England: The Peasants are Revolting

June 08, 2009

So far as I can tell from England, the American media gives little real coverage to events in the United Kingdom. Either events are not covered at all, or they are covered without enough context to give them meaning. I think this has been the case with the results of the European elections and the House of Commons expenses scandal that is said to have led to these election results.

The European Elections

Let me begin with the facts. On Thursday the 4th June 2009, the British people voted in elections to the European Parliament. This is supposed to be the legislative body of the European Union, and it has around 750 Members, of whom 78 are from Britain. It has no meaningful functions, and its only effect is to give a democratic veneer to a multinational federation that cannot by its nature be democratically governed. Despite the best efforts of the pro-Establishment BBC, hardly anyone takes European elections as other than an excuse to pass judgement on the government of the day.

The results came out on Sunday, 7th June. The ruling Labour Party, with 15.7 per cent, got its lowest share of the vote in any national election since 1918. The Conservatives won the largest share, with 27.7 per cent. They are celebrating their victory—but this is hardly the sort of percentage share of the vote that promises a Commons majority in a general election. It may be that the 16.5 per cent won by the UK Independence Party would probably go to the Conservatives in a general election. But it did not go to them in the European elections.

The result may have been to complete the disintegration of the Labour Government. Already in trouble, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, may now have little choice but to resign.

The main shock, however, has been the election of Nick Griffin and one other British National Party candidate to the European Parliament. The BNP stands for a complete halt to non-white immigration, expulsion of illegal immigrants and voluntary repatriation of non-whites legally here. It also believes in an end to multiculturalism and political correctness, and in withdrawal from the European Union.

These were the first victories for the BNP in any national election, and they have been greeted by the British media and political class with hysterical rage. The favoured explanation is that the BNP—plus UKIP and the other small parties that did so well in the European elections—is to blame the House of Commons expenses scandal. The idea that people might have voted as they did because they liked what they saw cannot be entertained.

The Expenses Scandal

But, rather than just sneer at its use as smokescreen, let me explain something about the expenses scandal. Members of the House of Commons are allowed to claim expenses that are "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member's parliamentary duties." This is supposed to mean that a Member who lives in Scotland or some other distant part of the country can claim for the cost of running a second home in London, and for travel between London and his constituency. Because payment of expenses has been confidential, and because receipts have not always been required, the system has been open to abuse. For several years, occasional stories have been appearing in the establishment media about abuses of the House of Commons expenses system that amount to fraud. These have been only occasional stories. They have usually caused a few days of comment, and then been forgotten. Then, The Daily Telegraph obtained a disc giving a million pages of expenses claims going back over the past four years. Every day since the 8th May 2009, The Daily Telegraph has been publishing details of the more lurid and fraudulent claims.

Examples of these claims have been:

  • Nominating and renominating second homes. As said, expenses are paid to cover the costs of running a second home. Running costs include renovations. Members have used the rules to designate as their second home whichever of their two properties was most in need of work. This might be their home in London or in their constituency. Many have then nominated their other property as their second home to claim for a fresh set of renovations.
  • Subsidised property development. Several Members have pushed these rules to the limit. They have bought derelict properties, nominated them as second homes to claim the full cost of improvements, then have sold them at profits that are free of tax.
  • Subsidised luxury. Even without profiting from a rising property market, Members have been claiming for expenses not reasonably incurred for the performance of their parliamentary duties. The Daily Telegraph has published details of claims for landscape gardening, for tampons, for cosmetics, for trouser presses—even for court fines and for charitable donations.

There are many other examples. But the four given are of the same nature as the others.

The results of The Daily Telegraph disclosures have been—depending on who you are—catastrophic or highly entertaining. Promising careers have been blighted. Distinguished careers—that is, "distinguished" within the rules of the political game—have been cut short in corruption scandals that will forever put all else in the shade. So far, about a dozen Members of the House of Commons have announced that they will not stand again at the next election, or have been blocked by their parties from standing again. The Home Secretary has resigned from the Government. The Communities Secretary has resigned It is possible that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be sacked within the next few days. Other Ministers will probably leave the Government. The Speaker of the House of Commons has been forced to resign. Dozens—perhaps hundreds—of Members are expected to lose their seats at the next election, as an angry electorate delivers its own verdict on the general scandal.

The Real Causes of Disenchantment

Now, the expenses scandal may have been the immediate cause of current electoral upsets. But no one who is honest or can think longer than four minutes at a time will regard it as anything approaching the ultimate cause. The British people are outraged—that much is certain. The stories published have shown a grossness of behaviour we used to think confined to the political classes of lesser foreign countries. On the other hand, the total cost of the illegitimate claims—even including those merely questionable—does not amount to more than a few million pounds. Since 1997, our Labour Government has burned its way through two trillion pounds of our tax money. This has been mostly used to buy Labour votes or to oppress us—usually both. During this time, the Government has put an ancient and highly successful Constitution through the shredder. It has abolished common law protections of liberty, and replaced them with the powers and institutions a police state. It has limited its own political accountability by alienating national sovereignty to the European Union. It has engaged us in wars of imperial aggression against Serbia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

It has also encouraged legal immigration on an unprecedented scale, and done nothing about a possibly greater illegal immigration. According to official figures, the non-white population of the United Kingdom is about five per cent. The probable figure may be as high as 20 per cent. The Government statisticians themselves admit that the figure may pass 50 per cent as early as 2040. This immigration has been facilitated by positive discrimination and hate crime laws that give preferential treatment to the newcomers and suppress complaints. If it has raised gross domestic product, and if it may have raised the living standards of the middle classes, the immigration has noticeably reduced the living standards of the working classes. And it has raised obvious questions about the survival of at least the English people and their liberal institutions.

We have put up with all of this and more. The Labour Government has won two further elections since 1997. There have been no riots. There has been no irresistible rise of new political forces. Now, if the whole political establishment appears on the brink of public rejection, we are supposed to think is because a few dozen Members of Parliament have been fiddling their expenses.

The reason for this, I suspect, is that the expenses scandal has been seized on by the people as the surrogate for the far greater complaints already mentioned. These cannot easily be made in public. Some cannot be made because it would be illegal to make them—or, if not illegal, making them would be attended by informal sanctions. Most cannot be made because it is almost impossible to breakthrough the wall of lies behind which our rulers have sheltered themselves.

For years now—and the Conservatives were nearly as bad in this respect—British Governments have been refusing to tell the truth about their actions or intentions. Every lunatic or evil change has been accompanied by the flow of unpersuasive but unanswerable chatter most of us can remember from childhood.

To take one example of this, there is the European Constitution. Back in 2005, the European Union decided to sweep away the tangle of treaties and lesser agreements under which it operated and replace them with a single constitution. This was an impenetrable document, but appeared to bring about the final transfer of sovereignty from the Member States to the European Union. It was rejected by the French and Dutch in referenda. It was then withdrawn. In Britain, the three main parties solemnly promised before the general election of that year that they would not sign up to a revived constitution until after the British people had been consulted in a referendum.

In 2008, the Constitution was edited into the Treaty of Lisbon. This appears to achieve exactly the same as the Constitution by amending earlier treaties. It is shorter than the Constitution, (which runs over 400 pages [PDF]) but also still more opaque. This was rammed through Parliament by the British Government, with support from the Liberal Democrats. The justification was that the election promises had governed the Constitution, not another treaty. Every Government Minister and every Liberal Democrat leader joined in the fraud—and did so with arguments that could only be countered by a closer reading and understanding of the relevant documents than any normal person could reasonably be expected to make.

And the Conservative opposition has been little better. For electoral reasons, it made a great show of insisting on the promised referendum. It then promised to hold a referendum if it won the next election. This promise, however, seems to have been limited to a referendum if, after the next election, the Treaty has not come into effect following ratification by all the Member States of the European Union. When asked what they would do if the Treaty had already come into effect, the Conservative leaders have refused to give a straight answer.

A decent construction can be put on this refusal to make the further promise. But decent constructions can no longer be credibly made of any promise made by any of the main British parties.

We could not shake these people on their smug, emollient drivel about the European Union or mass-immigration, or handing out unimaginable amounts of our money to privileged banking interests. But we can take hold of them and rub their noses in the dirt of their expenses claims. Those are things anyone can understand—and that no one can credibly defend.

We are like the child who has been lectured into silence over having his dog put to sleep and his best friend excluded from the house and his pockets searched every night—but whose parents have now broken a clear promise to watch him play in the school pantomime. We are angry, and what would otherwise be the pettiness of what has made us angry is no longer important.

What Will Happen Next?

A further question is what will come out of all this. Labour has done badly, and its days in government may be numbered. The Conservatives will almost certainly win the next general election, and the only reasonable question asked is how big will be their majority.

But none of this may be very important. The Conservatives are part of the political cartel that rules my country. They cannot be worse than Labour. But they will almost certainly be little better. They may take enough of the hard choices to stop the country from disintegrating in the short term. But the longer term problems will not be addressed.

What we have at the moment, therefore, is not a revolution—as some of the newspapers have claimed—but a peasants' revolt. We have grievances. But we lack the organised articulating body for those grievances that will bring about meaningful change.

This may, though, be one of the precursors of revolution. It may be our equivalent of the Diamond Necklace Scandal in ancien regime France. That did not bring on the Great Revolution. But it did prepare the way by showing the greed and stupidity of the people who ruled France.

It is to be hoped—though not necessarily expected—that the longer term result of what has just happened will be to enable the emergence of new political forces in the United Kingdom—or perhaps just in England. I do not think these have yet made an appearance. I voted for the United Kingdom Independence Party. But this is a protest party. It has neither the personnel nor the ideology for mounting a challenge capable of overturning the established order of things.

Several people I know voted for the British National Party, and are rejoicing in its successes. This party has the best leader any nationalist party in England has had since the Establishment itself stopped being recognisably pro-British. He is clever. He is articulate. He is brave. He and his party, nevertheless, are tainted by their national socialist past. Too many of the party's leading members have said or done things that most people in this country regard as disreputable.

Whatever successes it may now be celebrating, I do not think the British National Party has much of a future. Or, if it does have a future, this must be under a new and untainted leadership.

However, just because I cannot see where it will lead, I can take pleasure in watching the modern equivalent of the Peasants' Revolt, and hope that it will ultimately lead us out of the gutter into which our political class has dumped the British people.

Dr. Sean Gabb [Email him] is a writer, academic, broadcaster and Director of the Libertarian Alliance in England. His monograph Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back is downloadable here. For his account of the Property and Freedom Society's 2008 conference in Bodrum, Turkey, click here. For his address to the 2009 PFS conference, "What is the Ruling Class?", click here; for videos of the other presentations, click here.