The British System as the Election is Called

5 April 2005

A sour atmosphere hangs over the general election in Britain, now called for 5 May. It is the smell of a great opportunity decaying: the opportunity to change Britain, offered to the Labour government in 1997 and thrown away. 

It is more than the usual smell of bad faith that all political leaders accumulate.

Tony Blair seems to think that personal energy and his capacity to present himself as sincere will carry him through. 

In 1982 I wrote Iron Britannia, a book about Margaret Thatcher and the Falklands war. It was about her doomed attempt to modernise greatness through force and to reverse decline by conjuring illusion. At least Thatcher's brand of creative-destruction was coherent.

Iron Britannia’s sequel would be called Pumping Britannia...

It is not just the Labour leadership that indulges in body building instead of politics. The entire political class is striding  ever faster on its treadmill.

The Tories lack all self-belief and are running on fear. The Liberal-Democrats, who had the best opportunity to set a new agenda, exercise the least and admire their own complacency. The tabloid press shout against declining sales.  The enervated broadsheets imitate the red tops.

They are sinking while exercising.

How can we explain this? 

To put it in the language of present day London – the whole system is fucked.

I dislike writing with swear words. They can be a shallow substitute for passion, the shock of effect rather than meaning.

New Labour used to swear in the 90s. "What does fucking Worcester Woman give a fuck about the fucking constitution, you fuck-head" was the kind of sentence we heard from Alastair Campbell, Blair’s former press secretary. 

It was brutal, but – no defence this, rather a diagnosis – it was also an urgent expression of the need for the left to gain power. It was about disciplining Labour's tendency to lose, its self-indulgence and weakness. It was part of a healthy, necessary drive to get into office. 

Now, the curses of Alastair Campbell, have a very different quality.

It is the pharaonic swearing of a careless authoritarian bruiser demanding that the media be kept in bondage. It's the oppressive cursing of corrupted power. 

The system! Talk to anyone (well, almost anyone) who is in it, and they say that it is "boring", not of interest to voters, not the point, dear boy (aka you fuckwit). But they would say that.

Don't believe it. The British system – its institutions, its golden arch of government, its civil service, its secret service, its parliament, its monarchy, its upper house, its democracy, is, well, it is more than broken, or mismanaged and in need of reform.

It’s fucked.

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