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Friday, July 01, 2016

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

In Macbeth Shakespeare wrote a soliloquy for his lead character:

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other. . . .
Macbeth Act 1, scene 7. 25–28

If he were writing today the bard might have difficulty who to apply that judgement to.

We live in extraordinary times in which all the political certainties of my lifetime have been turned upside down.

This is not just one party self-destructing as in the 1980s when Labour ripped itself to shreds, or the 1990s when the Liberal Democrats were forced to rebuild after David Owen took his toys home, or even the 1920s when Lloyd George's ambition destroyed the Liberal Party. We are now faced with both the major parties in turmoil, fighting like ferrets in a sack and apparently drifting rudderless on a fast-flowing current.

Two players stand out in the developing farce. There is Boris Johnson, whose personal ambition has led Britain to the brink of a major economic depression, only for him to bottle the final act and withdraw from the battle for the Tory leadership. The quiet assassin in the case was Michael Gove, a man running for a job he has said nine times he lacks the competence and capability to do.

The second player is Jeremy Corbyn, who is seemingly standing Lear-like, unmoved at the top of the Labour Party as his political family desert him. His conceit is that he represents the rank and file of the Labour Party against the vested interests of an establishment which has never accepted him. In that he may be right, but only another leadership contest will offer proof.

Depressingly, the British political system has a habit of re-setting itself. The one big realignment in the 1920s, was about social not political change. But with each reset there is incremental change. In the 1951 General Election 96.8% of the electorate voted either Labour or Conservative. In 2015 that figure was 67.3%. The only thing preventing a major political transformation in the House of Commons is the electoral system.

Will the crises facing Labour and the Conservatives this week be the catalyst that leads to lasting reform? Not if the political establishment has its way.

But all those people who voted to leave the EU as a protest against remote, elitist politicians deserve that change.

A system that reflects the way people vote, that does away with safe seats and forces political parties to work with each other in the national interest is the best answer to that protest vote. Politicians would have to listen to the people then.
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