Our nation is failing. Last week saw a dreadful and despicable murder of a young mother and MP in broad daylight. Recent months have seen a festival of political lying which has no equal in British history and which has done great violence to the compact between governed and governors. Since Major’s time the gap between the public policy and the will of the nation has widened across the entire spectrum of government activity. Far from this being a source of angst, it is to our rulers a badge of pride.
This referendum campaign has left me more certain than ever that the dignity, prosperity and survival of Britain is best served by a vote to leave to the European Union. The vote is not sufficient to stimulate national renewal by itself, but it would give a manifestation to the great swell of national feeling which has grown throughout the campaign.
Having lived for some years in the developing world, I broadly agree with the thesis in Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson’s book Why Nations Fail. Ultimately they fail because the political and economic institutions are extractive – the economic and political welfare of the many is structurally subordinated to that of the few.
England’s advance owed to a set of rights taken by the many from the few which steadily diminished the ability of any one class to coerce and subjugate the others: jury trial, habeas corpus, the mobility of labour, the subordination of the crown to parliament, political pluralism, the patent system, property rights, and an independent judiciary.
The progress of other nations has been impeded where these freedoms were absent. Why invest if your equipment and land will be stolen by the local political potentate? Why pursue the case through the courts if the judge is appointed by the same politician and in fear of his life?
Britain has prospered because she is free, and these freedoms have been won through conflict rather than consensus. The Baron’s Revolt, the Peasant’s Revolt, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, the Reform Acts – conflict has created the tension between interests in society required for freedom.
Since the Second World War and the rise of the post-war consensus, these tensions have steadily slackened. This has been most notably the case since the leaderships of both the Conservative and Labour parties have coalesced around a Blairist consensus in which strategic realities and ancient liberties are subordinated to the tyranny of hurt feelings.
The result of this consensus has been that the lives of ordinary people have gotten worse. Their interests have been placed second to those of a technocrat comprised of wealthy special interest groups. The European Union is a classic example – we have given up the democratic accountability of our law makers because, in the view of the technocrats, the unelected Brussels mandarins make the right sort of law.
Our own government has attacked liberty of religion and speech (under extremism laws), right to jury trial, criminal standards of proof (again under extremism laws), property rights (under laws designed to target drug dealers), and marriage. Our constitution has been vandalised and with it has gone the feeling that we all – regardless of income or education – have a stake in the country.
A great nation is stirring. I do not know whether the gerrymandering and lies of the Remain camp will be sufficient to win the day on Thursday – I suspect they will, just. What is now obvious is that by dismantling the machinery which protected the interests of all, the Westminster technocrats have ushered in a conflict between the people of England and those who profit by them. We are entering one of the crucial periods of English history. Let us hope that we lose our shackles, not our nerve, when the nation goes to vote.