Parris and the mob
No doubt many readers viewed with incredulity Speccie columnist Matthew Parris’s nostalgia for the democratic process to continue to be subverted so that a ruling oligarchy can have its own way. Others’ reactions will have been that he must be having his readers on, his assertions so condescending, so very much mirroring a basically upper-class attitude hopefully past its use-by date in the UK that he couldn’t possibly mean what he was saying. But apparently he does.
Parris reflects an only too prevalent attitude among members of Theresa May’s government, appalled at the Brexit vote, exhibiting the we-know-best syndrome of some Tory MPs convinced that their own thinking should take priority over the will of the people. The result, as we have seen, has been the ongoing attempts by so many in May’s party to explore ways in which the people’s wishes can be circumvented by stealth, but not openly acknowledged.
This may explain what many view as May’s extraordinary ineptitude (she herself a Remainer by conviction); her constant cap-in-hand pleading to the basically autocratic EU; and her seeking advice from the apparently incompetent Angela Merkel – whose own certainty that she knew best has led to the Islamification of Germany with such damaging socio-political consequences. Yet Britain’s Prime Minister preferred to seek advice from Merkel before joining her own special party conference. Moreover, at no time has Theresa May shown the kind of strong conviction needed to repudiate the basic trickery employed by Jean-Claude Juncker and his own unelected, quasi-elites to make what should have been a relatively straightforward process far more complicated and expensive. The Prime Minister’s twists and turns, her conviction that she knows better than those whose thinking has been of far better quality, have been embarrassing to follow.
Much light can be thrown on what has been happening within the Tory party, if Parris can be regarded as basically giving the game away. He describes a discussion with a friend, ‘a keen and convinced Brexiteer MP’, relating that it taught him something about himself, and about the strain of Conservatism he is part of. He goes to the crux of the issue saying it’s all about trusting the people, that he never has, and never will, and has been forced to confront the fact. He is impervious to what his principled MP friend maintained, that it is important to leave the EU: that otherwise he worries about British democracy, respect for the Constitution, and the effect that a betrayal of the 2016 referendum result would have on the people who voted for him and his party the previous year.
Parris disagrees – never trust the people. He laments that Tories such as himself used to be in the majority (and possibly still are?) and don’t believe in democracy. Rather, they make an effort to co-exist with democracy which is why they instinctively dislike referenda. ‘We are wary of the populace, and instinctively hostile to the instincts of the mob.’ What he is in fact arguing for is rule by an oligarchy, a self-regarding, virtual clique.
‘The mob’? Parris’s big mistake is his basic contempt for so-called ordinary people, seemingly regarding them as rabble – no doubt also particularly if they vote against their perceived superiors. He shudders at the notion that the people should determine the policies of government. When he went into politics in 1997, he maintains, it was ‘commonplace among us Tories’ to view the will of the people ‘not as a mentor, but as a rock to be navigated’. In his virtue-taking position he dredges up instances of practices outlawed by government such as capital punishment, judicial flogging, and his party’s confrontation with the miners, arguing the electorate would have opposed these moves. So they made sure the people were never consulted. By his own mob?
Parris blithely sails past the point that not only did the great G. K. Chesterton highlight the importance of ‘the ordinary man’ who, when presented with commonsense, is essentially reasonable –but that there may have been better ways to confront the coal miners. What’s been called the snobbism of history’s support of the winning side does not inevitably mean that this was the only way to win – history can provide its own whitewashing. Moreover, he sails past the fact that practices he celebrates as having been outlawed by governments were ones governments were responsible for introducing in the first place. Calling upon them to be abandoned often necessitated the courage of individuals fighting against the governments of the day to arouse the conscience of the nation.
Parris’s arrogant ‘Sod democracy’, his apparent conviction that it is important to subvert it is reminiscent of so many convinced they are born to rule. It led to the catastrophic consequences of Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR, China’s Mao Tse Tung – and today’s increasingly repressive Communist regime – and that of other basically fascist countries. The conviction of superior belief also rears its head in Barack Obama’s implied threat of the consequences for Britain should people vote for Brexit – not unexpected, coming from a man accusing small American towns of ‘a bitter clinging’ to guns or religion. Then there is Hillary Clinton’s ‘deplorables’ as well as the reaction to New Zealand’s former Prime Minister Helen Clark’s reported description of some pro-logging West Coasters as ‘feral’ that she did not like lynch mob mentalities.
Parris mourns ‘Tory paternalism is in long slow retreat.’ One wonders if he realises the dubious gift he has inadvertently handed to Labour in the UK? Is he also ignorant of the fact that the most successful and prosperous democracy in the world is that of Switzerland, where it is not the politicians, but the people themselves – those he would apparently view as ‘the mob’ – who basically govern themselves through their 100 Days provision putting a hold on parliamentary legislation till they themselves decide whether to support it or not? So successful has this been that the Swiss Parliament refers to the people of their country as ‘sovereign’. Lessons here for this Tory columnist?