Friday, 9 December 2016

The Prerogative of the Harlot

“Power without responsibility — the prerogative of the harlot through the ages”.

Ringing words from Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1931 (though they were written by his cousin, Rudyard Kipling). He was denouncing the Press Barons, influencers of events answerable to no one for the consequences. However, the denunciation applies with equal force to a great many others.
Baldwin (right) said it
Kipling (his cousin) wrote it
Take, for instance, a former boss of mine.

He’d founded the company I joined, basing himself on one brilliant product idea. It was, indeed, that brilliance which drew me in. It didn’t take long to discover, however, that the brilliance had stopped with the initial idea. There had been a short period of growth of the business, but then the company had stagnated, and now it was well into the inevitable next phase, decline.

That meant that radical change was needed. That’s what I thought I’d been brought in to undertake. Within a year, it became clear I was doomed to fail.

Nothing happened in the company without my boss’s say-so: no modification of the product, no phase of development work, no sales decision, no sales presentation even. Indeed, his domination of every aspect of the company was such that a naïve observer might have supposed any failure was down to him.

Not so. I was assured on the best of authorities, indeed the only authority that mattered at all in that business, that my boss knew exactly what needed to be done and was straining every sinew to make it happen. Sadly, he was surrounded by people of crass incompetence. Worse than incompetence. Some of the errors were so flagrant that they seemed deliberate, positive and treacherous against the business. Software developers who took unforgivable shortcuts or simply made elementary errors. Sales staff who demanded information and shared it with potential customers even though that could only put them off ordering from us. People like me who had the gall to question his every move and prevented him achieving the progress his efforts merited.

In fact, he exercised autocratic authority, but the responsibility for any failure was down to anyone but him. Power without responsibility. It was a harlotry I couldn’t bear and I left. Though, to be fair, had I not jumped I would certainly have been pushed soon after.

This was all petty stuff. A few people were inconvenienced in their careers. An insignificant company faded towards well-deserved oblivion. A man prey to an authoritarian streak was presiding over the collapse of unearned ambitions.

Now, though, consider a much more substantial backdrop for such behaviour.

A by-election in a massively safe Conservative seat, Sleaford and North Hykeham, has just elected another Conservative. No surprise there. What is more concerning is that Labour, which came second in the General Election eighteen months ago, came fourth this time around. Vernon Coaker, a Labour MP, commented that in the by-election, “everything was about Brexit”.

Indeed. In another by-election, in Richmond a week earlier, the Liberal Democrats had overturned a huge Conservative majority by firmly opposing Brexit. It is the issue of the day. But Labour, sadly, has no coherent position on it. At best, it criticises the government’s handling of the Brexit process. But it seems to have no clear position on the substantive issue: are we for or against Brexit? Will we only accept a soft Brexit – in which we stay in the Single Market or at least the Customs Union – or a hard Brexit in which we cut all such ties?

No one knows because no one in the leadership is saying.

So we drift from catastrophe to catastrophe. The Sleaford result was completely in line with national polls, which put the Conservatives well up on their General Election result and Labour well down.

Now it’s possible to be as naïve as I was about my boss. Some of us might conclude that if Labour is unable to develop any kind of leadership over the one great question that is agitating the minds of voters, then that’s down to the leadership. Or, more to the point, its lack of leadership.

Again, though, that view turns out to be wrong. The backers of the present leader, Jeremy Corbyn, never tire of telling us that he’s outstanding. The problem is he’s let down by those, like the Parliamentary Labour Party, or others who have no confidence in him and who are therefore ‘red Tories’ or ‘Blairites’. On their shoulders and their shoulders alone lies the blame for Labour’s parlous position.

Corbyn and his circle of admirers insist that they have a mandate from the membership. That allows them to dictate our way forward while we just have to swallow our objections and get on with helping them achieve a glorious future for the country. If glory escapes them, however, be sure that it isnt down to them. They have power within the Labour Party, you see, but no responsibility.

The prerogative of the harlot through the ages.


Anonymous said...

So why do you continue to belong? Why not join another group that you do feel an affinity with, maybe the Liberals. Forget the past and move on, if however the past becomes the future you may well decide to review your future due to the past future changing. As someone said " I was the future once". Don't get stuck in a rut and read a little more than the Guardian, simply repeating its words will change little and satisfy nothing.

David Beeson said...

I think Corbyn and Momentum will take us down to defeat, probably historically disastrous defeat, at least once, possibly twice. Then those of us who stick with the Labour Party will have the long, tough task of rebuilding it into an organisation capable of winning office and doing some good for the people we're supposed to represent.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, supposed to represent, not exactly a commitment. So why not make a commitment and form a new alliance that is committed to whatever you feel you collectively do believe in?

David Beeson said...

We have the alliance and we know it can succeed. It's called the Labour Party. I hope it'll survive the Momentum era and emerge on the other side to grow to new effectiveness.