Denis Healey’s Memoirs (Time of my Life) may be almost 25 years old but have not lose their power to inspire with age - 4 posts so far from me this week trying to identify exactly why our political class no longer seems “fit for purpose” or able, at any rate, to “hold a candle to” the 97 year-old Healey (He’s a lot thinner now than this 2006 video shows).
It is some three years since I addressed myself seriously to the issue of the “impotence of our democratic process” – some of the relevant posts are here.
My concern then was the failure of most of the books to analyse seriously the efficacy or capacity of the “governance process” as a whole
We have, of course, countless academic studies of the operation of the political parties, of voting systems, of the British Parliament, of the Executive or Cabinet, of local government, of devolved arrangements, of the civil service, of public management (whether Ministries, core exectuve, agencies), of the Prime Minister’s Office, of the European dimension etc – and a fair number of these are reasonably up-to-date. But most of it is written for undergraduates – or for other academic specialists who focus on one small part of the complex jigsaw. There is so very little which actually tries to integrate all this and give a convincing answer to the increasing number of citizens who feel that there is no longer any point in voting; that politicians are either corrupt or hopelessly boxed in by global finance and corporate interests.
The recently published Blunders of our Governments seems to offer such a larger picture but is little more than a rather breathless tour of policy disasters by two political scientists – with results which show up the basic shortcomings of such a specialised academic approach
We are left with a central question – is the British problem one of political centralisation? of government overreach? A failure of the political class? Adversarial politics? Civil service incompetence? Corporate takeover? Or is it, as post-modernist academics tend to argue, one of unrealistic expectations and misunderstanding?
We have certainly become more demanding citizens in Europe as a whole….showing none of the deference which senior politicians could expect in the immediate post-war period.
We view politicians such as Denis Healey as giants now, I suspect, simply because, in the 1960s they were giants – with an experience and education few could then challenge, certainly not those slaving in industrial plants. It was the 1964 Labour government which started the opening up of university experience from about 5% of the population in my day to its present figure of almost 50%s - many of them imbued with a highly rationalistic belief in “modernisation” – becoming “experts” in various social sciences designed to change the world for the better.
I should know because I was one of them – and well remember the sentiments I had then of being one of a select band with a mission to clear out the dead wood.
Management and Social science has become the new religion with its nuspeak language - not only from politicians (who now have little experience beyond that of politics) but in the new batallions of banks, communications and services (private and public) – and yet has become the real reason for the dissatisfaction we all have these days. We just don’t seem able to accept that the complexity of the modern world (and sophistication of the multifarious discourses) make it impossible to “solve” most of the “problems” we experience.
The French used to talk of La Pensee Unique – to describe the uniformity of thinking and discourse about the market used by the powerful on both sides of the Atlantic. In many ways it was a better phrase than “The Washington Consensus” or “Neo-liberalism” since it identified the propagandist nature and poverty of what passes for thinking of our global elites.We thought that the global collapse spelled the end of neo-liberalism. Instead a new form has become entrenched – not least amongst the new “insecuritat” which forms the bulk of working people in Europe…
postscript; I have to confess I struggled with this post, having a feeling that there was an important insight approaching but not quite able to grasp it... That, it should be said, is generally a good sign - of something contradictory or original trying to get out......