Once upon a time, the Anglo-Saxon West (including Australia and New Zealand) shared what might best be called a cultural consensus. My guesstimate is that this lasted from around 1945 until 1963, and cut completely across political Party rivalries.
I would list its main dimensions as: defending freedom made the cost of defeating the Nazis worth it, Communists are very suspect but mixed economies seem to work well, science is good, space travel will be wonderful, like it or not but America is amazing, we’re all going to be better off in the future, I want my kids to have more than I did, banks are tedious but solid, credit is bad, kids outside marriage are to be avoided, Africans are primitive, most people are well-meaning, Winston Churchill is the man of the century, John and Jacquie Kennedy are soooo glamorous, I admire Israel, Potter was a bad guy but on the whole it’s A Wonderful Life, the baby-boom has produced a generation our parents uniquely misunderstand, and blimey, Elvis is singing about doing it.
But in a nutshell, most people didn’t do radical. Steady as she goes was the order of the day. There was an almighty mushroom cloud casting a shadow over all of this: but like all thoughts of death, it spent 99.9% of the time tucked away in the closed part of every brain, bar those of Bertrand Russell and Michael Foot.
In that context, the job of political Parties and leaders was to offer something sounding more attractive than the other lot, without breaking any eggs. There were these advertising guys on Madison Avenue who were writing books about packaging, and maybe politicos could learn from that. Ad agencies like CPV in London – run by the later legendary John Pearce – were writing ‘Life’s better under the Conservatives…don’t let Labour ruin it’. Kennedy’s team in the same year compared Dick Nixon to a shady used-car salesman. But both suggestions were pretty close to the truth.
Nobody – and I mean nobody – was suggesting anything revolutionary, even with a small r: a little more nationalisation, a little less red tape, a little more roadbuilding, a little less stuffiness, a little more money every year. As late as the 1966 British General Election, the UK’s centrist Liberal Party appealed to the electorate by suggesting that the Tory and Labour Parties were identical twins. The term ‘consensus politics’ gained a familiarity in the media.
But then a stream of events changed everything: JFK’s assassination, Vietnam, the £’s devaluation, the radical counter-culture, the Six Day War, RFK and MLK blown away too, dope, student radicalism, Heath taking us into the EEC, UK trade union militancy, the first oil crisis, Britain’s Three Day Week, and the Iran hostages crisis. Mixed-economy capitalism had come to a halt, the Middle East was rejecting Western influence, and Communism was segmenting its appeal across the globe: Trots, Maoists, Titoists, Dubcekists, Stalinists, Castroists…and various hybrids adapted for Africa. Business for profit, it seemed, was in retreat.
Consensus was dropped as genuinely entrepreneurial wealth creators and shareholder-servant Bourse fans on the one hand fought their corner against wealth redistributors and the last hurrah of Soviet command-economy repression on the other.
On 3rd May 1979, the radical neocon Conservative Margaret Thatcher was elected British Prime Minister on a 5.2% swing from Labour to the Conservatives – the largest swing since the 1945 election. Eighteen months later, former Californian Governor Ronald Reagan won the US Presidential election in a landslide, receiving the highest number of electoral votes ever won by a non-incumbent presidential candidate.
Ever since that two years of wipe-out sea change, the role of Western politicians has broadened to a frightening degree. Thatcher, Reagan – and every major Western political leader since – has seen their remit as one including the right to overturn the consensus….even if that meant ignoring what I call The Consensus for Decency completely.
This assumed right to effect change has of course been aided by a media and business/banking set supporting all those political Parties willing to support the right of all media and business/banking sets to do WTF they like whenever they feel like it. And before anyone jumps to conclusions, there is no Leftist agenda in my critique. I can prove this by pointing out the following:
* Tony Blair, Harriet Harman and Gordon Brown used that connection to promote multicultural, immigration, and feminist lunacy in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.
* Ronald Reagan used that connection to promote derivatives, fiscal debt and foreign interference in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.
* Bill Clinton used that connection to promote brainless bank lending targets, full gay military integration, and White House intern shagging in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.
* David Cameron is trying to use that connection to promote Newscorp media dominance, City malfeasance, amoral banking practices, and the demolition of the NHS in diametric opposition to the opinions of the Middle consensus.
My point in all this is easy to express.
If the political class genuinely wishes to restore cultural consensus, then it needs to take the pragmatic Majority with it: by applying decent values and creative ideas to a balanced analysis of our problems. It is never going to re-establish stable society by force-fitting extreme polemics into the holes in its own belief systems.
Bonkers feminism, surreal derivatives, votes for criminals, non-dom status for infantile investment bankers…we reasonable realists – forced by your narrow madness into a sensible radicalism – reject all of it. Take us with you – or face the consequences.