Milliband’s Elitist International Order – Built on Political Hubris

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So the former Foreign Secretary and failed labour leadership contender, David Miliband, thinks that Brexit would be “an act of arson on the international order”.  In making his statement today Miliband joined his predecessors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office by trying to reinforce old-fashioned ideas about the international system that come straight out of discredited academic papers from the 1990s.  I have touched on this matter before in a previous post about the FCO’s vision of the world and how the mandarins’ model of the ‘international system’ is introducing dangers with implications for instability and civil disorder.  In that post I examined how many proponents insist that globalisation makes the Westphalian model of nation states irrelevant.  It is a thesis that promotes the idea of supranational organisations like the EU and world governance but I also explained why it is doomed to fail.  What’s interesting about Miliband’s intervention, though, is that it demonstrates the disconnect between those politicians who promote such ideas and the ordinary voters.  Most people abhor the idea of supranational governance and their loss of sovereign power so why is it that political leaders seem so attached to the idea?

The answer of course is political hubris and vanity.  Such arrogance is often concealed by obtuse discussions and deliberately obscure terminology.  It relies on a strategy that the people will follow along meekly because it’s to do with matters that ‘they don’t really understand’. This is what is meant by political elitism.  Such politicians are certain in their stance because ‘they know best’.

Of course, the backlash against political elitism is building in the EU.  Right across Europe so-called populist parties are on the rise as voters kick back against their lack of representation and effective disenfranchisement. They don’t want decisions taken so far away from them that their vote feels valueless and ineffective.  They want to be able to influence their own lives through the ballot box not be subjugated by people that don’t really represent or consider their views.

Such a disconnect may seem astonishing but it is really a function of human nature as I shall explain.  People are generally proud of their work and like the warm feeling of common endeavour such that they tend unconsciously to promote their own organisations and seek to increase their influence and power by empire building.  This is particularly a feature of governmental organisations and ministries of state but also of non-elected bodies who are nonetheless increasingly influential.  We have all seen and understand the term ‘institutional creep’.

With this in mind, it is easy to understand that when politicians meet under the umbrella of, say, the EU, they can easily be caught up in comfortingly fuzzy feelings of groupthink which lead them to forget that they are representing people rather than the group they are working within.  A classic example are the views of some MEPs but it also includes national politicians who forget themselves in forums such as the council of ministers.  The reason this phenomena is so dangerous is that whilst the politicians are elected, the organisations they attend are often not.  As I write, my iPad has flashed up a dark warning about Brexit issued by the IMF.  Elected to intervene in our rerferendum?  No.  Elected to manage a world economy? No.

The international order that Miliband refers to is increasingly elitist and representative of itself rather than ordinary people.  I am not an anarchist, and I accept that there needs to be forums for solving international problems.  But these need to be cooperative rather than executive forums which represent the views of voters, not self-serving, self-licking lollipops dishing out elitist diktats to those that ‘don’t really understand’.  The only way of correcting such political hubris is for voters to deliver a sharp and painful yank of the chain.  The reason that referendums are hated by the elites is that they offer ordinary voters the opportunity to rein in politicians that have exceeded their authority. The UK’s EU referendum is one such moment.  Our British democracy and rule of law has been a shining example across the world.  It is now time to reclaim that example, deliver a sharp shock to the elites’ international order and show that true peace can only occur through proper representative government not an old-boys club. We must vote to leave the EU and call a halt to this inexorable slide towards subjugation and the democratic abyss.