Honourable Friends by Caroline Lucas is a tour through her experience as a Green Party MP over the last five years and a look at the work she’s tried to progress.
Part of the book describes what it was like to enter Westminster when Lucas was first elected, with no party machinery in place to support her and no experience of the strange traditions of the place. Part of the book is a discussion about the change Lucas wants to see in both policy and procedure. A chapter is devoted to subjects like the environment, the NHS, housing and foreign policy. Lucas describes how she’s worked to find support from MPs in all parties and where she’s succeeded or failed. She points out how some of the ‘quaint’ archaic traditions of the British parliament hold back progress and block democracy. For example, Lucas talks about how voting works and how the process gets in the way of MPs giving votes serious consideration, or about how MPs are appointed to committees or reviews and how knowledge and experience is seen as unnecessary.
The book has a tone of ‘if people could just see how dangerous these policies are, they’d all change their minds’, a kind of bafflement that anyone could think austerity was a good idea. I’m not sure it’s a sophisticated persuasion technique, but I suspect Lucas is preaching to the converted with this book.
If you’re interested in the mechanics of how politics is done in the UK, or how democracy is expanded or contracted, then there is a lot of detail in here. Lucas’ style is conversational and it’s an easy read. I enjoyed it.
In The Establishment, Owen Jones argues that the establishment is not so much a group of wealthy people in cahoots to keep everyone else down, but rather a collection of people with shared beliefs who benefit from being able to influence each other.
The establishment hasn’t remained stable over the years and those that are considered to make up today’s establishment are not the same as those following WWII. To start with Jones charts the shift in the political consensus from the 1940s to now. Once upon a time, free market ideology was fringe thinking and considered a bit barmy. Jones shows the methods by which more and more influential people were convinced by it’s proponents. It shows how money can be used to change people’s thinking. There are lessons there for those who wish to shift the political consensus back towards the centre, but the lesson is that money speaks and money corrupts.
Jones looks at each of the groups whose members make up the establishment and shows how their interests align and complement those of the other groups. The chapter on tax avoiders was particularly illuminating. The involvement of corporations and huge consultancies in the process of writing legislation and regulation enables those corporations to manipulate the system in their favour. The revolving door between politics and business has serious implications for democracy. To be clear, Jones never claims this is a conspiracy. There’s no group of people sitting in a room somewhere cackling and stroking white cats. Much of this is the unintended and unexamined consequences of people pursuing their own interests.
I found the discussion about ownership of the media and their relationship with their readers interesting. Papers don’t report what they think their readers want. They report what their owners and advertisers want. He shows (and he’s not the first) how the pressure to maximize profit compromises investigative journalism.
The Establishment is a dense and lengthy read. I found it thought-provoking and stimulating and would recommend it to anyone interested in how politics works.