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  • “Britain’s political class risks losing the authority to govern”

    Posted by Jonathan on April 25th, 2016 (All posts by )

    From an astute commentary by Robert Salisbury, former Leader of the House of Lords. Almost all of the essay applies as well to the USA and other western countries.

    Our own country is caught by all this, as it was in the first half of the 19th Century and in the middle decades of the 20th. We were able to adapt to survive: in the 19th by extending the franchise and in the 20th by expanding public services and mass prosperity. As a result British governments regained the authority to govern. They did so by reforming the institutions of representative government the country already had, thereby responding to the demands of an electorate emboldened and liberated by technological change.
     
    Today, governments are once again losing the authority to govern, and for similar reasons. Another major financial crisis might lose them it completely; but a new crisis might not even be needed. Whitehall’s failure to control immigration, its puny efforts to tackle the housing question, the feebleness of our defences, the incompetence of our transport and energy policies might, whether jointly or severally, tip us over.
     
    In the past, the country has been sustained in times of crisis by a solid body of electors who felt they had an interest in the existing structures which kept them, on the whole, safe and relatively prosperous. That body’s support is no longer so solid. The IT revolution is largely responsible. The speed of communications make governments and Parliamentary procedures look flat-footed. Increasingly the public is at least as well-informed as the Whitehall departments who are telling them what to do. It is virtually impossible to keep anything secret and anyone who betrays a confidence is regarded as heroic. The more rules we have, the more the public feels they are used as a means of flouting their spirit.
     
    Worst of all, social media stimulate one issue politics and make the simple solution credible. You and I know that competent administration is boring and usually demands compromises. We also know that effective legislation needs careful preparation, much internal and external debate, a mind-numbing command of detail and a lively warning mechanism against the law of unintended consequences. The same applies to parliamentary scrutiny.
     
    Any sensible electorate would be only too pleased to delegate this necessary day-to-day grunt to a Whitehall and Westminster it trusted and, although interested and argumentative, get on with the rest of its life.
     
    Sadly, that is not where we are.

    The candidacies of Trump and Sanders are in large part responses to public concerns about the problems Salisbury describes. They are inadequate responses, likely to fail politically and on their own terms and eventually to be superseded by other responses. The pot will continue to boil at greater or lesser intensity depending on who gets elected and what follows. It seems unlikely that the underlying problems will begin to be solved unless the voters develop a realistic understanding of what needs to be done, and start electing politicians who are both willing and competent to do it. It may be a while.

     

    24 Responses to ““Britain’s political class risks losing the authority to govern””

    1. TangoMan Says:

      It seems unlikely that the underlying problems will begin to be solved unless the voters develop a realistic understanding of what needs to be done, and start electing politicians who are both willing and competent to do it. It may be a while.

      The underlying problem is the polity. One side, in simple terms, wants to reduce government, restore liberty, reduce taxes and the other side wants to increase government, have government create equal outcomes for their group, and raise taxes on others so that government can send money to this group.

      Voting doesn’t fix this problem. Any gain for one group comes at the expense of the other group. The reason humanity developed borders was to separate groups like this from each other and thus let them govern themselves.

    2. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      It seems unlikely that the underlying problems will begin to be solved unless the voters develop a realistic understanding of what needs to be done, and start electing politicians who are both willing and competent to do it. It may be a while.

      I was thinking that this morning. We’re in the process of electing a pathologically lying, corrupt, incompetent executive because it’s her turn. Our teacher’s unions are now marching with communists in the streets – despite communism being repeatedly demonstrated as one of most socially and economically destructive forms of governance in history. The ongoing damage being done to our society by both the professional political class and opportunists could take decades to correct. If that ever occurs.

    3. ErisGuy Says:

      We also know that effective legislation needs careful preparation, much internal and external debate, a mind-numbing command of detail and a lively warning mechanism against the law of unintended consequences

      I don’t remember the last decade our legislature was capable of competent to do this. Things
      must be different in the former mother country.

    4. ErisGuy Says:

      Sounds like he is thinking of dissolving the people, then selecting a more compliant body of voters.

    5. Jonathan Says:

      Sounds like he is thinking of dissolving the people, then selecting a more compliant body of voters.

      It seems to me that he is lamenting the ignorance and unrealistic expectations of the people who elected Obama, and also of the people who now think someone like Trump will solve the problems.

    6. Mike K Says:

      “It seems to me that he is lamenting the ignorance and unrealistic expectations of the people who elected Obama, and also of the people who now think someone like Trump will solve the problems.”

      Yes and Kim Philby was seen as “solid” because he came from “solid stock” and was “reliable.”

      The elites, including the writer, are lamenting the ignorant plebeians who think they can rule themselves.

      “Increasingly the public is at least as well-informed as the Whitehall departments”

      “Any sensible electorate would be only too pleased to delegate this necessary day-to-day grunt to a Whitehall” which is no better informed.

      Michael Crichton described a phenomenon he called The Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect:

      “Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.
      In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.”

      We could try an experiment. How about if we reduce government functions to those that must be done by a common government, like national defense and road and infrastructure building? Maybe we could then provide a safety net for the poor who are truly incapable and let everyone else conduct their own lives with a minimum of interference ?

      Nah.

    7. brer rabbit Says:

      There is no difference between pure socialism and pure feudalism except the titles

    8. Robert Schwartz Says:

      Britain has the same sickness as the United States. Socialism has worked its slow poison on civil society and left the remnants of the working class with alcoholism, drug addiction, and shattered families. Religion has been systematically destroyed, to the point where only about 6% of Brits ever go to church. The leviathan state has replaced every institution of civil society. The worst damage is to the elites. In the Victorian era they staffed the church, led the army, engaged in politics, and populated the professions. Marxism has turned them away from the concepts of duty, service, and noblesse oblige that used to bind them to the wider society. All they have left is the hectoring moralism of “social justice”. Sadly, their lower orders are not even armed so as to be able to protect themselves from the leviathan state and the imported replacement population of sub-contitnental Muslims. At least we have a civil war to look forward to in the United States.

    9. TangoMan Says:

      At least we have a civil war to look forward to in the United States.

      The depressing aspect about this future is that it’s not here now. There is a lot of ruin in a nation and it is so depressing to think about having to extend the ruination process in order to wake people up so that by the time we do get to the civil war, the task before us will be immeasurably more difficult and there will be less of the nation to save.

      If you can stop someone you love from turning into a junkie once you know that they’ve taken their first hit, you save much more of the person than saving them after they’ve been a junkie for 20 years, prostituted themselves, had their babies taken away from, lost their jobs, lost their family, lost their friends, having lived under a bridge for years at a time.

    10. dearieme Says:

      “There is no difference between pure socialism and pure feudalism except the titles”. Come now, socialism is a stranger to the concept of noblesse oblige.

    11. Ed Says:

      But Lexington Green is optimistic about our future!

    12. Jonathan Says:

      I agree with Lex (and Jay). The near future looks to be hard. The long run looks good.

    13. Jonathan Says:

      The elites, including the writer, are lamenting the ignorant plebeians who think they can rule themselves.

      I think the writer is saying that the elites used to be more competent and that ordinary people used to use better judgment in voting.

    14. Will Says:

      I doubt Sanders is a response but rather a continuation of the present regime. The current phase was marketed as a “first” a democrat, that would bring much needed “change”, righting so many wrongs. This latest offering worked within the system as an “out” socialist for years, and talks yet more change, via increasingly severe methods. The mask slips further. We will be better off when their lot are all safely stashed in the Kremlin wall.

    15. Mike K Says:

      “the elites used to be more competent”

      I’m tempted to agree but there is also the issue that government, proven incompetent at maintaining highways, is now in charge of everything.

      National Parks are one small example.

      Yosemite National Park, I think our first National Park, has lost control of place names in the park.

      Bid goodbye to Yosemite’s familiar Ahwahnee hotel, Yosemite Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, and Badger Pass ski area—or their names, anyway. The National Park Service said today it will rename many well-known spots in Yosemite, as part of an ongoing legal dispute with an outgoing concessionaire that has trademarked many names in the world-famous park.

      “While it is unfortunate that we must take this action, changing the names of these facilities will help us provide seamless service to the American public during the transition to the new concessioner,” Yosemite National Park Superintendent Don Neubacher said today.

      Among the changes: Yosemite Lodge at the Falls will become Yosemite Valley Lodge; The Ahwahnee Hotel will become the Majestic Yosemite Hotel; Curry Village will become Half Dome Village; Wawona Hotel will become Big Trees Lodge; and Badger Pass Ski Area will become Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.

      How did this happen ?

      I had an enraging experience last year when I tried to make reservations for the Bracebridge Dinner at the Ahwanee hotel.

      When I made what I thought were reservations, I had been tricked into a fake site that imitates the hotel site exactly. When I got no confirmation, I called the hotel. The call went to the real hotel and the person who answered, explained the scam. It was a travel agency that had appropriated the hotel web site. I had been there before and was still fooled.

      I cancelled and found out the site had a $200 cancellation fee. I called American Express for help and got none. I then cancelled both Amex Platinum cards I had had since they were first issues in the 1970s. It was just infuriating. The real fault is with the Park Service.

      The Global Warming thing is another example where hundreds of millions of dollars are thrown away on a scam. The USDA Food Pyramid warns about fat and encourages carbohydrates even after the evidence suggests that low carbohydrate diets are better than low fat diets.

      A low-fat diet reduced peptide YY more than a low-carbohydrate diet. These findings suggest that satiety may be better preserved on a low-carbohydrate diet, as compared to a low fat diet.

      Appetite is better suppressed by low carbs.

      The elites are not doing their job. Of course, governing may not be their job.

    16. dearieme Says:

      “The USDA Food Pyramid warns about fat and encourages carbohydrates even after the evidence suggests that low carbohydrate diets are better than low fat diets.” That’s too mild, Mike. It would be more accurate to say that the evidence behind the food pyramid had always been a pack of lies, promoted originally by a bent medical man, Ancel Keys. I wonder whether he shortened as many lives as Mao?

    17. Mike K Says:

      The hysteria about cholesterol began with KIAs in Korea in the early 1950s. They had a lot of coronary artery disease in spite of being in their 20s.

      Then the “scientists” fed rabbits meat diets, which rabbits do not eat in the natural state, and they got something that looked like atherosclerosis.

      Keys did his share.

      After observing in southern Italy the highest concentration of centenarians in the world, Keys hypothesized that a Mediterranean-style diet low in animal fat protected against heart disease and that a diet high in animal fats led to heart disease.

      The Framingham Study drew similar conclusions from Irish twins.

      The Korea data seems to have ignored smoking which was probably the culprit in premature heart disease.

    18. Mike K Says:

      More written on the incompetence of large institutions, chiefly government.

      For example the Washington Metro, the pride of the nation’s capital, is collapsing. Once “it was a rail system of the future. Then, reality set in.” Perhaps the most telling indicator of fundamental weakness is the public pension crisis. A study by the Hoover Institution covering 97% of all state and local governments found that politicians have little or no ability to meet their pension promises.

      Ya think ?

      it’s happening in Venezuela, where Joel Hirst describes the collapse of a whole system. “I never expected to witness the slow suicide of a country, a civilization. I suppose nobody does.”

      national suicide is a much longer process – not product of any one moment. But instead one bad idea, upon another, upon another and another and another and another and the wheels that move the country began to grind slower and slower; rust covering their once shiny facades. …
      Hate, as a political strategy. Law, used to divide and conquer. Regulation used to punish. Elections used to cement dictatorship. Corruption bleeding out the lifeblood in drips, filling the buckets of a successive line of bureaucrats before they are destroyed, only to be replaced time and again. …

      Sound familiar ?

    19. Sgt. Mom Says:

      I suspect this is all an unconscious reversion back to feudalism, except that the usual suspects have any number of nice-sounding names for a system of a noble anointed few, assisted by a selection of favored and especially skilled clerisy/bureaucrats, who rule absolutely over a nation of dependent serfs.

      Feudalism is the default position in human history, save for a few exceptions for a few brief periods. Pity our new nobles are doing their best here and now to revert to the usual.

    20. Mike K Says:

      “Feudalism is the default position in human history, save for a few exceptions for a few brief periods.”

      Yes and this:

      “Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded—here and there, now and then—are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
      This is known as ‘bad luck’.

      – Robert A. Heinlein

      Feudalism came about in an era of violence and hazard to anyone who was not armed and capable. That was the nobility and their knights in the Middle Ages.

      Common people did not have weapons and they were even banned. England was an exception with Yeomen archers. The archers won Agincourt.

      The political left is trying to ban weapons again but I don’t think Americans will give an inch. Who were the guys who disarmed the terrorist on the Brussels train ?

      We may be coming into an era when the ruling class needs the commoners to defend it against the barbarians. After, of course, they invite the barbarians in.

      This battle is notable for the use of the English longbow in very large numbers, with English and Welsh archers forming most of Henry’s army. The battle is the centrepiece of the play Henry V by William Shakespeare.

    21. Ginny Says:

      Surely the “wisdom of crowds” needs people willing to expend sufficient energy in considering the problem and a willingness to look at history for some guidance. We have been discouraging such engagement, have rewritten history, and instead encouraged a kind of wooly emotive dialogue on the great issues.

      And we aren’t beginning with the same assumptions. Many now see themselves as consumers of government and of those consumers 50% aren’t paying for those services. Unfortunately, it seems that is true of the rhetoric of both Clinton & Trump. That’s because it works – all of us, to some degree or another, are or will be paid by the government. (The more directly connected – welfare recipients and academics and bureaucrats naturally more strongly depend and so more strongly embrace the government.) We are often not wise and react at gut level to what we feel endangers our comfort.

    22. Anonymous Says:

      “Voting doesn’t fix this problem. Any gain for one group comes at the expense of the other group. The reason humanity developed borders was to separate groups like this from each other and thus let them govern themselves.”

      The second group is incapable of governing themselves because there wouldn’t be any bill payers. Voting can “fix” the problem if a majority decide the first group is right and makes it so. The second group then gets to buy in or go someplace else where bill payers will foot the bill. Perhaps England, Germany or France. Seem to me borders had more to do with language, ethnicity and other group values that could be organized into a unified polity. All of these nationalities undoubtedly had their share of the self-reliant and the panhandlers.

      Our problem is that we have subsidized the dependent entitled to the extend that they may be the majority. In which case, they will drive the productive self-sufficient out. The OWS, BLM, Move-On groups, et al. fully demonstrate the truth of what Ginny stated. You really can’t expect history or reason to have much effect on true believers full of empty ideological slogans and conceit.

      I don’t think it is outrageous to conceive of a partitioning of the country (after whatever upheaval comes to be) into at least two based on the idea that borders might help. Hard to see a path for that outcome actually happening. It will be something much worse.

      Death6

    23. Marty Says:

      I heartily agree with him on this:
      “Any sensible electorate would be only too pleased to delegate this necessary day-to-day grunt to a Whitehall and Westminster it trusted and, although interested and argumentative, get on with the rest of its life.”

      It’s complicated and multi-faceted, but if others are like me, what has changed in the last few years is not that we want “more democracy” in the abstract, and neither have we turned into policy wonks who have detailed policy agendas that we want implemented.

      What HAS changed is that we now see that the elites running the show are utterly incompetent in almost every way, and are putting us all at risk as disaster follows fiasco, domestically and in foreign/defense affairs. As we hoi polloi are not policy wonks, whether we are attracted to a Trump or a Sanders the elites think us fools because our policy demands are inchoate, even internally inconsistent by their lights–and they ignore the underlying problem that we see them as naked and incompetent, which they cannot see because they are so immersed in their credentialed wonderfulness.

    24. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      >>What HAS changed is that we now see that the elites running the show are utterly incompetent in almost every way, and are putting us all at risk as disaster follows fiasco, domestically and in foreign/defense affairs.

      Yes, in spades. Throw in a vast, incompetent, partisan bureaucracy and we get a recipe for collapse.