The Triumph of the Political Class Hardcover – 17 Sep 2007
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'A brilliant anatomisation of the reality of the contemporary situation' -- 'Guido Fawkes', order-order.com
'Accusations of constitutional impropriety are supported with chapter and verse . . . Apocalyptic . . . Convincing' -- Simon Jenkins, Sunday Times
'An extremely important book' -- Iain Martin, Sunday Telegraph
'An important social text' -- Sarah Sands, Financial Times
'Compelling [and] thought-provoking . . . A powerful and troubling study' -- Nick Cohen, Observer
'Provocative and important . . . A devastating portrait of Britain's new ruling class' -- Daily Mail
'What Oborne accurately, passionately and clearly describes is the replacement of one ruling class by another' -- Sameer Rahim, Daily Telegraph
Both an extension of and a companion to his acclaimed expose of political mendacity, THE RISE OF POLITICAL LYING, Peter Oborne's new book reveals in devastating fashion just how far we have left behind us the idea of people going into politics for that quaint reason, to serve the public. Notions of the greater good and "putting something back" now seem absurdly idealistic, such is the pervasiveness of cynicism in our politics and politicians. Of course, self-interest has always played a part, and Oborne will show how our current climate owes much to the venality of the eighteenth century. But in these allegedly enlightened times should we not know better? Do we not deserve better from those who seek our electoral approval? Full of revealing and insightful stories and anecdotes to support his case, and with a passionate call for reform, THE TRIUMPH OF THE POLITICAL CLASS is destined to be the defining political book of 2007.See all Product description
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Oborne's perspective seems to be that of an old-style 'one nation tory'. From that perspective, he considers that:
'...the real gulf in British politics is no longer between Tory and Labour. It is between a hegemonic Political Class and a population at large which is mainly disenfranchised and increasingly betrayed by what amounts to a conspiracy between the mainstream parties.' (p93)
The seeds of this conspiracy were sown during the government of that archetypal anti-Establishment figure, Margaret Thatcher, but it really got going during Tony Blair's time in office. Mr Blair's 'New Labour':
'presented 'globalisation' and the power of capital as inevitable, unavoidable and, above all, virtuous. It was no longer the task of the Labour Party to fight capitalism, but to engage with it: a shift of fundamental, historic importance.' (p106)
It is difficult not to agree with this, but Oborne seems to present us with almost a 'fait accompli', the New Labour party presentation as seamless and unbroken with no nay-sayers. And, as such, it starts getting into the realms of conspiracy theories. Besides looking closely at the media and politics, he also considers the Secret Intelligence Services relationship with the government:
'This kind of intimate collaboration between the intelligence services and the Political Class is characteristic of totalitarian and not, on the whole, democratic states...' (p174)
Mr Oborne really gets going, though, when he considers the relationship between the Political Class and the media. Here his arguments are very strong and serve to justify a lot of his other observations. Basically, he suggests that:
'The Media Class and the Political Class share identical assumptions about life and politics. They are affluent, progressive, middle- and upper-middle class. This triumphant metropolitan elite has completely lost its links with a wider civil society - farming, the professions, small business, trade unions, the shop floor - which characterised British public culture throughout the most confident period of parliamentary government during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It is obvious that the politicians and the media have far more in common with each other than they do with voters, readers and the public.' (p259)
I do not doubt this analysis of the make-up of the Political Class for one moment, but what I do rather doubt is the rose-tinted view of the past, however socialist the Labour Party and however 'One Nation' the Conservatives might have been in days gone by.
One excellent section in the chapter on 'Client Journalism' looks at the role of Rupert Murdoch and his News International Corporation. It is difficult to gain a full picture of the influence of this man as both Labour and Conservative governments refuse to release details under the Freedom of Information Act but clearly News Corporation executives are intimately connected to both parties, regardless of apparent ideological divisions. This edition of the book was published in 2008 and it is abundantly clear that News Corporation's influence has not been diminished by the change in government. Indeed, it seems that Oborne sees the change of government as one in name only (written before the election of 2010):
'The capture of the Tory leadership by David Cameron meant that the modernising tendency was at last in control not just of the governing party, but also of the principal opposition. His arrival as Tory leader marked the triumph of the Political Class. It appeared to guarantee its survival, no matter which political party was technically in power.' (p315)
We are now in a 'post-democratic' age where 'the great majority of voters do not matter at all' (p316). Elections are won by utilising marketing databases and powerful analytical software (imported from the US, of course). There is no real debate because there are no real differences between the parties. But, of course, as Oborne points out, this is potentially quite a dangerous situation as the effectively disenfranchised find alternative (extra-parliamentary) routes to get their voices heard. And thus further elements of control must be enforced, so we are back at the 'nomenklatura', possibly a Chinese style 'Party' or a US style plutocracy. As such, it has nothing to do with the size of government and little to do with any economic model.
It is difficult to disagree with any of Oborne's ideas. But, as I've already suggested, they do start to feel a bit like conspiracy theories which, I think, tends to weaken them a bit. And also, I can't help feeling that we have simply exchanged one elite for another, perhaps less aristocratic, one. Overall, though, definitely worth a read and still directly relevant to the current political situation.
Oborne manages to crystallize and explain the changes to our political system that have been wrought over the last twenty years with the growth of career politicians. These career politicians have no other interest other than obtaining and holding on to power. Oborne refers to this new breed as the `Political Class' whose interest is in sidelining parliament and the cabinet, the monarchy and the judiciary, notionally in the name of `modernising', in order to centralise power into their own hands and utilise the state and media for their own personal gain.
Oborne provides ample evidence, citing recent examples of largely but not exclusively New Labour ministerial action, to support his hypothesis. He demonstrates clearly how the media, including apparently outspoken independent commentators, has been suborned and used as an extension of the political process.
I believe readers will be enlightened but deeply disturbed by this book. You will certainly be left worrying about the future and the price that has been paid as a result of the elimination of conviction politics. This book should be required reading for all potential voters and as a cautionary note to those about to pick up a British newspaper or turn on the radio or television for their news and comment.
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.