I spent part of this evening with two lifelong socialists, whom I increasingly count among my closest friends. However, when it comes to political theory, mutual agreement to differ has always been the order of the day.
This doesn’t seem to have harmed the relationship in any way…and more and more, I understand why. Although a lot of MPs I’ve met talk in a vague manner about why they often get on well with MP’s from The Other Lot, as often as not the word ‘clubbable’ comes up sooner or later as a description of the House of Commons. But what I’ve come to realise over the years is that the role of subsidised alcohol in the Members’ Bar has a lot to do with this false bonhommie – that, and twenty years of backbenchers getting nowhere, losing belief, and gradually drifting over towards the soft centre. The last stage in this deadly process is a seat in the Lords, where all Party differences become muddled in a blur of self-obsessed dementia.
The bond I have with my two Leftie chums is something quite different. First and foremost, we have interests outside of politics: they have art, I have writing, and both ‘sides’ have a love of France. Second, there’s a shared sense of anarchic humour there that’s hard to find in these times of people brought up on robotic sitcoms. But way beyond any of these factors is a shared commitment to decency.
One of the yawning canyons between our respective socio-political outlooks is their belief in a beneficent State, and my conviction that every State inevitably degrades into corruption and turf wars about ‘Jobs for the Boys’. However, on discussing David Cameron and Ed Miliband tonight, it was a matter of some three minutes before we all agreed heartily that neither of these Men of Straw is even remotely likely to tackle the cultural problems Britain (indeed the entire western world) faces.
Culture, decency, and responsibility are – to our allegedly separated minds – infinitely better than gratification, profits, and blame. And as we talked this evening, I was reminded yet again of how it is only the Stalinist Left and the neocon Right who stop politics returning to something positive: that is to say, people of differing ideas working creatively on their versions of how to wind up with a society where the best balance between State help and personal responsibility can be achieved.
This is not the fruitless search for Utopia: that quest is based on the crazy idea that Homo sapiens is anywhere near either perfect or evil. Rather, it harks back directly to the ideas of Jeremy Bentham – ‘the greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Bentham’s idea of social contentment was naive in the extreme, but his belief that the human race was neither Hobbesian nor Marxist (before Marx was born) was spot on.
Political consensus is a dangerous thing, but cultural consensus isn’t. The cultural consensus most of us accept is that stable communities, gainfully employed citizens, and One Rule of Law are infinitely more important than shareholder dividends and political correctness. It is why most of us reject multiculturalism, neocon economics and Soviet-style authoritarianism.
Somehow, in some way, the West needs to rediscover – and update – the vibrancy and certainty that pertained during the middle years of the twentieth century….when agreement about a better future and a fair now was near ubiquitous.
I’ve been flogging Radical Realism here at The Slog for two years now. But I wonder: is Creative Realism nearer to the mark? An outlook that rejects the formulaic, unaltered ideas of the past in favour of the application of ingenuity to ethical principles in the future?
No doubt the comment threads will let me know one oway or another.
This is, by the way, the 200th At the End of the Day. Wouldn’t it be nice if it changed enough minds to improve the experience that lies ahead of us?