Thursday, September 11, 2003

They're Getting It - But They'll Get It Too Late

Jackie Ashley (Mrs Andrew Marr) looks at some uncomfortable truths - then shies away.

"We live in a new world and there is a new politics, bleakly confronting everyone who grew up through the liberal revolution of the 60s. Ministers who have been talking to voters during the summer, looking for what the people really care about, are coming up again and again with the same word. "Security"".

Good - she's got that.

"The politics of security is fundamentally reactionary. It is the politics of fear - fear of the outsider, fear of losing your job, fear of the people at the mosque down the road, fear of youths on the corner, fear of the European superstate, and fear of change."

Oh no she hasn't.

"Any government which simply brushes fear aside as a force in politics is foolish. Fear is probably the strongest political force of all, even stronger than hope."


"But go very far in appeasing or reassuring fearful voters, and you become a reactionary government."


"We should acknowledge that "security" neatly matches one strand in old Labour, too often ignored by the nostalgists. How many party members - or trade unionists - wanted both a high-spending, security-providing welfare state, and were also anti-immigrant and vehemently rightwing on crime, even including support for the death penalty?"

Has (memo to Jackie and Andy - these people were once the backbone of the working class, in the days when it HAD a backbone. You read about them, or people just like them, in your E.P. Thompson books at Uni. You idolised them - from a distance.)

"So long as people think their government has a bit of a grip on things, everything can be held in check, and progressive politics moves forward."

Hasn't. Progressive politics = keeping people in check ? I don't remember that in "the liberal revolution of the 60s".

"The danger starts when people feel their own state is powerless or out of touch."

Oh yes she has.

"Trevor Phillips, the new boss of the commission for racial equality, hits a good note when he reminds audiences of just how much the NHS they rely on for a sense of security is propped up by Indian and Pakistani doctors, Somali cleaners and Caribbean nurses."


You see, Jackie, the trouble is that people aren't going to take any notice of Trevor Phillips. Or Ian Duncan Smith, or their head teacher, their priest, counsellor, social worker, or Jackie Ashley. Polly Toynbee last week pointed out "the left, which purports to believe in government, should be wary of joining the same all-governments-are-rubbish camp. This anarcho-individualism is a very British mindset - and it is not compatible with social democracy." But it's not just governments, Polly, it's every-institution-is-rubbish.

The Guardian yesterday celebrated the death of deference in the UK in an editorial, congratulating those Brits who made fun of David Blaine. That 'fun' consists of throwing missiles and shining laser pens at him - he now has a police guard.

"Perhaps all of us, reflecting on a rancorous, cynical period in politics, should think again about the need to work with progressive politicians instead of always carping from the sidelines. Effective parliamentary democracy - not troops, not spooks - is our only long-term defence."

But effective parliamentary democracy is just what we HAVEN'T got. After all, doesn't progressive government consist of "keeping everything in check" ?

The philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that the origins of totalitarianism lay 'in one great unorganised mass of furious individuals" who had nothing in common except their apprehension that the most respected and representative articulators of the existing culture were fools, and the elected holders of public office were fraudulent.

That sounds a pretty good description of England to me. Interesting times are coming.

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