New Labour's Dr Pangloss
It seems New Labour, in the electoral doldrums, with core voters deserting it and a whole host of economic and political problems to cope with, has its' very own Dr Pangloss who thinks we should all be happy smiley people grateful for our marvellous situation.
The Government Minister Tom Wood has opined on his blog that
'We live longer, eat healthier (if we choose), have better access to forms of entertainment never imagined a generation ago (satellite TV, DVD, computer games), the majority of us have fast access to the worldwide web, which we use to enable even more spending and for entertainment. Crime is down.'
He cannot understand why we are all so grumbly and "miserable".
Now some of this may well be true, for some people, particularly those who, a little research tells us "earn £92,100 as a junior minister and claimed £153,862 in expenses last year." Yes, life is good for such people. But does it not tell us a great deal about the mentality of New Labour that they are so out of touch with the struggling elements of the electorate in crime ridden estates, struggling to cope on benefits or two or three inadequately paid insecure jobs? More than this, even if Mr Wood is referring to the relatively prosperous elements of our society that the government has electorally pandered too, he surely must be aware, as many of these people are, that we are living on borrowed time in the face of looming economic, ecological and resource crises?
The Panglossian optimism and the failure to appreciate why so many are disgruntled reveals the vulgar materialism at the heart of New Labour - give the proles bread and circuses (or all day drinking and Big Brother on a big flat screen TV) and they should be happy! The likes of Wood seemingly cannot understand that humans cannot "live by bread alone" - there is a huge crisis of meaning, a huge deficit of purpose and a massive democratic deficit and disempowerment in Britain, and across much of the world now that neo-liberalism is being imposed or embraced by so many of the powers that be. Many of us cannot accept that the main purpose in life is to accumulate ever more gadgets, and to constantly remould our personal image to compete in some race that never ends and no-one wins. The destruction of much of the trade union tradition and the manufacturing base of the country have taken away the purpose of collective organisation and solidarity, the sense of belonging in many communities. There is a spiritual crisis, whereby the old religions have ceased to have authority and power (quite rightly, as they were more and more regarded as intellectually unsustainable and blatant servants of a particular section of the ruling class) but those communal, humanistic and democratic successors to religious communities and sentiments have not been allowed to flourish in the face of the imperatives of totalitarian and atomising capitalism.
More amazing still is that this enthusiastic former Blairite who voted for the Iraq war and sits in a government that has just started the process of introducing 42 days detention without charge cannot see that a climate of fear and hatred does not lead to smiley-happy-grateful citizens - either amongst the general populace or (particularly) amongst the target section of the community. His government wants us to live in fear and suspicion of our neighbours - and despite trumpeting about low crime feel they have to create ever more criminal offences (was it 3000 and rising?) and regularly announce (usually ineffective) headline grabbing "tough initiatives" and "clampdowns".
Despite all this, I think Mr Wood is wrong - most people are not miserable, those of us who can (and that is not all, even in this rich country) try to enjoy life and the benefits we have based on hard work and the hard work of our ancestors - no, what people are, is not miserable, but ANGRY. Angry that we have a bunch of incompetents at the helm in hock to the most right wing of US Presidents, state-building Eurocrats, nuclear energy companies, biotech firms and global media corporations - a government that worships the free market such that they know the price of everything and the value of nothing, a government that has mortgaged our children's future through expensive PFI and PPP schemes. Angry that every initiative, good or bad, is choked with bureucracy and red tape that confuses the public and demoralises the workers tasked with implementation. We are angry that we have a government that participated in launching an illegal war, sees fit to ignore and override public opinion in a patrician manner and runs shy of electoral contests that it knows it will lose. That 's how grateful we are!