In the January 1849 issue of his journal Les Guêpes (The Wasps), the French Journalist Jean-Baptiste Alphose Karr announced “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
This wise observation, often clichéd, reminds us that we don’t always get what we want and that whatever effort we make, the world we live in remains largely the same as it has been since — well… back in the day to coin a more recent cliché.
The results of the EU elections are in to the delight of political journalists everywhere who are now in raptures describing a new politics, a new awareness in the voters, and a new dynamic in the political system.
Journalists, like politicians, tend to get rather carried away when something odd happens. This tends to cause a strange sort of amnesia even for the stories they themselves wrote not so long ago.
The Brexit Party have romped home with a staggering victory, devastating the Tories and Labour. A brand new party, only six weeks old. It is unprecedented, amazing, the start of a total change in the political landscape. Or is it?
Of course, Nigel Farage and his new movement, need to be congratulated on success. It would be utterly churlish to deny them that and to deny their supporters of the right to be happy about the result, but we can ask ourselves what has changed while offering that congratulation. What can we see that is different and what has largely remained the same?
Well, it was no surprise what happened to the Tories and Labour. They have both made a complete mess of Brexit and let down the rank and file membership, not to mention the very, very much larger base of the voters who traditionally support them. They are both riven by internal factionalism and in both cases a lurch to the extremes of right and left in some danse macabre of zealotry. We are now to see this played out in a self-indulgent and even more self-destructive leadership challenge in the Conservative Party over the next couple of months.
On to the Brexit Party. Time and time again its members have indulged themselves in self congratulation, a less edifying version than that offered above. The basis of this is that ‘they came from nowhere within six weeks’. Not quite of course! They are unreconstructed UKIP without the nasty bits. Ostensibly the same party that Farage led with great success, but from which he soon distanced himself after the 2016 referendum. Same leader (plus ça change), many of the same candidates and fellow travellers. Now they are suggesting they will stand in a general election on a Brexit ticket.
That will prove to be the most obvious manifestation of Karr’s maxim. When they stand in a general election, we will see the rest of the currently invisible manifesto. If you look closely you can of course see it now in the profiles of those who won on its behalf so spectacularly last night.
Nigel Farage and more bizarrely Ann Widecombe spent the last couple of weeks holding up banners proclaiming a change in British politics. So what is going to change? Is Nigel going to announce that he no longer believes that the NHS needs replacing with a US-style medical insurance scheme? Has Ann Widdecombe changed her views on benefit claimants being workshy scroungers?
The reality is nothing has changed, even runners up the Liberal Democrats still have mountains to climb if they are to translate their huge comeback in a Euro election into one in country.
The Green Party, also to be roundly applauded for their staggering success in getting so many into the EU Parliament, also need a small miracle to increase their presence in the UK Parliament. As for the ‘new’ kid on the block Change UK, well, having been beaten by the Yorkshire Party in Yorkshire and Humberside and UKIP in a couple of other places, it’s time to call time.
The next election will be between Labour and the Tories (plus c’est la même chose) and that will be here soon. Depending on the outcome of the Tory leadership election, it might be very soon. There is no doubt that Nigel’s Brexit party can cause a lot of disruption to both Labour and Conservative aspirations, but it won’t place them in government. The UKIP baggage will be plain to see in their general election campaign and it has repeatedly been rejected.
Look to the Lib Dems as king makers, a coalition to help a weakened Labour Party is a ‘definitely maybe’. Both parties are for certain more ideologically matched than the Tories and the Brexit Party, so we can probably rule out a coalition there. Will it change much? We will have to see.
Come what may, we will not be seeing any great upheaval in British politics any time soon and the changes we have seen have done little but present more of the same thing.
Any real change in British politics needs a change in the whole system of Parliamentary government, not the tinkering with party ideologies or electing another self-centered narcissist to lead that ideology.
What it really needs is a major transfusion of democracy, real democracy — not the soundbite variety that all politicians including Mr Farage et al so enthusiastically trumpet.
170 years have passed since Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr uttered those wise words and much has changed indeed in the world at large. Sadly, very little seems to have changed in the last three years, because in spite of their pronouncements to the contrary, politicians like it like that.