One of my great flaws is that I am very easily bored. A new thing comes along, it’s interesting for a bit, and I’ve already stopped caring about it before I’ve really learned enough, or digested enough to really know a subject well.
So I hope you will forgive me for feeling bored with politics at the moment, a boredom reflected in my latest column for Policy Network on the ‘State of the Left’.
I’m conscious this boredom may be wrong. It’s not as if there isn’t an awful lot happening, and as I say in the column, Labour has certainly found it’s oppositional rythm.Labour is attacking more effectively now, with a better tempo, a clearer strategy. As a result of this (and of government mis-steps), Labour has a strong poll lead, which it retains despite the efforts of the denizens of No 10 and 11 Downing Street.
The failures of the government are also producing fractures and possibilities. Perhaps therefore, I should really care about the rise of UKIP, the motivations of whose support are dissected by Lord Ashcroft’s polling.
Alternatively, given Labour strength, I should be interested in the complex philosophical debate about the future of the left that is being carried out in seminars, discussion groups and think-tank meetings, all under the guiding aegis of Jon Cruddas.
But unfortunately neither rouses me much.
From the few papers I’ve read, articles I’ve browsed and discussions I’ve had with enthusiasts, I can’t help but feel that Labour’s current philosophical hunger for narratives, governing stories and the creation of national mythos is both worthwhile, electorally speaking, and fundamentally irrelevant as a plan for government – at least until it’s clear what we can actually afford to do, and whether any of this mythos creating will involve picking a pocket or two.
To put things more complexly, the lefts current flaw is a preference for repeatedly re-laying the telological groundwork or emergent teleonomic self-architecture of the shining city on a hill at the expense of buying the bricks or securing the planning permission required for a small extension to the crumbling house we reside in today (such decisions to be put off until a full and frank conversation between architect and master builder).
When it comes to such modes of political debate, as someone excited by practical solutions but reduced to incoherent fury by the philosophical underpinning, I tend to give such events a miss for the good of all concerned. When Jon Cruddas talks of Labour being in danger of losing its soul, I have a feeling that I am the sort of desiccated calculating machine he is talking about. I’m fine with that. It’s possible to have too much Soul.
As for the right, the popularity of UKIP seems to revolve around a belief that everything about our current, half-modern, half-diverse, half-integrated, half-European Britain is truly and irrevocably dreadful, a type of rancid nationalist self-abnegnation that cannot survive extended contact with reality.1. The vaguely modern Conservatives seem utterly flummoxed and terrified by this emergent Conservative irreality, perhaps because they chose to humour it for so long, rather than combat it.
In other words, the positive philosophical debate on the left, and the negative anti-modern debate on the right seem to involve a temptation to steer away from addressing the granular complexities of improving our society and coming to terms with either the problematic limitations on possible change, or the successes of how we live now, in favour of either sketching out the ideal or denouncing the real.
For me, this is a boring sort of fantasy politics on either side, and I quite look forward to when the accountants start their totting up, and we have to get dully real again.
- Though electoral success may not be dependent on this [↩]