Two rootless, soulless parties have cleared the way for Ukip

This is such a good article I have copied the lot from the Guardian. It is a much more eloquent expression of something I tried to say in a previous post.

Bravo Owen Jones (who looks about 16. Smartarse!) His new book, The Establishment – And How They Get Away With It, is published in September 2014. I will be buying it.

Picture of Owen Jones

“British politics has become a careerists’ playground, creating disillusionment that charlatans can exploit

Has there ever been such a brazen set of political con artists, so sophisticated at manipulating genuine grievances for their own ends? A few months ago Ukip compiled a document titled: “Who are the Times journalists trying so desperately to undermine Ukip?” It was a determined effort to burnish the party’s anti-establishment credentials: Daniel Finkelstein was described as the “privately educated former senior official at Conservative Central office”; Hugo Rifkind the “privately educated son of pro-EU Tory former foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind”, and so on.

Satire is left redundant by the audacity of Ukip. Just look at the leading lights of this “anti-establishment” insurgency. Their leader is that rare breed in British politics, a privately educated ex-City broker. Their deputy chairman is Neil Hamilton, the disgraced arch-Thatcherite and one-time minister, booted from the House of Commons in ignominy. Their recent byelection victor is Douglas Carswell, an ex-Tory MP who used to work in asset management.

Their next byelection candidate is Mark Reckless, yet another public school ex-Tory whose previous career – like Nigel Farage – was in the City. They are bankrolled by ex-Tory multimillionaires like hedge-fund supremo Christopher Mills and insurance tycoon Arron Banks. Ukip talks of breaking the “political cartel” while peddling policies the entire political elite agree on, quibbling only on scale and detail: tax cuts for the rich, privatisation, slash-and-burn austerity, curtailing workers’ rights. They are the lone critics of immigration – leaving aside, of course, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Tories and, oh, the Labour leadership too.

But fair play to Ukip. Britain’s political elite has fuelled more than enough disillusionment for enterprising charlatans to exploit. Yes, there are honourable exceptions, but it has been abundantly clear what the political elite has been becoming for quite some time. Technocratic, rootless, soulless; a professionalised morass of time-servers who see ministerial posts as springboards to nice little earners on corporate boards; manoeuvring constantly not on the basis of political principle but for shameless self-advancement.

How did we end up here? It seems almost unimaginable now, but Britain’s political elite once had deep roots. The Tories may have always functioned as the political wing of the well-to-do, but the dramatic expansion of the franchise in the 19th century compelled them to seek legitimacy among the masses. At its height early last century, the Primrose League – built to foster popular Conservatism, to “embrace all classes and all creeds except atheists and enemies of the British empire” – achieved a membership of 2 million. Even in the early 1950s, the Conservative party could claim a membership of nearly 3 million. In 1955, most Scots voted for the Tory sister party, the Unionists; Liverpool, Sheffield, Manchester were all northern cities that boasted a strong Tory presence.

Then there’s Labour, founded to give working people a voice. Sustained by a trade union movement that, at its peak, represented about half the workforce, the party itself was once a million-strong. Local government and unions gave aspiring working-class politicians resources, education and know-how. The Labour leadership encompassed a spectrum of views and backgrounds, including the likes of Tony Crosland, Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, John Silkin, Peter Shore and Richard Crossman.

Today, both parties are husks of what they once were. The Tories are in long-term decline, less popular than most strains of bacteria in much of the north, leaving Ukip (perversely) as a less toxic rightwing choice. There is no one simple reason: a general fragmentation in society and the triumph of individualism; the disappearance of industries that once sustained cohesive communities; the smothering of local government and unions; a political convergence that has left parties quibbling over nuances. These are reasons, of course, not excuses. But they help explain how parties have become the playthings of careerists inspired by their own ambitions and little else. The figures on the professionalisation of politics speak for themselves.

In 1979, 21 MPs previously worked in politics, but in 2010, the figure had reached 90. One in eight MPs elected in 2010 previously worked as private consultants, a jump from one in 25 in 1997. No wonder the Tory and Labour parliamentary parties are so stuffed full of people who can’t even do a rough impression of speaking like a human being. Universal suffrage – fought for at such great cost by our forebears – is silently, stealthily unwinding: a huge gap in turnout now separates middle-class professionals and unskilled workers.

Yes, there was the expenses scandal, the Iraq war, the Lib Dems’ decision to trash what little faith young people had in democracy – all have helped fuel disillusionment with political elites who were never, after all, loved. But for a generation, politicians have surrendered democratic power to the market. In postwar Britain, the promise was that citizens would be provided with a secure job, an affordable home and publicly owned services and utilities to support them. What is left for politicians to promise but the odd tinker here and there, as well as cuts and yet more surrendering of power?

And so we end up with a Labour leadership unable to offer anything resembling a coherent, inspiring alternative expressed in a language people can relate to. No – unable to offer a bit of hope, a sense that politics can be a vehicle for improving your lot, your family’s, your community’s, your country’s. Wages falling, work ever more insecure, an affordable house a fantastical dream for many. With politics unable to satisfy basic needs and aspirations, and in the absence of a convincing message of hope, anger is directed at anyone but the powerful: immigrants, unemployed people, public-sector workers. And now Ed Miliband seeks to defuse the Ukip threat by pledging further crackdowns on immigration. How has that worked out for David Cameron’s Tories, exactly?

Enough. Ukip was 600 votes away from taking a working-class Labour seat last week. A discredited political elite that unleashed the beast of rightwing populism is not going to defeat it. For those of us who think politics should be about hope, about satisfying people’s needs and aspirations: well, it’s soul-searching time.”

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