Chris succinctly tweets this idea this morning:
Crow vs Benn: Benn used oratory – & failed. Crow used industrial muscle – & succeeded, for his members.
I wonder, however, if it is a completely fair comparison. Yes. Benn used oratory – clever language – but in the first part of his life journey (quite a substantial part, it is true) he was dedicated to that box of oratory that is the House of Commons. He is famously quoted as then saying on his “retirement“:
4. “Having served for nearly half a century in the House of Commons, I now want more time to devote to politics and more freedom to do so.”
Upon announcing that he would stand down from parliament in 1999.
Meanwhile, today comes my way an astonishing story from the Telegraph. It argues that the Coalition has run out of laws to pass, and in so doing has handed control of Parliament to the Labour Party. I would prefer to make a quite different interpretation on what’s happening: far more probably, Parliament is becoming so irrelevant to the real process of law-making – that is to say, so many laws are either made: a) for what are effectively virtual constitutions by software companies, as they design and develop their online communities we all participate in more and more; or b) more significantly behind the closed doors of secret transnational treaties, fashioned and forged in the interests of large movers of concentrated wealth – that in truth modern governments have discovered they don’t need parliaments any more in order to transact what we might term real business.
And maybe that is precisely why Tony Benn said when he did that he’d be stepping down from Parliament to dedicate himself better to the job of politicking. He was a visionary in the sense that he saw, ahead of his time or where his time refused to admit to what it probably already knew to be the case, how our parliamentary body politic was fast losing its weight and importance. As voters, we used to have a say in the people who ran the august and sovereign institutions of democracy. Now we have a say in those people who will simply occupy dead space.
Benn was right.
Those of us who believed in representative democracy’s powers of renewal were wrong.
We do, after all, as per Roosevelt’s definition, live in an evermore fascist state.
One final thought. If this is fascism, if this is the way it is going to be, if – say – the principles we fought for in World War Two were just blips in a historically ongoing process of de-democratisation, how can we work within this new frame? At least, I mean, to salvage some of the good that went before.
At least, I mean, to survive what appears to be a savage and ever-growing Darwinisation of social relationships.
I wondered idly, this morning also, why so much of our law-making has traditionally focussed on ensuring our widely varying populations learn how to behave humanely. I’m not saying I disagree – I’m just wondering why it’s not seen essential for our economic activity to be informed by the same trains of thought. Why must justice not only be seen to be done, but also battle so strongly to avoid murder, rape, theft and other crimes against ordinary peoples – whereas the effects of capitalism (even where not always literally the players themselves – distanced as they often are from the direct levers of their actions) can be allowed to run rampantly across our sociocultural landscapes, leaving – as they do – people living in the streets, hungry in their homes, cold in their beds and ultimately without properly affordable medical care?
It’s a strange dichotomy, a strange division of attitudes – where not a strange division of labour.
The solution? I have less and less of a clue. Extra-parliamentary action or extra parliamentary action? One hyphen’s difference – yet worlds apart. And in the ultimate analysis, maybe Benn was right in this too: progress only really happens when you wrench it from the established order.