In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

No democracy, please. We’re British!

Posted by seumasach on October 1, 2008

Cailean Bochanan
1st October, 2008

The congressional vote on Monday rejecting the bailout scheme was a triumph for democracy. It has sent waves of dismay through the elite unaccustomed as they are to seeing their best laid plans dismissed in this way. For the British branch of Anglo-American it seems to have been particularly devastating: Brown put everything into backing it, “whatever the details”, and stands to lose further credilibilty with its defeat. Yesterday was a day of mourning, a day for deep reflection on the blows which destiny, or democracy, can deliver to embattled oligarchs and their entourage. But it was also a day of sharp manouvering by Monday’s losers: the markets rallied with Bush’s statement, sending a clear message to dissidents that the markets would collapse if disappointed by a further rejection. And there were promises of universal insurance on all deposits, a promise that costs nothing and which we already know cannot be met. A bailout for the bankers is now being presented as a bail out for everyone: we’re all going to bail out each other!

If at first you don’t succeed, vote and vote again. But whatever happens later this week the scenes of dissension and mutual condemnation we saw on Monday are unlikely to be reproduced across here: it’s not the British way.

The BBC spent most of yesterday imprinting on viewers minds the supposedly disastrous consequences of the bailout defeat. We then witnessed an extraordinary closing of ranks. Actually, it wasn’t extraordinary at all: the British elite always close ranks around questions of overriding interests, and the interests of the banks are overriding. As John McFall MP put it on Newsnight; “the job of government is to stand four square behind the banks”. Which article of the constitution was it that he was invoking? Or was it a citation from Magna Carta ? In  McFall “the banks in need, have a friend indeed” and he’s not the only one: no one dissented from this revelatory interpretation of our political constitution.

Suddenly, the Tories, who had been screaming at their party conference that no one could trust the prime minister on financial matters, were offering him their full support. Buggins was in no. 10 and we all had to rally round. The banks are reluctant to lend to each other: who, in a Christian nation, would dare to walk past on the other side. This was British democracy as it had always been: to create a whole nation of partners and beneficiaries in crime. The novelty is that this time we’re the victims.

We have also seen the Protestant ethic invoked in lieu of an argument: they’ve all been working so terribly hard. I don’t recall that argument being used in the thirties: ” Herr Hitler has been working very hard rounding up opponents the length and breadth of Germany”. Who can dispute that the British ruling class has been particularly hard at it these past few years: bombing Iraq and Afghanistan, raiding Equatorial Guinea and Sierra Leone, slandering all who stand in their way, deluging us with lies and, now, this heist as the culmination of their raids on the Treasury. After all that, only a man with a heart of stone would deny them his life savings. In the same spirit a man who surprised some burglars labouring to fill their sacks with the family silver  would offer them a nice cup of tea.

On the same programme we saw another time-honoured tradition of British politics: the official turncoat. Vince Cable, who has made his name in opposing precisely these kind of government measures, decided to hold his fire, in the name of unity, and offer “constructive criticism”. This is reminiscent of the late Robin’s Cook’s about turn when he, effectively, said that now that the war in Iraq had started we had to support it. By the same logic now that the bankers are looting the nation we have to support them.

But the banks have been looting the nation for some time. The coup d’etat of 1688 led to the creation of Great Britian, a political entity which was mortgaged to a consortium of private bankers. We’ve come the full circle:  we came into the world as a financier oligarchy and it looks like we’ll go down as one.

One Response to “No democracy, please. We’re British!”

  1. […] Clare Short’s speech: (as abridged by Hansard) This is a useful starting point for a wider critique of the British form of parliamentary democracy which deserves a much sharper treatment […]

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