The suits rule the world!
They probably always did but briefly from the mid sixties to the early eighties the ‘suits’ were derided as boring bureaucrats. To be an accountant was just about the most laughable career choice anyone could make and banking was for dull old men.
During this period the rulers of the universe were rock stars and actors, film makers and playwrights. It was teachers, lecturers, doctors and lawyers who were the stars of their professions. And in politics it was iconic individualists like Tony Benn and Norman Tebbit who captured the public imagination.
But after 1979 the ‘suits’ mounted a counter-revolution and took back control of every aspect of our lives. But these weren’t Thatcher’s risk-taking ‘entrepreneurs’; these new ‘suits’ were the boring A-grade students who at school got all the prizes but completely lacked charisma or imagination and were about as risk-averse as you can get.
This has led to the sociopathic dead-hand of corporate managerialism taking over all our lives. The dreaded MBA has spread the myth that all organisations are the same and that ‘managing’ a bank, a supermarket or a button factory is the same as managing a hospital, a school or a theatre.
And worst of all this world-view has infected politics , and even the politics of the left. The labour party, the trade unions and the labour movement have been overtaken by a technocratic managerial proceduralism, electorialism and legalism that has rendered them almost apolitical.
‘Politics’ has been reduced to tinkering with bits of regulation and legislation. The answer to every problem is yet another technocratic rule. Professional politicians and the commentariat regard conversations about political philosophy and ideology as a ‘waste of time’, as ‘just so much hot air.’ To them politics is only about making or changing laws and ergo as parliament is where the making and changing of laws takes place, then ‘politics’ is what happens in Westminster. This attitude leads to political parties like the Labour Party becoming entirely focused on a kind of soulless corporate professional electorialism. To many in the LP getting councillors and MP’s elected is the entirety of politics. Political philosophy and indeed policy, is to them only relevant to the extent that it aids the winning of elections. Indeed, to them discussing ‘politics’ is a hindrance because it is ‘divisive’. By which they seem to mean that people do not agree on matters of political philosophy or the policies that might derive from it. And of course they are correct! People don’t agree. But the technocrats solution to that obvious fact is to stop having the discussions. To avoid political divisions by avoiding discussing politics and denuding policy presentation of politics wherever possible.
Similarly since 1979 trade unions have been largely reduced to being a branch of corporate HR, obsessed with negotiating ever more complicated agreements and regulations, which are then simply ignored by employers when it suits them. The ‘politics’ of trade unionism is in fact often denied by trade union bureaucrats. “Our job is to get the best deal for our members,” they say, assuming that this is best achieved by developing closer relationships with the employers than with their own members.
Yet UKIP has surely shown us that getting elected is only part of the story. ‘Politics’ in a democracy is much, much bigger than the electoral procedurals of the Labour Party and the trade unions. UKIP has had a profound influence on UK politics while almost entirely failing to win elections. It has won the hearts and minds of a minority large enough to influence the mainstream. And UKIP’s appeal is chiefly about political and moral values (much we may despise them) not about statistics. Farage’s main appeal is that he is perceived to say what he means and to mean what he says, and that he is not ‘afraid’ to say those things that the ‘liberal’ media conspiracy try to stop being said.
The history of the last 20 years shows us that The Clinton/Blair kind of professional electorialism devoid of principle, ideology or intellectual content is a serious threat to democracy because it debases the intensely political to the level of a consumer choice. This has left the electorate disillusioned with both professional politicians who appear to us as simply unprincipled corporate careerists, and we have enough of those to deal with at work, and with the political process itself, which has become almost devoid of content and profoundly manipulative.
What all these besuited, political managerialists have forgotten is that ultimately all politics is about hearts and minds, and about values. UKIP and Trump have understood that.
People no longer trust ‘facts’ and ‘experts’ because the political class has so consistently manipulated them in disingenuous and downright dishonest ways. Its also true if you think about for more that two minutes that facts can only ever get you so far in any political debate. “Immigration has doubled in 5 years.” Assuming that immigration has indeed gone up proving it has only gone up by 10% or 30% rather than 60% or 100% doesn’t really resolve anything because the response to the ‘facts’ of rising immigration is determined by political and moral values not the truth-value of ‘the facts’. Whether you regard immigration as a good thing or a bad thing and what responsibility you think we have for people born outside our country will determine your reaction to ‘the facts’.
And we no longer trust experts because so often ‘experts’ are knowingly complicit in this process of mass deception. And ultimately this is because there are honest and dishonest experts, and even the honest experts have their own values which unsurprisingly they wish to promote and thus they choose which facts they regard as significant i.e. the facts that support their values.
When I was a union rep I once said to a manager that whether a policy or process was ‘efficient’ depended on what it was you were trying to achieve and the extent to which the proposed ‘efficiences’ helped you do that. The manager disagreed asserting that ‘efficiency’ was a value- free concept that could and should be applied uniformly. I was staggered by the philosophical incoherence of this man’s argument and horrified that a cock like him was responsible for the jobs and livelihood of so many of us.
Similarly an outraged Blairite in the Labour Party recently asked me very aggressively if “I even wanted the Labour Party to win the election”. I replied that it depended what the policies in the manifesto were. He shouted at me that my position was “disgraceful” and “outrageous”. I was staggered. This man was in effect saying that it was not my business to even think about the policies of the party I supported but merely to passively deliver leaflets at election time and do as I was told. This same man at the CLP AGM just this week made an impassioned speech saying that it was not the place of the CLP or the branches to discuss policy and that our only role was to support candidates in local and national elections, that the only legitimate political activity is getting people elected who will bring in new laws or amend old laws and that members at CLP and branch level should only be discussing electioneering tactics and leaflet delivery rotas.
For me both of these men share the same narrow, proceduralist, apolitical world-view that denies the importance of moral and political values and claims that abiding by regulatory processes is in and of itself justice in action.
This bureaucratic world-view is in fact sociopathic and profoundly undemocratic and is responsible for much misery in the world and the current political crisis in which we find ourselves. We on the left have to understand that hearts and minds come before politicking – if you haven’t convinced people that your political and moral values are worth fighting then you’ve lost before you begin and no amount of leaflet delivering is going to change that!