29 November 2008

The Rise of the Database State

Deep, if dark, essay on the deep malaise at the heart of British politics, and the rise of the database state:

A threefold process unfolded under New Labour whose dimensions and trajectories are only now becoming clear.

* First, an irreversible dismantling of the historic “sovereignty of Parliament” and its empire state through: a cultural destruction of the old “Establishment” clubland regime; a territorial break of its unitary form with devolution (to try and secure Labour’s hold on Wales and Scotland); a legal modernisation with the Human Rights Act. These were all far-reaching commitments inherited from the battle against Thatcher’s authoritarianism.

* Second, New Labour exploited the vacuum this created. Instead of replacing the old constitution it cultivated an even more centralised system of executive-sovereignty that treated the House of Commons with unparalleled contempt. Although progressive policies might be drawn up and implemented by able advisors, the core of this reformed state machine was dedicated to the construction of a corporate populist regime under prime ministerial fiat expanding surveillance and state controls to pioneer a new type of “database state”.

* Third, unable to appeal to the loyalty of traditional institutions such as Parliament and monarchy yet longing for unchecked executive power and dismissive of democracy, New Labour embraced market populism selling itself as the purveyor of choice, freedom and bust-free economic growth while dressing old socialist talk of inevitability and internationalism in the fresh language of “globalisation”. In effect it drew the old state through the eye of the City to create a regime that became a servant to the world financial markets.

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