Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Soft Centre

British politics in this dismal decade resemble a failed sponge cake – brittle and bitter at the edges, and soggy and inert at the centre where the meaningful action should be taking place but isn’t. As W. B. Yeats so eloquently put it in “The Second Coming”,

‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.’

Anyone concerned about the political health of our democracy ought to be worried about this malaise; and a ‘liberal conspiracy’ should be seeking to rectify it.

Today’s public debate is dumbed down in most respects, yet at the same time often snarly and ill-tempered. An interesting perspective is provided by Frank Furedi in Politics of Fear and Invitation to Terrorism. His thesis is that we – the West – have lost our bearings and are confused about our identity and purpose. The public is frightened by the shadowy threats of terrorism and mounting global violence which are hyped up by our elected leaders who, though they mouth platitudes about ‘freedom’ and ‘democratic values’, are bewildered by the nature of others’ hostility to our way of life and respond by encroaching on our own cherished traditional freedoms under the guise of ‘protecting’ us.

So far as Britain is concerned, it is undoubtedly true that over the last couple of decades we have moved into a ‘dependency society’ where more and more groups of people are identified as ‘vulnerable’ and therefore in need of an army of State nannies and supervisors to run their lives. Although we tend to think of our existence in sharply contrasting ‘before and after 9/11’ terms, this trend has been going on far longer than just since 2001, though it has accelerated sharply since then. After a decade of New Labour, we are approaching the point of no return: it is no longer inconceivable that within our lifetimes British citizens will be chipped, tagged, and spied upon by hidden cameras and eavesdropping devices from the cradle to the grave. All in our own best interests, of course. George Orwell’s worst nightmares are coming true.

As a democratic liberal who believes that the State exists for the benefit of the individual, and not the other way round, I find these trends dismaying though not altogether surprising, and certainly not so daunting that I feel constrained from protesting vigorously against them. I do believe, however, that time is getting short; and that the mobilisation of an active Centre majority which will fight every inch of the way for the recovery of our liberties is a highly urgent task for democrats.

By an active Centre, I don’t mean a return to the stale old consensus politics where the Labour and Conservative parties jostle with each other for the middle ground and the difference between them grows less and less. The Tories pulled off this trick in the post-WW2 years so successfully that it ultimately resulted in social and economic stagnation which was only broken by Mrs Thatcher’s plucky but misguided radicalism and ‘dash for freedom’. This has now morphed into New Labour’s embrace of neo-liberal economics, which is the perverse flip-side of its over-nannyish social policies. With this un-Labourlike and unSocialist scenario compounded by Blair’s headlong rush to be Bush’s poodle, it is no wonder that so many on the Left are angry and disgruntled, and feel bitterly betrayed.

This, surely, is where a promising opportunity lies for those of us who seek pragmatic rather than doctrinaire solutions to set out our stall before an increasingly bothered and bemused public. As Furedi rightly points out, the old labels ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ are obsolete, and the meaningful divide is between those of us who believe that real national security and social progress will be achieved through trusting the maturity and common sense of the public and those who – wherever on the political compass they envisage themselves to be – seek to control and hobble others because they are frightened that they are losing control.

The spectrum of politics is not semi-circular; it is a full circle where the two extremes of undemocratic Left and Right are near neighbours so indistinguishable that their labels don’t really matter. At present, their strident, angry voices are far too dominant. Impelled by fear, they strive to compel all the rest of us to conform with their political, social, and religious dogmas. The open, tolerant, pluralist Centre is still, I believe, the political preference of the majority of level-headed, shrewd British people who are increasingly depressed and derailed by the raucous voices shouting over their heads and attempting to impose unwanted curbs on how they think and behave.

After a decade in office, Labour is obviously tired and stumbling. It’s worst mistake has been a growing tendency to invade, in Nannyish fashion, the citizen’s right to privacy and integrity. We need a government elected at Westminster that is far more sensitive than the present one to the inalienable values of liberty and what that actually means in terms of policies.

It is time for the commonsense Centre to bestir itself. We should listen less to the feverish chatter from the fringes, and restore a more balanced political discourse to our affairs.


retiredcoalminer said...

To the Right Honourable Anticant :-

" You write as an eccentric yet you plead with us to embrace a natural concentricity".
Indeed Sir this has been an issue for both Humanitas and Caritas and for a very long time.
Perhaps you urge us all to be both and all at the same time.
If so you join PostModern activists do you not?

Jose said...

Contrarily to what this comment by retiredcoalminer says, I must applaud Anticant's blog because it states clearly what is evident. Anyone who observes the political situation closely will confirm this.

retiredcoalminer said...

Liberty? Clear.
Democracy? Clear.
Pluralism??? Clear.
Tolerance?????? Clear.
Excuse me when I cough dust.

Richard W. Symonds said...


have just become empty words, devoid of any real practical meaning, because we have collectively lost the plot ("dropped the object"), in terms of our Foundational Values (eg Truth, Beauty, Goodness).

I would suggest we re-found the plot, and picked up the object, as a matter of considerable urgency.

zola a social thing said...

Foundational Values?
I join Cat Stevens in confusion I guess.
Socrates come back all is forgiven.

All this sounds to me like A Blair-like cover-up. said...

Heidegger wanted to "pick up the point" and re-find the plot.
Trouble was he was another professor type that wanted us all to join the RANKS!!!

zola a social thing said...

See you missed out the "EVIDENT" thing Richard.
That is appropriate in a Blair world.
What is evident WE ask?
Or do "we"
All together now...........
Love, love, love,....
not sure what so say next.

Emmett said...

HE Question then being, /what/ compounds this mooted "center?"

YOU See the problem I think. The citizens of the Old Atlantic West in this story don’t have as much as an ounce of anything resembling an actual -- effective, /ie/ -- inner attitude in a ton of it. At best their Feng Shui studies, "personal spirituality" and hyper-technology, all undertaken in the first place for sexual and economic purposes, and deceiving one another about motives and purposes, all of it and Shirley Maclaine had just barely brought them around to the problem of THINKING when late-modernity crashed to a halt in late-divided Berlin, in late 1989.

BECAUSE Of the prostatic sordidity of an aging and morally-busted "baby boom" demographic, your contemporary Atlantic Man (and "his" Woman) is a man already apparently in his fifties -- and, all the more is this so be he "individually" an adolescent or twenty-something, weighed and cursed by the thin ghastly yelps down halls of wasted time, of Eric Clapton, Cher, the no-longer-quite-so Rolling Stones, all the hideous bric-a-brac of ancient Egypt. Needless to say, much more development of any real awareness in such a population /en masse/ is not necessarily to be hoped for.

ALTHOUGH To be sure one can always hope to stop being a nuisance at any age!

OLD Atlantic Man's typical response however to problem-solving — “Show me!” — is exactly his approach to life, because he knows that if he can just get himself into the same room as the woman that everything then will go the way he likes. These manipulative habits of what some students of the human problem call the “Commanding Self,” the personal power drive for social dominance in order to gratify ones whims and be looked up to all the time, is pretty difficult to root out so late in the game, and all the more so when whole foundational narratives have been rotted and displaced by chatter and adventitious, state-subsidized, credentialism.

AND So -- as in the most of history, truth be told -- the longterm efforts of the wise again in this case, as in so many generations, are forever being derailed by the need to go out into societies and try to put various trains back on the track and pull runaway cows out of the ditch. They are of course “the same old cows everyday,” as Anne Frank wrote. THIS is altogether the great problem everywhere on Earth so to speak, for example of the hidden “divisional managers" of every generation's main line. The welter of primary and unmediated biological impulse all compounded with stupidity is a universal, to be sure. But this sort of thing always gets worse during periods of comparative local prosperity when people can get away more easily through careerism with forgetting their basic reality. Perhaps it will help to understand the true situation of early-postmodern man when you realize that on his rustic and personal, local-but-televisonized, level he is in the same boat exactly as all those crippled throughout time with an other-directed political psychology.

anticant said...

Thanks for the thought-provoking comments, folks.

The problem, it seems to me, is to get more people back in touch with AUTHENTICITY, and to introduce those -mostly younger ones - who don't know what it is to the concept.

Besides the qualities Richard mentions which have largely lost their genuine inner content, but are still bandied about as largely empty words, there are two more - INTEGRITY and HONOUR - which we urgently need to get back in touch with.

My grandfather, who died in 1935, used to say "A good name is rather to be had than great riches". Sadly, that's no longer the case.

Jose said...

Intelligence in the "anatomical" sense of the word, Anticant, seems to be becoming every day scarcer in our world. That faculty to think we are gifted with when we are born is replaced by external substitutes if we are lazy enough to fall in the trap.

tyger said...

I think you have an excellent point about governing from the centre. A bit like in Sweden, where raw competence and core values trump ideology. But I wonder if politics would be much more uninteresting?

Also, one of the problems with this analogy is that we’re not Swedes. We’re the battlefield between Anglo-American capitalists and European progressives. We would love a society as wonderful as others in Northern Europe, but we also have powerful and rich people who don’t want to see it.

We also have too many people and not enough space. Anyone with a modicum of business experience knows what a recipe for disaster that is. You spend most of your time fire fighting because your infrastructure can’t cope.

What all this means is, every government, of whatever flavour, is on a hiding to nothing! My solution? They say Canada is lovely.

anticant said...

There won't be a Canada much longer if the projected North American Union blossoms.

As for Centrist politics being 'less interesting', are politics interesting now? I find them drearily predictable - and SO bad-tempered!.