Why We Are All Anti-Establishment Now

(Telegraph View) – IN A WEEK THAT HAS SEEN THE LISBON TREATY RATIFIED and MPs accepting the end of their abuse of expenses, it is no wonder that voters are feeling disillusioned.

This has been a bad week for British democracy; perhaps the worst since the start of the new century. On Wednesday, Members of Parliament who abused their right to claim expenses in the most egregious fashion were ordered to accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposals to end such abuse – though now, as we report today, there are growing doubts that the Kelly review will be implemented in full. Also on Wednesday, David Cameron announced that, following the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, there was no point in attempting to un-ratify it. Alas, he was right. We believe that the Tory leader was well advised to step away from a fight he was predestined to lose; but we are also aware that the British public feels profoundly betrayed. As, indeed, it has been: not by Mr Cameron; but by this Government, which promised a referendum on a European Constitution and then, when one appeared in the thinnest of disguises as the Lisbon Treaty, signed it without even the appearance of remorse.

On Monday, Gordon Brown will stand alongside other European leaders to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. He will be doing so at a moment when British democracy is under great strain. Will he notice the irony of the situation? Indeed, will other national leaders recognise that they face a similar democratic crisis? The European elite like to caricature the British as the xenophobic eccentrics of the EU; one would never guess, from listening to their snooty put-downs, that it was France, not the United Kingdom, that firmly rejected the European Constitution in a referendum. Discontent is growing with the undemocratic aspects of European institutions generally, though it surfaces in different ways across the Continent. Italian Catholics feel just as strongly about the banning of crucifixes in their classrooms as (to cite a small but telling example) Britain’s sea anglers feel about the EU’s absurd demand that they report every fish they catch.

But we cannot blame everything on a disease originating in Brussels.

The MPs’ expenses scandal, exposed by The Daily Telegraph earlier this year, was produced by a national culture of arrogant entitlement that has engulfed far too many politicians and public servants. Corruption, waste, back-slapping and bossiness are not the exclusive preserve of Eurocrats. The British establishment has become more and more alienated from public opinion – most striking, on the subject of immigration, which no major party has been prepared to debate frankly or consult us about.

There is a tendency to blame ‘Europe’ for every piece of health and safety nonsense; in reality, the regulation is just as likely to have been devised (and gleefully enforced) by Whitehall or the town hall. New Labour has erected a vast client state devoted to policing ‘guidelines’ and ‘best practice.’

In theory, our historic constitutional defence against executive grandiosity is Parliament. In practice, politicians have spent the years since 1997 wandering obediently through the lobbies to vote for legislation setting up quangos whose highly paid executives promptly lobby for even more meddling laws. And so the cycle seemed set to continue undisturbed for ever – until, that is, our last remaining illusion about public life was suddenly destroyed.

We used to comfort ourselves with the thought that, however incompetent our politicians were, at least they were untouched by systemic corruption. Then the MPs’ expenses scandal came to light and, within days, the reputation of the House of Commons lay in ruins. This truly is a rotten Parliament: not just in terms of the personal dishonesty of some of its members, but also in its contempt for ordinary people, who rightly take offence at their ‘flipping’ properties or signing away historic liberties.

We do not normally like to end the week on an angry note, but no other response would reflect the feelings of our readers, instinctively so loyal to British institutions. We suspect that many of you now find yourselves in the unfamiliar position of being anti-establishment; that is understandable, because the ideal of public service has been corroded at every level at which power is exercised.

Politicians, in particular, have done their best to divert attention from their own taxpayer-funded lifestyles while also diverting our attention from uncomfortable issues that might disturb the cosy cross-party consensus. (It is worth noting that many quangos now exist to stop people saying or thinking things that might cause offence to the political class and their dinner-party allies.)

This state of affairs is potentially dangerous, for it is at times when prosperous politicians censor the free exchange of opinions that fringe parties begin to creep into the mainstream. And, this time round, even radical adjustments to manifestos will not suffice to change the mood of the electorate.

Voters have correctly concluded that it is not only the traditional British structure of government that has let us down; but also those greedy people from across the political spectrum who have managed to exploit it. Therefore Britain’s main parties must do more than deliver a new set of policies at the general election, though those are badly needed: they must deliver a new, incorruptible and accountable breed of politician. Finding those people will take leadership, and we are running out of time.

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