When the MPs expenses scandal broke out like an ugly rash earlier this year, many cynics pooh-poohed it. Oh, we all knew that they were only in Parliament to line their own pockets, they scoffed.
Well, as so often, what first appeared as a bit of rottenness, turned out to be a much deeper and bigger decay. Scorn and contempt for Parliament is running at levels not seen since the late 18th century when painter William Hogarth satirised electoral corruption and Tom Paine, author of the Rights of Man, denounced the Rotten Boroughs, under which rich landowners could buy political influence.
But has the exposure of their greed made MPs contrite and willing to mend their ways, as party leaders would have us believe? No, quite the reverse, certainly for most New Labour MPs. Since it is apparent that New Labour could suffer a massive defeat in a possible spring 2010 election, backbench MPs are handing in their notice.
Yesterday’s Observer announced that 120 Labour MPs plan to resign at the next election. Some 63 have already told Brown that they will leave. Their reasons for leaving and their timing of their departures are due mainly to their desire to keep up their high earnings. One Labour MP is quoted as saying “I’m off. You can’t earn a decent living anymore. We’re going to have the most inexperienced parliament even after the elections with some big decisions to make. It is not somewhere I want to be. I want to earn some money.”
Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham, rightly warns that the mass exodus by MPs has a significance beyond rats leaving a sinking ship. In so far as Parliament has been a protected space and political forum where those who had any principles could speak freely, the upcoming implosion of Parliament will suit those he terms the “secret power holders in Britain – the media proprietors, the City and the permanent state bureaucrats, who have always believed the country would be better run if politicians did not get in the way.” In other words, when there is a severe crisis of democratic representation, the sinister forces of dictatorship shadows can seize the chance to the fore.
Is the answer to this crisis, the creation of another reformist organisation, reprising the formation of the Labour Party early in the 20th century? A number of left organisations and trade union leaders think so. Recently the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) issued a call for a discussion about “a single left alternative” to be formed “to represent working class interests at the next election”.
Behind-the-scenes discussions have been going on between the Socialist Party, the Communist Party of Britain, the leadership of the RMT rail union (who together recently created NO2EU), the SWP and Respect. The possibility of such an alliance deconstructing a system which has become little more than a façade for the interests of the global corporations and banks is pretty remote, however.
The inexorable drift, instead, of a faux "left unity" is towards a NO2EU Mark II on the back of Mark I, which stood in the recent Euro elections on a nationalist platform that counterposed British “democratic structures” to those of the European Union and hardly referred to the economic crisis at all.
The notion of a new “left” parliamentary party, comfortingly safe as it may seem, completely ignores the reasons for Parliament’s decline. The expenses scandal is the straw that is breaking the Parliamentary camel’s back, not some strange anomaly, but an indicator of the way in which economics and politics have been transformed in the decades of rampant globalisation, as A World to Win has analysed in its book, Unmasking the State
There is powerful symbolic context to MacShane’s warning about the dire consequences for democracy in yesterday’s Observer. Britain’s oldest Sunday newspaper – it was founded in 1791 – like parliamentary democracy itself, could be on its last legs. If it is forced to close, that will leave Murdoch and other right-wing media moguls to rule the roost, certainly on Sundays. It’s high time not to leave audacious political thinking to the far right but to set a course for a revolutionary transformation of politics and the state, thereby creating an enhanced democracy as well as defeating an incipient dictatorship. Anything less will simply reinforce a decaying status quo whatever the intentions.
A World to Win secretary