The Institutions of Power

by George Hatjoullis

Conspiracy theorists believe there is a self-serving élite (often called Lizards) that control the planet. Others, more reasonably, suggest that the institutions of power are created by collective humanity and have a life of their own. The institutions select and mould those that fill the slots that the institutions require. The king is dead, long live the king. The institution of monarchy is more important than any specific incumbent. The King is constrained to rule like a monarch. So it is with Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition in the UK parliament. This is something to which that Jeremy Corbyn must adjust. If he fails to do so he will not last very long.

The constraints on the leader of the opposition are complex and granular. There are rituals in the House, in public events and in relation to the monarch and other institutions. He must wear a suit and tie, look smart at the Cenotaph (recall Michael Foot and the donkey jacket episode) and wear a poppy. As an individual not in power one has some scope to pursue own views on all subjects. However, one does not have complete freedom to think let alone act. In my blog post, Freethinkers of the World Unite, I point out that even as independent individuals we self-censor our thoughts to make sure we do not subtly reveal politically incorrect inclinations. It is the price of living in society. As a back bench MP, Jeremy Corbyn has some freedom to act according to his own conscience. As Leader of the Opposition this freedom, such as it was, is lost.

This is not to say that the Leader of the Opposition does not have some scope to change things. However, the scope is limited and constrained. He needs to focus on what is important and attainable rather than set over-ambitious agendas. Leaders of the Opposition are not allowed to pursue revolutions or promote civil disobedience. It is true that he has a mandate from the membership but that mandate if to create daylight between Conservative and Labour. It is not a mandate to be himself as leader. Nor is himself relevant to his function as leader unless he tries to be himself. What he said or did before matters not so long as he adapts to the needs of the institution of power that he now occupies.

Success or failure for Corbyn depends entirely on his willingness to acknowledge that the institution of power that he occupies has certain constraints and limitations to which he must bow. If he does so he can achieve something worthwhile and fulfil the mandate he was given. If he pushes the limits too hard they will push back and crush him. The experience of Syriza is educational and he might be wise to take note. He, like me, probably remembers Allende. It is not a conspiracy of some lizard élite that constrains Corbyn. It is the institutions of power created by humanity to enable some organisation of social life. He should recognise the constraints.