Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to corner Theresa May on Murdoch’s Sky takeover proposition makes me despair for competence of opposition in the country of my birth.
The House of Commons is a rum sort of place. If you’ve never been there while the circus is performing, I’ll try and describe it for you.
The last time I was there in the public gallery was Bonfire Night 2009. Two top bloggers at the time – Anna Raccoon and Old Holborn – had invited me along to a sort of quiet demo organised by Guido Fawkes, before he struck it rich and buggered off to Ireland, there to engage with the Establishment from a safe distance.
Once you’ve been through the Westminster Palace security (infinitely more dehumanising than Checkpoint Charlie, which was a breeze by comparison) the odd thing is that you’re sort of free to roam almost without restriction. Having been in the pub since Midday, Anna and I went off in search of the lavs, and Ms Raccoon-Hatte exited the ladies stuffing an official notice into her capacious handbag.
Bear in mind that these were not public lavatories: these, innocent reader, were the conveniences used by the allegedly best and brightest in the land. Raccoon showed me her booty – a notice asking Lady MPs to dispose of their sanitory towels in a more considerate manner than of late. So next time you feel the need to genuflect to your legislators, think again. I searched in the gents for similar notices saying things like ‘Please do not bugger little boys in here, as the noise involved disturbs other defaecators’ but there were none to be seen.
That said, any sense of citizen freedom evaporates as you enter the Holy of Holies. I think there were about twenty of us in total. A ramshackle crew of all ages and social classes (but probably only two genders) we trooped into the Chamber guests’ cloakroom, and were greeted by an objectionable flunkey with the loud stage whisper, “Ooo the bloody ‘ell let this lot in?” The range and acerbic put-downs he thereafter endured from one doubter after another were a joy – albeit not for him.
All cameras, mobile phones, pens, notebooks and other similar weapons of mass destruction were handed in. And then we entered the darkened Theatre of Broken Dreams, where more flunkeys told us where to sit. We ignored them.
Holding forth that day was the then Labour Minister of the Environment, Ed Miliband. The man who ignored all other negative European experience of wind power on land (and high maintenance costs offshore) gave an impressive performance as someone in command of his brief as a Secretary of State. In retrospect, it was a life lesson for me in how there is often a one hundred per cent relationship between a politician’s confidence, and complete scientific bollocks. He went on, of course, to be The Man Who Missed the Big Penalty in 2015.
What struck me as odd – being a historian by training, it shouldn’t have done – was the archaic yet almost autonomic manner in which these MPs (two thirds of whom were later revealed by the Daily Telegraph to be tax invoice liars) used phrases like ‘my right honourable friend’, ‘in this place’, ‘I am minded to’, ‘I give way to the right honourable learned gentleman’, ‘Mr Speaker Sir’ and so forth to describe where we all were and who they all were in respectful terms. It was only later it dawned on me that they bestowed upon each other this false sovereignty in order to hide just how little real worth any of them – or these proceedings – had in the 21st century.
Fast forward to this early afternoon GMT, and yet another weekly Despatch Box bunfight between the Fatties and the Fluffies.
Many of us minded to eject from this House or another House and thence from British public life such scoundrels as Damian Green and Rupert Murdoch hoped that the right honourable learned gentleman in charge of Her Majesty’s Opposition might say something about Waspi Women or Digger Dirt. But Jeremy Corbyn did neither. What he did was (a) define ‘care’ in terms of generalities and (b) completely ignore the greatest threat to objective information Britain has ever faced in peacetime.
Here is my two pennorth: the term Social Care is a bureaucratic invention that means nothing to most citizens. It is too bland, ill-defined and mysterious to register in the mind and lives of busy British citizens. Corbyn lacks experience of that life – and natural communications skills – but worse than this, he is at heart a tram driver thinking along ideological lines. Personal liberty is not a concept that comes easily to him, and therefore he tends to eschew discussion of such things…except when trying to persuade naifs that he is The Answer.
That’s why this summary of his performance today is worthy of examination. He had six goes at speaking Truth unto Power. This was his effort:
- He wished the PM and the House a Happy Christmas and dished up a lachrymose tribute to the Jo Cox Christmas Single.
- He proposed that there was a social crisis. This was batted away with consummate ease by the Prime Minister.
- He asked how much the Social Care Budget had been cut. As there is no such thing, he got nothing out of this.
- He asked the same question. Same result.
- He asserted that the Tories had “cut social care”. The PM countered with statistics.
- He countered with more statistics. So did she. MPs variously yelled “Hear hear” or “Shame”.
Trust me, I worked for thirty years in market research. Real live struggling people with real-life problems do not think in this way. Their lives are replete with specific problems to do with food, space, kids, aged relatives, grandchildren and how to afford Christmas presents. Say ‘social care’ to them and you may as well say ‘Seventh Heaven’: it no longer represents any kind of reality.
The opposition to primary school maths denialism will never be a different form of that same denialism. The unofficial Opposition to austerity economics lies in two sectors of British society:
- Those well-educated middle class decent people with a real influence on local politics and varietal media who no longer buy into hypocritical neocon economics….but equally, cannot live with formulaic drivel about feminism, Rock Against Racism, and other arcane socialist rigour.
- Respectable working, class formerly core Labour voters, sick of being told by privileged MetroLabour MPs how they should think.
What both these groups have in common is an antipathy to ideology. They seek instead good governance with the interests of the greatest number in mind.
But the electorally privileged and ideologically constipated Left/Right Parties render them disenfranchised. And unless we find a way to bring the cynics back into a reformed political process, one day soon they will storm the Bastille.
Such an event might turn out to be metaphorical, digital and perhaps even virtual. But that it WILL happen – unless there is a release of power – is historically inevitable.