Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Brown's 'big tent' looks like one-party rule

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The Independent Online

The son of the preacher man is a compelling and compulsive proselytiser. His arms open wide and his words reverberate with authentic moral purpose. Unlike the previous pietistic incumbent, there is no stutter of fraudulence in Gordon Brown's voice. Unlike David Cameron, he sounds as if he has lived a life of toil and trouble. So as Brown beckons, bids, charms and induces, they come in, one by one.

He has adroitly recruited successful professionals and useful operators – educators, medics, think tankers, criminologists, community and integration wallahs, police officers and the like. Tanya Byron, the child psychologist, has just joined the fold. The pull of his personal power is immense. Brown wants to go further still. He is setting up citizen's juries to debate key policies; an all-party conference on political participation.

His expanded congregation now includes the most stubborn doubters and frightful sinners and cynical loiterers. First in were his oldest Blairite enemies, now effectively disarmed with the power of forgiveness and love. Then in from the storm come the war dissenters John Denham and Sir Mark Malloch-Brown, ex-deputy Secretary General of the UN. Welcomed, too, are the capitalist's bulldog Digby Jones and green-hearted tycoon Johan Eliasch, who saves trees and once watered new Tory shoots. The(relatively) leftie Tory John Bercow takes his place next to true blue Patrick Mercer, who thinks it is OK for white soldiers to use the term "black bastard" when addressing darker colleagues and is keen on US-style Homeland Security measures.

The indomitable spirit of Thatcher hangs on a wall. Brown reveres her iron obduracy. Already seated and fervently praying for a better world are the awesome LibDems Julia Neuberger, Anthony Lester and Shirley Williams and the more mundane Matthew Taylor, also lately converted to the Brown message. And what is that exactly?

The Prime Minister wants no more "tired old battles" between adversaries. In his own words then: "Britain needs a new type of politics which embraces everyone in this nation... politics of consensus not division, a politics built on engaging with people not excluding them, a politics that draws on the widest range of talents and expertise not the narrow circles of power." Hallelujah! say the blessed to these cadenced gospels. Perhaps Boris and Charles Kennedy will see the light too, repent and join the other enthusiasts.

Everyone loves GB now; the PM and the country fortuitously share initials too. Am I the only one feeling these hot flushes of discomfort, hemmed into a space stuffy and overcrowded already? Commentators have read these moves as an anti-Tory tactic. They miss the point. What Brown is aiming for is an eradication of all opposition for ever more. One God shall prevail through the nation. It spells the end of multi-party democracy which is messy, unpredictable, wearing, expensive, disuniting, and time-consuming. Without these distractions, just imagine how much more can be achieved?

Convergence, convenience politics was promoted avidly by the first wave of post-colonial leaders in Africa. Julius Nyerere, the socialist PM of Tanzania was a genuinely progressive leader who, atypically, did not enrich himself. He was, however, also a megalomaniac and wrote about the virtues of one-nation democracy in 1961: "The African concept of democracy is similar to that of the ancient Greeks. The people discussed and when they reached agreement the result was a 'people's decision'... 'Talking until you agree' is the essential of the traditional African concept of democracy. I am not arguing that the two-party system is not democratic; I am only saying it is one form which democracy happens to have taken in certain countries. I am sure my friends in the Labour and Conservative parties in Britain would admit that if their party could succeed in winning all the seats they would be perfectly happy to form a one-party government."

He goes on to merge the state with his own vision, warning: "This is a patriotic struggle which leaves no room for differences and which unites all elements in the country." Sound familiar? One reason the rise of David Cameron was welcomed by Tory loathers like myself was that he was starting to revive the moribund opposition and break the near-absolute power Blair had accrued. Now it looks as if the revival is over and we are faced with one-party rule where accountability is replaced by "consultation" and post facto consensus.

When flattered members of the opposition parties agree to advise the PM, they weaken the culture and reality of robust democratic interrogation. Think of the perils. The dangers of co-option for campaigners and independent institutions are as great. John Scarlet's closeness to New Labour continues to be one of the most shameful examples of political corruption in Britain.

The coalescing of power makes citizens hopelessly vulnerable too. Those of us who hail from the tropics know that when lightning strikes, it is best not to meet together under one tree. Gordon Brown still openly backs the illegal Iraq war and the disastrous arranged marriage between this country and the United States. Brown has announced no serious debates on PR, or a European referendum. Union leaders next week will be expected to behave as supplicants. He evokes Margaret Thatcher who heeded no contrary views.

So how do consensual and conviction politics do business together? Millions are miserably disenfranchised by the monopoly of centrist politics. Those who detest Neocon foreign policies, who seek justice for asylum seekers, who defend civil rights, who abhor racism, who are alarmed by the growing income inequalities and obscenely tax-free billionaires, who want higher taxes used for the infrastructure, who want an end to the arms race, which party do they vote for?

They don't vote because they have no real choice and not because they are put off by political argument. It happened in 1970 too when voters could see no difference between Labour and the Tories. That election recorded the lowest turnout since 1935 and the then chairman of the Labour Party, Ian Mikardo, understood why: "They looked at Heath and they looked at Wilson and they found a great many similarities between them. And they said, 'this is not something to go to the barricades for, or even to walk down to the polling station for'. They felt it was a matter of indifference what government got in."

The problem of disengagement will only get worse if Gordon Brown succeeds in his unifying mission. Only a hung parliament can rescue our democracy and that now seems further away than ever. I admire much that Gordon Brown has done but, having lived in one-party democracies, I fear what he could become.

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