Friday, 26 February 2010

New Variations on old struggles

I haven’t been blogging as much recently. Partially because I’ve been pretty busy. Also because, well, I frankly think Britain is in dire straits if someone as dumb as I am should be worth listening to.

But sadly our political discourse isn’t dominated by Anatole Lievens and John Grays, but five star thickoes so perhaps I should still try to remain a part of the conversation.

When I started this blog I felt a fairly ill-defined anger at neo-liberalism. I have, however, come to see my ideas in a more articulate way and have also had some ideas of constructive questions to pose/ comments to make. Anyway, the main themes I’ve been thinking of are these:

-Dysmocracy in the UK, or why I might vote for Gordon Brown. This would be a short (given the impending general election) series on why I might vote for a party that has been abysmal in most ways. I have come to think that if New Labour wins the next election then both left and right will call for electoral reform leading to PR (which ironically enough, would probably make Britain a more progressive country).

-Relatedly, the need to change Britain’s role in the future. This will hopefully look at world geography and politics. My own view is that Britain could, though I acknowledge it is a remote possibility, become a progressive power in the world.

This may seem a joke given our shameful role in the weapons industry and the fact that our greatest current claim to international fame is as America’s fawning and stupid attack dog. Yet I think it’s possible this will change. Britain is also a country where the NHS receives vast popular support, the Fairtrade movement is strong, there is strong support for third world aid.

Of course, this last one is rather ambiguous: I certainly support giving aid to the third world now, but see the longterm plan as supporting viable leaders. When someone like Vladimir Putin or Hugo Chavez actually strengthens their country they are compared to Hitler or Stalin. Giving aid to the third world is not a viable long term answer: helping strong transitional leaders is.

-Reviewing books, films music. Even thought of a Blogging the Columbo’s: reviewing each of the 50+ episodes…

-Why I think my generation will face a lot of internal conflict. This will not be between ‘left’ and ‘right’ but between neo-liberalism and the broad coalition that will have to stand up to it. Part of this will consist of arguments about terms such as ‘liberal’, ‘dissident’ and ‘progressive’ and who has most right to them.

-The EU and why, whilst sympathetic to some of its aims re immigration and I am culturally pro-European, I do think that we have to come to terms both with its current failures and the vacuum it may leave in its wake.

Thanks a lot to everyone who’s commented on my previous posts.

Update: David Cameron says it is a 'patriotic duty' to defeat Labour. In another article he says: 'There is a danger that people could wake up Friday March 26 or Friday May 7'. Is American idiom the last refuge of a patriot?


  1. You touch on some crucial debates politically there, and I hope to see more posts exploring these questions.

    Also would eagerly read a run of posts on "Columbo"; it is a series I would like to investigate. Am myself watching another 70s drama at the moment: "The Guardians", a slow-burning, very underrated piece of work indeed...
    It has a moral ambiguity you simply could not get in a current British TV drama about politics, security and totalitarianism.

  2. Hi Tom
    Thanks for your encouragement and the recommendation. I looked it up on Wikipedia; looks very interesting.

    It does indeed seem far more complex than most of our modern TV.

  3. Britain could never become remotely progressive until it faces up to the issue of social class and deals with it to create a more equal society. I fear this is virtually impossible because a public discussion of the range of problems caused by class cuts too close to the bone. It is too personal for even intelligent British people because even the "brightest and best" do not really understand how class has influenced who they are and how it has shaped those around them. There is too much guilt over it.

  4. Thanks for your comment Brett. Not sure that I agree though. Being Scottish I don't think about class much or have a clue what class I'd belong to.

    Anyway, Britain was a fairly progressive culture from 1945-79 (and even arguably beyond that) when class was arguably more important. Not a utopia of course, but I don't believe in Utopia. And give me Harold MacMillan over Thatcher any day.

  5. Ah, yes. As if class does not exist in Scotland (or Australia, or the USA?) Of course it does exist, but it is strongest in England. It seems as if your own class (most likely somewhere in the middle-class, as also with me) is not important to you: a British Historian who does not know what class you might belong to! How can one truly understand History if you have know concept of your own (or others) class. Better to pretend it hardly exists? I call that intellectual and moral cowardice and it is proves my point about a more equal society in Britain being highly unlikely because too many otherwise intelligent people don't want to recognise class at all. Yes, Britain had elements in it that were more progressive between WWII and Thatcher's years, such as a powerful trade union movement (based significantly on class) but look at any statistics in health, pre-university education, and social conditions and you can only conclude that the gap between the top and the bottom is wider than it was fifty years ago. The reason: an entrenched class system.

  6. @Brett

    You know, I never actually knew my paternal grandfather because he died of chemical poisoning when I was an infant? But don’t let silly things like that stop you from getting on your high horse.

    I am ‘middle class’ if you use the condescending definition that despite being largely brought up by a divorced mother I’m educated and had a go at life; if you expect me to be apologetic for that then I’m sorry to disappoint. The very point of a class is that it is a group one consciously identifies with. If you think that performing complex work means that you seek out people who wear cravats and talk about Wimbledon, then again, very sorry to disappoint. An immigrant carpenter has been like a father to me; I don’t care what jobs people have and my friends include cleaners and long-term unemployed.

    The irony is that people like you honestly seem to think you present the way forward for the left: with your patronising beliefs that people who've had success should feel guilt about it.

    'I call that intellectual and moral cowardice'

    And I call that laughable bullshit. I love the way that journalists always invent new formulations with words like 'courage'/ 'cowardice' just to implicitly aggrandise themselves.

  7. In my view, class has nothing to do with who your grandparents (or parents) were, or were not. I too never knew either of my grandfathers and my grandmother lived for some time on government food aid and both my parents left school at the age of fourteen and grew up in very working class families. But how does that mean that I might not be (mainly) middle class? Why do you think being from a "middle class" is condescending? You have again proved an earlier point I made by associating social class with feeling guilty.I certainly did not suggest that, and I certainly did not suggest that anyone should feel guilty for the class they belong to or the education they had. I did argue that it is moral cowardice to not face up to and acknowledge one's own class, as George Orwell and others have persuasively done. This does take honesty and courage because it can teach you unpleasant things about your own habits and opinions, and sometimes those of others. I too, do not care what jobs people do. I have had friends just like the ones you describe. A good person is a good person, regardless of their social class. Class is a complex issue, only partly related to the work that someone does. It's also to do with mental outlook, and a host of other things, but particularly education. I have some habits that are typical of the working classes (eg. strong interest in certain sports) though my own class is mainly middle-class even though my income (as a secondary school teacher) has always been lower than some working class tradespeople.

  8. @Brett (final reply)

    I don’t like to censor my blog but when a debate turns as idiotic as this one, I’m afraid I’ll have to nip it in the bud and delete any attempts you make to further it. You’ve never met me, and know nothing about me but have deemed that I’m ‘middle class’ based on my current employment (which could change with government cuts; presumably making me working class/under-class tomorrow?)

    This is plain dumb. I don’t make myself out to be a rough handed son of labour. But equally I’ve never been in Waitrose, never been invited to a dinner party and am actually in a lower income bracket.

    Your other arguments are equally stupid.

    And as for George Orwell’s quote… so I’d be brave for pretending I belong to a class that I don’t identify with? Nope, I’d just be speaking bullshit.

    I generally like debate, but debating my place in society with someone I’ve never met is just dumb.

    Anyway, if anyone has anything interesting to add about the other points…