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Monthly Archives: July 2016

The story so far. A new player emerged this past week, Labour’s National Executive Committee, which eventually failed to find a way to keep Corbyn off the ballot. However, if this was good news, the NEC also voted under AOB – and after enough people to give Corbyn a majority had departed – to exclude new members from the electorate. Given that this move wasn’t scheduled as part of the meeting’s agenda, but tacked on as an afterthought, it might seem a little naughty, at least. Legal action is pending. Subsequently the NEC also issued a decree – what else can we call it? – banning local party meetings that might, inconveniently, pass motions in favour of Corbyn or, just as inconveniently, add to the number of CLPs voting to no-confidence sitting MPs. For the latter decision, the pretext was the threat of violence, although there have been conflicting reports of those meetings where violence and/or intimidation are alleged to have taken place. As with the brick through the window at Eagle’s Wallasey office, one always has to ask who benefits from violence/intimidation, or even from just talking about it. Anyway, elections to the NEC are currently taking place, so the balance of power might shift again. Needless to say, Corbyn continues to be ‘unelectable’ even though opinion polls – which might or might not be reliable – show Labour ahead of the government, at worst just behind. Either way, this is far better than might have been expected, given the behaviour of the PLP; but nothing Corbyn does will ever be adequate to satisfy his enemies.

1

Durkheim famously divided the world into the sacred and the profane, ‘two worlds between which there is nothing in common’.[1] He was talking about the importance of religion in society but sociologists since then have used the concept of civil religions to address the way in which secular (or secularising) societies are organised similarly. One might also consider the relationship between the sacred and the imagined community, given that the sacred refers to the group rather than the individual;[2] and one might use these ideas to think about recent events, the so-called ‘coronation’ of a new prime minister (the attendant rituals a fine illustration of civil religion), as well as the ongoing conflict between Labour establishment and the broader membership. Durkheim went on: ‘The forces which play in one are not simply those which are met with in the other, but a little stronger; they are of a different sort.’ That is, a distinction between what is considered legitimate and what can be dismissed as illegitimate.[3] In Foucaultian terms, we can see how what can be said is constructed, while any other statements are rendered unsayable: leaving aside the question of whether or not the media will report what you say, you can say the words, but the prevailing discourse will refuse to ‘hear’ them, that is, accept the legitimacy of what you have said.

For example, to say that talk of violence and intimidation fits the (‘Trot entryists’) narrative promoted by Labour’s right-wing PLP, does not go far enough. That no one could deny the intimidation of Corbyn himself, or the abusive language used on social media, seems to be less important than the idea that some intimidation is deemed to be sacred and some profane; some behaviour/tactics/statements are instantly legitimate and cannot, therefore, be seen as intimidation, whereas the same or similar behaviour/tactics/statements are unacceptable when associated with others. As I watch a test match on television I see cricket fans allowed to drink alcohol openly; while football fans – more easily associated with mob violence – cannot do so.

It has been suggested that some MPs had to be, for want of a better way of putting it, persuaded to join the anti‑Corbyn movement and contribute to the vote of no confidence. This observation, however, is rendered invisible, of no account; if such a point is raised, it can be easily denied when those issuing the denial (for example, MPs) are said to represent the group in question. For the sacred is beyond criticism. Further, if nothing else, MPs and not-journalists expressing themselves on social media have been guilty of language that might best be avoided; nothing, of course, happens precisely because only MPs and not-journalists would be able to denounce such language as a form of intimidation. However John McDonnell’s description of the plotters as ‘fucking useless’ – clearly a joke if to the point, given the failure to defeat Corbyn – has to be condemned (for the record, it might be argued that McDonnell should have learned by now that different rules are going to be applied to anything he says or does; Ken Livingstone seemed to admit as much when he said he regretted his comments on Hitler and Zionism because they gave his enemies ammunition).

2

If Durkheim, writing at the turn of the twentieth century, often seemed to be describing a society that no longer existed, one can, nonetheless, apply his observations today. This is the case with religion, as with, for example, his account of the totem, ‘the sign by which each clan distinguishes itself from the others, the visible mark of its personality, a mark borne by everything which is a part of the clan under any title whatsoever, men (sic), beasts or things’. This is how the imagined community comes into being and how conflict between PLP and membership can be read: one has only to understand that the clan with which the PLP wishes to identify is the political establishment, not the party as such … all of which brings up, first, this week’s so-called ‘handover of power’, and then what might be called the ‘handoff of power’.

The transition from one government to the next is fictional, certainly, a performance of continuity that commentators opted to find reassuring, all in the national interest; even if Cameron’s replacement by May will change nothing, a reactionary Conservative government continuing on its merry way as though nothing has happened. Astonishingly, some who might be expected to know better even suggested May’s speech could have been made by a Labour leader; they might have done better to ask what else she might, reasonably, have been expected to say (nothing remotely resembling the truth about what should be expected from ‘her’ government).

In the context of events in the Labour party, where a peaceful transition is assuredly not possible, media coverage found something comforting in the certainties or predictabilities of a ritual that included Cameron saying he had ‘advised’ the Queen to give May his job, then May saying the Queen had ‘asked’ her to form a government (whatever May and Windsor did talk about, May’s Spectator article from 2005 likely did not feature). Throughout, TV personalities pretending to be reporters gossiped outside 10 Downing Street as, behind them, ministers came and went, performing busyness for the cameras. That this piece of street theatre was quite opaque was, of course, intentional; television viewers should have been reminded of their distance from power (while events in the Labour party speak of nothing so much as a proximity to power). At the same time, not‑journalists take to social media and – when not abusing Corbyn and/or his supporters – demonstrate their capacity for clinging, limpet-like to sources who will probably never be named but are real nonetheless (crucially, I must be the first to tweet that X has been appointed or Y has been sacked).

And so to the Labour establishment’s internal manipulation of rules, the ease with which the party has demonstrated where organisational power lies. Cameron morphing into May should properly be taken as a reminder that, where power is concerned, nothing is likely to happen so effortlessly. It is a ritual to be performed for television. By way of contrast, banning members from voting is seen for what it is, an attempt to rig the ballot. Similarly, banning meetings is difficult to justify. Suddenly, there is a possibility that scare stories about intimidation and mob violence will start to lose any persuasive power they might have had to begin with.

These two stories – May’s ‘elevation’ and the Labour establishment’s disdain for democracy – illustrate the difference between ideological and repressive state apparatuses. Rather than simply reporting ‘what is going on’, of course, the media only ever construct what we understand of ‘politics’ and, therefore, play a key role in defining and reinforcing the distinction between sacred and profane. When struggle makes the sacred appear forced, not a ‘natural’ state of affairs, force and repression have to take over. For the media, what is comforting and predictable about politics – reduced as always to a Westminster-based soap opera – is their own continued role as players. The PLP leak anti-Corbyn stories and use the media to perform discontent; so MPs know full well the nature of the symbiotic relationship they enjoy with not-journalists. The hierarchy of credibility insists that Downing Street gossip has status; whereas what is said in a Momentum meeting does not. The transition to a May government is the performance of order, with ministers falling into line even when sacked; whereas the pro-Corbyn rally – when reported, which cannot be taken for granted, of course – is the performance of disorder. More attention is given to McDonnell’s ‘fucking useless’ joke than to any Corbyn speech about social inequality.

[1] In The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life – citations taken from Readings from Emile Durkheim, ed Kenneth Thompson, Routledge, 2004, 110ff.

[2] In his discussion of the EU referendum’s Leave vote, Peter Hallward references, to similar effect, Rousseau’s distinction between a ‘general will’ and a ‘will of all’. Reprinted in The Brexit Crisis: A Verso Report, Verso Books, 2016, 31-36.Available online.

[3] A new report from the LSE discusses the way media coverage, from the outset, delegitimised Corbyn’s status as Labour leader. See: Bart Cammaerts, Brooks DeCillia, João Magalhães and César Jimenez-Martínez, Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press: From watchdog to Attackdog. London School of Economics, 2016.

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The story so far. The Labour right wing’s answer to Eddie the Eagle (Campaign slogan: Britain loves a loser) has finally announced what she has repeatedly announced she was about to announce. Unfortunately the one enduring image of this much-anticipated media event will be of Eagle desperately begging assembled not-journalists to ask her a question; and she came across as the tacky game show host she will possibly become when her career as a politician ends. She subsequently appeared on Channel 4 News and failed to make much of an impression. On Sunday she had sneered at a journalist who dared ask a (you might suppose) reasonable question about her voting record. All in all, then, a disaster. You would think that people who put marketing ahead of substance would be able to do better than this, so we can only ask why her candidature has been so inept. It has been said that Eagle is a ‘stalking horse’. If Corbyn is on the ballot she will probably lose and no one else has had to take any flak. If Corbyn is kept off the ballot other candidates will appear out of the woodwork to announce their intention to save the party they love by destroying it. Either way it is difficult to see how anyone expects Eagle to be Labour’s next leader.

Eagle was sidelined, of course, by news that Theresa May was about to become Conservative leader and therefore prime minister. Cue arguments about the ‘unelected prime minister’ – as though any are ever elected – and even a sense of unfairness that party members had been denied a voice, as though it did matter who the Conservative leader-becoming-prime-minister might be. However, on this occasion it is worth going back to July 2005, when May wrote in The Spectator of ‘the view of the majority of Conservative MPs that they know best’, going on to despair that ‘they would deny everyone but MPs any substantive say whatsoever in the election of our next leader’. Having promoted the ‘powerful principle – one member one vote’ she continued:

What message does that send to voters? If we aren’t willing to listen to and trust our own membership in the election of our leader, then how can voters believe that we will listen to them when it comes to understanding their problems and finding the right solutions?

Later in this article she is critical of those MPs who ‘too often deride the views of party members on the basis that they are elderly, right-wing and out of touch’, a view that mirrors, of course, the perennial right-wing PLP dismissal of ‘young Trots’ who don’t understand proper politics as practised by the grown-ups at Westminster.

Reading this article one might accuse May of hypocrisy; or one might note the irony of its relevance to Labour’s current dispute. One might, I suppose, cite Angela Eagle’s capacity for making statements that will subsequently embarrass her. And one might think a little more carefully of the extent to which the Conservative and Labour parties do (and don’t) resemble each other. Perhaps the hatchet-job just done on Andrea Leadsom was inspired by a perceived need to avoid any risk of the membership electing her as Labour’s members had so foolishly elected Corbyn. More to the point is the way in which, historically, the Conservatives were forced to follow Labour party democracy in the election of party leader; and then moved to OMOV before Labour. In the 1960s elections were a form of modernisation as Conservatives had to finally start pretending they did believe in democracy; and then, in the 1990s, OMOV might have been seen as a sop to the party following the post-Thatcher decline. It might also have offered an opportunity to mock Labour, given Kinnock’s promotion of OMOV from the early-1980s, a move resisted by trade unions. Within each party MPs have jealously guarded privilege and a suspicion of members who might refuse to follow the script (the possibility that Leadsom might have become leader led to comparisons with the earlier election of Iain Duncan‑Smith). In 2005 May was practising populism because it seemed a good idea; in 2016 neither party’s parliamentary group seems inclined to patronise members by pretending to respect their views. In the final analysis the party must always be seen as hierarchical in nature with MPs enjoying a lofty superiority: note the media reports of a Labour crisis ‘at the top of the party’, emphasising the relationship between PLP and party leader at Westminster while downgrading the (supposedly democratic) relationship between MPs and party. Angela Eagle, for example, seems not to have the support of her CLP (people she has dismissed as extremists); but this in no way seems as important as the PLP’s refusal to support Corbyn.

The Conservative party has never been as dependent as Labour on members who will fund the party or provide ‘foot-soldiers’ – it has always enjoyed criticising Labour’s dependence on unions as special (sectional) interests while being able to gloss over its own dependence on the wealthy, not to mention businesses that are never regarded as sectional as unions. The Conservative party is better at being a cadre party, one that is not rooted in a permanent membership; while Labour has always been representative of the left‑wing mass parties that emerged in the late‑nineteenth century. It is this tradition of the party as a social movement that Corbyn’s leadership has tried to revive at a time when the received wisdom is that people – certainly young people – have no interest in party politics. In 2005 May briefly alluded to this kind of party, even if she didn’t intend to; and she highlighted the game politicians play, hoping to achieve a balance between patronising members and dismissing them as irrelevant and/or incompetent.

The story so far. We have been told, repeatedly, that Angela Eagle (or Owen Smith; he has an advantage over Eagle in that, as a mere Spad in 2003, he was unable to vote in favour of the Iraq war) is about to launch a leadership challenge that will blow Corbyn out of the water, just you watch me. Either or both of them have been about to do this for over a week, so one feels for the poor Guardian desperately in need of an update for its story. As a headline, Stuck on the Launch Pad doesn’t quite cut it. Neil Kinnock has made an appearance, nobly (OK, not a very good pun) taking time off from counting his money to allow Labour MPs to give him a standing ovation. Like the Guardian, they have had a hard time of it; they needed cheering; and Kinnock was just the man to tell them they’re alright, alright! The media have told us constantly that Corbyn is beleaguered, barricaded in his office, hiding from his enemies. Well, if you need Kinnock to boost morale, as though he were a third-rate pop singer (one, moreover, who always did bellow as a substitute for hitting the high notes) entertaining troops at the front, it could just be the wannabe rebels who are isolated, not least from those CLPs who would like them to come over here, please, and have a quiet word.

1

My last post ended with deference as a key feature of any political system based on representation; and deference is inseparable from the paternalism that allows any social leader to experience – not merely exclaim – astonishment at any challenge to their authority. The dominant (functionalist) paradigm would insist that the challenge to authority – any kind of protest or rebellion, anything that might count as deviant behaviour – must no more than test the value consensus in order to reinforce it. The logic of this argument applies to what has already been said about the nature of debate in Parliament, or the role of MP as technician. Hence it is possible to patronise those who do break the rules by insisting they don’t know any better; but they must, all the same, acknowledge the error of their ways. There is no better example of this process than the working-class affront to middle-class norms, a short-term affront that will eventually succumb to the needs of the national interest.

2

And so it is the need for deference that allows representatives – presently, Labour MPs – to distance themselves from those they supposedly represent. Historically, voting is a fairly recent development as a feature of modern societies, while deference, essential to any kind of hierarchical society, continues to thrive: respectively, these features can be taken as examples of what Raymond Williams called emergent and residual cultures. For example, in Britain 200 years ago, in the years leading up to the Great Reform Act, the new bourgeoisie had to justify its own refusal to show the aristocracy deference, while at the same time insisting the working class did ‘know its place’. Elections are designed to distance people‑as‑voters from the exercise of power; to vote is to surrender agency, and Parliament protects its occupants from those they might, otherwise, fear. MPs tell everyone else they have been elected to exercise judgement based on a superior capacity to reason; while extra‑Parliamentary action is marked by unreason. The media recycle fears of hysterical wide‑eyed Trots shouting down speakers to prevent proper debate – which, of course, never happens in either Parliament or the media.

Parliament protects MPs from society. This might mean privilege, so an MP can say something without fear of reprisal (and that might or might not be an important freedom). For Labour MPs it might also mean unease, a reminder of where they once belonged. Consider those working-class MPs (current examples include Johnson, Phillips, Khan) who must remind people of their working-class origins as a badge of authenticity required when, awkwardly, they have moved on. For most Conservative MPs Parliament has always provided continuity from their social backgrounds; it has been just one part of the elaborate network that makes up social capital. Historically, for Labour MPs, election and eventually, the promise of a seat in the Lords, or a directorship, must function as a form of social mobility, evidence of one’s personal worth and therefore meritocracy. Perhaps it needs pointing out that this is about Labour the institution and its relationship to the establishment, so it matters little if the MP in question comes from an elevated social background. Nonetheless, consider those MPs – and union leaders – who take their working‑class accents into the Lords as evidence that sensible, well‑meaning people will integrate, just as any sensible, well-meaning immigrant will seek to join the host community, all the while allowing that host to flaunt a progressive outlook as the value consensus, tested, survives modification. Tebbit’s cricket test applies to Labour MPs as much as to Pakistani cricket fans (as Tebbitt himself, and Thatcher among others on the Conservative side, well understood).

It is likely that Conservatives never confuse ‘office’ with ‘power’; their social capital, after all, provides them with enough information about the political power found outside Parliament (and some might even exercise power there). Their function, they are well aware, is simply to keep Labour out of office, to avoid any embarrassing reforms difficult to reverse (admittedly less likely after 1997). This is why ideology must play a lesser role in the Conservative party. Labour MPs, on the other hand, probably have to learn that simple fact; they might have known it all along, but they still have to learn it as MPs negotiating their way through Parliament.

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Usually, such learning is relatively straightforward because deference is inseparable from paternalism, a default perspective for most men (women, of course, will be invited to adopt this masculinist outlook when they become MPs; for integration is not just class‑based).

Depending on the party, paternalism might take various forms; and one should not infer no difference whatsoever between Conservative and Labour parties with their respective histories (the Conservative party linked to a hierarchical society it wishes to preserve, Labour based on collective strength and a desire to change something for the better, make its mark somehow); but the two parties, in Parliament, do share an unwillingness to quite believe people ‘out there’ can ever be trustworthy. Occasionally the rhetoric of Liberal Democrats or UKIP will promise the empowerment of ‘ordinary people’; but this empowerment is reduced to the protest vote (Farage, for one, was unable to avoid speaking of the EU referendum vote in that way; voters will now take pride in having given the establishment ‘a bloody nose’). This being the case, protest can be easily contained since those protesting still do nothing more than vote and therefore surrender the right to protest – in a by‑election, say, when mid-term governments are supposed to suffer (but not really, only in the short term); or … in a referendum.

It was heard, many times, that most people had not been given the right to vote on EU membership, given that the last referendum was held over 40 years ago; yet the vote to leave (carried on a small majority, with under-18s and EU citizens denied a vote) is exceptional in that, as a protest vote, it has had unlikely consequences, whether or not Article 50 eventually comes into play. It would appear, then, that people‑as-voters have (stupidly) confused the referendum with a mere by-election. If the likes of Liberal Democrats and UKIP enjoy the luxury of protest based on some kind of popular will, they do so solely because the electoral system, one they claim to abhor, allows it; they can pose as the people’s champions and – certainly in the case of Liberal Democrats – weep tears of frustration at social injustices they would correct if only. In all likelihood these parties would quickly retreat from such populism if electoral reform threatened to give it greater weight, just as Kinnock, as Labour leader in the 1980s, would have been terrified to find, following a victory for the miners, he was now expected to deliver what working-class people demanded. For this reason alone it is naïve to claim that proportional representation, say, would automatically lead to a more democratic system of government. The Leave victory is what happens when people are allowed to vote; no good can come of it, and so it must be avoided as much as possible. (It might also help explain why Johnson and Farage wasted no time in abdicating responsibility for the aftermath of the referendum.)

4

One of the criticisms of Corbyn has been that he will turn Labour into no more than a party of protest: by implication, no better than Liberal Democrats or UKIP. This could mean ‘pointless irrelevance’, although many of the PLP rebels seem happy to countenance this eventuality if it, somehow, were to preserve their personal status. It could mean ‘not serious’, as with the by-election protest vote, acceptable because it will not have significant consequences. Or it could mean a party that has recalibrated the relationship between PLP and extra-parliamentary membership; and so the stand-off between Corbyn and PLP is one between different versions of representation.

If, then, Labour is in the middle of an ‘existential crisis’, it is one related to the dominant fiction of representative democracy; can the party now, like Doctor Who or James Bond, regenerate and, once and for all, lose its working-class identity? One view of social change, based on the inevitability of progress through evolution, suggests that, once institutions or ideas have served the purpose that made them necessary in the first place, they will simply fade away: at different times this argument has been used to acclaim the obsolescence of religion or trade unions, say, or feminism. Blair insisted that Clause 4 no longer served a purpose; it might have done, once upon a time, but not now. Similarly, ‘the decline of Labour’s heartlands’ – a euphemism for those working-class communities shafted by both Conservative and labour governments, ignored by Labour MPs speaking now of electability – is invoked to explain that ‘we’ might no longer have any need for Labour, not unless it can reinvent itself as another, nicer, neoliberalism: New Labour 2.0. Social democracy might have been a good idea in the middle of the twentieth century; it produced the welfare state and the NHS. But neoliberalism (like social democracy, a form of functionalism) insists welfare state and NHS are no longer fit for purpose; and Labour, since the 1980s, has bought into the quest for modernisation. Perhaps modernisation now means something never tried before. And perhaps I need to go to sleep and enjoy sweet dreams, while allowing the grown-ups to get on with the hard business of thinking.

The story so far. We are told that a vote to leave the EU – and this is the only time I shall use the odious term ‘Brexit’ – should not have happened. It transpires – who’d have thought it? – that neither Remain nor Leave had a coherent plan for what might happen next, which suggests, at the very least, they were taken by surprise. The people did not want what they were supposed to want. As Brecht said, let’s dissolve the people and elect another one … while Gove said, Gosh, I suppose I’d better get up. Leave voters, we are told, were conned by a pack of lies, which means (a) they are stupid and (b) the referendum vote can be safely ignored (many have said, apparently, although it is increasingly difficult to believe anything in the mainstream media, they made a mistake, can we go back and start over; it’s all a bad dream). Meanwhile, the right‑wing PLP, having undermined Corbyn at every opportunity since he emerged as a serious leadership candidate a year ago, have blamed him for the result: there is no justification for this attack, of course, but who cares … and, at the time of writing, they are still trying to force him to resign, (a) to avoid the inconvenience of an election, in the process destroying – as they hope – the left in and outside the party; and (b) to stop him saying/doing anything when the Chilcot Report is published.

1

Labour’s current (‘existential’?) crisis is rooted in competing conceptions of ‘party’ or ‘membership’ or ‘electorate’, terms freely used as though the meaning is unproblematic. One useful way to understand the contradictions involved is to describe a dominant paradigm based on imagined communities; differences between parties are acceptable on the grounds that, in the final analysis, all pull in the same direction. Occupation of the so‑called ‘centre ground’ – whatever that is, wherever it might be found; it does, after all, have a tendency to move – confirms that political debate is necessarily based on some kind of consensus, a shared vision that requires only tweaking to bear fruit, all in ‘the national interest’; and such tweaking is what parliamentary debate (‘will the honourable member give way?’) and the role played, for example, by committees with cross-party membership is all about. When people talk about adversarial politics they overlook the possibility that the day-to-day business of Parliament is, in fact, based on the careful avoidance of ideology if that means differences cannot be reconciled, eventually, by sensible men and women, all working in the national interest.

This being so, democracy – which, after all, has something to do with ‘the people’ – must be performed to show that adversarial politics is not for real: this can be seen from parliamentary ritual and staged events such as the Queen’s Speech or Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph – here, party leaders act out a role that means they ‘put aside differences’ that cannot amount to much and present a united front. When Corbyn became Labour leader last year a lot of the early criticism was aimed at his inability or refusal to play the game and perform as expected. His appearance and behaviour, supposedly, made him an outsider; when he then went on speaking of ‘a different kind of politics’ – and, worse, seemed to mean it – he broke with so many different kinds of consensus. The idea that Labour should be a movement, for example, is one many people cannot understand; and simply describing Corbyn as ‘anti-establishment’, often grouping him with both Sanders and Trump, shows a lack of joined-up thinking within the so-called commentariat, for whom extra-parliamentary translates as ‘no good can come of it’.

2

Generally, what has been described above is a functionalist view of politics in society, very different from the idea that all in daily life is political. Here, differences are never so profound they cannot be resolved to maintain the all‑important value consensus. Further, this view also insists that the serious individual should attempt to integrate, another way of saying ‘become part of the establishment’. To refuse to do so is to be irresponsible. For example, before the Syria vote in December, Labour MPs were offered private briefings with government ministers. This was not just about passing on information, ‘sharing intelligence’ that, it would have been argued, could not be passed on openly, in public; more importantly, it was about using access to such briefings to seduce those MPs, all the while promoting the fiction that such discussions were above mere party politics.

There is always, then, pressure on MPs to gravitate towards, as they think, power and influence. To break now with the fiction of a value consensus, this is plainly how hegemony is maintained; or, put another way, how soft power is exercised, people encouraged to compromise because that is how they demonstrate how serious they are, how committed they are to the national interest. Cameron’s supposedly throwaway (not really; all is carefully scripted) gibes at PMQs serve a similar purpose. Corbyn is to be punished, for example, not because of his arguments (Cameron, after all, refuses, time and again, to answer questions), but because of his failure to conform. This is what ‘do your tie up’ meant; while last week’s ‘for God’s sake go!’ became a heartfelt expression of the national interest.

3

In the past, political consensus (in the 1950s, Butskellism; more recently, Blatcherism) rested on the assumption that serious politicians accepted that their role was that of technician, tweaking, polishing the small print. At the level of Parliament, party politics is not about ideology; it is about, to quote the master opportunist Blair, ‘what works’. One can easily see, then, how differences within parties become disruptive and threaten consensus, that is, parliamentary collaboration to realise a – never the – national interest. For representative democracy, to function adequately, requires those representatives to distance themselves from party and membership, imagined communities that are exposed as partial, incomplete. In appealing to the electorate (an imagined community made synonymous with the national interest, until the electorate does something stupid against the national interest) they – one might say almost magically – rise above sectional interests that, based on a limited perspective, cannot see the big picture, the greater good. This is why MPs, having used the party membership to get elected, will insist they have to represent the interests of all constituents. Is this a betrayal of the party and those hard-working foot-soldiers who put leaflets through doors? Of course not. And it follows there is something sinister about mandatory reselection, or even – God forbid! – deselection: this is when mob rule takes over and party becomes dysfunctional.

This version of party – top-down, prioritising the right of representatives to exercise judgement – fits into what Becker called a hierarchy of credibility. The ‘Westminster bubble’ separates those who have the right to speak from those who have been silenced (they must now speak, if at all, a foreign language). The mainstream media, of course, play a vital role; and the people who call themselves journalists also seek to integrate themselves by showing they can be trusted with access (denied if said not-journalist harms his or her career by being untrustworthy). Obviously the Labour right-wing (who showed they could be a responsible Opposition when they refused, after last year’s general election, to vote against the welfare bill) has greater credibility than the great unwashed, the many-headed monster that makes up Momentum.

The assumption that MPs know best, that politics is, and should always be, ‘the art of the possible’ and MPs should be allowed to get on with the hard work of negotiation is rooted in the very idea of representative democracy, one based on paternalism and requiring deference. If MPs are representatives or, put another way, representations of people-as-voters, their individual constituents are quickly rendered both invisible and silent, specifically, not-here. So people are always allowed to participate as voters on the understanding that they then withdraw; while paternalism insists they must avoid bothering the grown-ups whose job it is to do the hard work of thinking that only serious grown-ups are qualified to do. So voters‑as‑children do withdraw because they understand that the grown-ups have their best interests at heart. Go to bed, it’s our job to burn the midnight oil. Sweet dreams.