British Politics, Paradigms, and Present Rigmarole
Be careful what you wish for.
British politics is going through a spot of bother at present. Through certain paradigmatic observations, this is to be expected. The political events of this year might concoct a near perfect scenario in which the Conservative Party could be destroyed, and a new post-paradigm entity could subsequently take its place within the traditional duopoly. However, as with any moment of history or shifting of politico-historical forces, there is also a good chance of a scenario which spells irrevocable disaster to the central tenets of the system (especially the manner of voting in this case) which must be preserved for the sake of state preservation.
I have rambled in various places about paradigms, Blairism and renewing the political duopoly for some months, yet I have not properly broached the subject in my writing. Although I expect this article to be somewhat similar in its semi-abstract and semi-indirect nature, I hope it can serve as an initial explication of my thoughts and prove of use to those interested in matters of high politics.
A short history of the Blairite paradigm’s entrenchment, 1997-2016
Blairism governs the rules of the system, whether one supports the ideology or not. The majorities Labour had from 1997 to 2010 enabled an utter transformation of this country: mass immigration which dwarfed Enoch Powell’s most pessimistic predictions, every political institution reoriented to serve modernist atrophy, a more fervent anti-historicism than any preceding government, and the genesis of the modern Blob (click the link; Herbalis will always be essential reading) to protect it all. Then came Blairism’s greatest victory with the election of Cameron as Conservative leader in 2005.
In the literal sense of the word, Cameron was the perfect conservative in that he was a Blairite with a blue tie. His deduction from the state of politics at that time was that adopting Blairism almost uncritically and in its entirety would win him the next election. Consequently, the policy distances between him, Clegg and Brown were virtually zero in 2010. Only several billion pounds, a rather trifling figure in government spending terms, separated their economic plans; this was quickly memory-holed by the austerity narrative once the Cameron-Clegg coalition began. Furthermore, the relative constitutional radicalism of the Liberal Democrats at the time (see the 2011 AV referendum, Cameron’s first gamble) gave Cameron the shot in the arm to really fulfil his self-identification as Blair’s heir. Even something ostensibly neo-Thatcherite like the rationalisation of the quangocracy only consolidated the power and wealth of the Blob, epitomised fairly recently by Public Health England (2013-2021, replaced by the equally powerful Health Security Agency and Office for Health Improvement and Disparities).
This neo-Blairism continued rather nicely through the 2010-15 parliamentary term, but bad omens for the paradigm started showing themselves in the 2015 election. The distance between the three parties I have already mentioned had grown slightly, but the difference rested far away from threatening the paradigm’s fundamentals. Although the Scottish National Party’s surge *does* threaten the paradigm (they prove the failure of 1990s devolution to defeat what was a fairly minor nationalist movement), the 2014 independence referendum and natural limit on parliamentary seats sufficiently absorbed the nuisance of their new third-party status in 2015. However, the United Kingdom Independence Party was a different beast.
UKIP was never a post-paradigm force, but a reactionary one against the pro-Europeanism of Blair and his successors. It also had momentum from its victory in the European Parliament elections of the previous year. I will mention the British National Party in passing with regards to their threat in 2009/10, but their obvious extremism placed a hard limit on their appeal, as did the understandable/optical suppressibility of the party which said extremism allowed. For the separability of political radicalism and extremism, see Blair. Anyhow, the fact that UKIP came first in the European Parliament elections of 2014 and polled well ahead of the general election triggered the Conservatives’ existential defence mechanism, leading them to promise a referendum on EU membership (the same defence mechanism produced Cameron in the Hitchens narrative of modern British politics).
One thing leads to another, and the first potential system shock occurs as Britain votes to leave in 2016. In the years since, this shock has been absorbed by the paradigm; one needs to look no further than how much EU law still exists in some form despite multiple governments’ promises to scrap it. Nobody knew that would happen at the time, so in the last six years certain characters have emerged promising a clear escape from the politics of the last two decades or so.
Aside: possible escape routes from unfavourable paradigms
Before I continue, I should mention that the motivations of my observations could henceforth seem contradictory. To attempt to rectify this, I shall give readers two ways to escape the Blairite paradigm.
The first and likely optimal way would be to destroy one or both of the parties of Britain’s political duopoly. This would not be the first time such an event has occurred, which is why our two main parties have not been the Whigs and Tories (not to be confused with the Conservatives, colloquially but erroneously called Tories) for over 150 years. Obsolescence with enough of a voter base and/or system shock(s) *could* cause such an event to occur, but such conditions may instead produce a paradigm shift within existing parties (think the shift from the post-war consensus to Thatcherism). I believe destruction is currently optimal because of the comprehensive damage Blairism has wrought on all institutions and the warping of perceptions on British politics to a position of utter stupidity (think the Financial Times placing Liz Truss further right than Orban and Bolsonaro for wishing to take the edge off a tax burden akin to Attlee).
The second way, as I briefly mentioned in the last paragraph, is to have one party implement policies which destroy enough tenets of a paradigm as to render it invalid or shifted. As the energy of the present paradigm has dwindled, this is the primary avenue by which attempts have been made to escape it. We might (correctly) regard our modern political class as somewhat dim, but a survival instinct when their jobs are threatened en masse persists. This method is easier than the previous one because less creation is involved, but I think it struggles to account for entrenchment, lots of which has certainly occurred. Its ease also means it works well as a trick to weary voters; politicians can say they are breaking with policies of the past whilst making only superficial changes.
A short history of attempts to escape the Blairite paradigm, 2016-2021
The Labour Party of Jeremy Corbyn, as bad as it might have been for the country, was the first political force within the duopoly to attempt a distinctly anti-Blairite position. It had nearly enough energy to get itself into an officially ascendant position in 2017, but fortunately it fell short. Had it achieved a majority, the post-Blairite paradigm would have been open hardline socialism and a Conservative Party moving leftwards (probably over public ownership, as it has been since anyway) to accommodate. Both in high and low politics, this kind of politics is undesirable for its iconoclasm and willingness to push certain Blairite values far beyond their intended ranges.
In 2019, the paradigmatic forces experienced another potential system shock through the European Parliament elections. The Brexit Party was first and the Liberal Democrats second, so something in the duopoly had to give. This was once again the Conservatives’ existential defence mechanism, thus Boris Johnson became party leader that summer.
His politics, using the 2019 Conservative manifesto, does not fit easily into the narrative. Its primary energy derived from anti-paradigm Eurosceptic populism, but it wished to succeed on a blend of ideas Johnson called “levelling-up.” I believe I have seen it described as postliberal before, which would make sense with regards to targeted redistribution and communitarianism, but Theresa May’s one-nationism promised similar broad objectives. Johnson too described his policies as one-nation but, unlike May, did not borrow his platform from Ed Miliband (see the energy price cap). Both are predicated on the late-paradigm aphorism of “x = neoliberalism/austerity/Thatcherism = bad,” but beyond that accept a Blairite core to politics. One cannot discount the presence of Dominic Cummings, who is genuinely post-paradigm, but his wish was for Johnson to be a vessel to achieve Brexit and nothing more.
As one might be able to tell, Johnson has typically tried to be everything to everyone, hence his majority in the 2019 election. For our purposes, we must take the popular perception that he was post-paradigm because he was pro-“sunlit uplands,” but as I explained in my aside he best aligns with faking the second method of paradigm shift and being only superficially post-paradigm. A trick or not, he had more energy than Corbyn, won the election, left the European Union and then quickly lost all political energy to the Covid pandemic.
Could he have got back on track with his agenda? Possibly. I think he had a good try, but massive debt accumulation and the lack of a consequence-free national on/off switch would limit the options of any politician to achieve manifesto policy changes.
The rigmarole ensues
After a rather drawn-out leadership contest, Liz Truss replaced Boris Johnson. Conservatives have a certain thing of “female leader = Thatcher 2,” so of course she was going to win against Rishi Sunak. I still remember the Daily Mail headline promising Theresa May would be the second Iron Lady, but this was quietly memory-holed in 2017.
Truss campaigned on her supposed radicalism and a vision of renewed economic growth. As a brief tangent, I find it remarkable how Conservative members can be excited so much by something which conventional thinking would regard as a given in an advanced economy. I guess they just cannot fathom diminishing state capacity, nor the production of tangible goods over shifting numbers on a spreadsheet, nor our poor GDP per capita, nor sustainable growth without a million plus immigrants per year, nor that much beyond “muh Thatcher, muh NHS” really.
Constitutionally, socially and even economically Blairism would have remained almost unscathed, but Truss is only successful because of Conservatives’ Thatcher 2 complex, thus we largely fake the second method of paradigm shift once more. The markets and the media, however, did not get the memo of another false alarm to their ways of life, thus Kwasi Kwarteng’s “mini-budget” began the entertaining rigmarole of the past several weeks. Most of the markets’ issues were far longer in the making, but because of optics and bad timing they are forevermore linked to so-called “Trussonomics.” The rigmarole itself does not need repeating, and I am worried if you are not aware how it ended.
As another tangent, Jeremy Hunt’s policy reversals mean Labour rests to the right of the Conservatives economically. This also occurred towards the end of Johnson’s tenure as Labour have adopted several decent ideas over the past few months to attempt to tackle the oncoming economic storm.
Into the unknown
One defence mechanism later, we are into another (albeit mercifully truncated) leadership election. Had Truss stayed, all polls indicated she would be for the Conservatives as Kim Campbell was for Canada’s old Progressive Conservative Party in 1993. For the doubters of duopoly realignment, the 1993 Canadian election is an important reminder that it is both possible and does happen in English-style political systems. The Conservative Party yet remains a cunning creature, so we now find ourselves at a point of a party experiencing more leadership changes than its 1951-64 stint aiming to win more successive terms in office than its 1979-97 stint. It is both completely worn out but unwilling to surrender the next round of musical chairs to their fairly similar opposition.
For most of what could happen, the fact Sir Keir Starmer leads the Labour Party is a good thing. He is somewhat uncharismatic, does not strongly believe in radical change and thinks he can win the next election by being a poor re-enactment of Blair. Having somebody so paradigmatic so late in the life of a paradigm is fantastic if one wishes to realign the duopoly. He is more or less inertia personified, so the right could have a space to find a new political energy under a new entity (think New Labour without the baggage of a large contingent of legacy MPs). Labour does not represent the worker as much as Conservatives no longer represent the aspirational segment of the population, so Labour’s day of reckoning will come eventually. It nearly came after the 2019 election, and Conservatives have been ceaselessly coping since with the fact it did not. It reminds me of the Whigs and Tories (or more truthfully the Whigs’ right-wing faction) waiting for the other to die in the years around the Great Reform Act 1832.
Conservative Party destruction, probably accompanying a result in the ballpark of or worse than the 1906 election (156 seats, including Liberal Unionists), is an end result I can foresee happening with Sunak or Mordaunt at the helm. The former has lost his appeal from no longer having the money to make everybody feel good, and the latter might get the Thatcher 2 complex going amongst members but is otherwise an unknown amidst an untrustworthy rump of flailing elites. A funnier albeit riskier outcome would be the return of Boris Johnson, only to be ousted via recall petition for being Boris Johnson and necessitating yet another contest.
A bad result would be the return of Johnson and him blustering his way into some sort of renewed trust in the Conservatives. A slim Conservative majority at the next election would be fine since it would set up an even greater fall (akin to Major’s unexpected win in 1992 and hammering in 1997), but I regard the chance of this as nearly zero. What if Johnson squeezes the potential Labour landslide to something that is liveable but not comfortable? This outcome would be, and I cannot stress this enough, *catastrophic* for the outlook of British politics. Instead of defeating Blairism, one will only find an even greater vindication of its modernising premises than its capture of the Conservative Party through the Labour Party’s promise of introducing proportional representation. Blair once promised proportional representation before the 1997 election as part of widespread institutional reform, but his 179-seat majority spared us the death of this centuries-old and fundamental aspect to our politics.
Fundamentally, if you want Britain to die and Blairite technocracy condemn us all to an eternal death-spiral, let Johnson run down Starmer’s predicted majority for the next two years.
My position here goes against the common belief of both the Conservative membership and the more dissentious circles I frequent. Why would I not want a party which could elect a few representatives closer to my views than whatever the Conservative Party claims for its eponymous ideology? Okay, so you get some MPs to have a go at liberals and the left like Farage did in the European Parliament, but to what end? You might eventually get a handful of policies and one or two ministerial posts in a coalition government, only for none of them to be implemented because the government has already collapsed and been replaced by centrist technocrats again. Is that really winning?
I do not have a high opinion of proportional representation, as one might be able to tell, so I am against anything which might tease such a policy from any party. One can have a funny timeline, a funnier timeline and political chaos, so long as they follow the same conventions of forming governments in an adversarial Parliament which have existed for the past several centuries. After all, systems need to fall back on a point of continuous stability somewhere or they are not cohesive systems at all.
In short, be careful what you wish for.
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