The unfolding crisis in Westminster clarifies the nature of British politics.
I’ll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with any claim, slogan or, for that matter, constitution – written or otherwise.
Our monarch doesn’t rule through Parliament, nor indeed in Parliament.
Our government isn’t a democracy in the strict etymological sense of the word, nor even figuratively. It’s not the rule of the people; it’s the rule over the people.
To use Burkean terminology, our MPs are neither people’s representatives nor even their delegates.
Our government has no balance of power – this was replaced by dictatorship of the Commons a long time ago, but now it’s not even that.
The Cabinet doesn’t exercise executive power, and nor does Parliament have legislative supremacy.
The Prime Minister has little control over the Cabinet, which doesn’t matter very much because the Cabinet has little control over anything.
We aren’t ruled by the monarch, the people, Parliament, the Cabinet or the prime minister. We’re ruled by the apparat.
This word of Latin origin but Soviet usage designates a sort of faceless power behind the throne, a collective éminence grise wielding an inordinate control over affairs of the state.
In totalitarian states, the apparat performs a largely bureaucratic function, and its power derives therefrom. The big cheeses usually have neither the time nor the inclination to get into the nitty-gritty of day-to-day government. This is a function they tend to delegate to the apparat.
It’s therefore up to the apparatchiks either to release the devil that’s in the detail or keep him bottled in there. They can surreptitiously undermine any diktat or else make it appear as a flash of genius.
That’s how Stalin gained power in the Soviet Union – unlike Lenin and Trotsky, he didn’t mind getting his hands dirty with bureaucratic drudgery. When Lenin appointed Stalin Secretary General of the Party in 1922, the job was seen as just that, secretarial. Stalin referred to himself with sly self-deprecation as secretarishka (little secretary).
However, the little secretary soon became the big boss. Acting behind the loudmouths’ backs, he built his own apparat brick by brick. And in that edifice there was no room for any of the thundering revolutionaries.
The apparat proved too strong for them, and 30 years later it proved too strong for Stalin as well.
In October, 1952, he was demoted from Secretary General to just one of the Secretaries. Even though he retained much of his power, a fair chunk of it was now in the hands of the apparat. Four months later Stalin died under suspicious circumstances.
In Britain the role of the apparat was traditionally played by the Civil Service, which used to be considered the best in the world. I don’t know if it still is, though I doubt that on general principle. But it’s definitely not the apparat any longer.
That is, some of its members do belong to the apparat, as do some MPs, some cabinet members, some journalists, some businessmen, some all sorts of people. The current apparat is a hodgepodge of different professions, different influences, different groups.
Just as any other apparat, it exerts its power behind the scenes, but that doesn’t make its power any less real. The apparat is invisible but, just as Kepler deduced the existence of some planets from the deflection in the orbits of others, its presence is indisputable.
It’s not a conspiracy in any usual sense of the word. There are no dark smoky cellars with evil men hunched over the floor plan of the Houses of Parliament.
The apparat doesn’t want to blow up Westminster. It only strives to undermine the constitutional principles on which it rests, and it’s getting away with that because those principles are largely forgotten and even more largely ignored.
Yet it’s not just Westminster that lives or dies by the constitution. It’s Britain herself, for politics largely (though far from exclusively) defines Britishness, which, unlike Englishness, is itself a political construct.
Take away the British constitution, and Britain will no longer be Britain. Politics to us is what wine and cheese are to the French.
France has had 17 different constitutions during the period that Britain has had only one – yet France has remained France, kept together by wine, cheese, language and culture in general.
However, Britain won’t survive the collapse of her ancient constitution because she has no wine and cheese to fall back on – and no language, as anyone who has ever heard young people speak these days will confirm.
Margaret Thatcher came out of the apparat, but she tried to turn against it. She didn’t realise that the apparat had become too strong to take on. So it proved. The apparat got rid of her and dragged Britain into the EU.
The reasons for that constitutional treason were both physical and metaphysical. Physically, the politicians within the apparat realised that the EU offered them life after death. After being ousted from Parliament in London, they could still have lucrative political careers in Brussels or Strasbourg, giving them a lifelong membership in the apparat.
But there were also deeper reasons. The apparat lives a life of its own, and it’s supranational by nature. An apparatchik from England has more in common with an apparatchik from Finland than he does with any Englishman who doesn’t belong to the apparat.
Since the apparat doesn’t owe its life to Britain, it owes her no allegiance. It’s parthenogenic; the ovum from which it was born hadn’t been fertilised by any national input.
What happened on 23 June, 2016, was a popular revolt against the apparat. The apparat had permitted it to happen because it had grown so arrogant that a defeat in the referendum seemed inconceivable.
Similar revolts, in various forms, are happening all over the Western world, with their apparats fighting a rearguard action, usually victorious for the time being. The apparat always comes back with reinforcements, and that’s what’s happening in Britain now.
Do you think for a second that those Tory Remainers, led with singular ineptitude by Mrs May, are trying to defeat the referendum they lost because they don’t realise they’re destroying the country? Don’t they know that they’re practically unrolling a red carpet for the Trotskyist evil to settle with catastrophic consequences at 10 Downing Street?
Of course they do. But they don’t care because their loyalty is pledged not to the party, nor, God forbid, to the country, but to the apparat. They aren’t only supranational but also suprapartisan. They don’t care if the Tory Party or even Britain herself dies – as long as the apparat lives.
If we still ran our politics constitutionally, the government would have abided by the solid vote in the referendum regardless of how some members of the government had felt about it.
The people voted to be rid not only of the EU but, even though many of them didn’t realise it, of the apparat as well. The only decent course of action for a truly constitutional government would have been to leave the EU within a couple of weeks of the referendum, and without paying any exit fees.
Whatever negotiations were necessary could have proceeded from that starting point. Some economic sacrifices might or might not have followed but, even if they had, they wouldn’t have been as severe as those made by the British during Germany’s previous attempt to unite Europe.
The British government felt then that no sacrifice was too great to preserve the nation’s sovereignty and therefore her soul. The British government today is British in name only.
The apparat rules and it’s proving invincible, its muscle gradually built by the steroids of surreptitious power. Prime Minister Corbyn, anyone?