to be on the left, although I do not think that anybody should call themselves a leftist unless they are part of the politically organised working-class – a membership which these days is sadly more remote and inaccessible than that of the Bullingdon Club.
Political affiliation on the internet is today as much an aesthetic as a practical question. The left wing online presence – what Guido Fawkes refers to as the unpopular part of the blogosphere – has a long-established reputation for boorishness. The insufferably churchy, goody-two-shoes vein of websites such as Liberal Conspiracy and Left Foot Forward makes them virtually unreadable. We are constantly supposed to be scandalised if somebody-or-other has let slip some apparently racist or intolerant remark, which, we are told, has sent their façade of moderation crashing down to reveal their awful, if often rather implausible, inner evil. The musings of some Tory nonentity on whether Bed-and-Breakfast owners should be allowed to turn away gay couples had them salivating over at Liberal Conspiracy, whose over-eager analysis of such minutiae vaguely conveys an impression of net-curtains twitching and voices being lowered over tea at the vicarage. Two days ago, LFF ran with the headline “Cameron’s failure to wear cycle helmet ‘irresponsible’.” David Cameron was indicted of “irresponsibly choosing to look good for photo opportunities, regardless of the message this sends to Britain’s young cyclists.” The beast!
And this is the best that these websites have to offer. Their politics is a dreary conservatism which defends the status quo and offers suggestions for further welfare state tinkering. The right on the web is very much led by Guido Fawkes, an ambitious entrepreneur who aims to bounce a bit of the tabloids’ colour and liveliness into online political discourse. Unfortunately, other leading right-wing websites are not so hot: Iain Dale is pleasantly gossipy but he offers no interesting politics, whilst Conservative Home is almost as dull as Liberal Conspiracy. Whether it is Melanie Phillips or David Osler, Richard Littlejohn or Brendan O’Neill, the most talented polemicists tend to be disaffected leftists, or those exasperated with the liberal left. The state is too big, it subsidises too much of the capitalism which the rolling-back-the-state brigade advance as its natural alternative, and progressive politics in 2010 surely boils down to just bashing the government.
But this makes little headway against the view that a spoiled ballot paper is one with an x on it. Our hopeless array of political parties now suggest a theatrical performance in which the actors have forgotten their lines and which characters they are supposed to be. David Cameron today tormented Guardian readers by spelling out all the ways in which he was less “reactionary” and “illiberal” than the supposedly more left-wing Labour party, but in truth one could imagine any leading politician getting on quite comfortably in any of the three main political parties. Cameron himself could conceivably pass as a junior Labour cabinet minister, possibly for transport or DEFRA. Just as Elvis impersonators never resemble Elvis – and all the more so when several of them are lined up together – the party leaders deliver three unconvincing and unalike interpretations of Tony Blair, with Gordon Brown recently beginning to coerce his blank ghost of a Scottish accent into a grim impression of Blair’s affected estuary English.
In recent essays on Spiked, Brendan O’Neill and Mick Hume suggested that the political class are now so remote and alienated from the electorate that British politics has effectively become a tabula rasa, with outsiders potentially capable of imprinting something new on to the featureless, empty government, curiously unencumbered (despite the government’s authoritarianism) by the “big problems with the powerful old politics.” Yet O’Neill’s demand that we “rattle this oligarchy, shake it up, make it take us seriously” is disappointingly inconclusive. The political class seems to have insulated itself against serious change by virtue of its sameness. Like uneasy sheep huddling together, the politicians have conformed to become virtually indistinguishable, and the fact that one politician looks like any other prevents the identification of easy prey, despite all their bleating and scaremongering about which sheep has the most extreme views on gay couples in B&Bs.
As regards allegiance in the forthcoming election, Tychy firmly believes that our democracy is now so abject that the country requires some sort of intervention by the military. In the 1960s and 70s, a paranoid Harold Wilson believed that the security services were planning to overthrow him, and some subsequently alleged that they had wished to install a government of national unity led by Lord Mountbatten. A more relevant precedent may be found in recent military interventions abroad. In 2002, Paddy Ashdown was appointed as an unelected Viceroy of Bosnia, ruling the country as EU High Representative and as part of a regime of what the European Stability Initiative has itself termed “benevolent despots.” Surely Paddy’s wisdom and energy could be now applied to the task of running Britain?
Paddy is a fine chap and very public-spirited, and perhaps he could be relied upon to relinquish power when Britain had once again begun to resemble a democracy. Some old-fashioned monarchists would like to see the Queen running the country, although I think that she is far too clever, and that she would take the opportunity to smother rather than nurse Britain’s sickly democratic institutions. The foremost attraction of a military seizure of power is that the high command seem to be conservative and unimaginative men with modest ambitions. Unlike the New Labour government, they would probably not seek to win cultural battles (such as overcoming tobacco consumption, mass alcoholism, community incohesion, and nihilism amongst the young) by legislative means. Most likely, troops would only be deployed to keep trains and airports running. Indeed, martial law may lead to a golden age of civil liberties.
A danger of this approach is that the British public may conclude that military rule is a lot more straightforward and efficient than parliamentary democracy, but the sheer shock of tanks outside 10 Downing Street and Gordon Brown being executed by firing squad may jolt our democracy awake. It may come up with some decent political parties and politicians in response. Over the last decade, coups d’etat have lead to resurgences of civic life in Nepal, Thailand, and most recently in Kyrgyzstan, and in the forthcoming British election, progressive activists should demand and support a military seizure of power for the general good of the country.