File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 525


Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 09:46:01 +0000
Subject: Re: M-I: Re: "Modernization"


In message <199710242311.TAA11723-AT-pobox.ids.net>, Louis R Godena
<louisgodena-AT-ids.net> writes
>Not to worry.  Every one of Wilson's successors at Downing Street has set
>out in pursuit of one type of "modernization" or another, all obsessed by
>the idea that Britain was being left behind by virtually everyone else.
>
>Some of it seems almost cruelly laughable today.  In the 1960s, the British
>ambassador told Washington, England was falling "irretrievably" behind the
>modern, centrally planned economy of the Soviet Union, while in the 1980s
>the free market economy of the US represented Margaret Thatcher's nirvana.
>In the 1990s, you have returned to that ancient locus of modernity, Germany,
>which became the country of preference for Will Hutton in his best-selling
>*The State We're In.*  From having been the 19th-century model of a modern
>state, which Europeans from Marx to Napoleon to Cavour came to study (and,
>in some case, emulate), Britain seems to have spent most of the past 40
>years in the throes of a collective nervous breakdown about your lack of
>ability to keep up with the global Joneses.  I suppose the prospect of the
>Euro has finally, albeit briefly, put a stop to this distinctive nonsense.
>
>What will "modernization" mean for the institutions of bourgeois legality
>you Brits are always parading around like the family silver?  Will the
>monarchy be abolished, the Church of England disestablished?  How about
>something more mundane, like the lobby system of news dissemination: the
>most arcane, feudal, secretive and unaccountable system of news distribution
>and manipulation this side of Myammar?   Christ, The lobby makes the
>monarchy look positively futuristic.

Well said.

In Britain now everything is arbitrarily called 'New' - new Britain, new
improved washing-up powder. The so-called modernisation of house of
commons in parliament (our un-venerable equivalent of Congress) involves
principally the institutionalisation of the cross party consensus that
has been developing over the last ten years. 

So, for example, under Tory Margaret Thatcher, more and more of Commons
business was conducted not in the chamber itself, where it would be open
to a two-sided clash of opinion, but in 'select committees' where issues
of so-called expert knowledge would displace ideological differences.
Then (1980) this was clearly a trick to curb parliamentary opposition to
Thatcher's free market agenda. Since then the select committee system
has been embraced as the future of politics, while the main Commons
chamber is derided as 'adversarial' politics: modernisation in
parliament means back-rooms deals without political principle, instead
of open political debate.

Louis rightly points to the lobby system as a retreat from the
democratic high-point of the court of Richard III. The growth of the
political aides or Spin Doctors (not unknown to the US, I think) shows a
marked retreat from politics into politicking. Everyone here is aghast
at the way that the govt. is conducting its policy towards European
Monetary Union (EMU). The attitude to European integration is an issue
which has wrecked successive governments because it has no real
solution, at least not from a capitalist point of view. The underlying
problem is that Britain has for years punched above its weight, and
cannot get used to the idea that it is less of a world power than it
was. So all governments have faced the dilemma that if they proceed with
European union Britain becomes second (more like third or fourth) fiddle
in Chancellor Kohl's orchestra, but if they don't they just end up
busking outside the concert hall. 

The difference with the Blair government's handling of EMU is that there
are no principled political positions that separate the different
players within the government, only the bitterest kind of back-stabbing
and personal cliquishness. What happened was this: Chancellor Gordon
Brown and Prime Minister Tony Blair (both on the record as pro-European)
used their political aides Charlie Whelan and Alasdair Campbell to leak
to the press that the government was not going to enter EMU until its
second term. That was a surprise to the Labour cabinet, especially those
who are on the record as being sceptical about Europe ('Euro-sceptics',
as the newspapers have it), Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Deputy Prime
Minister John Prescott. It was a surprise because they had all been
talked round to the position that Britian would enter in the second
round of EMU, ie still in Labour's first term of office.

Interestingly, the City affects to be very pro-EMU, and, once the news
was out that the chancellor was putting the breaks on, there were
substantial losses on the stock exchange. Chaos ensued because this
modernised government was incapable of sticking to a party line. Not
surprising because they were all leaking to the press through their
aides, not any political message, but insults against one another.
Personal machinations took precedence over any political principle. What
Brown was really doing was bouncing the cabinet into a decision to show
that he could. Behind the scenes was PM Blair, using Brown to teach the
Cabinet a lesson of where the real power is - between these two men, who
effectively tossed a coin to see which would become Labour leader.

Despite the appearance that the issue is over Europe, most of those who
criticised Brown were Euro-sceptics, and those who supported him were
pro-European. The exception being the thoroughly burned-out spin doctor,
minister without portfolio, Peter Mandelson. He was Blair's confidante
until the recent Labour Party conference, when he tried to get elected
to the party's National Executive Committee, but was defeated by radical
leftist Ken Livingstone, in a wave of grass-roots revulsion at the
creepy Mr Mandelson. Since then Blair has dropped him like a hot brick.

These kinds of personal machination are what passes for a modern
government in a new Britain. I would say it was like the Borgias, but
the difference surely was that the Borgias at least had personalities to
inform their personal intrigues, these show-room dummies have about as
much personality as a plank of wood.

I enjoyed Rebecca's quote - an excellent critique of morenisation
theory. If it wasn't so well written I would say that it was by Istvan
Meszaros.
-- 
James Heartfield


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