It is not hyperbole to suggest that there is a systemic crisis in the British state. Over the past few years and especially weeks, we have seen the old certainties of the economic and political establishment dramatically unravel. There was the collapse of the financial system in 2008 followed by the MPs’ expenses scandal and now we have the further tarnishing of the media in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the demolition of the reputation of the Metropolitan Police over police corruption and operational failures in investigation leading to the resignations of the Metropolitan Police and Assistant Police Commissioners. Four key elements of establishment power – the banks, Parliament, the press and the police – have had their misuse of power exposed and their reputations perhaps irretrievably besmirched. Yet the signs have been there for well over two decades that there was something seriously wrong with the morality of our political system. Remember the ‘cash for honours’ enquiry, the failure of Parliament to heed the overwhelming attitude of public opinion opposed to the Iraq War, the ‘brown envelopes’ stuffed with cash lavishly splashed around in the 1990s, the creation of the security state after 9/11, the burgeoning power of the media to set rather than comment upon prevailing political agendas…… The political solution appears to be to establish public and judicial enquiries to establish ‘the facts’ and posit solutions…a case of the establishment policing itself.
Yet there has been little attempt at the fundamental reform of the political establishment from top to bottom that is needed. Politicians have never had a high reputation among the public who rightly recognise that they say a great deal but actually accomplish little and who cannot be trusted. They are generally regarded as morally corrupt even if not taking money for their ‘services’. The question is whether they are capable, even if they are willing, to introduce the reforms necessary to re-establish the British state and recover or redefine the public moral values that should underpin it. Surprisingly David Cameron’s notion of the ‘Big Society’ with its bottom-up rather than top-down solutions to problems may provide a basis for this. The only problem is that currently it is not even a damp squid! For too long politicians of all parties have adopted the ‘we know better than you’ approach. If politicians are unable or unwilling to find solutions to people’s problems and to the moral bankruptcy of the establishment then perhaps it is time that the people should take over those responsibilities.