99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clarity at last
Oborne has produced an astonishing work that anyone who cares about how and why the cult of 'modernization' destroyed the moderating mechanisms that evolved to protect reasonable freedoms should read. It shows how, like a spreading cancer, the political class - politicians and media - centralized power and control in order to survive. The carefully nurtured systems that...
Published on 3 Oct 2007 by I. Tyrrell
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars remain sane. don't read it
I was attracted to Peter Oborne's little polemic as a result of the glowing reviews that litter the front cover and inside pages. I should really take more care. This book represents all that is wrong with the British commentariat - poorly researched, heavily biased and opinionated beyond parody. Now, there's nothing wrong with opinions just as long as the author doesn't...
Published 8 months ago by startagain
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99 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clarity at last,
269 of 278 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Uprising Against Britain's New Ruling Class,
Peter Oborne is a columnist on the Right Wing Daily Mail, the organ of conservative Middle England. He has nevertheless written a revolutionary tract, which is essential reading for anyone who wants to overthrow Britain's ruling class.
In The Triumph Of The Political Class, he shows how that class has been transformed, largely by stealth, within the space of a generation.
Britain used to be governed by the Establishment, a network of people who knew each other (often through family) and largely shared the same social background, education and values. These values were pre-eminently Victorian: their best qualities were public service and incorruptibility, their worst were amateurism and snobbery. Their values were very strongly enforced - the monarch who rejected them, Edward VIII, was dethroned at the Establishment's behest. For about a hundred years this Establishment and its values dominated the governance of Britain through its grip on its major institutions, the home and overseas civil service, the armed forces, the judiciary and the City of London (before deregulation). They were buttressed by the monarchy, the state churches, and most of the media, especially the BBC. Although they dominated the political system, they regarded politics as a duty, rather than a career: indeed for most of the twentieth century it was almost impossible to make a living out of politics alone. People went into politics to represent their class or their locality, and they kept strong personal links with the interests in civil society which they represented.
This Establishment was remarkably adaptive. It survived two World Wars (when it successfully enlisted new talent to make good its shortcomings), the rise of organized labour, the emancipation of women and other gigantic upheavals. But it did not survive the arrival of a new elite who elbowed it ruthlessly aside and destroyed its powerbases. This is Oborne's Political Class - and a deeply unlovely bunch they are.
They live in a sealed world - like astronauts on an alien planet, moving along airlocked passages between a series of domes: party machines: "think-tanks"; Parliament; government; EU bureaucracy; lobbying; consultancies; media, all within the giant dome of politics. They form a self-admiring, self-promoting coterie and although they can plot viciously against each other they protect each other equally fiercely from any attack or criticism from the outside world. In their hands the political parties have melted their political differences and simply become vehicles for personal ambitions. Ironically, the political parties have never been so well organized and managed at precisely the moment when they no longer represent the interests and values of wider society and when they are all being deserted en masse by their former members.
Like all inhabitants of a sealed world, the Political Class behave very oddly. As a gentleman himself, Oborne spends a fair amount of time analysing their speech - a weird and depressing mix of managerial gobbledygook and fake populism - and their dress. More pertinently, he exposes their standards of conduct. On the whole, the old Establishment behaved better than the people they governed. The Political Class behaves much worse - although it does not stop them preaching endlessly at other people about "responsibility" and good citizenship.
With a wealth of examples, Oborne shows that our new rulers are parasites, who enrich themselves constantly at the taxpayers' expense. They routinely abuse power, lie and suppress and manipulate the truth. They never admit error or failure, they always shuffle responsibility onto someone else. In daily life, unlike the old Establishment, they are graceless and self-obsessed. In sum, they have no standards whatever except their own advancement. Yet they are indignant when anyone exposes their behaviour and turn savagely on those who call them to account (Oborne tells chilling tales of the treatment of Elizabeth Filkin, libelled and dismissed as Parliamentary Commissioner of Standards, and of John Yates, the policemen who investigated cash-for-peerages).
Oborne unearths a wonderful remark from former Blair adviser Geoff Mulgan (a prime specimen of the Political Class, who has glided from "think tank" to Number 10 and back with no contact with the outside world): "we expect leaders to abide by far more demanding rules than the rest of us. So, for example, we expect them to suspend personal considerations when exercising impersonal power; not to give special favours; not to treat people well just because they like them. We don't let them use their power to enrich themselves or gain sexual favours." Wrong, Geoff - those are precisely the standards which everyone is expected to live by - drudges, doctors, directors - and it is our rulers who repeatedly flout them.
On one point, however, Oborne has misread the new Political Class. He suggests that unlike the old Establishment they have no religious values. In fact, many of the new Political Class, especially in New Labour, are ostentatiously religious (the latest being Gordon Brown, parading his preacher father to his Party Conference). Moreover, all the Political Class have found it expedient to form an alliance with religious leaders and self-selected representatives of "faith communities". In consequence, a third of Britain's state schools are now under religious control - although fewer than 20 per cent of Britons make any kind of religious observance.
Oborne likens the new Political Class to the grasping, corrupt coterie of politicians who governed Georgian England, dissected by the great historian Sir Louis Namier. But he is unfair to Namier's politicians. For all their failings, they had some great successes in government. They presided over an agricultural revolution and an industrial revolution, they defeated Napoleon and they secured Britain's role as a global power. (At least they did not get in the way).
By contrast, although the new Political Class boasts constantly about its professionalism and surrounds itself with armies of expensive consultants and experts it has proved spectacularly incompetent in matters great and small. Apart from Iraq they have given us the ERM debacle, railway privatization, endless botched reorganizations of the NHS, a string of IT disasters (and ID cards in waiting), farm payments, the prison crisis, inadequate armed forces equipment, housing and medical care, incoherent and failed policies on drink, drugs and gambling, the Millennium Dome, school meals... Almost nothing these people touch works properly. They could not even replace the Lord Chancellorship.
How did so many corrupt, charmless and incompetent people get away with it? Oborne gives a large part of the answer. They suborned, subordinated and supplanted all the institutions which might otherwise have resisted them - often with the assistance of willing collaborators within. In particular, the home civil service and the diplomatic service were humiliated repeatedly - their advice rejected and their normal command structures replaced by political appointees, expensive outside consultants and (most sinisterly) by intelligence services which were captured by the Political Class. To give only one of copious examples of this process of humiliation, Alastair Campbell's understrapper, a nonentity by the name of Danny Pruce, had more influence on the infamous September dossier on Iraq than the whole of the Foreign Office.
Oborne is equally penetrating about the Political Class's attacks on the Monarchy (no match for Blair's calculated emotive response to the death of Princess Diana), the judiciary (still intact but repeatedly threatened by political appeals to populist feelings) and above all, the media. The Political Class, notably Tony Blair, would have us believe that their behaviour was a necessary response to a vicious, voracious media. Garbage. The Political Class have recruited large sections of the media to print or broadcast its propaganda as fact. That is what spin doctoring means and it requires willing collaborators in the media. Some of the media have done even worse, and propagated deliberate lies or character assassination at the behest of the Political Class. More and more of the media, and its members, are becoming indistinguishable from the Political Class. They routinely trade jobs and careers - politicians become expensively paid columnists, journalists join the government machine and give orders to civil servants. The Political Class gets angry with journalists only when they break ranks and refuse to play the game. In spite of their shrill complaints, both the Thatcher and the Blair governments had a remarkably easy ride from the media. Nearly all of their biggest decisions were endorsed and promoted by the media and their propaganda was rarely, if ever, dissected or challenged.
The Political Class has thrived because of the collapse of the institutions which might have resisted it. But that is not the whole story, and there is a vital factor which Oborne fails to discuss: political apathy. All the parties fret publicly about public apathy and disengagement from the political process - but the Political Class actually depend on it. They do not want people to become engaged in politics. It is no coincidence that their remedies for low voter turnout are postal voting and text or online voting - all of them ways of voting which are more passive and unthinking than the traditional ballot box (and all of them, incidentally, a major threat to the secret ballot and the integrity of the election process),
The Political Class needs an apathetic, acquiescent electorate in the same way that Basil Fawlty depended on the supine, downtrodden guests at Fawlty Towers.
If people cared about British politics would they put up for a minute with the standard of service they get from their present political rulers?
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent book, with a few gaps,
Oborne should perhaps have written more about the role of the European Union in the motivation of this class of political leaders. It is an astonishing fact, when you think about it, that this political class craves power and yet has chosen to transfer a lot of political authority to Brussels. Why is that? It would be good for Oborne to have perhaps asked more about that. I personally think that many, if not all, of the pro-EU types are careerists who hope to jump on board the gravy train, although some may idealistically believe that we should create a federal EU state and naively expect that such a state will be democratically accountable.
Oborne also denounces the role of the media and he is right to do so. But I should point out - hardly surprising on an internet site like this - that the internet and new media are providing a necessary corrective to the craven approach adopted by the tabloids, broadsheets, the BBC and ITV. Blogs now play a role in flagging up issues that the mainstream press are too cowardly to confront. Take the blogger "Guido Fawkes", who has exposed all types of government wrongdoing, such as the cash-for-peerages affair and other scandals. The role of the internet should not be understimated.
More broadly, though, I fear that Oborne does not sufficiently realise that the rise of a political class, or new establishment, is very difficult to resist when the government grabs almost half of the national income and regulates the rest of society so heavily. Merely re-establishing some old rules and procedures such as informing parliament first before a change in policy is just tinkering. At root, the problem is not just a class of venal, self serving politicians and their toadies in MI5 or the press, the problem is an addiction by so many people to Big Government generally. To reverse that is the biggest issue of the lot.
But these are quibbles. Oborne's book is great and it is hardly surprising that the vast majority of the reviews here are positive. It is one of the most important books on UK politics written for many years.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent,
63 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly depressing but all too recognisable,
This book is a damning polemic that illustrates how, over the course of the last two decades, all of the institutions that underpin our civil liberties and the mechanisms of good governance have been subverted by a political class who are, essentially, career politicians who use their position for their own ends rather than the public good. Oborne is unsparing in identifying all party and machine politicians, whether of left, right or centre as members of this political class (whilst occasionally identifying the odd maverick who still seems to have the best interests of the world outside at heart).
If you want a cartoon depiction of the difference between a member of the modern political class and the old Establishment, it would be that if you put the two of them in a queue, the new political class would be pushing to the head of the queue, shouting "don't you know who I am?".
This is a profoundly depressing read for anybody who cares about the way we are governed and about the continual encroachment on civil liberties that seems to be endemic in this country nowadays. But it should nonetheless be read before these fools and charlatans turn the whole country into a police state and start burning books like this because their opinions are subversive.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a worrying read,
This review is from: The Triumph of the Political Class (Paperback)I bought this book after reading "The Rise of Political Lying" also by the author. I think any reader of this book has, in my opinion, to keep in mind a desire on behalf of the author to redress the balance of what he feels is a media (especially the BBC) finely tuned into the political class mindset, and vice versa.
There isn't much I could add after reading the other reviews, but the contents of the book have affected me. I have a good friend of mine, who still has contacts within the Labour party in the North of the country, and is currently, but slowly, climbing the tree in Tory circles. I thought what he told me about what went on, on both sides, was a gross exaggeration. After reading this, it would appear not.
The book punches fairly hard in places with examples of government (mis)information and of increasing levels of manipulation of facts and figures. Those of a left wing bias will state that if the Tories were in power, they would be doing exactly the same thing with, and to, the media. This may be so, but it doesn't make it right.
What comes across is the demand for a one-type-fits-all type of political operative. A person who goes to the right university to do the right type of degree, then leaves to obtain experience of working in the political arena, parliamentary researcher, lobbyist, MP's lackey etc... a few choice political appointments are made within the party of their choice, and then they are released into the community to fight a suitable seat, which creates their path to power. "Blair's Babes" were a perfect example of this. The book also goes onto explain how there is a sort of Mexican stand off going on with who is doing what, and more importantly what they re getting away with, and the duplicity of people on the opposite benches up to the same kind of shenanigans. Think Osborne and Mandelson on the same yacht with the same dodgy millionaire.
Reading the CV's of those in the current cabinet, and indeed the Tory and Liberal shadow cabinet, demonstrates an incredible lack of knowledge of the outside world, Vince Cable excepted. An inability to read a balance sheet, understand what the terms and conditions mean in the small print on the back of the contract (see NHS IT issues) , and just a general knowledge of what life is like for the common man\woman. It seems to me this is why politicians hang on to their career after a proven faux pas for as long as possible when decent minded souls in the past would have resigned, because they had a career/role to go back to.
I would have liked to have seen more examples of what the Tories did to bring about their own downfall, Neil Hamilton and Al-Fayed springs to mind, and compare the magnitude of it to say, Mandelson's imaginative mortgage applications. This way I think others could make a more balanced view as to whether the rise of the political class is a real problem. I happen to think it is.
The pages demonstrating how much politicians, of all persuasions, are bowing their heads to Rupert Murdoch beggars belief, and if true, should cause concern for all voters in the land.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant analysis,
I'm hospital consultant and can see parallels with how the political class are disempowering the medical profession in the same way as the other professions that he mentions in the book. The mechanisms and reasons are the same i.e empower a few apparatchiks (e.g Lord Darzi, the CMO) and disempower the rest (deprofessionalisation and loss of self regulation) with the overarching goal of enriching the private sector helath organisations in order to be handed plum jobs later on (e.g Patrica Hewitt now works as an advisor for Boots and Simon Stephens (former health advisor to Blair) is now CEO of United Healthcare Europe). Maybe, Peter Oborne can add a chapter on the "Attack on the medical profession" in the next edition!
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most influential political book of the past few years,
Read it and the scales will fall from your eyes and you will realise that most politics in this country is essentially a fraud committed by a small group of people who are more interested in their personal advancement and wealth than any ideals.
Should be read by anyone who is interested in politics. Highly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time to sack your MP?,
This review is from: The Triumph of the Political Class (Paperback)If I could give this book 10 stars I would. Yes, it's depressing reading but it's equally essential reading. It's thoroughly researched and although Oborne is from the right there's no real sense of political point-scoring here. In fact, the central thesis of the book is that right or left, the vast majority of senior British politicians are the same. That's to say, they are in it for themselves; they have precious little experience of life outside Westminster; their policy differences are, in fact, wafer thin and they seek to hang onto power at all cost, by eroding the power of institutions that have long existed to ensure we are governed properly - chief of which is Parliament itself. All of this matters because it may one day make life a whole lot easier for a politician with genuinely malicious intent to prosper.
Oborne's book pre-dates the recent expenses scandal but is prescient about it. And that shouldn't be a surprise, because in another section, the book demolishes the idea of an independent media that exists to scrutinize our MPs and expose wrong-doing. In fact, to a greater or lesser extent, the Westminster "media village" is complicit in all of this. They are cut from the same cloth as the MPs they are reporting about - don't forget it was an ordinary member of the public, not a reporter, who got the expenses story off the ground, through Freedom of Information requests.
If you have even the vaguest interest in British politics you should read this book and - as I say at the top - take a close look at your sitting MP (whatever party they represent) when it's time for the next election.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I had no idea it was THAT bad. A superb analysis of our political culture.,
This review is from: The Triumph of the Political Class (Paperback)In this book Peter Oborne outlines how the British system of democracy has become poisoned by a self-interested political class which has no regard for decency or integrity. Being re-elected and enjoying the perks of Parliament are now the primary motives for politicians he argues, ideologies and beliefs have been sidelined.
This is a very convincing and enjoyable read, I was unaware of the most of the events he writes about in this book and I found many of them frightening. Admittedly, it can seem rather dull at times, however this is simply because Oborne has great respect for clarity and factual accuracy which sometimes warrants long explanations.
It was a shame that Mr Oborne gave no account of the European Union's role in engorging the self-interested complacency of our political class - but perhaps that is a thesis sufficiently rich for a whole book in itself.
This book should act as a stark warning to anyone who is interested in preserving British democracy. If we don't act soon we'll probably find it's too late.
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The Triumph of the Political Class by Peter Oborne (Paperback - 3 Nov 2008)