Last month I had the privilege of being a guest of the directors of the Tate at a dinner in London marking the opening of a new exhibition entitled “Painting with Light – Art and Photography from the Pre-Raphaelites to the Modern Age.” I was invited as Moderator of the Free Church because we have loaned them one of our great treasures – Octavius Hill’s Disruption painting. It was a fascinating evening at the heart of the British Establishment, because make no mistake the arts establishment is the Establishment.
It is the chairmen of companies, the principals of Universities and the graduates of Eton, Harrow, Oxford and Cambridge who are largely the patrons and controllers of the arts. And this is not just true of the arts. The political, economic, media, educational and arts establishments are all just sub-branches of the same establishment. We see this in so many ways and in my view it is leading to a dangerous democratic deficit.
One example is illustrated by the recent furore surrounding the extraordinary call of Kathy Warwick, the CEO of the Royal College of Midwives to allow abortion up to full term, without consulting any of her members. Not only does this illustrate the increasing tendency of our elites to decide what to do first and then ‘consult’ afterwards, but it shows how incestuous the Establishment is. Kathy Warwick is also Chair of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service that supports and gets paid for, this policy.
Another example is the whole question of the EU referendum debate. At the Tate dinner one of the speakers made a reference to the EU debate that made it perfectly clear that the Establishment are totally against a Brexit. The Tate receives funding and support from the EU. Meanwhile a student from Edinburgh University told me they had received a visit in their halls from the University urging her to vote to stay in the EU. British University principals, especially those from the Establishment universities are of course strongly in support of the EU – after all they receive over 900 million euros in support. Meanwhile Company bosses of companies who get subsidies from the EU send their workers letters warning about the loss of jobs.
Scientific research companies send out YouTube videos and social media posts about the threat to scientific funding to their staff, which is then usually passed on. You see the pattern. I have yet to receive anything pro-EU that does not come from people and organisations who are funded by the EU.
But what about NGO’s (Non-Governmental Organisations) such as charities? Surely they are independent and offer independent advice? The EU gives 2 billion euros per year to NGOs. He who pays the piper calls the tune.
One example is the refugee’s charity – International Rescue Committee that received £22,990,156 from the EU. It’s chairman, David Miliband, recently spoke out against Boris Johnson and in favour of the EU. Doubtless the fact that the £22 million from the EU helped cover his £400,000 annual salary was a factor. The trouble is that whilst many larger charities are non-government, they are not non-Establishment. It is difficult to see how an organization can call itself an independent charity if it relies on government finance to fund itself.
Those who are on the gravy train, don’t want to get, or be thrown, off so they all dance the same dance. Those who are the ‘haves’ want to keep what they have. Whilst they may sometimes have sympathy for the ‘have-nots’, there is no way under a ‘selfish gene’ view of humanity, that they are going to give up what they consider to be rightfully theirs. The peasants are left with the crumbs from the master’s table.
Democracy is the one thing that gets in the way of this elitist domination.
In a democracy the worker’s vote is as valuables as the Queen’s. To autocratic capitalists that can be a dangerous thing so the question becomes, “How can democracy be neutralized?”
The first is to ensure that those who have the real power can’t be voted out. This is, as the late great Tony Benn pointed out, the great problem with the EU.
The power lies with unelected commissioners. If you cannot vote out the people who have the power, then you no longer live in a democracy. I suspect that there are corporate leaders who love this idea and have a sneaking admiration for the Chinese version of freemarket capitalism –capitalism without the freedom!
The other is to outflank the democratically elected representatives of the people in a different way; by the misuse of ‘human rights’ as a fig leaf for control.
We see an example of this in the US where last year the Supreme Court ruled that the Obama administration could not enact a Clean Power Plan that would have limited greenhouse gas pollution from coal plants. Another example was where that same court overruled the democratically elected state legislatures and ordered that every state must recognize same sex marriage. In both cases, unelected autocrats overrule a democratically elected president or legislature.
This is where democracy is in danger. We are moving from democracy to an autocracy. And it is not an autocracy based on merit.
Where you are born, what school you go to and who you know are more important than ability. We are creating a society in which we are run like corporations where the executives tell us all what is good for us. For example, I fear that Universities are being turned from primarily being places of academic learning to corporations whose business happens to be academia.
Returning to the Disruption painting. The Disruption of the Church leading to the Free Church in 1843 was the result of ordinary people asserting the right to elect their own ministers, and not have them appointed by the State. Perhaps we need a new Disruption? One where the cosy cabals of the elites are challenged by the re- establishment of a democracy based on an equal, educated and engaged electorate who genuinely get to choose our own leaders. Or maybe we should just get on with eating our cake and let our betters run the show?
A shortened version of this article was published in The Scotsman