This is the Age of Groupthink Britain and it is increasingly been found out
Sunday Mail, July 10th 2016
When has British politics ever been in such a state of flux? The Tories, UKIP and English and Welsh Greens in leadership contests; the Labour Party in a series of convulsions from top to bottom; Brexit; and now thirteen years after the UK went to war in Iraq finally comes the publication of Chilcot.
The Tories do know how to utilise a crisis. It is one of the reasons that they are one of the most successful electoral parties in the democratic world.
Labour have never grasped the need in a crisis for decisive action – and currently seem to be stuck in the worst of all worlds. The Labour anti-Corbyn rebels have wounded Jeremy Corbyn, but have failed to depose or force him to resign.
Post-Brexit and in the week of Chilcot, the British political classes have never been more ill-thought of, yet the Tory show goes on as if nothing has changed. ‘Take Back Control’ – the slogan of the Leave campaign – turns out to mean little more than fewer than 150,000 aging members deciding who the next Prime Minister is – Theresa May or Andrea Leadsom.
Britain is over as we know it. Even the Tories cannot ignore this for too long, but the Westminster consensus has little to say – irrespective of party – about the multiple crises that affect the country.
This is particularly damning of Corbyn’s Labour Party where, for all their supposed radicalism they, along with the anti-Corbynistas have no original suggestions about tackling the many malaises of modern Britain – economically, socially, democratically, constitutionally. Yes, the Corbyn leadership is against austerity, but that is nothing more than a slogan.
We are constantly told that this is an age of change and uncertainty, but it is also one of profound groupthink. This was on show in the recent EU referendum, where a huge segment of centre-left and centre-right opinion had never given any serious thought about how to present the merits of Europe, or understood growing discontent with it.
Most fundamentally the collective groupthink of Britain’s elites – from its politics, to corporate business and London media – advance the argument that globalisation has been an unquestionable good. This is the worldview which spawned both the Blair-Brown New Labour project – and Cameron’s ‘compassionate Conservatism’.
This perspective, grounded in metropolitan, liberal circles, celebrates the winners of the world and the economic and social changes of recent decades. It is – for all its claims of diversity and pluralism – rather intolerant of people who question its logic, and not that compassionate about the many losers and those left behind.
This is most obvious in relation to economic realities. The conventional wisdom of the last thirty years – deregulation, privatisation, the state needs to be kept out of all sort of strategic national areas – hasn’t delivered the goods it promised. UK living standards are still lower per head compared to pre-crash eight years ago, while public spending is increasingly skewed towards the supposed winners – with for example, 44% of infrastructure investment occurring in London, compared to 1% in the North East of England.
The power of groupthink can be seen in the vice-like grip of the Westminster Bubble. Despite devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, how British politics is fought, portrayed and understood, has become ever more narrow and distant from the realities most people live.
Planet Westminster is a stage on which others like Scotland and some of the great cities of England occasionally get a walk-on part, but with whom the centre has little care for or interest in. The strand of Britain that is actually championed by Westminster is a tiny, unrepresentative country.
The capacity of political elites to delude and deceive themselves, let alone the country, was on full display with the Chilcot Inquiry on the Iraq war. After 9/11, the UK experience in Afghanistan and Iraq was one of humiliation and ultimately, military defeat, which still hasn’t fully been factored into political calculations.
There is a direct line from Blair’s military and diplomatic disaster in Iraq, his failure to convince the public that the UK should be a European country at the heart of the EU project, to the rising sore of Eurosceptism, and the Brexit vote two weeks ago.
Britain may be broken politically and over as we have known it, but that doesn’t mean the future is clear. In England, UKIP rail against Labour in the North and political correctness, but so far they have shown both the appeal and limits of populism – winning a mere one parliamentary seat.
The SNP are playing a more subtle game, incrementally building the case for Scottish independence, on the grounds that the UK that the population voted for in 2014 is now over. But that still requires answers on the big questions that the Nationalists have shown no inclination to answer.
Mainstream politics may be discredited, but there is now a huge challenge to overthrow the economic and social orthodoxies of recent times. Just being against austerity, blaming Thatcher for everything, or the glib slogan socialism of Corbyn, is no longer adequate.