On democracy, Sir Lewis Namier and the struggle of the rich

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I SPENT a lot of this week in the press gallery of the House of Commons not knowing whether to laugh or cry. Theresa May was presenting the case for her contract on Tuesday, her voice so hoarse that it could hardly be heard and her body hunched, in a moment of personal and national humiliation. There was uproar on Wednesday, when Tory MPs were first told they wouldn’t be whipped and then, at the last minute, they would, being kicked out here and there , which was a real moment of farce. And what are we to do on Thursday, when Stephen Barclay, the Brexit minister, spoke for a government move at the address box and then marched off to vote against it?

But before we lose faith in British democracy completely it is worth remembering two things. The first is that there were some good speeches amongst the silliness and filth. Kenneth Clarke, Father of the House, was the greatest of statesmen. He made a good argument that what the British people voted for in the referendum was to leave the political structures of the European Union but to remain within the common market and suggested that this might be the template for a compromise. He also had a good time mocking Brexiteers who may not have known what the WTO was a few months ago but now think it is the source of all wisdom. (One of the oddities of the Brexit debate is that the WTO is now being praised by campaigners rather than denounced by them.) Anna Soubry, a former Tory who ‘ has joined the new Independent Group, which was worst about the Brexiteers who took it. over her party. (Shortly after listening to her I queued for a cup of coffee behind Peter Bone, one of the leading Brexiteers, who has been wearing dirty old trainers, as if preparing for a career as a beggar. ) Hilary Benn said the logical contradiction at the heart of Mrs May’s policy: why is it reasonable for her to keep putting the same question to the House, when it has been rejected twice by large margins, and is it not reasonable hold a second referendum after a relatively narrow vote in 2016? And, on the government side, Michael Gove, secretary of state for agriculture, proved, once again, that he is the best debater in the House.

The second thing to remember is Walter Bagehot’s quote about parliamentary government as “government by debate”. Debate can make narrow minds narrower and minds feverish: this week Sir Christopher Chope, another senior Brexiteer, even told the House that if Jeremy Corbyn passed a vote of no confidence in the government, he would consider​​​​ voted in his favor. , a move that could topple his own government and lead to the election of the country’s most left-wing prime minister ever. Madness! But it can also broaden broad minds and make meditative minds more reflective. I am struck by the number of serious people who have serious thoughts about some of their most fundamental beliefs: former Thatcherites who think about the failures of the free market which have led to so many of silence in the north; Former Blairites who think of the cozy political cartel that deepened that alienation; and an old type of establishment which is considering how to revive British democracy. There is more consideration of the importance of things like self-determination, place-making and community-building than there has been in years.

The political class has focused on creating a small independent group of MPs. But something bigger and more interesting is going on in the broad center of British politics: the collapse of old certainties and a desperate attempt to make a new synthesis. The big question is whether the emerging middle ground can get its act together in time – or whether the future belongs to the likes of Messrs Corbyn and Bone.


During these debates I often found myself considering an article by Mata d’Ancona in the Guard about what Britain’s best historian of “that wonderful microcosm, the House of Commons”, Sir Lewis Namier (pictured below), might have of the latest parliamentary shenanigans. Sir Lewis had no time for the idea that politicians are moved by abstract things like political ideologies, not to mention nonsense about the good of humanity. They are moved only by self-respect – by the desire for place, position, and favor, and by an endless game of faction and association. One of the reasons why Britain liked this Jewish emigration from Poland so much is that it was more honest than other countries about the struggle for choice. And one of the reasons why the House of Commons was so obsessed with it was that it was seen as the perfect cockpit for “battle, drive and dominion”.

At first glance the Brexit crisis is proving Sir Lewis wrong: a growing list of Tory politicians have given up high office (and the driver and salary that is foot) to fight for an abstract superiority of sovereignty. But what do you think? The amazing thing about the Brexit rebels is how quick they are: look at John Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson marching to Downing Street to lay down the law to the prime minister or Sir Bill Cash delivering statements far to the parliament on sub-clause “Z” of the European Treaty.

Namierite’s analysis of the Brexiteers suggests that they are made up of three different groups of people who, for different reasons, have decided that it is best for their egos to clash their own government. First: has-beens. Mr. Duncan Smith was one of the worst leaders the Conservative Party has ever had. Sir John Redwood’s attempt to become leader is now remembered only for the picture of his supporters, looking like prisoners from a lunar asylum a day away. After being put out to pasture they have now found a way to get themselves back on TV and radio. Second: lower labels. The likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker and Mr Paterson were never going to reach the heights of the mainstream Conservative Party, Mr Rees-Mogg because he is too absurd and Messrs Baker and Paterson because they are too centrist. But the establishment of a parallel party structure has given them the opportunity to wield power and peacock around. Third: ambitious types like Boris Johnson and Johnny Mercer who believe they can lead the populist tiger to the heights of power.


SIGNIFICANT ONE of the big themes in today’s politics will be the struggle between the rich and the middle classes. Old British families will love it when they see places in the best public schools and houses in the best parts of London being built by oiky foreign oligarchs. One of the biggest problems facing the Tory Party (assuming it can be torn apart by Brexit madness, big assumption) is leaving the middle class. You can already see journalists at the Daily Telegraph and the Spectators, who usually sing the praises of free markets in education and property, complain that they are being forced to send their children to state schools and live in garrets. Conservatism thrives when you have a broad middle class with roots in the country (and country), not when you have a global oligarchy that treats the world like a shopping mall (Eton for high school, Yale for the university and a cottage in the Alps). for skiing).

It is also a great opportunity for the extreme left. The most intelligent Corbynistas understand that the biggest thing going for them is “status dysphoria”: all those young people who have seen their parents get richer all their lives, with house prices rising, pensions hard and enough money for a foreign holiday, but who, having done all the right things, worked hard at school and graduated from university, find themselves stuck on the edge the corporate world and living in a bedroom in Clapham, or further afield, while executives are pocketing multi-million pound bonuses and there are new tower blocks in the middle of the cities sitting largely empty, acting as Swiss bank accounts in the sky for foreign investors.


Another great struggle that will define the future is the struggle between the rich and the rich. We can see this in the fierce fight between Tate Modern and the residents of four glass-walled flats next to the gallery. Tate Modern has built a viewing platform that provides “a unique, free, 360-degree view of London” (pictured). The apartment owners are understandably angry that the platform allows tourists to watch them get dressed and eat breakfast. After spending £4m on a flat so they can live in glass boxes in the sky, with stunning views over London, they have now been reduced to the status of animals in a high-end zoo. The Tate administration has suggested that the residents can simply draw the blinds to avoid prying eyes and a High Court judge, in ruling that the residents’ impressive views come “at a price” in terms of privacy”, suggested that they can always buy net. curtains. In other words, pretend you’re a rich rich bastard, our museum curators and Supreme Court judges are on the side of the common people!

I don’t have a dog in this fight but I think I’ve come up with a way for rich people to fight back: why not put hard porn on the walls of your glass window when you- out at work, filling your coffers with even more money, or flying around the world? This could make Tate Modern think twice about attracting tourists to its viewing platform. As an added bonus it could force modern mandarins to engage in a painful debate about what could be construed as offensive in our troubled times.

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