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A global 'twilight of the elites'

The spectacle of former Cabinet ministers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon peddling their services to a fictional US company for rates of between £3,000 and £5,000 per day has brought Parliament into even greater disrepute – if that is indeed possible.

Last year’s expenses’ scandal revealed that this unlimited greed in the corridors of power is not confined to a few individuals. In the wake of the Channel 4 exposé of the former Blairite ministers, a BBC investigation found that 20 MPs had failed to declare free overseas trips on more than 400 occasions. Andrew Dismore, who is actually on the committee that is supposed to oversee the behaviour of MPs, breached the rules no fewer than 90 times.

But looking at the global picture, Britain’s parliament is not unique when it comes to evidence of abuse of power and trust. The crisis in the Catholic church has forced even God’s Rottweiler, Pope Benedict XVI, to apologise for priests who sexually abused children in Ireland.

One experienced Vatican watcher comments that “during four decades of reporting from the Vatican, I have never seen a graver crisis affecting the very credibility of the leadership of the world's longest surviving international organisation, the Roman Catholic Church”.

And, in the United States, Nation editor Christopher Hayes, writing in Time magazine, uses the phrase “twilight of the elites” in his depiction of the corruption and incompetence of “nearly every pillar institution in American society whether it’s General Motors, Congress, Wall Street, Major League Baseball, the Catholic Church or the mainstream media”.

In what he calls “the implosion of nearly all sources of American authority”, trust in Congress has dropped to only 12% of people expressing confidence in it in the last Gallup poll. Naturally Hayes does not describe this failure as a crisis of the capitalist system. Instead he blames the elites themselves – “the people who run the institutions, the bright and industrious minds who occupy the commanding heights of our meritocratic order”.

But in reality, a widespread feeling of malaise and distrust has become a truly international phenomenon in response to what is being revealed as the internal corrosion of the capitalist system and its institutions.

The Conservative party is now moving in to seize the ground opened up by New Labour’s promotion of bleak corporate power with talk of local democracy, parent-run schools and community-run local shops. On Saturday we had nothing less than the sight of former Thatcherite Michael Portillo’s television programme called “power to the people”, where he asked how politics could “engage” with local people.

Thus New Labour’s authoritarian state has opened the door for equally reactionary populists of the Right. They do this under the cover of encouraging “people’s power”. Naturally, the Tories’ strategies will lead to nothing of the kind, but they reveal yet again the hollowing out and implosion of the political system.

A hung parliament and possible national government could see authoritarians of the far right seizing their chance, posing as cleaners-up of corruption. Something along these lines facilitated Berlusconi’s rise to power in Italy.

It would be a grave mistake to underestimate the political fall-out of this widespread awareness – on a multitude of levels – that the existing state institutions are corrupt and unfit for purpose.

The notion that we should prop up this collapsing structure by casting a vote for existing parties at the general election is thus revealed not as an exercise in democracy but a futile effort to preserve the status quo at any expense. The crisis of the institutions and their leaders opens up an unprecedented opportunity to advance new and truly democratic alternatives.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
23 March 2010

Your Say

David responds:

Even as I concede and caution that we each view reality from within the bubble of our own containment, Robbie grabs the palette-knife of prejudice to carve strange effigies into a pains-taken watercolour.

1. He takes literally the hyperbole of my dismissal of any possibility of imminent revolution and emotionally piqued, fails to acknowledge that our privacies are immediately and critically under menace – and by Labour alone. There is a terrible complacency in conflating the long-term potentials within all Parties when we are in clear and present danger from the N.I.R. and The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have sworn to abolish it.

2. I know little of Stalin and speak from the platform of good sense not political history. Perhaps the mention of tanks threw him to mis-association, just a euphemism for the entrenchment of Labour’s menacing march towards a surveillance state – then his flight of imagination turned Hawk to my Dove, for the notion of a causal development from the teachings of Marx to the particular tyranny of Stalin is not one I have the knowledge to conceive.

3. Orwell provided a detailed and prophetic view of a terrifying dystopia where technology gifted ultimate control to those (any) jungle-hierarchies where power was ever the vine for unfettered ambition to sweep through our lives upon.

Prosaically then, acknowledging the potentials of too lavish a palette to confuse even a keen eye. What I sought to argue is that what AWTW would sell as a dignified protest by way of the rejection of suffrage, is at this juncture the hapless squandering of an acute opportunity to limit the likelihood that Labour will retain power. Positing some Marxist nirvana, while motivating (to me!) is far-flung and a dangerous intoxication when Labour’s scheme is a foul thing of the night already scratching at your window, tirelessly, dusk by dusk so that you let it in. There is ‘grim work to be done’ and for all the fine industry of AWTW of which I am a declared admirer, it is my belief that in this matter you undermine your purpose.

Again - The melodies of Marx (for those superlative insights are as flutes in the forest for their potential to effect meaningful change in good time) Orwell’s mighty oration (For your own good, Labour must watch you)

TODAY, the wish and the warrant.

Robbie says:

Disguised in David's most eloquent poetry-prose are a number of misconceptions:

1) that A World to Win thinks there is a possibility of revolution as an outcome of the election - we are saying we must prepare for it as removing capitalism is the only viable answer to the crises of finance, environment, jobs, housing... AND the state's (and this will happen under Labour/Conservative/Liberal) preparations to control and subjucate us
2) that Marx(ism) was responsible for Stalinism - this is not only unfair and ludicrous, but the origins and trajectory of Stalinism are well documented on this website - you just have to type "stalinism" in our Search box to retrieve results that will keep you reading for many an hour
3) that Orwell provides either an honest or non-simplistic explanation of Stalinism

David says:

Bravo - and yet, to vote!

We are blessed, any who retain the gift of flight to where imagination’s tales are writ - and the Marxist Ideal is a glorious meadowland over which to soar. But Orwell too had vision, bequeath of his command of heights, those aerial domains beyond the reach of present-Order’s shade and grey-entrapment of the mind.

How blessed we are today from where, for all those who will see (and none are still, so blind as who will not!), life’s dreams and dangers are a story-board upon horizon’s every view. But Comfort will insist we lull too easily to favourite thoughts and even as we challenge those whose mental mould appears demeaned, so the bubble of containment each we own, with sure embrace defends our own realities.

One of three things will happen at this next election, with absolute certainty – Labour or The Conservatives will be elected or one will hold just short of a majority. There will be no revolution and those elevated arguments, like paper-planes of fancy gliding to inevitable rest, will hit the gritty floor of hard reality.

Labour have looked us in the eye, repeating with the tic and menace only madness knows, “For your own good, you must be watched”. Fly high, poets and you ‘wishers’ of the world, but know, upon your surfeit is the settling back to earth where Marx is just the name you give to hopefulness - and Orwell’s tanks of terror wait upon the streets to use your trust for grip, that you will weave nostalgia’s handkerchiefs alone and on, for comfort.

The melodies of Marx. Orwell’s mighty oration. Today, the wish and the warrant – and your petty vote, the wee dagger of democracy is all you have to wield, and failing in this hour, may lose.

Beware at once the skies have eyes – and nears, when walls have ears.

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