At the End of the Day

For a while I thought it was just me, but now I’m reasonably sure (on the basis of a recent straw poll of those aged 40-75) that while the problems of government are becoming more complex, the soundbites are increasingly superficial. They’re not scratching the surface nowadays so much as gliding over it gently – in the fear that the ice might crack, and thus envelope the user in the poisonous cauldron below.

Societies have always been complex things. If you’ve ever watched baboons for any length of time, even there the hierarchies, challenges, signals and clips around the ear range from impenetrable via subtle to violent. But once societies got bigger, discovered remote media, and were melted together by easy long-distance travel, the issues became ever more complicated. The problem went from being one of understanding the social anthropology of brutes, to grasping the urban anthropology of neurotic lost souls.

Into this highly dangerous den have stumped the thick and unyielding jackboots of polemic bigotry. It has many shades across its vivid spectrum, but the main ones are a type of midnight blue insisting that no-holds-barred competition is the only answer, and a bright red that in turn demands allegiance to the idea of Big-State job cooperatives. Just as the problem/soundbite gap gets bigger, so too does the distance between bright and midnight. We in the West are rapidly turning into extreme, divided cultures.

For a social anthropologist, the very idea that each route is mutually exclusive represents patently bad science. The success of every higher quadruped in general and ape in particular has been based on competition for the best genes, and cooperation both among and between the brightest packs. But talk to the pc Left/East Coast Democrat these days about genetic competition, and you might as well fess up to being Dr Mengele. Argue the case with the 1922 Right/GOP Friedmanite about a vital need for community weal, and there’ll be a bit of blather about charitable donation, followed by mutterings of unsound fluffiness or gardayum comnisum.

This blinkered denial forms the basis of much satire, and would indeed be extremely funny were it not for the fact that these damaged goblins are ruining the Britain I love, the America I admired in the late 1950s, and the multivariate Europe I’ve spent forty years greedily discovering. But as I’ve already hinted twice above, the more disastrously everything valuable sinks without trace , the further and further apart the two polemically well-armed camps get.

While the high-profile politicians of recent years have tended to be those without either the idealism or intellect to debate social aims, I have to report to everyone not paying full attention here that a whole new breed is coming up with two unshakeable items of faith: ‘I must have total belief, and your belief is totally wrong’. As Robert Redford remarked on a CNN chatshow recently, “I’m getting tired of so-called debates that consist of two groups of people trashing each other”.

If you think this to be ex cathedra assertion, then I suggest you think again. Dubya Bush is an easy target, but I doubt very much if any genuine alternative to a world run by American oil and Wall Street diktats has ever occurred to him. Ed Miliband too is a bungling twerp, but my real problem with the bloke is that he has neither commercial perspective nor true understanding of what it means to be at the bottom of the heap.

Churchill and Bevan curried a mutual hate relationship over high heat for three decades, but they had far more in common than they realised. Bevan believed in the small community’s healing powers, while Churchill had more belief than any of his Tory peers in the decency of the ordinary Britisher. Both men despised fascism. Both men had faith in the electorate’s wisdom. Both men shared the best debating wit of their generation. But more to the point than any of that, both men are massive heroes of mine. I really do take exception to the Believers who say that makes me mad. Bollocks: it makes me an open-minded admirer of folks who can tell sh*t from putty.

I don’t doubt that a lot of readers will regard my argument on this, but not see it reflected in contemporary politics: surely, they will say, the hallmark of 21st century politicians is a belief in nothing beyond themselves. And yes, if you look at Blair and Obama and Cameron and Gillard and Miliband and Medvedev and Sarkozy and Uncle Tom Cobbleigh this time around, it’s hard to see a scintilla of belief at all – let alone intolerant belief.

But behind Blair was Brown, and behind Medvedev was Putin. Behind Miliband is the Harman/Balls melange, and behind Cameron is Boris Johnson. I suspect that behind Sarkozy was (and will be) Marine Le Pen, and some pretty nasty Australian mining gargoyles are right behind Gillard. More urgently, behind Papandreou was Venizelos, and behind him – in an odd kind of way – Alexis Tsipras. God alone knows who might come after Antonis Samaras, but there’s no shortage of neo-Nazis in Hellenica.

I have a great deal of time for Dr Eoin Clarke and his forensic journalism on the NHS and other Camerlot scandals, but behind and around him is this thing called Labour Left. Among the NEC candidates being touted today on Twitter was Ken Livingstone – a good administrator, but a Stalinist putsch-merchant with serial form when it comes to spitting on the electorate. Why should a Party be called Labour (let alone Left Labour) thirty years after the mass labourforce model of UK capitalism died? Why is a Stalinist a shoe-in for the NEC fifty-eight years after his mass-murdering hero died? Hovering around the good intentions of Graham Brady on the Conservative Right is the spectre of Boris Johnson – equally a politician of sound governance, but yet another man whose bullying disrespect for voters makes him a serious danger to liberal democracy…and a man looking at contemporary issues through the parallax view of an antediluvian education based on privilege.

It seems to me tonight that the coming politicians are all looking in the rear-view mirror of their vintage cars. Be they the Zil of Merkel, the Trabant of Tsipras, the Bentley of Boris, the Citroen of Hollande, or the British Leyland Maxi of Ed Balls, none of them are equipped for the next generation of socio-economic travel. The last thing people like me want is for the road ahead to be a crash-ridden Stock Car race that just goes round in virulent, vacuous circles. And I remain optimistic enough to think that the vast majority of all British citizens are with me, not the kamikaze Believers.

We have to find a new kind of forward-looking tendency that can unite every democrat who knows the difference between good and bad, rather than Left and Right. Not a wooly-wishy-washy-flim-flam-Lefty-Righty LibDem confection, but rather a radical realism that challenges the Establishments of both progressive and conservative. We need the tolerance and wisdom to make the citizen First Among Equals such as the economy, fiscal management, financial services, politics and The State.

But above all, what we need is the guts to put the citizen first…miles ahead of the dated obsessions of Thatcherites, trade unionists, Islamists, blind europhiles, bankers, bureaucrats, and those who see themselves as ‘Hard’ Right or Left. Being ‘Hard’ anything is about wanting power – and to Hell with responsibility for the consequences of any and all extreme policies.

“The insatiable lust for power is only equalled by an incurable impotence in exercising it” said Winston Churchill. “The purpose of power is to give it back” said Aneurin Bevan. We should – all of us tonight – remember how close the aspirations of these two great men were.

30 thoughts on “At the End of the Day

    • DL

      I will answer for him:
      1. Vote for a party that wants to stay in the Euro
      2. Vote for a party that wants to stay in the EU
      3. Vote for the party that doesn’t do austerity
      4. Vote for the party that promises to keep the gravy train running

      Trouble is that they will have trouble finding a party that encompasses all four in any believable manner.

      M.

  1. Sir: Please refresh my Yankee memory of the ministry that Mr. Bevan held in the post-war Labor Government. I do recall Mr. Bevan’s valuable role in rallying workers during the war. Is that correct?

    Sadly, hardly any Yanks recognize Mr. Bevan. The very few who show awareness of British lawmakers between Churchill and Thatcher remember that Sir Winston put down his successor, Prime Minister Attlee, as a modest man who had much to be modest about.

    • Bevan was appointed as Minister of Health in the Attlee post-war administration. He said something along the lines of ” … no society may legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of a lack of means”. Stout fella, Bevan. Mind you, he would be the first to condemn the monster that the NHS has evolved into …

  2. “All of us tonight – remember how close the aspirations of these two great men were.”
    And how far away from those aspirations we are now. No going back. some call it evolution.

  3. the main problem is the “short termism” of all those trying to solve the problem and the ever growing expectations that such things can be achieved what ever

  4. Rather like Lloyd George, Bevan was in love with his golden voice and so were his devotees. The only speaker who comes close to him for technique today (although not content) is George Galloway. Sometimes the technique was employed in doubtful causes. Bevan supported the Soviet Union in the Thirties when mass murder and deliberate starvation was well-known in the West. (Even my father, a provincial corn merchant, knew about it) .

    Somebody remarked to his almost-namesake, the Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin, that Bevan “was his own worst enemy”. “Not whilst I’m alive, he’s not” was the reply. Yet the scales did eventually fall from Bevan’s eyes with regard to communism.

    He led a champagne socialist life in London but he and his wife Jennie Lee returned to their Welsh heartland in modest attire and a Morris Minor rather than the Jaguar kept in London. (I had that from a former constituency worker). How much of his own rhetoric he really believed and how much was purely for political effect is open to question.

    The centralised, top-down model of the NHS was his monument. In one of his oratorical flights, he said that as Minister of Health, he was responsible for every bedpan! It fitted the temper of the times and a people accustomed to wartime direction but is generally reckoned to be outclassed by the less bureaucratically constrained continental, insurance-based systems.

  5. Almost seems like you’re advocating the “Third Way”, and we all know how well that turned out. I think we romanticize the past sometimes by ignoring how much people actually hated each other then because only a few snippets remain of their interaction.

    And I have a great deal of difficulty in seeing Borris as a threat to liberal democracy, although, perhaps, a threat to Liberal democracy. To criticize his views as arising from an “antediluvian education based on privilege” is a wonderful turn of phrase, but I’d say that understanding that he’s a classicist is far more informative as to his worldview (if a classicist can actually hold a “worldview”). As someone who was far from privileged, educationally or otherwise, I’d prefer it if we had more people in public life steeped in Greco-Roman classics.

    In the end, constantly trying to balance your distaste of individuals on the left and right is no more than a “pox on all their houses” and really doesn’t get us anywhere. What is missing in our 24-hour news cycle with everyone probing for every bit of dirt on the “other side” is the resulting inability of two people to sit down in a room and cut a deal. That’s what was done in Churchill’s time and it could never be done today without destroying one’s base of support. Balkanization is the likely end game in what is playing out in front of us and huffing and puffing is unlikely to change it — although, I spend a great deal of my time doing just that.

    • Paul

      I totally agree; In my family and social circle I find myself in the middle of two warring camps. On one side are the world owes me a living band which believes in hanging (after taking all their assets) anyone who has much more than they do, and on the other side are the hang the feckless, lazy, welfare cheating bastards. John is right in identifying the gaping chasm opening up in today’s society.

      Being rather elderly now, and having been bought up in more equitable times, I tend to hold my tongue as a ‘dialogue of the deaf’ lost its appeal long ago. I feel like a policeman of my youth caught up in a ‘domestic’ and tend, like him, to make myself scarce.

      People sometimes tell me that we are heading back to the Thirties, and I wish that that was so, but I suspect that the Thirties will seem like utopia compared to what I fear is coming our way. In the Thirties we had social cohesion, respect, deference, pride, and a generally law abiding attitude to life. None of those things exist today. What we are going to experience is more akin the ‘Lord of the Flies’ than the ‘Admirable Crichton’.

      M.

      • M
        I know exactly what you mean, and, sadly, I also share your vision of what’s to come.

  6. JW: ” And I remain optimistic enough to think that the vast majority of all British citizens are with me, not the kamikaze Believers.”

    I think that should read ” And I remain optimistic enough to think that the vast majority of all British citizens WOULD BE with me, not the kamikaze Believers. IF THEY WERE TO SWITCH OFF X-FACTOR OR BRITAIN’S GOT TALENT FOR 5 MINUTES AND HAD A LOOK AT WHAT HAS BECOME OF BRITAIN AND BRITAIN’S POLITICS.”

  7. If media were less developed, politicians would spend more time thinking about the future and managing the State – but as things are , it’s all about the next interview, or worse, speech.
    If you vote for monkeys, you get monkeys.

  8. Harking back to your observations about baboon society John, I would respectfully observe that one very important aspect of their organisation is the sheer speed with which their upsets are resolved. The clips round the ear are immediate and accepted; wrong-doers are dealt with summarily and with singular lack of sympathy. Not for them the drawn out appeals process, the highly paid professional advocates, the interminable kicking of heels in the corridors outside the Central Criminal Court of the Old Bailey. Step out of line and the Supreme Arbiter will quickly remind you of the error of your ways. The greater good of the community is thus ensured, and everyone is comfortable with the sense of security thus engendered.

    The simple honesty of their system has much to commend it.

  9. Can I recommend a website. Based on research by two respected social scientists, http://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/ proposes that the social malaise of our times is due to the disparity between rich and poor. Hardly news, but it’s backed up by good science. The resources on the website include PDF files and slides. It’s a fascinating site.

  10. OK. We must move away from Left & Right and go to Good & Bad.
    Isn’t that what GW Bush did? And who decides what’s good and bad?

    Is it not true that when people congregate together they coalesce into groups? Changing the names from Left & Right to some other opposites will not change that people see issues through different prisms and will never agree on many them. The battles of democracy are supposed to be about one side or the other’s views prevailing. Hopefully they are the correct views, mostly they’re not. But if you want all good democrats to work together, you are advocating a one-party state. No? I can’t see how that will improve anything except to raise the likelyhood of permanent disaster.

    • @ BT

      “OK. We must move away from Left & Right and go to Good & Bad.
      Isn’t that what GW Bush did? And who decides what’s good and bad?”

      Of late I have been cogitating on precisely that – and I do believe I may have hit upon a potential solution. Left/right, good/bad and other such appellations get kicked into the long grass and we have instead, as the hypernyms, on the one extreme Totalitarian and on the other, Anti-Totalitarian.

      The terms Liberal, Libertarian, Freedom and suchlike to be left on one side, unfortunately over the years they have become tainted. Let’s just keep it at two words that can contrast with each other in much the same way that black contrasts with white. We then need to define what the basic premise of the two categories is – and this is quite easy.

      Totalitarian : you are prepared to abdicate all personal responsibility and are of the opinion that the Government should tell you how to lead your life, to the smallest detail.

      Anti-Totalitarian : you are not prepared to abdicate any personal responsibility, except in so far as it may be for the greater benefit of society, and are of the opinion that the Government should stay out your life to the greatest degree.

      The nice thing here is that now the Left can’t push the Nazis out onto the Right. I concur fully with your opinion of why they are there, so let’s put an end to it. The differences between Nazis, Socialists, Commies, Greens et.al are nothing more that matters of degree and nuance, and they all fit tidily under the Totalitarian umbrella.

      Now the $64,000 question – what do we have – anywhere – that could fit under the Anti-Totalitarian umbrella. JWs Mutualists/Radical Realists certainly would, but are we likely to be alone?

      • @VJ: The totalitarian / anti-totalitarian axis is good and has also been described as the 100% / 0% statism axis; Edward Griffin perhaps? IMV it is the right way to classify different ideologies. As you say, it clearly places all those evil groups firmly on the Left, where they rightly belong. The BBC continues not to respond to me whan I ask them to explain why they always preface any mention of fascism with the words “far right”.

        That said, the Left has a long history of devious double-speak.
        We saw it in Britain under Blair, Brown & Co, and now from Ed Milipede, the good looking jewish boy who hides his Marxism behind a naive innocent smile. They place a whole new meaning on such words as fairness, justice, equality etc to justify progressive socialism, ultimately totalitarianism. And they claim that people who support small govt, freedom, individualism, personal responsibility, free market capitalism etc (not their crony capitalism) are themselves totalitarian because not everybody wants it!
        The Left want collectivism and believe they have a right to it using the ‘majority vote democratic government’ argument.

        Because the Left has a long record of buying votes through handing out largesse to groups of luvvy voters it has lead to a massive unsustainable rise in the scope and cost of the welfare state. Brown introduced savings accounts for kids which the State added to each year until age 18. He funded this with borrowed money. Socialist madness or what?

        The point is that, faced with socialists offering largesse to luvvy voters over the years, the Tory Party has had little choice but to go along with it or face electoral oblivion. Voters always like something for nothing. The consequences today are that the country is bankrupt and we have a Conservative Party which has been forced to shift its position further and further to the Left to save itself. I now call it ‘Blue Labour’. This is one reason why Cameron’s austerity is not really austerity at all. He couldn’t do that if he wanted because he’d be obliterated and the LibDems won’t support him because they are far closer to Labour’s ideology, whatever they say in public.

        I suspect a very similar situation exists across Europe.

        All this means that it becomes increasingly difficult to find any political party that is firmly rooted on the Anti-Totalitarian Right. Voters simply get bought off by the Left. How many politicians or political parties do we know who support the Austrian school of economics nowadays? I know a few pols but no parties. How many support the ‘hand-up’ principle instead of the ‘hand-out’ principle favoured by socialists? Very few IME.
        One look at Murky in Germany makes me wonder what on earth her party stands for nowadays. And what about her predecessor Kohl? Was he really a Conservative? And the – now deposed – Little Man in Paris? A Conservative? I don’t think so. Across Europe, the Right political elites have shifted ever further Left and support the full-on totalitarianism of the EU. Socalism is destroying our economies and societies but nobody with influence can see it. It will lead to a complete breakdown and civil unrest. And they’ll be very many people who demand more socialism, not less.

  11. “The world is governed by very different personages from what is imagined by those who are not behind the scenes.”
    ― Benjamin Disraeli

  12. Listen to the Zionist banker, Paul Warburg:

    “We will have a world government whether you like it or not. The only question is whether that government will be achieved by conquest or consent.” (February 17, 1950, as he testified before the US Senate).

  13. Thank you John a brilliant essay, I have learned new words!. I wholly understand your hero worship of unlikey peoples from the past of two different sociall spectrums – they did have something in common of that I am sure. My Unsuspecting orators would be George Galloway and Mr Faragé (ukip) purely for the fact that they really do stand up and SAY IT LIKE IT IS. They truely are great debaters, in my opinion. That is the problem in piggyminster No one dares stand up and say anything against the whip, or damage any chance they have of promotion by being known as an outcaste in the ‘ranks’. I really do believe that a lot of people do join the political platform to make change and ‘do the right thing’ for and on behalf of the country But, it is the party system: it eats you up, it is like any public servant, those not in it for themselves, and they do exist, are blackmailed,bullied, tormented,sidelined,over ruled and their masters do ALL the controlling. It is the ‘masters’ whom we need to seek out and destroy. As far as wondering who will be the moral compass ,who desides what is right and what is wrong. ANY MEMBER of the public with an ode of common sense will tell you. Tax should be minimal – spend on actual need. what we don’t need is: 1. Eu membership in currrent form
    2. part of world police – army free of charge
    3. Over the top public services – and those dammed service providers who make billions by tendering for contracts for services the public servants are already being paid to provide!!!
    4 infastructure being built up then handed over to the best friends of friends.
    5. UK benefits TO BE MADE AVALIABLE for all member countries citizens
    6. health tourists,bogus asylum seekers
    7. bankers etc
    Oh the list is tooooooo long! but you get my gist?
    Do you think Mr and Mrs average don’t want these to be considered and debated? why, even those who do watch TV. talk about such things. The problem is the Politician’s don’t debate: they simply just try and out do each other… I recall I got the short end of the stick in debating club. Yes, I had to argue: why Hitler was good for Germany..Oh god yes!.. I won! I was mortified with myself, but still glad I had won.

    • What do you mean by “Over the top public services”? Can you give examples of public services that you believe should not be provided? For example I’m pleased that my bin gets emptied (and have no objection to sorting it into the appropriate containers) and I’m very happy to have been the beneficiary of an elective surgical procedure on the NHS. Do you regard either of these as over the top?

      • “Rainbow Hamlets is the re-launched Tower Hamlets LGBT Community forum” … I wonder how many thousands of pounds of hard-earned council tax payers money is wasted on this travesty of “public service”?

      • Well so as not to bore everyone with a huge list. I will ask you, do you think it ‘over the top’ to provide offices, staff, at a running cost of over one million to per annum *monitor our local council area’s carbon footprint?. How about 5 millions being spent on a smoking cessation team for only 9 people to quit? I know . I know you will say it is worth while,I just disagree with you and would prefer the money to be spent else where. Confidentiality prevents me from giving other ,non essential services, information. You must be quite wealthy to accumulate ‘rubbish’ to be removed.

        “I’m very happy to have been the beneficiary of an elective surgical procedure on the NHS”. Nice one lubbly jubbly

        “Do you regard either of these as over the top?”
        If it costs 60% more that is has to be then yes! Outsourcing is a cancer in the local economy, not to mention the National ones. If you required for example a small rail to be fitted to assist you in mobility it used to cost £25.00 standard. outsourced -cost £95.00 then delivery £65.00 oh and the delivery is for EACH one delivered just in case you try to get smart and order lots. ALL this from a cash strapped public service… What do you think?

  14. Can you remember the last person that you met that was truly despicable? I can’t. I’m not sure that I know a “bad” person. We need some way of freeing people up from economic pressures that force them to act in a self-interested way. Given that – education or financial freedom – and we will start to make more rational decisions about how, what, if etc

  15. What these two had in common was a balanced and moralistic view of the bigger picture and a understanding of democratic process and how to apply it without abusing or more importantly corrupting it( obviously favourable outcomes was required at times but rarely at the expense of parliament integrity ) .We have conditions that have allowed NI scandal to take place were no one is in more fear of the law than there employer and your baboons rule the roost,where is this man who not only has to unite a nation but the peoples of the world you may ask,,well whilst the like of Beescroft is pushing for NI type management everywhere and his voice is heard, then we must wait until the time is right, the baboons must do their worst, before we can do our best.(might be seen has attacking the opposition,but not my intent, unity is the answer and were all baboons are we not and those/he who can deliver it) Freedom Authority Integrity righteousness (F.A.I.R) for all

  16. Excellent post John.

    There are 6.8 billion kinds of difference, and right now, this difference can only be represented by 2-3 political parties – extremely similar variations of the old kings and their courtiers…the growing tension of discontent is us, the citizens, very rightly wanting these differences to be truly taken account of.

    I think most people here understand that for this to happen, power will need to be shifted from the tiny ruling class to free-thinking people, who value personal freedom and non-intervention in others’ lives over anything else (and perhaps a uniting theme for all those differences).

    By way of example, my friend recently finished an internship with an NGO in Nepal who were working with a minority indigenous group. He found that although the NGO used modern words like “participation” and “empowerment”, what they actually did on the ground was to hold lots of “feedback” workshops where they told people they had to grow cash crops.

    He also found that the indigenous people had no way of understanding how their traditional lifestyle was unsustainable after so much population increase, or that simply growing cash crops would in no way improve their long term prospects.

    So, he had two groups – one obsessed with the future and trying to modernise at any cost, the other obsessed with clinging to the past by ignoring the present.

    Sound familiar?

    Well, his conclusion was that neither extreme was working. His recommendation was that responsibility be shifted to the indigenous people (after all, it is their life to live), but that the most benefit would come from a constructive way to share knowledge between the old and the new…because not surprisingly, every tiny village had very specific situation, wanting different things to their neighbours…local power, local governance, by local people…

    So – although the talk of “constructive dialogue” has been abused by the left to impose the same things we got from the right – I think that true dialogue is the way to dissolve the extreme simplicity/stupidity of left and right.

    Personally, I think politicians know we’re ready to sit down and talk about all this, which is why they are desperately shouting louder and more violently about their own obsessed point of view to avoid it.

    “Let go of the reins, mate, and let’s sit awhile.”

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