Only direct action can save us from Cameron’s Machiavellian Prince

by Robin Thorpe

Machiavelli advises any aspiring Prince (or ruler; royal blood not necessary, although being related to the Queen can’t harm) to be ruthless from the day that he seizes power and “to determine all the injuries that he needs to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all, and not have to renew them every day, and in that way he will set men’s minds at rest and win them over when he confers benefits”.

The ruler should do this while his people are still getting used to his rule so that they start off fearful and learn to love him as he becomes more lenient. The lesson is that people do not mind being afraid if they are looked after and that things improve. If they improve, then it does not matter if they are not as good as before, as long as there is tangible improvement on the immediately preceding time. Machiavelli advises not to be timid or delay any acts of violence, but to inflict them once and for all so that “people will then forget what it tastes like and so be less resentful”.

This Tory-Lib Dem government seems to have read Machiavelli. They are certainly inflicting pain early. It remains to be seen whether they will wreak later improvements which will come to symbolise their righteousness.

For this reason, it seems very likely that Tory ministers do intend the coalition to run for five years. Which is why it would be dangerous for the Labour party to leave its policy unformed until the next election. There is merit in the general opinion that there is no need to have detailed policy announcements until 2014/2015, as the macroeconomic environment may change. Nevertheless, it is necessary to have the strategy fully formed in the event that a crack in the coalition can be formed into a wedge and the government can be brought down.

At some stage, the economy will recover; the Tories are banking on this being no more than two to three years. In time for them to claim a strategic victory and time enough for their ideological cuts of the state infrastructure to have taken hold and be practicably irreversible (that is to say, expensive to reform – as if that stops them when they want to). Whether intended or not, the government’s economic decisions will also increase the capital (and therefore control) held by the already wealthy and will augment the domination of the pharmacological corporations over the health and welfare sector.

For Labour prematurely to topple a government we will need public opinion to be in our favour. The polls will not be adequate to show this; direct action will be necessary. Which doesn’t mean a revolution: a sustained public demonstration against the government and an appeal for a general election would surely prompt a vote of no confidence.

For this to be effective, the scale of inclusion must go beyond the public sector and unions to incorporate private sector workers. The starting point is public meetings in halls up and down the country; a dialogue between electors and elected. The arguments against severe cuts to public services and privatisation of health services must be made and a debate must be encouraged to raise the general consciousness and increase engagement in politics.

In order for this succeed, a defence of Labour spending must be made. We must insist that it was not profligate, although admit that at times it was over-complicated. However, as IDS is finding out, making benefits “simpler” means that someone loses out. As these cuts take hold, Labour must be in the vanguard of the resistance; the people must be informed of both sides of the debate before they forget the acrid taste of economic devastation and while the resentment against Tory individualism still bites.

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7 Responses to “Only direct action can save us from Cameron’s Machiavellian Prince”

  1. Robert says:

    I enjoy reading Machiavelli from time to time.

    It may be argued that much of “The Prince” is a satire – certainly it has similarities to Nostradamus in that you can pick and mix the errors and triumphs of political leaders throughout history, as Machiavelli did for those before him, and discover they fit his principles somehow somewhere sometime.

    Not far from the section you quote Machiavelli also talks about a Prince who comes to power through the support of the people having a stronger position than one who attains power through support of the Barons because the people simply seek not to be opressed whereas the Barons are always looking to enrich themselves, and if the Prince doesn’t play ball they’ll overthrow him.

    Now how many ways might that apply?

  2. Robert says:

    Jesus the last time I went to a hall to a labour meeting six of us turned up, the meeting lasted ten minutes the following meeting we had in the dinning room of a house.

    twelve years ago a meeting was held at the same hall and people had to stand, but sadly the days of labour and the grass root movement has moved on.

    What next all meeting you have to have a job and be a tax payer, no sick no disabled and no poor and without doubt no council house people.

    Labour has made it’s bed with the hard working swing voters who normally vote Tory, but voted Blair because he sounded like the son of Thatcher.

    Now again I hear labour wants the blue collar workers back, but only if they have a job.

  3. AnneJGP says:

    Yes, indeed, this is exactly the sort of article I was referring to in my comment on Atul Hatwal’s recent article. You show clearly that “bringing down the government” is Labour’s priority in opposition, rather than bothering about “holding the government to account”. It is very off-putting to the outsider.

    Thank you for the timely illustration.

  4. Well Red Bandits says:

    he arguments against severe cuts to public services and privatisation of health services must be made

    Like to see the gutless Labour member explain how Labours NHS Privatisation, Foundation Trusts, PFI, Internal Markets, break up of a Nationally planning in NHS, break up of Cooperation in favour of competition. GP comissioning was being trialed by Labour. Milburn, Hewitt and Burnham laid the demolition charges Lansley just lit the blue touch paper

    Labour just another Neo Liberal Party of the wealthy.

  5. Robin Thorpe says:

    Thank you for your comments, can I start by saying that I was not an avid fan of New Labour and I did not agree with all their reforms. The Tory propaganda would, however, have us believe that there is no alternative to their draconian measures. They say the NHS is worse than it’s counterparts in Europe – it may be but it was improving; they say that spending was out of control – spending did rise at the end of the last government but largely because of the banks. An expensive reform of the NHS is no guarantee of success; indeed part of the plans for hospitals that are deemed to be failing is takeover by private service providers. Whether you agree with foundation hospitals is a moot point when the commercialisation of healthcare is set to be unleashed to unprecedented levels. Holding government to account is of little consequence when such wide-ranging reforms are changing entirely how public services will be delivered. The coalition has a majority and so is voting through bills as they see fit – no amount of parliamentary debating is going to prevent the changes or inform public opinion. The people are being lied to by a Tory-led coalition and are aided and abetted in that by a right-wing press. The scaremongering about Greece and Ireland has no relevance to our economy and the scaremongering about national debt has no impact on the credit of the UK with international markets (Borrowing as a proportion of GDP is one of the lowest of the G8).

    The Tory political elite are ideologically strong but economically weak yet the shadow cabinet are afraid to challenge them with the progressive alternative for fear of being labelled pejoratively as a party of tax and spend. Increasing public spending with a sustained long-term programme of house-building (preferably socialised) and civil infrastructure construction is a guaranteed way of boosting the economy. This could be paid for with further quantitative easing at a lesser extent than that required for the banks. The further QE would have the side-effect of reducing the exchange rate for the pound, which will benefit export and attract international investment to the UK and therefore augment the economy. Contracting the economy by reducing public service provision will only boost welfare payments and consequently increases the future burden on the NHS through health problems associated with unemployment and deprivation. To promote growth we need to invest in the future.

    My rather radical claim of bringing down the government through community action is extremely unlikely, largely because as several of the comments assert the confidence in the PLP is low and the grass-roots of the labour movement are yellowy brown with large patches of bare earth. A resurgence in public opinion is however necessary for the health of democracy and it is unlikely that any alternative left-wing political organisation would have more success than the established Labour party. I would hope therefore that it is worth the investment of time to use local elections this summer as a rallying call and to build a new support base to maintain the pressure on the government by the people. I am, however, not optimistic.

  6. Robin Thorpe says:

    To AnneJ GP; if you do happen to come back to this page please do not be put off by my call to action; I too am an outsider – that is surely the point of this website to encourage debate from outside the narrow Westminster media and political clique. I am sure I do not represent the views of the PLP or the whole of the labour movement.
    May I also add that I do not see why what I said is undemocratic; our constitution does not currently provide a guaranteed length of parliament. That means if the government does not enjoy the confidence of the house then a new election can be called at any time. I called for a new general election – caused by direct action and splitting the coalition, preventing the Tories from condemning the NHS. It would be profoundly undemocratic if I called for revolution and a forcible change in government; I did not.

  7. Fred says:

    I think Robin Thorpe should remember that actually rather a lot of people voted for the Conservative party only 8 or so months ago- and they realised what they were getting when they did so. The fact is that coalition has tempered natural Tory instincts, and has prevented Cameron from lurching too far to the right as may have (for better of worse- I don’t think of right-wing as a dirty word) happened had the only opposition he faced from within his majority been old guard Tories. Talk of bringing the government down is fantastical, naive and down right dangerous.

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