It’s a refrain commonly asserted that all politicians are the same, and you couldn’t slide a fag paper between the three main parties. I have sympathy with this view, whilst not wholly endorsing it, simply because on so many social, cultural and moral issues one sees a political uniformity that, it could be suggested, puts the political establishment at odds with the views of the people they serve.
Of course, it is overly-simplistic to suggest complete homogeneity, and so there is no difficulty in acknowledging that there are clear policy differences between the left and right on a whole range of issues. Indeed, the problem with claiming there is no difference whatsoever is that it fails to grasp both the subtlety and the magnitude of the shift that has actually occurred. For what has been ceded is not operational identity – that still exists, though on the rather more superficial level of modus operandi.
Rather, it is the moral and ideological framework of the political establishment as a whole, and the empowered types that reside there, which has metamorphosed. To revert to shorthand, what has been lost by the political and cultural elites, if not by the voters that have become exasperated with them, is a form of social conservatism.
Of course, one must be careful not to allow this label to imply a political or ideological partisanship, as if social conservatism was ever the sole possession of one particular political tradition. To do so would fail to grasp the transcendence of the virtue culture that once guided political action and shaped the centre-ground – as I have argued elsewhere, if the left of 60 years ago were to be resurrected today then they would certainly be denounced by their modern day comrades as rabid right-wingers.
Rather, it has been the cultural erosion of social conservatism wherever it exists that characterises the ideological fashion of today, and this attack has not been the preserve of any one particular party (though the modern day left has perhaps embraced it more enthusiastically than anyone else). This is the principal point to bear in mind: historically both the left and the right offered what has been lost, whilst today neither does.
This has been addressed by Phillip Blond, amongst others, in his Red Tory project, arguing that the ingredients for the erosion of a political virtue culture came about with the ‘post 1945 embrace of the state and the post 1968 embrace of the individual’. Yet, the consequences of this embrace have been disastrous for both political traditions. For the left it has meant a loss of a non-liberal account of its own thinking, an embrace of the individual over the community, and the pursuit of individual gratification (‘freedom’) over and above concerns of the common good – as such, the left no longer has a meaningful account of ‘society’. For the right, traditions of duty, obligation, responsibility and dependability have all been rendered obsolete by a political and cultural hegemony eager to dismiss such belief as moralistic and old-fashioned. As such, the right no longer has confidence in its conservatism, and so risks losing any meaningful account of the individual.
Which all suggests that both the left and right have abandoned what both would claim as their natural ground, and in their collusion have perpetrated precisely that transgression they both outwardly repudiate; the left has lost the social, whilst the right has lost the individual.
Of course, one might naturally look toward the Conservative Party to restore a certain balance, though perhaps more in hope than expectation. And, in recent months, there has certainly been a blossoming, a focussing of the will, as more and more people, emboldened by the left’s evident demise, accept the challenge that has been set. The point remains, however, that the challenge is not solely for the Conservative Party, but rather for the political class a whole – the entire centre-ground requires restoration.
It won’t be easy. The instinct for self-preservation of those whom Peter Hitchens likes to refer to as the ‘liberal elite’ will naturally bray against any such change, even whilst such reticence serves to marginalise and further infuriate an already hostile electorate. Perhaps, though, this is unsurprising, for here one can glimpse the circuitous nature of the status-quo; an emaciated democratic culture that cultivates a disinterested and uninterested electorate is, it might be suggested, the most effective means of preserving the interests of the ruling elite.
Unless, of course, that electorate becomes ever more politically engaged, spurred into action by the woeful performance of their superiors, and beats the political caste at their own game. Which, to my own mind, is where we are going. And we call this localism.
It has been interesting to read Kerry McCarthy getting herself in a frenzied tizz about marriage over the course of four blog posts over the last couple of days (pt1, pt2, pt3 and pt4). It seems she is vexed, and has come up with a slew of objections against the recognition of marriage as a basic good in a healthy society. Amongst her arguments, the most significant are;
1) Lots of people aren’t married anymore, so any championing of the institution of marriage is alienating, that in any case ignores social trends which are moving away from the traditional family structure and away from marriage.
This is just silly. If one diagnoses the social trend as part of the problem, and contends that government policy is a driver of that trend, then embracing it rather than tackling it is both irresponsible and morally supine. Challenge the evidence, and the diagnosis, by all means; but to cling to a perverse determinism whilst the negative consequences of the ‘social trends’ continue to be unleashed (usually affecting the poorest the most) is somewhat akin to fiddling whilst the city burns.
2) It is about outcomes for children, not structures, and so constructing a policy and/or an ideology specifically around the institution of marriage is pointless.
Of course it is about outcomes, and there will always be exceptions to prove the rule, but marriage has been shown, by both evidence and experience, to be (generally speaking) the most stable family structure. In which case, where is the problem in recognising the unique value of it?
3) There are other problems families face, and marriage can sometimes exacerbate them – indeed, sometimes a separation can even be more beneficial for the children, as they tend to get better quality time with the parents.
I’m astonished by this one. To use an anecdote as the basis of a universal policy, in face of all the statistical evidence of the difficulties for those who are unfortunate enough to come from ‘broken families’, really does show an astonishing level of either naivety or arrogance (loads of stuff on this – see for example ch.3 here). Indeed, even government, though admittedly through gritted teeth, will acknowledge the intimate relation between family breakdown and decreased life chances – see here
4) Other problems also affect the life chances of children, such as ‘parental alcohol abuse, domestic violence, drug addiction, poverty (emotional as well as material), or parents who are simply too caught up in the unhappy dynamics of their own relationship to pay much attention to the kids?‘
Again, this is pointing out the obvious. But it is a curious argument, and the wrong way round – firstly it ignores the often intimate connections between these harmful experiences (especially the first four) and family breakdown, and secondly, it posits these harmful consequences as precisely the reason for not championing that which, generally speaking, helps stave off such consequences. In essence, it boils down to this: whilst these conditions are a social evil and should be vigorously challenged, it is the case that, generally speaking, children from stable backgrounds are less likely to suffer these harmful consequences, and therefore we should not remain neutral toward that which tends, by and large, to guarantee the most stable backgrounds – marriage. And so the question becomes again, what is the problem with recognising this fact?
Of course marriage is no panacea; there are unhappy marriages, and abusive marriages and marriages that fail, and it is not simply a case of demanding that all couples commit to marital relationships, which would just be daft. But it is also the case that writing it off and undermining it by remaining determinedly value-neutral toward it would be equally absurd, and one is always tempted to dig a little deeper and question the wider agenda of those who favour this approach.
As for Kerry McCarthy, besides speculation that the religious connotations of the institution of marriage might be offensive to the sensibilities of her faith (‘I would, however, like people to respect my atheism too‘), it might be the general liberal dogma of the contemporary left that underlines her approach, or perhaps it is a hyper-sensitive feminism seeking to cast off the shackles of the marital contract: As well as suggesting that the whole debate on marriage and family structures is ‘..sadly and predictably – still very much still a debate about the role of women in society‘, she also says of Social Justice Policy Group,
‘Reading between the lines, it’s obvious that the Social Justice bods are simply dreaming of a traditional marriage where the man goes out to work, and the woman stays at home, looks after the kids, does a bit of voluntary work, pops in to see her elderly relatives, has the dinner on the table when the man gets home. No doubt she also bakes cakes, wears a pinny and waltzes round the kitchen singing songs about the virtues of floor cleaning fluids. Ignore the red herring thrown to the liberals, ‘mother or father’… that is not what they’re on about’
A nerve has clearly been touched, and a frenzy of blog posts is the result. The reason why is up for debate – all I can say is that Ms McCarthy’s arguments are far from convincing.
UPDATE: Kerry has added another installment that demonstrates the rather obvious fact that all families are different and sometimes ‘messy’ – still not sure how or why this point is considered an effective argument against the advocacy or marriage. Anyway,here
I do feel for Mr Brown. Watching him grasp frantically as all he ever longed for slowly slips through his fingers can thaw even the iciest heart. At root, I’m sure Mr Brown is not all that bad, and were he to have inherited the job he so dearly covets 12 years earlier then he may well have proved a success. Thing is, even if he might have been the right man for 1997, he is nonetheless the wrong man for 2009 and beyond.
The reason? Because he continues to live in an epoch that has slowly ebbed away, and his political and ideological frameworks look curiously dated in a world slowly waking up to the new possibilities of a post-statist era.
You see Mr Brown’s response to any occurrence is a power grab, either on a national scale by hosing ever more of other people’s money at social problems (which his government has helped exacerbate), or on a global one with his single-handed attempts to ‘save the world’; which he didn’t actually say by the way – well, he did, but it wasn’t intentional. Either way, in so doing, Mr Brown always succeeds in evoking a narrative that is increasingly rejected by a society frustrated at having less and less stake in those things that effect them more and more. In this sense, Mr Brown’s extraordinary feats of ‘heroism’ often succeed only in highlighting that which is his biggest weakness – the lust for centralised power.
In essence, then, it is about big state-thinking, the command and control mindset, the bunker mentality, the them and us, ruler and ruled approach, the insuperable barrier between those who have the power and are entitled to indulge it and those who don’t who are expected to be grateful. It is the psychological impulse toward a politics that seeks to exert itself over the largest possible number, in the fervent belief that change can only come through centralised power, and only centralised power (and those who possess it) knows what particular variety of change is for the best. Whether globally or parochially, it is the endless creation of ever more distant power structures that rule unelected over the masses, and implement the imperial ambitions of the contemporary left – it is all this, and alot more, that grates.
Indeed, to this end Mr Brown has recently been as energetic as ever, busily creating his one-world government, his ‘truly global society’, and every time it is trumpeted by his well-meaning PR brigade, it tends to chafe. Whether it is the global regulatory frameworks for the finance sector, or the ever enthusiastic championing of the UN, or the instinctive lurch toward a global institution to police and impose measures upon people in the name of climate change – the point is that Mr Brown instinctively feels the need to rule over ever more bodies, making those who rule ever more distant and ever more remote from those that are ruled, and whipping up a storm of resentment in the process (don’t even get me started on these daft new light-bulbs).
Of course, perhaps the problem is not just Mr Brown, but the mindset of the political class as a whole, of which Mr Brown might be held as the gate-keeper, the zenith of a particularly virulent power-grabbing elite. Whatever, the truth remains that there exists a palpable mood-swing away from the language and ideology of big government, and toward a more organic and self-dependant account of ‘society’ (the biggest buzzwords lately being ‘mutualism’ and ‘localism’).
Put simply, the tide is turning, and for all the supposed apathy toward the political process, the electorate are actually incredibly engaged, and scent the time is right for change. They long to strip away the power of the centre and disperse it throughout themselves, and they see the flourishing of human relationships and institutions that can result (see this fantastic article by Ed West as an illustration of the point). The reasons for why this might be the case are many and varied, but the important point is that this new impulse undoubtedly exists and it is powerful, and should the political classes fail to seize the moment then things can go one of only two ways; either they will be unceremoniously dumped, or they will have to turn the state against the people in ever more illiberal ways.
I tend to think the political classes will change. The long, slow march of the new generation has already begun. And those who attempt to stand in its way risk going down in history, forever mocked and despised, as 21st century Cnuts*
*(or Canutes, if you prefer).
When asked a couple of weeks back about Martin Amis’s comments that the sexual revolution has been a more difficult transition for women than men, Fay Weldon, that thinking feminist that keeps stepping out of line with the sisterhood for saying things that might actually be true, responded,
‘It wasn’t so much a sexual revolution as the coming of the Pill, really…Sex was suddenly something you could have without babies. Men took great advantage of that. I think with the Pill women did turn into sex objects. The whole thing was rather upsetting.”
Now, who said this?*
It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer his respected and beloved companion.
If only that hideous pillar of patriarchy would speak for the interests of women once in a while.
*Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae
A blog post over on the Demos website by liberal-in-chief Richard Reeves caught my eye today, entitled ‘Ditch the Alpha Male’ (isn’t this a rather alpha-male way of putting it? I mean, where’s the please?).
Anyway, in the article Mr Reeves persists with his attempts to level society into a homogenous mass of indistinguishable atoms (as liberals are rather wont to do), essentially by suggesting that the best way for us all to be free (and especially for feminists to be free), is to ditch any and all of those roles that might suggest some kind of difference between people, or distinguish one from another. You see, it would appear that for Mr Reeves fixed roles are oppressive, and the only way to become free is to deny them and have everyone do a little bit of everything. In short, homogeneity is what guarantees freedom, and ‘equality’ can only be achieved by making everybody the same.
Hence the testosterone-soaked command to ‘Ditch the Alpha Male’.
Because you see,
Right now, too many men remain stuck with an outdated, breadwinner-based model of masculinity. Until we break this tyrannical custom, men will continue to lead half-lives.
So there we have it. For all you men who greet your role as provider with a feeling of pride, the devotion to which garners an immense amount of satisfaction, for all you men that consider traditional accounts of duty to your family to be no bad thing, and who take immense pleasure in working so your family don’t have to, for all you men that work like a dog because that is what you’ve been wickedly lead to believe is the ‘right’ thing to do – to all of you, Mr Reeves has an announcement, and it is that you’re all the unwitting dupes of a tyrannical custom that shapes your servitude, not defines your freedom.
If this sounds batty then don’t worry, it really is. But not wholly surprising either. Because the liberal these days hates society (and the customs and traditions therein), because the individualism upon which it is built sees society as asserting claims that violate his or her essential freedom. The ‘bread-winner’ is not a role that empowers, that confers authority and respect upon the individual, but is instead a ‘tyrannical custom’, precisely because for the liberal any custom is a chain that binds, and in that sense tyrannical. Indeed, that little phrase sums it up: not just this particular custom, but customs in general.
Mr Reeves also assures us that,
‘Given the rise in life expectancy, we can in fact ‘have it all’ – career, kids, friends, good relationships, voluntary work – and a full life includes all of these things’.
I was always taught to be weary of anybody who tells you that you can have it all – you usually can’t, and the person that promises it usually asks that you give up everything first.
So, just as Mr Balls attempts to give the impression that he has listened to the public outcry against his Vetting and Barring Scheme (aka the paedophile-presumption scheme), and adjusted criteria so that now only 9 million well-meaning individuals have to clear their names before they work with children, it appears today that the Equalities Bill that caused such friction between Miss Harman and Mr Mandelson has been similarly ‘watered down’.
Is this a Damascene moment, you might wonder, a realisation that institutionalising racism and/or gender discrimination does not combat racism and/or gender discrimination? Well, err, not exactly. You see, it appears that Miss Harman’s scheme will still go ahead, but will apply mostly to big businesses, corporations and the like, the City and finance sectors.
As first glance this sounds great – how generous, giving smaller businesses (a species under threat) a break from having to prove to bureaucrats hundreds of miles away that they’re not either racist of chauvinist. Except…
Well, nowadays it seems that all we have is big business. London and its finance sector is quite demonstrably the prized asset of the national economy, the engine that keeps the supplicant provinces above the poverty line, whilst multinational corporations dominate our local townscapes, turning them into clone towns and ghost towns. So-called free marketeers campaign endlessly for the right of big business to distort markets for their own benefit, free from government interference, and by and large they have found friends within the socialist New Labour Party. All the while, small local businesses drown in a sea of debt, paying taxes to keep afloat banks who refuse to lend back to them, whilst well-meaning idiots in SW1 dream up ever more costly and time-consuming red tape and regulation to eat into their profit margins.
Now someone more cynical than myself (they do exist!) might suggest that this is not really surprising. After all, socialism not only craves big-business, it positively depends on it. The left love big business, and they love it because big business is the vehicle through which the doctrines and agendas of the state are most effectively delivered. The apparent paradox of a modern socialist Party employing a neo-liberal economic model is in reality no such thing, for the two actually reflect each other; if neo-liberal economic systems tend toward monopoly (and, granted, there is debate on this), then this dominance sits well with the modern-day left because it mirrors the state authoritarianism with which it has already become comfortable. As such, the small businesses that cannot be relied upon to effectively deliver such things as maternity leave or holiday pay are a festering thorn in the skins of the left, and its desperate attempt to negotiate more favourable terms of surrender for the increasing body of workers now forced into waged servitude thanks to the state’s ongoing infatuation with… that’s right, big business.
So when Miss Harman announces that smaller business will be spared such legislation, pernicious as it is, don’t be tempted to think she’s had a change of heart, and sympathises with the plight of the small business owner doing his or her best to keep things afloat – ask instead why small business is finding things so tough in the first place.
Very occasionally I wake up and suspect that it must all be a dream. Or at least a mass-perpetrated fiction, designed so an outside world can observe with curiosity at how an individual reacts as reality around him descends into the absurd.
I had a similar moment today, after having read this. It’s not so much the climb-down, which is welcome enough, even if it is just a tinkering at the edges that doesn’t really engage with the central objection that the whole piece of legislation stinks, and merely reinforces the state-sponsored suspicion of adults (particularly men) and strangers (particularly men).
No, what leaves me genuinely perplexed is that anybody ever came up with such rubbish in the first place. And more, that others then went about boldly defending it, as if it was perfectly rational and self-evidently good. In essence, I just don’t understand how something so obviously opposed to common sense, so evidently counter-productive, so clearly alienating and pernicious to society as a whole, could ever have been dreamt up, written down, agreed upon, published, briefed about, and then publicly defended. And this by a group of people who, one imagines, represent the most talented and capable among us. Evidently I am not alone in this thinking; the retreat was hardly voluntary.
Which had me thinking that the same is true about a whole host of other issues. Such as the useful idiots on the local councils who, in the name of social harmony, come up with names like ‘Winterval’ and ‘Winter Light Night‘ at Christmas time. Or the government advisers who think children should be taught about sex at 5 years old, or that condoms should be given to schoolboys, or that senior school girls should be given abortion advice without their parents knowledge. Or the strange clique that think the family is an outdated and oppressive institution, that if a victim perceives a crime to be racist then it must necessarily be so, that it is a woman’s right to choose prostitution and it is chauvinistic and oppressive not to let her do so, or that a mother should be CRB cleared to accompany her own child to school.
It’s also dafter things, not as serious, but equally as vexing, like the head teachers who ban parents from photographing or videoing their child’s first nativity play, or the other head teachers who ban competition on sports day, or the other head teachers that suggest all Enid Blyton books be removed from the library because of their racist content. It’s the policemen warned not to use the term ‘nitty-gritty’ because of its slavery-era racist implications, and it’s the constantly shifting fashions of the PC brigade so that you never know when you’re being offensive or not (is it elderly or aged? crippled or disabled? gypsy or traveller?).
The people who get uppity about these things, who hold these views, no doubt exist. Indeed, I have, on occasion, met them. What confuses me is that they exist not as a lunatic fringe, but often right at the very heart of things, their hands firmly on the levers of power, their whispers floating straight into the ears of those who legislate our lives and rule over us.
Why this is so, I have no idea. Will it ever change? Probably not. Is this all a mass fiction? Chance would be a fine thing.