As the Conservative candidate for Sedgefield in 2001, I only managed to come a distant second against Tony Blair. Unlike the excellent Paul Howell, Sedgefield’s newly elected Conservative MP, the idea of winning remained a distant dream.
But my efforts to unseat Blair did get me to start asking why in working-class towns in Co Durham, like Trimdon or Fishburn, folk always seemed to automatically vote Labour. It was not as though local people seemed to have a great deal in common with the New Labour London elite.
Through dozens of doorstep conversations about crime, I understood that people wanted a no-nonsense approach. Yet still they would back Blair and all that leftist piety on the causes of crime.
On education, mums and dads I met clearly wanted the best for their kids. Yet on election day they would support a party that deferred to expert educationalists who, as an article of faith, would deny parents any choice.
Mulling all this over afterwards, I penned a short pamphlet Direct Democracy – empowering people to make their lives better (with, it so happens, input from both Daniel Hannan and Dominic Cummings).
To rein in the Brahmin elite that presided over Britain, I advocated sweeping change. The supposed elite, I suggested, had long pursued a policy over Europe that was at odds with what the country wanted. To recalibrate it, I proposed a referendum.
Those that ran the criminal justice system needed to answer directly to the public in order to ensure that they focused on the public’s priorities, so I proposed what we today call police and crime commissioners.
There needed to be a complete overhaul of the appointments system, I suggested, to ensure that the Brahmin class that presided over the administrative state answered outwards, rather than to each other. It needed to be made easier to sack civil servants, I proposed.
Concerned, even back then, about the way that judicial review was undermining effective public administration, I proposed a number of changes that no longer seem quite so radical.
In the intervening years since my long-forgotten pamphlet, many of these problems have grown worse.
The Brahmin class has morphed into what we would today call the Remain establishment. Their hold over public institutions has become entrenched. Judicial activism has formalised their ability to intervene in public policymaking, with the supreme court even presuming to be our constitutional umpire.
In academia, public broadcasting and much of the public sector, the Brahmin class’s outlook and assumptions have become a kind of creed. Unless one subscribes to it, it’s impossible to join the caste. Diverge from it and you can be expelled altogether.
If the Conservatives last week defeated Marx, as personified by Comrade Corbyn and John McDonnell, their next battle must be against Gramsci – as personified by that army of Guardianista quangocrats whose long march through our institutions currently means that we get a left-wing agenda in almost every sphere of public policymaking, irrespective of who we elect.
The lesson of the referendum is that the most effective tool to take back control from this Brahmin elite is direct democracy. Why? It’s not Lady Hale and the judicial mullahs sitting in the supreme court that will guard us against the pretensions of an intellectually arrogant elite, however elaborate human rights law might be. Rather, it is the good judgement of folk in places like Co Durham.
A far-reaching shake-up of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of the state is long overdue. Making those who preside over public administration more directly accountable is the key. Bad ideas, like bad people, prevail in institutions when there is not enough competition.
Taking on the Brexit-blocking “blob” won’t just improve public administration, it also seems to be rather popular in places like Sedgefield.