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Nappies are all that remain

I rode motorcycles in my misspent youth.  It was, perhaps, due to the state of the industry in those days, that motorcyclists spent almost as much time replacing parts than they did actually rising their machines.  But that at least gave the rider a far better understanding of how the machine worked than is true with today’s over-engineered and technologized bikes.  So much so, indeed, that there is no real connection between the bikes of then and now… save for the names and the branding.

One of the machines I rode back in the early 1980s was an 11-year-old BSA Lightning – the end of the line for the Birmingham Small Arms company, as it turned out.  The company went out of business just three years after my bike was made.  A few of the British names – Triumph, Norton, and Villiers – continued after the industry was nationalised.  But they eventually succumbed to Margaret Thatcher’s economic vandalism in the early-1980s.  Another brand – Royal Enfield – switched production to India and is the only one to have a continuous production history.

Only the branding is the same

Despite this, anyone looking to buy a motorcycle today can, in fact, purchase a Triumph, a Norton, and yes, even a BSA – the 650cc, 2022  revival of the old 500cc Gold Star which went out of production in 1963… although, as is the case with most modern bikes, it is over-engineered and bristling with the technologies required by the technocratic state.  And insofar as I might be in the market for a bike in my dotage (and assuming the arthritis would allow it) I would go for the largely under-engineered Royal Enfield (either the 350cc or the 650cc) which have kept costs down by keeping technology to a bare minimum… something which will prove its worth as the western economies enter terminal decline.

It strikes me that there is a similarity between this motorcycling simulacrum and the process by which political parties have been taken over and adapted to meet the requirements of the supranational technocracy, so that all that really remains is the branding.  Despite briefly, in the hands of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings, appearing to want to recreate its connection with the wider electorate, for example, like the leopard the Tory Party proved unable to change its spots.  Later this year, having reverted to technocratic neoliberalism under Rishi Sunk and Jeremy Hunt, it is set to crash and burn for want of any good reason to continue to exist.  As  historian David Edgerton wrote just after Johnson became Prime Minister, there is no longer a British capitalism for the Tories to represent:

“Today there is no such thing as British national capitalism.  London is a place where world capitalism does business – no longer one where British capitalism does the world’s business.  Everywhere in the UK there are foreign-owned enterprises, many of them nationalised industries, building nuclear reactors and running train services from overseas.  When the car industry speaks, it is not as British industry but as foreign enterprise in the UK.  The same is true of many of the major manufacturing sectors – from civil aircraft to electrical engineering – and of infrastructure…”

The collapse of Labour’s “red wall” – 41 seats extending across the north and the midlands from Clwyd in the west to Norwich in the east – which gave the Tories their 2019 majority appeared to also make them, implausibly, the party of the working class.  Nor was this a flash in the pan.  Even while the Dark Lord was still prime minister, working class voters were breaking their bond with Labour and, particularly in the red wall seats, opting for socially conservative alternatives.  In proportional European elections, this benefited UKIP (which later became the Brexit Party, and, as Reform UK is polling in third place today).  In general elections it favoured nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales and, increasingly, the Tories in England.

This was masked to some extent by Labour picking up educated middle-class support in the University seats across southern Britain.  Moreover, in 2017, establishment hostility to the pro-Brexit Jeremy Corbyn helped provide Labour with sufficient seats to prevent Theresa May from securing a majority.  Even then, however, the working-class vote across the red wall continued its switch to the Tories – who won six of the 41 seats despite losing ground elsewhere in the country.

Just as the capitalism that the Tory Party existed to serve had morphed beyond recognition, so too had the class base which Labour had taken for granted.  The massed ranks of unionised industrial workers had long since passed into retirement.  In their place was a growing precariat which tended to opt out of a political system which seldom worked in its interest:

Insofar as working people are still wedded to Labour it is the result of some distant folk memory rather than anything Labour is doing to benefit them today.  A memory of a time when the local MP helped their grandparents get a council house or changed the rules so that widows could keep a share of their husband’s pensions… few can list anything that Labour has done for them recently.  Indeed, it is more likely that they have family members harmed by Labour’s Work Capacity Assessment tests.  And those hoping that a Labour government will improve their working conditions will be sourly disappointed.

Meanwhile, that part of the precariat which bothered to vote, along with the remnants of the working-class across ex-industrial, rundown seaside and small-town rural Britain has shifted far to the left of Labour on economic issues – for example, strongly supporting the nationalisation of utilities and critical infrastructure – but far to the right of the Tories on social issues – most notably immigration.

Nor are the Labour and Tory activist bases enthused by what their respective parties have become – which is why the coming election will be fought across establishment media rather than on the proverbial doorstep (the impact of social media is hard to predict, although we can expect Labour and Tory apparatchiks to try to censor dissident voices).  Those left-leaning Labour activists who hadn’t already been expelled are leaving of their own volition, even as around a third of Tory supporters have crossed to Reform UK.

Even Reform though, is too wedded to neoliberal economics to offer a realistic alternative – although their manifesto does include a pledge to bring utilities and critical infrastructure into public ownership.  But even if that promise does win working-class support, the distorting (i.e., anti-democratic) effect of Britain’s first-past-the-post system makes it unlikely that smaller parties like Reform will secure more than a handful of seats.  In practice, the election will remain a contest between a Tory Party which is despised by the majority of people and a Labour Party whose main superpower is the ability to bore voters into submission… on essential policies, merely two cheeks of the same arse

Labour will likely win later this year, not by increasing its own vote, but simply because the majority of former Tory voters stay at home.  If turnout is small enough, it will call into question not only the legitimacy of the eventual winner, but the electoral system as a whole.  And this, in turn, raises the very real threat of political violence of a kind which seems to be growing on the other side of the Atlantic.

A better result would be a minority Labour government, since this might force a switch to an alternative, proportional electoral system.  But minority governments are hard to engineer… especially when the incumbent government is as discredited as this one.  And so, thinking about whether to vote, and if so, who to vote for, the best I can offer is nappy (diaper for my American readers) theory – the observation that politicians and governments have a lot in common with nappies… you should change them often, and for pretty much the same reason.

As you made it to the end…

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