There will be people in the thriving and doing ok 40% who oppose the inequalities of the status quo, but so long as enough of those who are treading water and even some of the loosing out can be persuaded that social mobility is possible then a ruling majority in parliament can be put together from minority support in the country as a whole. The bottom line is that you just don’t need a consensus to rule, you can rule in the interests of 10% if you incentive enough of the 30% who are doing OK and bring in a few of the 30% looters with some promises of a jam tomorrow. Our system allows you to impose policies without consensus or majority support (the elected dictatorship) whilst maintaining the pretence of democratic legitimacy.
We could say this characterised the period from the end of the post war consensus up to the crash 1979-2008
This is what I envisage John Kenneth Galbraith meant when he wrote, in the Culture of Contentment.
“In the United Kingdom a contented majority ensured the rule of Margaret Thatcher for eleven years even though in the midlands and to the north unemployment and exclusion were a continuing source of social discontent” (Galbraith)
There are echoes of the statement by the c19th MP William Cobbett “I defy you to agitate a man with a full stomach” (Cobbett) , and these ideas overlap with Marx's idea of false consciousness and Gramsci’s of hegemony which are covered in Part 3, On Power, What is Power and Where does it come from - Ideas and Beliefs.
But push too far and it breaks down. Your rule in the interests of 10% will make some of the 30% who do well enough queasy with doubt, shake some out of their ambivalence and make the ignored angry and resentful. This can fuel right wing populism as well as calls for left wing or progressive change.
This applies post 2008 crash to the present
Now consider the next picture – according to the House of Commons report cited above less than 2% of the population are party members. The problem with this is that political power appeals to a certain type of person and so the politically engaged are not (by definition and self-selection) representative. Become a parliamentary candidate and you will have people you thought you knew and trusted say to your face – you are all the same, only in it for what you can get. This happened to me in 1983, how much more likely is it after the expenses scandal?
Let me be very clear none of this is about class and none of it is fixed: people can move around the within structure. One argument that can be used to defend our current form of representative democracy is that people are free to become engaged or not so – not many participate but participation is possible. I just don’t think this is good enough. There are many honourable people in politics, they can only act as the structure allows (politics is after all the art of the possible) but there also many who succumb to what David Owen describes as hubris syndrome (Owen) and some who share the psychological traits of psychopaths (Note: Psychopaths at the Top).
Or we could say;
“Government is necessary to preserve our freedom, it is an instrument through which we can exercise our freedom; yet by concentrating power in political hands, it is also a threat to freedom. Even though the men who wield this power initially be of good will and even though they be not corrupted by the power they exercise, the power will both attract and form men of a different stamp” (Friedman, Intro)