Democracy is very well-defended against public opinion. Political parties, especially, are immune to almost everything that the majority actually desires, and are much less interested in mass tastes than shopkeepers, broadcasters, or industrial corporations. Modern politicians employ battalions of professional deceivers and manipulators, whose main job is to persuade the electorate to want what they are already being given, or what they are going to get. Our democratic leaders much prefer this to giving the people what they actually want.
So it is quite funny to watch men and women who are publicly dedicated to government for, by, and of the people, getting angry and exasperated when the people actually speak.
Events in Britain over the last few days have reminded me strongly of Berthold Brecht’s embittered sneer at his East German Communist comrades who, faced with a revolt by the workers they claimed to represent, ordered those workers to do penance for this outrage.
As Brecht sarcastically enquired, “Wouldn’t it be simpler if the Government just dissolved the people and elected another?”
Here, the very large vote for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), a fourth party which incoherently but emphatically defies the consensus, has been treated by politicians and their media toadies as a problem with the voters which has somehow to be contained.
The idea that all these voters have broken the loyalties of a lifetime for good reason, and that leaving the European Union and restoring control of the national borders are good ideas (which they are), is never considered for a second. Instead, having been dismissed as ignorant bigots for the past six weeks, the insurgent voters are now the object of a campaign to bamboozle them with fake sympathy, combined with an utter refusal to do what they want.
Quite unaware of how this sounds, my country’s political and media elite simply cannot stop themselves treating legitimate discontent as some sort of pathology. They, the governing class, cannot possibly be the problem. It must the voters who are mistaken, misguided, or in some way mentally ill.
When they feared this outcome, the elite tried to stem it by calling such voters “racists” or writing them off as stupid and out of touch. Now that it has happened, they think they can talk their way out of it without changing anything.
Here is our system. Vote as often as you like for whoever you like. You will still get the same egalitarian, morally relaxed, welfarist package, with comically bad schools, eye-watering taxation, and rapidly rising crime and disorder, supervised by scowling, unhelpful social workers dressed in police uniforms.
You will also find that you are increasingly governed from abroad by the European Union, the new continental superpower which no man dares name as such, because that would involve admitting that to all intents and purposes, Britain did not in fact win the 1939-45 war, our proudest boast. If we did win, why are our laws made for us and our frontiers controlled by a German-dominated superstate? It is a puzzle to which the older generation has long sought an answer.
But then, beginning in the late 1990s and swelling to unprecedented numbers, came a change that even the weary, much-abused British electorate couldn’t just absorb, tolerate, and ignore.
Britain’s membership of the EU means that there is now no such thing as a British passport; only an EU one with British symbols stamped on it for old times’ sake. Anyone from anywhere in the EU (up to and including retired KGB officers living in Lithuania) can come to live and work here.
Nobody really knows how vast the resulting immigration has been. We do know it is mostly from former Warsaw Pact countries. By its nature it cannot be accurately recorded. What is clear is that the rich have done well out of it, thanks to the low-cost labor it provides. Well-off London left-wingers are especially delighted by the cheapness of servants, and of restaurant meals, which has been the main outcome of this for them. They also rejoice in the way that it “rubs the right’s nose in diversity.”
But for the poor it has meant low-wage competition for jobs. It has left their children’s schools oversubscribed and full of boys and girls who don’t have English as a first language. It has meant crowded public transport, long lines to see doctors, housing shortages, and a general feeling of having been transported during the night to another, quite different country which no longer feels like home.
UKIP has concentrated and directed this feeling because it has, after many years of trying, finally got across the point that, as long as Britain stays in the EU, there is absolutely nothing that any British government can do about it.
That is why UKIP, originally a small club of disaffected Thatcherite Conservatives, is now taking votes from all three conventional parties.
But, like so many rebellions that have broken out across the Anglosphere in the past twenty years, it will find it hard to get much further. Tribal loyalty still keeps the old parties just about in being, along with checks from strange billionaires, state subsidies, and broadcasting rules which favor the status quo.
UKIP did well (though not spectacularly) in county and city hall elections. It did even better in contests for the “European Parliament,” a curious body which nobody in Britain cares about, though it has increasing power over their lives. But turnout in these polls is low. To win any important number of seats in Britain’s actual Parliament, UKIP’s tremor of protest will have to turn into a major earthquake.
I for one rather hope that it does. Britain’s existing elite reminds me of every other arrogant autocracy in history, quite unable to understand why the people do not love it as much as it loves itself. It would be a joy to see it voted into oblivion. But let us not get carried away by wishful thinking. Let us just enjoy the moment for itself.