Thursday 4 December 2008

Gordon's Noble Lie

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Yesterday was an historic day for British politics, and a black one. In the matter of the raid upon Parliament we are to believe that the police were insidious, the Serjeant incompetent, and the Speaker indifferent.

Having stated that the highest court in the land is not above the Law, and confirmed that the Law is to be implemented according to the whims of the police, neither Speaker nor Government have been able to explain who it is the police answer to? Is it the Home Secretary who is at present mulling over their job applications? Is it the Queen? The Prime Minister? We are not told. The man in the robes did not fulfill the function that many of us thought he was there for, and he didn't apologise or resign either. Instead he blamed his underlings and whined to Members that "others had the advantage of the media" and he did not. No Lenthall he.

So who will guard the guards? - who will protect us from our protectors?

This ancient problem - posed to Socrates - came with a two part solution. Firstly, as we saw yesterday, for all the pomp and ceremony - there is little in reality to stop a Government or it's police using the powers they have at hand. Like Plato, we must trust the protectors to protect us from themselves.

And there we turn to the real substance of Plato's republic. For society to function we must all believe a noble lie (the
gennaion pseudos) - that our ruling classes are special people with a special sense of their own responsibility to those they rule. In Plato's assessment, the ruling elite must genuinely believe that they are something different to the ordinary mortal.

Does Gordon Brown believe that he is better than those around him? That, "made of a different metal", as Plato had it - he has a special purpose to do what he knows is right for the good of society? That much is easy - of course he does. He is our Moses - he and his allies demand that we trust them even to decide whether an opposition MP should be deprived of his freedom after embarrassing the government. Like his newly enriched predecessor, he is only doing the "right thing".

But Plato's definition of a ruling class had a second part - whilst the rulers would protect those lesser than themselves, they would be chosen because of their humility and their distaste for power and privilege. No ruler in Plato's world deliberately sought the heavy responsibility which he undertook. It was a glorious imposition.

Is Mandelson such a leader? Is Gordon? Do they display humility? a distaste for power?

Parliament told us yesterday that we must place our trust in these good men because we are now guarded by no other - and so these fundamental questions of character and motivation must now join the economic questions at the heart of the next election.

Let's hope there is one before it's too late.


Anonymous said...

Excellent piece!

kinglear said...

I think what this episode points out in particular ios the complete lack of courage any of the politicians involved have - never mind conscience or principles.
Martin has been the weakest of speakers, allowing the government to get away with murder ( quite literally) and never making any government minister actually answer a question properly ( as opposed to trying to make party political points)
I agree if much more comes out about this, there could well be an early election.

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