Will the next Parliament be the most intellectually lightweight ever?

by Ray_North on July 22, 2014

Say what you like about William Hague (and Unknown-4I could say plenty), to quote the great Ian Dury, ‘he ain’t half a clever bastard’. His brain will be missed in Parliament even if what he stands for will not, well, not by me anyway. And, he’s not the only one, it appears that at the next election a raft of fairly clever and erudite politicians will not be standing – and that is a shame.

I want clever people in Parliament. I want people who are able to analyse problems and scrutinise departments and ask clever questions of the government ministers, because that is what our Parliament is there for.

I want the odd nerdy person who doggedly pursues a cause, even if others believe the cause isn’t particularly sexy; I want those who have enough intellectual arrogance to tell their media men and whips to ‘fuck off’ when they are asked to go on TV to spout a particularly anodyne piece of nonsense just to show that their party has got at least something to say.

There was a time when our Parliament was filled with intellectual heavyweights – when I entered Parliament as a researcher in 1991, there was Tony Benn, Ted Heath, Tam Dayell, Sir Russell Johnstone and many others who had intellectual integrity and independence, people who went into politics because they actually believed in something and because of a desire to serve.

Now, what do we have?

Well we have career politicians and former researchers, people who are adept at toeing the party line, but fuck all use at anything else. We have good solid constituency MPs, who work their bollocks off answering constituency mail – but, are unable to affect change that will actually improve the lives of those constituents.

We have politicians who are scared – scared of being passed-over for promotion, scared of being carpeted by their whips, scared of saying something controversial in the media, scared of saying what they really, really feel and believe, and often this fear comes from their inability to back up what they want to say with arguments that have been properly thought out or are at least bold.

I would argue that the current government is the most lightweight we have ever had – I don’t want to be rude about the guy, but how on earth is Danny Alexander Chief Secretary to the Treasury? How can Chris Grayling be a minister, how can Ian Duncan Smith be a Minister and the list goes on – these men are distinctly mediocre and they are presiding over an unprecedented period in our history when our state withers to such an extent that it will be fundamentally unable to carry out the tasks that it is devised to do, which it needs to do.

And, sadly, they get away with being so awful, because Parliament and the opposition are too stupid and too timid to carry out its main role – scrutiny of the executive.

Tragically, at the next general election this diminished level of collective intellectual ability will get worse still. Judging by the recent polls published by Lord Ashcroft, it looks as though UKIP may send some MPs to Westminster – their form of ‘cor-blimey, stands to reason’ politics will be disastrous for Westminster and the country, but, alas, the utter failure of the other mainstream parties to show them up for what they are (regressive, bigots who want to shrink the UK into irrelevance) means that they will continue to grow.

Labour seem to care more about all-women short-lists and glamourous looking fresh young things than they do about sending good politicians to Parliament; people in their fifties or sixties are deemed too old, which is preposterous, whilst people who don’t have the right connections are deemed unworthy, which is, again depressing.

Tory politicians are so strapped to a single intellectual ideological ideal that they are unable to offer anything by way of novel or clever solutions to the structural problems of capitalism that the world is suffering from at the moment; whilst the Lib-Dems, well, need I say anything about the confused mess that is that party at the moment.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not suggesting that parliament should resemble the green room at the TV studios before an episode of University Challenge, but, I am suggesting that if the party system continues to be as self-serving, coy and partisan as it is now, and if many very able people continue to be overlooked and put off at the prospect of politics because the place is completely overrun with careerist non-entities then the result will be bad for our democracy and bad for our country.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

nino July 22, 2014 at 2:26 pm

given that we spent most of the seventies and succeeding decades “celebrating” the end of ideology I’m not surprised that we ended up with with weirdly naff US presidents (first Reagan and then Bush Jr), Berlusconismo in Italy, New Labour and their nepotistic Party-inbred present day descendants and, of course, the eternal Putin in Russia. And now you’re saying that we can look forward to newer depths to plumb. Collect all the teachers and lecturers since 1970 and chop their heads off or better still make them pay back their salaries since they obviously failed to turn up for work. Seriously, ideology never ended its just that the ideology of slavish capitalist ignorance won over anything which involved using one’s grey matter. Dissent in the classroom and lecture hall has been increasingly discouraged if a student wants reasonable grades – and I wonder which generation was filling the teaching posts? The post war radical generation for whom all roads and doors were opened but who then went on to deny the same rights to younger upcoming generations. Sadly its our baby monster!

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Fionauk512 July 22, 2014 at 4:06 pm

The mediocrity that is our political elite is not about teachers/lecturers not ‘turning up for work’, and frankly to lay that on teachers is bizarre. There are clever, intelligent people out there with social conscience, the question is why don’t they go into politics? The answer to that is all about the flagrant inequality in our society. Networks of people who are in power promote and champion other people like themselves, to ensure the staus quo.

The party system is about keeping the party in power first and serving the country second. The office of chief whip is abhorrent in my view and counter to democracy, people should vote according to conscience, evidence and in the interest of the constituency they represent. It shouldn’t be allowed to exist. You also have to lay the blame on an apathetic electorate who will gobble up the crumbs thrown to them every now and then without looking sideways at the misery around them or don’t think of the long term consequences. A prime example of that is the selling of council houses, it has in large part created our dysfunctional housing market. Yes some people were able to buy their houses, but at what cost to those that came after them. It is a sad reflection that for many people until something affects them directly they will happily turn a blind eye. I am of the generation that left school under Thatcher, and have been fighting in my own way that ideology since my teens, don’t include me as someone who discourages dissent, challenge is vital for democracy. I always tell my students that when they leave my classroom that I want them to be thinkers and to understand their rights and their responsibilities as human beings.

The practices in Parliament also have to be looked at, they appear to be echoes of the public schools that so many politicians went to and therefore alien to much of the country. Anyone who has had a life and made mistakes would also get crucified by the right wing press we have, so able people who have got a skeleton in the closet (albeit nobody’s business) would be hounded out because people have been conditioned to be voyeuristic and prurient. And then there is the question of how few women there are in government……I could go on. For change to happen people have to act, organise, demand, hold politicians accountable, civil disobedience, join Unions, care for others not just themselves, target the financial interests of those that are causing the vulnerable to live in poverty. Don’t succumb to the divide and rule tactics that distract from the real source of injustice.

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nino July 23, 2014 at 9:54 am

I thought it was pretty clear that I was joking about chopping off the teachers’ heads – its a very old radical joke indeed. However, my generation (born 1952) must take some blame. We had virtually all our demands met by society and than a significant number of us went on to deny the same rights to younger genrations. So convinced were we of the correctness of our views that we became horrid control freaks. The much hoped for end of ideology was a thinly disguised prayer for the end of radical and marxist ideology. Where did voter apathy come from then? Can anybody who is poor and feels a no hoper possibly relate to seemingly reasonable ambitious career politicians? Since when did ambition breed the intelligence you’re looking for? Without some kind of belief system and the courage to stand up for and debate that belief system how can anybody feel engaged with politics? Is it surprising that the intellectual degeneration which you describe in relation to people standing for and entering parliament (in most countries in my opinion) when the only aim of the candidates is to pursue a career? Teachers and lecturers have fought a courageous fight over the years and many have complained to me that try as they might increasingly over the years their young students just stared blankly ahead and failed to respond. Elites have always functioned in the ways you describe and inequality has always been there but nowadays the victims of that oppression are unwilling and even unaware that they should do something about it. Who is around to argue their corner? So far only the extreme right has cynically exploited this situation. The “intellectuals” have abandoned the fight for one reason or another. I’m not attaching blame but feel a great sadness and I’m not sure that tinkering with the rules of parliament is even adequate. This degenration has cut very deep and appears frighteningly irreversible. Maybe some judicious dusting of the cobwebs from the classics – and I don’t mean Virgil or Homer – such as Gramsci, Marx etc might be a start. But does Kindle Kobol et al have a cobweb function?

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Fionauk512 July 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm

I am in agreement with many of the points you make, and of course realised that the comment about chopping teachers heads off was a joke. However you said a little more than that and in the context of the long running dispute teachers have had with the government, which they (gov) like to rave on is about teachers protecting their “gold played pensions” and “more than the private sector” wages, you’ll forgive me for feeling like I have to argue the point. Over the last few years teachers have been blamed for all manner of society’s ills, and I’ve had a gut full. Most teachers I talk to are just extremely concerned at the direction education is heading because it will have unintended consequences, and has created inequalities and unfairness for pupils and teachers in a system that is slowly, dangerously fragmenting. My understanding is that we cannot legally strike about that, it has to be billed as about pay and conditions, but it is far deeper and largely unreported by the media. Reporting seems to focus on disruption to parents, therefore helping the government to set groups against each other when really most of us all care about the same things.

I’ll keep on with my small actions in the hope that if enough people were to commit to small actions a wave may be created that could eventually lead to radical change. At some point the younger generation, who have been royally shafted, may reach a tipping point and understand they have to act to redress the balance. Perhaps I’m too optimistic or naive but I have to believe that change will come. The alternative is unbearable.

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