I recently got round to reading Peter Oborne’s “The Triumph of The Political Class”, which I would tentatively rate as the most important book written about the state of British politics in recent years. His basic argument is that today’s political class has little experience of the real world outside the corridors of power, is drawn from an insular group of metropolitan folk who consider themselves superior to, and cut off from, the ordinary mass; it craves power for its own sake and for its monetary rewards, is corrupt, venal, obsessed by controlling the media, and has damaged and is damaging any institutions and practices – such as the old House of Lords or judiciary – that get in its way. Oborne argues his case with a tremendous passion and penetrating use of argument. At the end of the 334 pages of text one is left – which I think is the idea – feeling rather depressed. With good reason.
So why do I say that the book is incomplete? Well, for a start, Mr Oborne does not spend much time figuring out how the European Union and the growing centralisation of power in Brussels plays into all this. This strikes me as a bit of an oddity. Consider this: if we accept Mr Oborne’s idea that this class of people are determined to acquire power and wealth, why have they been so keen to transfer so much power to the EU? Sure, some of these politicians may have made the base calculation that they can feather their own nests very nicely in Brussels or Strasbourg, but for a lot of them, turning parliament into little more than a branch office of Brussels with a few perks is not much of an ambition. It is odd that he does not spend more time on this aspect of the question.
I also think that Mr Oborne’s attack on the mainstream media for getting too close to the established parties – especially Labour – is seriously undermined by his completely ignoring the role of modern electronic media, particularly the internet. He makes no mention of things like blogging whatever. Now, I do not think that the role of the web should be exaggerated, but surely, the role of blogs in digging into subjects left alone by the MSM has, at the margins, made a positive difference. Take the scandals that have been exposed by Guido Fawkes, for instance.
But perhaps the biggest mistake in the book is quite simply this: it is no good Mr Oborne or anyone else attacking such a political class unless they attack the fundamental problem at its root: Big Government. Remember, that this class is powerful because it has a large structure off which to live. Re-establishing some traditional checks and balances into public life may reduce some corruption and public venality, as Mr Oborne no doubt hopes, but it is only by cutting the state down to size that we will realistically starve the beast that feeds this class. As I have pointed out several times on this site, one of the most damaging things done by the current government was to have enabled a massive rise in the number of people employed directly and indirectly, by the state. The reversal of this process is, in my view, rather more important than wondering whether an MP is fiddling his expenses or having sex with his secretary.
Even so, I urge people to read this book if they want to get a good handle on the state of public life in the UK in the early 21st century.