Of the People, by the People by Roger Osborne

“Arguably the greatest failure of democratic governments in our time has been the surrender of power to the international financial system in return for short-term prosperity for their electors.”

This compelling narrative about the history of democracy is succinct. Nevertheless, it makes a significant number of telling points. It shows how democracy has been interpreted differently down the ages. It reminds us that the answer to problems in mature democracies is often more democracy.

For example, the author makes the point that democracy suffered major setbacks between the major wars of the last century. This was partly because of economic difficulties. However, it was also due to the rise of extreme nationalism. While vulgar forms of Marxism were also undemocratic, it was toxic fascism which emerged as the biggest danger.

If citizens of the world today want to avoid making the mistakes of the past, refusing to support overtly nationalist politicians is prudent. Socialism and liberalism are ideologies which have not got an innocent history. However, the optimism they share is necessary now.


“The many instead of the few” Pericles

The brave campaign of Jeremy Corbyn this year might not have ignited yet. However, he showed his customary wit and passion today in West Kirby. A large crowd had assembled and the newly elected Metro-Mayor Steve Rotherham was present to give support to kind local MP Margaret Greenwood.

While left populism has not made a great deal of progress outside Greece and South America, Corbyn’s Labour is polling well ahead of the demoralised French Socialist Party, for example. In part, this must be due to the impressive drive of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Today, Corbyn’s oratory was quite fierce as he knows there are not many days left before the general election.

The specifics of the Labour manifesto have been chewed over by the media. The fact that it has been costed has given it a degree of credibility. Labour might have a lot of ground to make up, but on policy they have shown patches of radicalism. Nevertheless, Corbyn’s words made me think about what democracy should mean. Perhaps Pericles put it best:

“Its administration favours the many instead of the few; this is why it is called a democracy.”

Cameron by Francis Elliott and James Hanning

This thorough text is a valuable reminder of how important PR has been to Tory success. It charts the early fluctuations in the fortunes of David Cameron. It was written when it was just about possible to believe that the Conservative Party had a feeling for the green agenda.

It is hard to believe that Theresa May is the Prime Minister when reading this book. It was a blunder to associate the word nasty with her party. There must have been a more delicate way to tell the Conservatives that their brand needed an update.

May is being framed in a presidential way in the current election. While this strategy may deliver results short-term, the voters may be more inclined to blame her if things go wrong later. With the environment under increasing pressure, the Conservatives may eventually regret their utter neglect of green issues. May has the advantage of not being as aristocratic as Cameron, but her rush for grammar schools might make some modern Tories nostalgic for his more moderate values. As the writers observed:

“In delivering the Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture in March 2005 he explicitly rejected ‘ideological politics’ in favour of ‘practical conservatism’.”

Blair Inc. by Francis Beckett et al.

This fascinating text reveals what Tony Blair has got up to since he ceased being Prime Minister. He has become fabulously wealthy, overtly religious and embroiled in the politics of many countries. At the same time, his acolytes have fought bitter battles against Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn, greatly damaging the electoral prospects of the Labour Party.

The researchers were shocked by how secretive Blair has become. His staff were often reluctant to divulge information that was already in the public domain. Blair apologist Charles Clarke was abrasive when asked reasonable questions about the man who took the UK into the Iraq War before assuming a role as a peace envoy.

Clarke had wanted to stop Gordon Brown from replacing Blair as Prime Minister. When this proved impossible because of the momentum of Brown, his ideological colleagues worked through the opaque Progress group to prevent the Labour left from prospering. Miliband was always looking over his shoulder instead of being able to take the fight to David Cameron:

“As often happens, the Blairites said the things Blair only implied. Charles Clarke says that ‘some people find Ed Miliband weird and geeky’ and that he has failed to express clear policies. It’s code for ‘He’s not a proper Blairite’.”

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

“I am really fatigued as my first working day draws to a close. I do not wish to suggest, however, that I am disheartened or depressed or defeated. For the first time in my life I have met the system face to face, fully determined to function within its context as an observer and critic in disguise, so to speak.”

This bitter satire about a slacker in New Orleans is a psychological study of sorts. However, the reader is jaded by repetitive jokes. As a result, a degree of sympathy may develop with regard to the anti-hero. He may suffer from absurd delusions, but it could be that being properly adjusted to the reality of the United States would be a greater deviation from wisdom.

It is always difficult to appreciate how a satire works when its social context has become history. This is because the targets of the humour are no longer with us. Social types alter with cultural evolution.

Nevertheless, the tragic election of Donald Trump has sent the United States back to the social conflicts of decades gone by. As a consequence, some of the stereotypes of the author could seem relevant once again.