UK Politics: Appearances and Decline

Politicians are the salesmen of policies and statutes; of measures and of government.

Although the maxim ‘The customer is always right’ is not conducive to ‘good politics’.

‘Good politics’ itself as a concept is a misnomer and an oxymoron.  A misnomer because bad behaviour is necessary to do ‘good’ politics; and an oxymoron because in fact ‘bad’ politics are ‘good ‘politics, when taken from the view of any person who attempts a righteous life.

Quite fortuitously for my arguments henceforward, commerce and politics nowadays are twin sisters, and they share in common nowadays a great deal more than I can remember having been shared by them in my lifetime.

The politicians here in the UK have made it a commonplace for them to proclaim that they ‘have much to learn from private industry’ or from ‘the private sector’ about how to run a nation. They speak endlessly on the subjects of how ‘we have to pay our way in the world’ and so ‘make public finance ends meet’. They insist again and again that like Mr Micawber’s miserable man ‘we cannot live beyond our means’ and also that there are certain things ‘we, or the country, or the nation, cannot afford’.

This sort of talk began to be casually habitual in the 1980s when Mrs Margaret Thatcher presided as Prime Minister in Britain and over her ‘shopping bag’ economics.  Previous to this time there were indeed ‘balance of payment deficits’ we were all worried about; and ‘inflation rates’ we were all worried about; but this earlier time was a time when Nationalised (or State Run) industries were common in the UK; particularly with regard to Utilities, Steel and Heavy Industry, Power and Postage.

Nationalised industries were not in those days constrained to make profits; although they were considered albatrosses round a nation’s neck when they showed massive losses on their balance sheets.

And in the main a different and now it seems antiquated political climate held ascendancy before the cultural and political shifts which were introduced by Mrs Thatcher and her government upon their coming into office in 1979.

Upon being elected Mrs Thatcher’s government of 1979 soon tag teamed the UK with the USA; and this occurred suddenly and upon the rise of a Regan/Thatcher accord come into being.  Milton Friedman (of ‘no free lunch’ fame) was the guru of the day for money and spending, economics and theory.  The emphasis of economic policy on both side of the Atlantic shifted rapidly, suddenly, onto controlling the money supply, and onto engaging to cut government to a minimum; which entailed disbursing nearly all of the Nationalised Industries into the Private Sector.

Town Halls were sold off and rented back on long leases by Local Government Boroughs; School playing fields were sold off for quick profits and housing or such built on them.  Council Public Housing stocks were severely depleted by the introduction of a Right-to-Buy Policy. Overnight, it seemed, the onetime clear borderline between what had been financially dubious, even to the point sometimes of being criminal, was pushed back and new space was suddenly created for high level economic transactions to happen in. These began to grow muddied as to whether they were ethical or non-ethical; sometimes mulching up the question whether they were criminal or non-criminal transactions. Especially in The City.

The guys to the far right had it; and the middle ground politicians were dubbed ‘wets’ and trivialised. The Labour movement of the left was more or less cast out of the orthodox political fold as personae non grata.  Great clashes wherein segments of society who previously had enjoyed some level of political power and sway were pitted to the death against a new Right orthodoxy shook the land; and one by one the old time demi-powers, labelled again by the ascendants derogatively as ‘dinosaurs’, were destroyed.

A new outlook and nation was born, created.  It is our heritage today.  It is a nation which has embraced High Capitalism; hedge funds and venture capital, private lending and private spending; all carrying a ruthless calling in of debts when things get too edgy. Other traits of this time were small government, and deregulation of workers protections and employer preventions, whose removals made and continue to make businesses able to profit from reductions in overheads. But with this deregulation came an accompanying job insecurity, and hiring and firing became much more fluid as a consequence.

Instead of Europe being looked by the UK to as one’s economic and cultural homeland; the United States became suddenly and very much so the de facto roots of our present culture (except perhaps for our High Culture, which has nose-dived in popularity the UK). We now watch US TV shows and movies; we consume US music and musical styles; we wear US clothing fashions and embrace US attitudes to sport, to our neighbours and neighbourhoods, and to money and to consumption of goods and services.  I would say with some reserve that more of our lives come from the USA in origin these days than remain British or European, or even Colonial. Even were one to add together all other influences on the British way of life I would say that now our lives are more American than all these other influences are able to muster as a contradistinction.

We now consume more, much more, ‘homeland propaganda’ in our TV shows, on Radio, and in Print.  There exists no indigenous counter-culture of any strength or size in Britain right now which is posed against The Triumph of Capitalism which the media propaganda hypes. Our latest farce, our apostasy from the European Union has only underwritten that decision of the 1980s UK governments to throw our lot in with the USA and not with Europe.

In short, we are presently a charity-close-to-home contented-to–the-point-of-smugness little church of islands, happy to laze drowsily under the shadow of a United States which itself is experiencing strange and convulsive political turmoils, similarly to the UK.

Like the United States whom we sit at the feet of, we too are past our best as a nation and in decline, and like the US we are publicly seen to be in decline.

So what does all this preamble above lead to concerning Appearances?

In the year 1997 and following, a new political phrase was coined. The ‘spin doctor’ was born.  A spin doctor is a political person of some power and standing who is able to package up and to present policy and governmental ideas in such a way as to put the best face on them so that they go down well with the people being governed. Or at least they go down the best they can go down with the public.

A style had thus been given to presentation; to the acts of colouring appearances and of slanting data in such a way as to make them palatable. Of course slanting data and colouring words is not new.  The schools of Rhetoric go back to Classical Athens and before; and the Roman and Medieval schools appointed their Trivium of schools subjects; one of which was rhetoric.  Plato himself talks of the disservice of certain speakers who would aim to make ‘the weaker argument defeat the stronger’.  These fancy speakers were known to history as ‘Sophists’, from which we get our word ‘sophisticated’.

(Interestingly enough the word ‘sophisticated’ had until the 20th century a pejorative aspect about it; it was considered a bad thing to be and to champion, because it made much out of little and gave a person affected airs and so on.  Once the clothing fashion industry and cosmetics and smart set industries took up the word it became something to attain, and to achieve and to celebrate being.  Perhaps this little anecdote tells much of my story for me?)

But again; back in the 1990s here in UK a style was given once again to rhetorical sophistication; which was known again at this time a ‘spin’ and was being applied by ‘spin doctors’.  ‘Doctors’ is a curious word too. Here in the UK a pet is ‘doctored’ when it is spayed or castrated; and a drink is ‘doctored’ when a potion is added to it clandestinely – ‘spiked’ is the current terminology I think.  ‘Doctored’ then in these senses entails adulterating something – like a drink – and again it entails – destroying the potency of something – like a pet.

Both these implied meanings are embedded (another interesting word ‘embedded’ – but not for our topic right now) in the ‘spin doctor’ concept.  He or she is a person who adulterates the plain unvarnished item of news or data; and/or who ‘draws the sting’ of ‘bad news’, making it less strong to digest – lessening its potency.

There was a Briton on trial in Australia in the 1980s (1987) who had published a book (‘Spycatcher’) and who had allegedly breached an Official Secrets Act.  He, (or was it another? – a witness? Sir Nigel Havers?) coined a phrase which went into the folklore here in Britain when he responded to a direct question from the prosecution asking whether he had lied or not. He had replied by saying that he had been ‘economical with the truth’.

This reply caused him some celebrity here in Britain and his phrase was used topically for some years afterwards here.  This topicality of the phrase indicates to me that our ordinary people here in the 1980s were not yet used to or comfortable with such legerdemain being applied to words and their meanings. This in turn means to me that at that time we as a nation were not yet at our present state, far from it in fact, and that had we been in our present state back then, we would have hardly been stirred perhaps by such a flamboyant euphemism as being ‘economical with the truth’.

One of the biggest travesties of ‘spin’ and of its ‘doctors’; and it is one which perhaps paved the way for the now ubiquitous use of sophisticated disguises and distortions in political use of language and presentation of life which we are suffering today; there was the infamous ‘dodgy dossier’ which ‘justified’ the Iraq War (Mark 2) which Britain’s then government foisted by sleights on its people, and in tandem with Bush junior of the might of the US of A, that dossier was the item which had allowed us to go ahead and ‘bomb Iraq back into the Stone Age’.

Those times were times of abundance for Britain and the British – seven fat cows – but a few years passed and then seven thin cows came to eat the seven fat cows – and lo, ‘austerity’ was born, as a blazon and political rallying call to the peoples of Britain.  We were before ‘austerity’ very well off, and our guilt in those years was that we were enjoying so much our oversupply of prosperity, like we had never known before or since, yet we helped bomb Iraq and its national infrastructure, which ensured its prosperity, into oblivion.  How good is that?

But to our theme again.  The everyday political practice nowadays is to use duplicity, outright lies, and to bend statistics, to cover up, and to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, whatever the weather, whenever the occasion.  It is the norm. It is what British people expect now from their politicians and governments.

These days in the UK a political party is able to make and has made recently a set of manifesto promises to its electorate, which, upon that party gaining an election majority and so a return to government, was the whole set completely broken and discarded; and within six months.  Furthermore, this same political party has won victories since, has been elected successfully by the same foolish folks whom it rode roughshod over in its ditching its previous and wholly phoney manifesto.  This is where we are now, here in Britain.

Regularly, as weapons in their ‘spin’ armoury, politicians ‘bury bad news’ by making important announcements on days big live sporting event matches are watched by the nation; the politicians marshal so-called ‘impartial’ or ’neutral’ observers deliberately to proclaim on the side of their policy; they glibly offer bogus reasons, turning arguments inside out, they then present the sufferers of their policies as the villains of the piece. They pick out and proclaim atypical and outrageous examples which they claim as evidence which supports their causes; and they use without blench all manner of low and dirty ruses and tricks, always with an aim to get their way with the least public resistance, and of course with the least real public understanding, of their policies and plans.

All this hereabove stated I name here unambiguously and definitively as CORRUPTION in British public life.  The British kid themselves that their nation and their governors are not corrupt, and that they are absolutely unlike ‘Johnny Foreigner’ whose affairs and officials reek of every kind of backhander and rabid falsehood. Hypocrisy is what we British do best, of all nations, because we believe, even at high places we believe our own propaganda. All this arises out of our lazy and comfortable self-love and out of its coddling ability to fool our reasoning powers.

Of late, and along with the political events here in UK of this momentous year, which has seen us and our nation blatantly vote to do direct harm to ourselves, and maybe these spoilt brat decisions we have made will effectually destroy us; I know that we have reached a point where we have sifted and divided, skewed and contorted, language and ideas, words and deeds, policy and argument so much and so badly, that most persons in our nation are in difficultly when asked to sort fiction from fact.

Partly it is the people’s own faults.  They have not paid due honour to their own consciences; nor have they listened to their better natures; they have sold out their integrities in return for products and services in abundance; too much, too many products and services.  Spoiled and undermined. They have allowed themselves to be removed by way of their complacent ignorant easy nonchalance from that arena of life where subsistence suffering and difficulty occur as everyday problems to be handled.  They have relinquished history and embraced too much bad TV and trash movies.

They have chosen to disconnect from much of the actuality of circumstances.

They don’t listen to arguments any more; they go where their nose leads them – selling themselves and their votes to the highest bidders, the most outrageous personalities.

As a result no official, no government or governing person is now being held to account.  The general dictum for all-comers on a wining side has been to pillage and share the spoils ‘Everyone has won and all must have prizes’.

The day is near, unless some Providential turnaround or lucky event occurs to head such a disaster off at the pass, when our British democracy, with its super-long pedigree and time-hallowed but now little-heeded standing, will possibly go under. What a wreck might be there?!  We shall see.

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