Wednesday, 25 January 2012

What a cultured life

Today's agenda: Shakespeare, then attending David Miliband's appearance, then seeing the Vanbrugh Quartet perform Beethoven, Pärt and more. If only I had the same dedication to writing as I do for pleasure.

I'll be live-blogging the Miliband experience, so feel free to leave a message via the comments or Twitter (@plashingvole) if you've a question or comment you'd like me to pass on. I'm filtering a range of questions: given that I think he's a genuine war criminal with no ideological integrity, I don't think he'll directly answer anything other than the softest of questions. But hopefully I'm wrong.

My major problem with David and Ed Miliband is that I genuinely don't know what they're for. Nor am I convinced that they know. They're Labour aristocracy (their father Ralph was a leading intellectual socialist who would be appalled by them), but - sadly unlike their evil Tory rivals, who have a very clear ideological position summarised as 'f•ck you' - they have no coherent ideology. Calling for 'fairness' is like voting for nice sunsets, while 'moral capitalism' makes me think of the mice deciding to bell the cat. They - and the Labour Party, of which I'm a member - have fallen for the belief that the Daily Mail and the Sun represent the Great British Public. Perhaps (the horror, the horror), they do: but I see absolutely no faith in Labour's upper reaches that the people are intelligent and unbigoted, hence New Labour's relentless pandering to the nastiest racist, hanging-and-flogging instincts they perceive Out There.

If the public is as awful as these papers and our political leaders believe, Labour's duty is to change that. It won't be easy, especially given the overwhelming bias of the media. Old Labour politicians know this: they used the language of the mass meeting and of the pulpit to espouse a moral crusade. New Labour is a follower, not a leader. From this, all its neoconservative and neoliberal policies flow. Extradite suspects to countries that torture? Yes: can't look weak. Privatise the universities and hospitals? Definitely: can't look charitable. Lynch the unemployed? Certainly: the Mail says they're all scroungers. Deregulate the banks? Of course - otherwise we look bitter and jealous.

The politics of fear leads to Labour ceding the public sphere to the Tories. Labour seems to assume that the population's default setting is Conservative, so they spend their time looking for managerialist and presentational differences - often manufactured - rather than making a clear and positive case for voting Labour. This is cowardice.

I actually think a lot of people like our public services, don't want people to be homeless and hungry, have quite an appetite for radical financial reform, and hanker for the days of Attlee. But we'll never know, because the imagined public is much more important to our politicians than the real one.

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