Greenman's Occasional Organ

Ecosocialist. Syndicalist. Critical Techno-Progressive.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Something Nasty Stirs In English Politics....

There is a whiff of something unpleasant coming from a clutch of articles and op-ed pieces from people at some stage seen as influential in the two main parties in Britain this week. I say English politics as any fool knows that "British Nationalism" is almost always "English Nationalism" and frequently "White Anglo Saxon Protestant English Nationalism". I doubt whether the disturbing drift in the views of some of the political writers I am about to name will have much echo in Scotland, for example.

Tory Adviser and "thinker" David Selbourne has an odd article, given front page prominence in the main Conservative leaning magazine, The Spectator, entitled We Are Living In A State Of Emergency: And We Are Getting Angrier. At first glance the piece appears a typical, perennial Mail/Express Why-Oh-Why essay on the Country going to the dogs, but on closer inspection appears to go further down a dangerous path than writers like Phillips, Littlejohn, Glover et al have done of late. The editors of the Tory organ are obviously aware of the controversial nature of Selbourne's opinions and cover their backs by prominently calling for comment in the print edition.

Selbourne's analysis of the current malaise of Western societies, and in particular liberal democracies pursuing neo-liberal economic policies and social engineering, is certainly forthright and persuasive :

The ills of Western democracies are afflicting the most liberal societies known to history. Among other things, Britain suffers from growing inequality, housing shortage, a falling quality of health provision, rising rates of many types of crime, a failing pedagogy, agricultural impoverishment and a huge scale of ‘consumer debt’. Yet, for many, we are not free enough, being allegedly threatened by encroachments upon our personal liberties, coddled by a ‘nanny state’ and menaced by Orwellian surveillance.


However, his final call, after lambasting the main British political parties, and by implication, much of the population is for some kind of strong man, the "smack of firm government", ID cards, nationalistic corporatism etc - something that sounds like a caricature of the path that New Labour are already leading us down -

‘Up and be doing!’, said the great Protector in 1643, speaking directly to us now; ‘we must act lively, do it without distraction, neglect no means’; and, going to the heart of today’s confusions also, ‘weak counsels and weak actings undo all’.

Moreover, as the ‘free society’ disintegrates, it is a progressive not a reactionary stance to favour the restoration of the idea of nation, the values and duties of citizenship, the safeguarding of the public domain from the privateer, the elevation of the ethic of public service over private interest and, yes, ID cards too. To hold otherwise is to invite, or incite, the justly angered to find their own ways to a new political settlement in Britain — or to leave it in ever greater droves.


It is no wonder that the orthodox Thatcherites of the Spectator blanched at the thought of his article being seen as an editorial view and saw fit to invite comment on the controversial piece. Selbourne's attachment to democracy and civil liberties seems to have evaporated (if it was ever there) at the same time as his Islamophobia grew to obsessive proportions.

A slightly more liberal and watered down version of Selbourne's appeal for a powerful state appears in Matthew Parris' Times article, although he does opine that

People need governing. People need governments, strong governments. People need certainty. People need consistency. People need constraining, inspiring, harnessing and directing, and they need it done with the clarity and command that central government alone can offer.


Nevertheless, he hedges round his new found faith in authoritarian solutions with the usual Parris one nation Tory liberalism. Not so Selbourne, who seems to take pleasure in repeatedly quoting Britain's one time Military Dictator, Oliver Cromwell, implying that someone of Cromwell's "calibre" is what is required. Selbourne, unlike Parris, approaches from a new-found radical rejection of what he calls the "corner shop" mentality of the Tory party and a barely concealed urge for political and religious conflict (Selbourne has form - Muslims play the scapegoat role that Catholics played for his revolutionary hero.) It is all too much for some rightists still in thrall to those who Parris names as his fallen and now historically irrelevant "household gods" - Hayek, Sherman and Joseph - they lambast the heretic Selbourne in the comments, as do the Royalists enraged by his elevation of the regicide and the Protestant bigots upset that he does not locate the source of all the ills he describes in the decline of subscription to their superstitions and bigotry. (Of course, Selbourne has his own superstitions and bigotries) At least one commenter makes the observation that Selbourne's advocacy of ID cards, culture wars and strong state are at least a little reminiscent of a former little bald dictator of the country in which Selbourne now apparently lives.

Nevertheless, all this rightist sectariana and backbiting aside, the intersecting opinions of Parris and Selbourne are still of importance as we have just witnessed the ruling party and the establishment fawning to the rightist French President - a President who combines envy of vicious "anglo-saxon" neo-liberal economic and social policies with residual statism and that figleaf of republicanism and laicite that is used in France and the Low Countries to justify anti-muslim bigotry and the division, where possible, of the working class along racial and religious lines. It seems that neo-liberal economics, fake-enlightenment cultural supremacism and authoritarian statist politics are coming together more explicitly than previously. It is ironic that Selbourne sees himself as the ignored prophet and rebel, when the spokespeople of the establishment "left" echo his outlook.

Look no further than right-labourite witchhunter in chief Martin Bright at the New Statesman - equivalent of the Spectator for the ruling Labour Party. The magazine itself backs off from Bright's stance of recent weeks which seemed to suggest that a defeat for Ken Livingstone in London would be a good thing - this week it headlines a demolition job on the Tory Candidate Boris Johnson. However, Bright is still in there, digging his claws into his former leftist comrades like a latter-day Paul Johnson. He opines about the futile horribleness of 1968 and the anti-war movement in 2003, (much in line with the French President's views)and without a blush quotes Tariq Ali as "negative and gloomy" where Ali is in actual fact attacking people very much like Bright and his new-labourite pals. Bright meanwhile can only negatively and gloomily reflect on the fact that both 1968 and "Third Way/Liberal Interventionist" idealism both came to grief.

Now, before any misconceptions take hold, I, and this blog, resolutely defend secularism, republicanism and progress. Whilst seeing a role for localisation and mutualism - ideally seeking workers' control - I can see that in the short term public ownership of utilities and transport would be a step forward, and national and international planning would play a major part in any sustainable ecosocialist strategy. This makes opposition to the Selbournes, the Brights, the Parrises (and those who would fellow travel with them on the right of the European Green movement) even more important. The superficial attraction of some of Selbourne's analysis (e.g. his condemnation of the sell off of council housing) and the mild social democratic sound of some of what Parris has to say, the appeal to enlightenment secularism of Bright should not blind us to the fact that they are at best apologists for the authoritarian trajectory of the ruling class, and in Selbourne's case advocates of a kind of anti-democratic, xenophobic and militaristic nationalism that comes close to the "F" word that we should not overuse to avoid accusations of exaggeration and hyperbole.

The ruling class of Europe in "left" and "right" manifestations - Brown and Sarkozy - move ever closer to the nuclear-powered-corporatist-national-security state, meanwhile some of those sanctioned by the establishment media as "controversial" critics offer as alternatives a return to the 1930s or the 1650s!

The time for a real oppositional movement with a developed understanding of the crises facing modern "capitalist civilization" and the perspective of bonding together the social forces that can move us forward to the next stage is clearly upon us. The despairing views of Selbourne and Bright are evidence of the political and social decay that is fast setting in. They must be countered by a positive, internationalist and inclusive movement committed to democracy, ecosocialism and progress.

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3 Comments:

At 5:58 pm, Anonymous Brummie said...

That's it my friend, nail on head.

Bigotry and racism is alive and well and practised almost exclusively by protestant white Englishmen.

You sir are blind, stupid or both.

 
At 7:25 pm, Blogger greenman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 7:30 pm, Blogger greenman said...

Hmmm....now where did I say "bigotry and racism" is practiced "almost exclusively" by protestant white Englishmen"?

As an Englishman of WASP origins myself I am well aware that that is not the case. However, that others are capable of bigotry and racism does not validate your own.

So as for blind and stupid.....

 

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