Every major political development, good, bad or indifferent, serves an educational end even if it serves no other.
People blessed with good political judgement can have it confirmed. People cursed with bad political judgement can have it dispelled. Those who predicted the development all along can have a smug smile on their faces.
The ungodly mess into which the political class has plunged Britain over the people’s desire to leave the EU works admirably in such didactic capacity – and not only for the British.
It was Edmund Burke who spelled out the proper role of an MP:
“To deliver an opinion, is the right of all men; that of constituents is a weighty and respectable opinion, which a representative ought always to rejoice to hear; and which he ought always most seriously to consider. But authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgement and conscience, – these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land, and which arise from a fundamental mistake of the whole order and tenor of our constitution.”
To put this into more up-to-date shorthand, an MP is his constituents’ representative but not their delegate. Once elected, he must act not according to the constituents’ wishes, but according to their interests – as he sees them.
These are vital distinctions, going to the heart of the constitution. Burke pointed out, and warned against, a potential dichotomy between delegates and representatives.
No such problems for today’s parliamentarians. They solve the dichotomy between delegates and representatives by being neither.
Most of them serve not bono publico, but their own bono – and that of their whole political class. This is made up of politicians, civil servants and journalists, and it’s entirely self-serving and self-contained.
By torpedoing Brexit this class has proved yet again that their own will trumps the will of the people with room to spare. If any divergence between the two exists, the people will simply be ignored.
Yes, but what about Burke’s prescription that MPs should act according to their own “judgement and conscience”? On the surface of it, that’s exactly what they’re doing.
The people expressed their desire to leave the EU; the political class consulted its own collective conscience and decided that wouldn’t be in the people’s interests. So it closed bipartisan ranks and came up with a whole raft of underhanded tricks to bypass the popular vote.
One can almost see the great Whig cheering from his grave, right? Eh, not quite.
Putting aside the blindingly obvious fact that most of our MPs are bereft in the area of “judgement and conscience”, Burke was talking specifically about the democracy he knew – the kind operating through institutions.
Referendum, plebiscite, opinion poll and other devices of direct democracy were alien to him. That’s why, much as we may venerate Burke’s political wisdom, this bit of it doesn’t apply to the issue of Brexit.
For, by calling a referendum, the political class abrogated its responsibility to make a decision of vast constitutional import. It asked the people to leapfrog the institutions of the state and decide the issue by a simple show of hands.
Though technically speaking the referendum wasn’t legally binding, the political class made it so by pledging to abide by the result. In other words, in this one instance, MPs agreed to act as people’s delegates, not just their representatives.
Their subsequent dishonest, perfidious chicanery aimed at subverting the will of the people should make any sensible person nauseated – and, paradoxically, grateful.
One should always thank teachers for a useful lesson, and few lessons are ever taught better than this one.
We’ve learned that there’s no bridge spanning the gulf between the political class and the people it’s supposed to represent. Neither people’s wishes nor their interests come into the political process at all.
On the contrary, the political class works tirelessly to widen and deepen the gulf, which explains its affection for the EU in the first place. Meek submission to that awful contrivance means that the people won’t be able to hold the political class to account.
If most of our laws are passed down from abroad, with the people’s representative acting at best only in a rubberstamping capacity, they represent no one but themselves. QED.
The term ‘political class’, as distinct from simply politicians, is useful. For, in addition to timeservers in various departments, this class is made up not only of politicians but also of journalists.
Witness how, in reshufflings reminiscent of the Soviet nomenklatura of my childhood, politicians effortlessly become journalists, and vice versa. The line of demarcation is very fluid indeed, with such dynasties as the Rees-Moggs, Mounts, Johnsons, Lawsons and Rifkinds, along with singletons like Gove, adorning both parts of the ruling class.
As a strong believer in hierarchies, I see nothing wrong with the principle of a ruling class – provided it coalesces and operates by constitutional means, and always acts in the public interest.
Today such a ruling class falls into the category of either an archaism or a pipe dream. Our lot are prepared to destroy the country’s constitution, social order and any chance for prosperity in pursuit of their own nefarious ends – for ends that can only be pursued by perfidious means are nefarious by definition.
Those who hadn’t realised this before the Brexit fiasco, surely must realise it now. That’s something to be thankful for, at least.