That it is 300 years since a Speaker of the House of Commons was forced from office reflects a political crisis reverberating up from the deepest bowels of society. But a new Speaker, and new rules for the expenses system have as much chance of solving the constitutional emergency as the measures taken by governments and central banks have of fixing the global financial system.
Both the political and financial turbulence reflect seismic shifts much deeper in the class relations which are at the essence of today’s troubles. In Britain, claims for the cleaning of murky moats stir issues left unresolved by the English revolution, bringing them to the surface once more.
In the British Parliament, history found a place where the representatives of two classes could argue over the exploitation of the dispossessed third. The modern-day Liberals are the inheritors of the landowning aristocracy, and the Conservatives were established and continue to pursue the interests of capital of the specifically home-grown British variety.
At the end of the 19th century the representatives of the third class, the organised, industrialised workers, were persuaded by the Fabian Society that their interests could be pursued politically by a parliamentary party known as Labour, which would seek peaceful, gradual reforms and thus avoid the nasty Continental tradition of revolution.
Fast-forward 100 years and we find that the incessant, restless growth of capital periodically interrupted by worsening crises, has transformed national politics in every country. The period of parliamentary-based reformist politics came to an abrupt end around about 1979, marked by the fall of the Calllaghan government and the beginnings of the Thatcherite period of class war and corporate-driven globalisation.
Now, the collapse in demand for the products of transnational corporations addicted to credit-induced growth sets the agenda of every government which must attempt to find a route to stabilisation. But all routes are closed except those that destroy jobs, evict people from their homes, and wipe out their savings, forcing hundreds of millions into poverty and starvation.
Those who were persuaded that the market would provide them a better pension than the state are among the first victims. A report today by Ros Altmann, a governor at the London School of Economics, says: "Essentially the entire UK pensions system has been based on a bet that equities would always do well enough over the long-term to deliver reliably good pensions. The old idea that stock markets can always be relied on to deliver strong returns has left millions facing an impoverished old age."
This is not just a British problem. California is among the richest and is on the point of bankruptcy. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was last night facing a ballot defeat. Polls pointed to voter fury over the failure of the Republican governor and the Democratic-controlled legislature to balance the state's books. As Californians struggle with joblessness, home foreclosures and sharp losses in the stock market, the state has raised taxes, cut spending and borrowed to try and fix a $42-billion shortfall – and still remains more than $15 billion short of a balanced budget.
In Britain, voters aren’t going to be fobbed off with a few changes to the expenses system. Even the The Guardian, which has backed New Labour at every twist and turn, is now permitted to use the R word in its columns in an attempt to keep up with public anger which increasingly expresses itself in the use of the term revolution.
What voters are seeking is justice and retribution for the past – and access to power long denied them by a Parliamentary show that, when the curtains are drawn, is spending its time assembling a tawdry collection of crumpled receipts for dog food, pornographic movies and sticks of furniture together with fraudulent claims for mortgages on second homes. Introducing real democracy will require a social revolution that is both political and economic along the lines suggested by our People’s Charter for Democracy. Nothing less will do the trick.