The Politics of Lowered Expectations
Never mind the budget deficit. Never mind the Euro. We are in the middle of a much more serious crisis. A crisis of ideas; a deficit of thought.
I find everything about David Cameron and his posse absolutely odious. Everything. The personality and behaviour of alpha males who torment weaker kids in school; the idolatry of style over substance; the inappropriate jokes when dealing with serious subjects; his condescending attitude to women; his sense of entitlement; his incredibly weak grasp of facts squarely within his portfolio; his circle of friends and neighbours – Brooks, Murdoch, Clarkson, Coulson et al; his capitalizing of his poor boy’s illness and death.
This does not make me a blind follower of the Labour Party or an Ed Miliband groupie. Don’t get me wrong – the fact that we are experiencing a period of particularly weak opposition complicates matters considerably. Certainly, it increases my levels of frustration.
But I am entitled to find Cameron offensive as a specimen of humanity, regardless of the alternatives. And the fact that he points to the alternatives with derision in order to inflate his own ego, only makes him more so.
Let me give you an example. The debate on Europe in the last few days has been characterised by the laziest, the most jejune of narratives: That dissatisfaction with Cameron’s performance at last weeks summit is implied support for the deal on offer; implied support for Merkozy’s drive for austerity and centralisation.
I am Greek. Believe me, I feel the pain of the current Franco-German oppression acutely. I understand that the deal on offer has a good chance of actually making things worse. But the fact that this is a bad proposal makes it much more, not less, important to participate constructively. It makes it vital that politicians of all ideological hues, from all member states put their egos aside and try to find a workable solution. Because there are people’s lives at stake.
And yet to suggest this, draws the inevitable response “would you rather Cameron signed?” No, I would not. But as Hungary, Ireland, Sweden and others have demonstrated, there is considerable political space between signing and shouting “screw you, Johnny Foreigner” while flinging faeces.
“Well, Ed Miliband will not tell us what he would have done, so what’s your point?”, the hecklers heckle.
Suppose I went for a haircut (and I use the metaphor because of its debt-related connotations) and the stylist washed my hair with bleach, causing it to fall out. A defence along the lines of there’s-a-barber-down-the-road-that’s-even-worse, would probably result in serious bodily harm. “Found on the linoleum floor” the tabloids would report “violated with a BaByliss hair-iron, in ways too terrible to describe”.
So, this is my point: Only the government is in a position to act. Only the executive is actually in charge. The suggestion that a citizen cannot be critical of the Prime Minister’s conduct and results, unless a viable alternative has been put forward by the opposition, is intellectually indefensible. I can have an opinion. I can put forward alternatives without anyone’s help. I can disapprove of the Government’s policies without reference to some other hypothetical, parallel universe.
I have the right to demand the highest standards of the people who lead the country I call home. I have the right to ask the Government to aim higher than “not as bad as them”.
There was a time when politicians included great men and women. Thinkers. Visionaries. We still quote them with reverence fifty, one hundred, two thousand years later. I wouldn’t quote the current party leaders even if I were their biographer. Except perhaps with disdain and sadness.
“We have among us a class of mammon worshippers, whose one test of conservatism or radicalism is the attitude one takes with respect to accumulated wealth. Whatever tends to preserve the wealth of the wealthy is called conservatism, and whatever favors anything else, no matter what, is called socialism.” R. T. Ely said that more than a century ago. What has changed? Nothing.
Would you vote for a politician who insisted on communicating with smoke signals? How about one that sent troops to battle, armed with branches and slings? A Prime Minister who wanted to abolish the internet and the printing press? “Of course not – don’t be silly”, you say. And yet we are happy to vote for people who try to govern the country armed with hundred-year-old economic models; models which have failed spectacularly. Who try to improve our lives by applying dusty, antiquated philosophies. Who have been talking about money for so long, they lack the vocabulary to talk about anything else.
Scientists – brilliant minds, way beyond mine – crash nutrinos into each other, with unimaginable speed, in tunnels that we have dug under vast mountain-ranges. Astronauts observe the particles’ minute effects from space stations. And yet when it comes to the things that matter most, the best we can do is a group of people who bicker, crack jokes, shrug their shoulders and mutter “dunno”. People who are content to say to future generations: “We were planning to save the planet, but we ran out of money. Sorry.”
And it is a very explosive cocktail, that. To gallop away with innovation in every facet of our lives and give the power to wield it to the most impenetrably stupid. And unless we stop marginalising and start listening to the few that have new ideas, fresh ideas, naive, impossible ideas, we shall find ourselves not just broke. But truly bankrupt.