Following on from yesterday’s post about Matthew Parris and his recent MPs-should-ignore-the-people Spectator article, you’ll notice, I trust, that Parris’s whole way of talking is more suitable to a member of a hereditary ruling class than an elected democratic representative. He quotes, as an example of the more traditional Conservative mindset to which he subscribes, Arthur Balfour’s quip:
I have the greatest respect for the Conservative party conference, but I would no more consult it on a matter of high policy than I would my valet
You can talk like this when you’re a part of the ruling Royal Family, or a military junta, for whom there are no real consequences for ignoring the little people. But that way of thinking won’t survive long in a real democracy, because – guess what – eventually voters will become sick of you acting like you’re the Tsar, and vote you out (or revolt).
Unless, that is, you’re very clever at using the ruling system to your advantage, and/or you have a pliant population, and a successful economy which keeps people happy. But even then, you won’t be able to string things out forever, because eventually your decisions will piss enough people off, and a rich populace isn’t necessarily a pliant populace. More and more people will get wise to you, and they’ll stop voting for you. (Especially if you start telling them what your game is.)
So that is why that type of Conservativism went out of fashion, which for Parris is a cause for lament. People don’t want to vote for an MP if they know he or she will ignore them. That’s why the number of Conservative MPs who talk like Parris has been falling for years. (Parris himself admits that he can only talk like this because he is “not running for office”). Trust in politicians is falling to extremely low levels, so most politicians have evolved in recent years to talk about respecting the wishes of the public. Balfour could get away with talking like he did in 1909 because people had a lot more trust in politicians then. They don’t any more, and for good reasons (although I note that in Roy Jenkins’ biography of Churchill, Jenkins says that it may have been no accident that Balfour become one of the few Conservative leaders to be forced out of office within three years of making that remark, so perhaps that attitude didn’t go down very well even then).
What astounds me most about Parris’s article, however, is not its undemocratic nature, because that’s been apparent in Parris’s writing for years, but the incredible stupidity of saying things like this:
Even today, of course, politicians can and sometimes must dodge the popular will, and they know it. But who now dares say these things? And what today we do but no longer dare say we do, tomorrow we may not dare do. Tory paternalism is in long, slow retreat. People like me will stay where we are, increasingly exposed as our friends melt back.
This is incredibly stupid for two reasons. The first is that while it is true that politicians have been increasingly talking about respecting the democratic will in recent decades — even Labour changed their tune when Blair took over — it’s obvious to anyone with a brain that this is mostly lip service. It’s all talk. If anything, politicians have become more willing to cheat the electorate than ever before.
Does Parris really think that Theresa May, for example, who is always going on about respecting the will of the British people, is really doing anything of the sort? She speaks the cliches required, while doing the exact opposite. Did Tony Blair really do what he people wanted when he deliberately opened the immigration floodgates? Are the hate laws that have come into being in recent years an expression of the greater public’s desires, or something forced down their throats?
This isn’t just a British phenomenon – the same has been true in recent times of Barack Obama, Malcom Turnbull, Justin Trudeau, George Bush, Emmanuel Macron, Kevin Rudd, and so on. Not to mention the majority of European politicians, when they pulled the new EU constitution after it was set to be defeated by the people and called it a treaty instead, pretending it was just a reform of the existing constitution, and passed it without consulting the people.
No, it’s obvious to everyone except Matthew Parris that, on balance, the majority of modern politicians are no more to be trusted with carrying out the public’s desires than they were fifty years ago (and they’re perhaps even less trustworthy).
The other reason why Parris’s comments here are incredibly stupid is that Brexit itself, plus the rise of Corbyn, has seen an explosion in the number of politicians openly declaring in the last year that they will run the country how they damn well please, and the people’s will be damned. Parris’s comments may have just about been understandable, if dangerously naive, if they had been made a couple of years ago, but how can any self-respecting observer of recent political events seriously write that political paternalism is dying when half of Parliament is explicitly calling for Brexit to be overthrown? And when the Labour Party has become overrun with hard-left SJWs who have about as much interest in democracy as Vyshinsky had in holding a fair trial?
Unless Parris has been holed up in a cave in the Derbyshire Dales for the last two years you’d have to say that he has the observational skills of a man who has just stood too close to a World War I explosion. The country (and his old party) stand on the brink of civil war because hundreds of MPs, led by Tories, refuse to accept a referendum result, and Parris’s attempt at insight consists of lamenting how sad it is that Conservative politicians these days kowtow to the public?
This may possibly be the most myopic political take since Virginia Woolf claimed that the British were just as bad as the Nazis, and that one should be indifferent to who won, should a war between them start. At least Woolf had the sense to dimly become aware that she was mistaken once the bombs started falling. One wonders whether Parris would also come to his senses if the Houses of Parliament were to start burning. Or would he stand there puzzled, still thinking ‘How sad it is that Tory paternalism is fizzling out. Oh look, the angry mobs are now stringing MPs up from lampposts, but I doubt that has any bearing on the truth of my dazzling Spectator-worthy observation’.
(Thanks to commentator Pcar for the sending me the text of Parris’s article.)