The Real Lessons of the Tory
By Jonathan Cook
May 10, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" -
There’s much that could be
said about the Conservative party’s victory today in Britain’s election. Not
least David Cameron has emerged stronger: he now has a small but absolute
majority in parliament, compared to his last government, in which he had to
share power, a little of it anyway, with his minor coalition partners, the Lib
According to the rules of the British system,
he has won a supposed mandate to carry out all his party’s policies, even though
the Tories gained the support of slightly less than 25% of the total electorate,
and little more than a third of those who actually voted. That in itself should
be enough to discredit the idea that Britain is a democracy in any meaningful
But I want to focus on two issues that this particular
election highlighted. Although this refers to the British election, the lessons
apply equally to US elections.
The first is a debate that gripped some on the far left after
Russell Brand interviewed Labour leader Ed Miliband and subsequently gave
Miliband his backing. This was quite a surprise – and disappointment – given
that Brand had shaken up British politics over the previous 18 months by arguing
that the whole political system was inherently flawed and undemocratic. He had
called on people not to vote as a way to show that the system had no popular
legitimacy, and invest their energies instead in a different kind of grassroots
politics. Britain’s two main parties, Brand and others argued, represented the
interests of the big corporations that now dominate Britain and much of the
The labels of Conservative and Labour are the misleading
vestiges of a time when there was some sort of class politics in Britain: the
Tories representing the unalloyed interests of the capitalist class, and Labour
the interests of organised labour. But the Tories under Margaret Thatcher long
ago destroyed the power of the trade unions. Labour became a shell of its former
self, its finances and ability to organise workers crumbled as the corporations
entrenched their power, assisted by the Tories.
Under a power-hungry Tony Blair, Labour allowed itself to be
captured by those same corporations, famously illustrated by his Faustian pact
with media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Labour sold what was left of its soul,
becoming a Tory-lite party, and winning the support of Murdoch and his media
empire as a result.
Brand seemed to understand this, arguing that what we needed
was to turn our back on sham elections every five years between two parties
representing the interests of the 1%. Instead the people needed to foment a
non-violent political revolution, and take back power. How did voting for
Miliband, a man who had largely adopted the Blair credo, make sense in the light
of Brand’s earlier claims?
Brand justified his change of mind using a familiar argument.
He admitted Miliband was far from perfect but was still the preferable choice
because he was prepared to listen to the people, unlike Cameron’s Conservatives.
He was the “lesser evil” choice.
The problem with his logic – aside from its faith-based
component – was that the same argument could have been used about any recent
British election. It was an excuse to avoid engaging in real politics.
Supporters of Tony Blair, even after he committed the supreme
war crime by invading Iraq, could have argued quite convincingly that the Tories
too would have invaded Iraq – plus they would have done worse things at home,
inflicting greater damage on the health and education systems. Thus, on the
lesser-evil argument, it was legitimate to vote for the war criminal Blair. A
man like Blair could destroy another nation, cause suffering on a scale
unimaginable to most of us, and yet still claim the moral high ground because
the alternative would be even worse.
The faulty logic of the lesser-evil argument is apparent the
moment we consider the Blair case. If there is no political cost for committing
the ultimate war crime, because the other guys are worse, what real leverage can
the electorate ever have on the political system. The “left” vote will always
gravitate to the slightly less nasty party of capital. No change is really
possible. In fact, over time the political centre of gravity is likely to shift
– as has in fact happened – ever more to the right, as the corporations accrete
ever greater power.
Further, where does Brand’s logic take us now that Miliband
has lost. If we were supposed to have faith that Miliband would have listened
had he achieved power, then why not extend that faith to his successor? If we
are satisfied by the lesser-evil argument, why not wait till the next election
to see if we can get another slightly less nasty candidate into Downing Street?
We can defer the choice to demand real change indefinitely.
The second point is that the programme of extreme austerity at
the heart of Cameron’s manifesto has been fully discredited by most economists
over the past few years. Not only does it penalise the overwhelming majority of
the population by redistributing wealth away from the working and middles
classes to the financial elite, but it also inflicts great damage on the long
term health of the economy. In other words, British voters look like supreme
masochists. They voted to seriously harm their own, and their country’s,
interests. Are Britons collectively insane?
Of course, not. So how can we explain their insane choice this
week? The answer is staring us in the face. In fact, Blair showed us what was
required to win a British election. A party hoping to win power needed first to
seduce the corporations, and their media divisions. Without most of the media on
your side, no party stands a chance of winning because the media subtly controls
the narrative of the election: what count as “the issues”, how the leaders and
their platforms are presented, what and who is considered credible.
Miliband’s failure was that, unlike Blair, he looked a little
half-hearted about his desire to be the 1%’s mouthpiece in parliament and
Downing Street. Maybe what seduced Brand about Miliband was the sliver of
humanity that was still just visible below the surface of the corporate employee
the Labour party had groomed their leader to become.
The revolution that we need in Britain and the US has to start
with a disengagement from the mainstream media’s representation of events. We
have to discard their narratives. Even more important than an overhauled
electoral system, one that fairly reflects the electorate’s preferences, we need
a grassroots media that is free of the control of fabulously wealthy proprietors
and major corporations, that does not depend on the massive subsidies of
corporations (in the form of advertising), and that does not rely, like the BBC,
on funding from government. We need independent journalists, and we need to
demand a new funding model for the media. And we need to do all this while the
mainstream media entirely control the narrative about what a free media is.
It is a huge challenge – and one that reflects the extent of
our own ideological confinement. Just like the political parties, we have been
captured by the 1%. We cannot imagine a different world, a different economic
system, a different media landscape, because our intellectual horizons have been
so totally restricted by the media conglomerates that control our newspapers,
our TV and radio stations, the films we watch, the video games we play, the
music we listen to. We are so imaginatively confined we cannot even see the
narrow walls within which our minds are allowed to wander.
As long as the media represent the span of interests of the 1%
– from the psychopathic Murdoch empire to the capitalism with a little heart of
the Guardian Media Group – our politicians will range from the Blue Tories of
the Conservative party to the Red Tories of the Labour party. And we will
Jonathan Cook is a Nazareth- based journalist and winner of
the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism