Friday, April 12, 2013

UK politics: gloom and doom


This winter has gone on too long. Hoping for a bright spring day, instead we wake to a cold, sullen morning, more like November than April. It is ringing wet after a night's rain – no mere showers, these - the fog limiting visibility to no more than a couple of hundred yards.

The human psyche was not designed to cope with this prolonged miserable weather, and I am sure it is colouring our political attitudes. There is a listlessness and a lack of direction to our politics which seems to go beyond the norm. 

That said, there is a lot to be listless about, to the extent of being positively morose – not least the affairs of the eurozone which seem to defy description and which have pundits retreating in disarray, trying and failing to work out where we are going, and what really is happening. 

Then we get this bizarre event, of Cameron packing up is wife and kids to have a cosy little chat with Frau Merkel and her hubby in the family residence in Meseberg, outside Berlin, all to have jolly little chats about "all aspects" of European reform as well as the forthcoming G8 summit and the situation in Syria. 

This wouldn't be so farcical if – according to the loss-making Guardian, France and Germany hadn't already decided to block Cameron's plan for a new EU treaty, which means that "reform" on the Cameron model is never going to happen, not that it ever was. 

That makes Cameron's little jolly nothing more than gesture politics, and insulting at that. Anyone who takes his wife and kids on the trip isn't really engaging in real politics. One cannot imagine Thatch taking Dennis and her brood to meet Herr Kohl und Frau over a weekend in a Black Forest schloss. 

To an extent, this means that the British eurosceptic movement has nowhere to go. The likelihood of even a watered-down referendum on a watered-down reform programme is retreating before our very eyes, which is possibly why Farage is seeking to reinvent UKIP as a general purpose political party and distancing himself from EU issues. 

Turning then to the foetid swamp of domestic British politics, we even have the brazen Blair seeking to instruct his successor on how to win the next election. 

The centre has not shifted to the left, says Blair. Labour must resist the easy option of tying itself to those forces whose anti-Tory shouts are loudest. Labour must search for answers and not merely aspire to be a repository for people's anger. 

Terrifyingly, though, Mr Blair does not actually offer any high-flown, inspirational nostrums. Labour politics now comes down to considering what developments around DNA could do to cut crime, and the right balance between universal and means-tested help for pensioners. 

The issue isn’t, and hasn’t been for at least 50 years, whether we believe in social justice, Blair adds. The issue is how progressive politics fulfils that mission as times, conditions and objective realities change around us. Having such a modern vision elevates the debate. It helps avoid the danger of tactical victories that lead to strategic defeats. 

Those that know of politics as they used to be must be listening out for Keir Hardy turning in his grave, but when politics has descended to turgid managerialism on the one hand, and nauseating gesture politics on the other, there really is not much hope. 

Today, though, just a bit a sunshine would make all the difference. With that bright orb in the sky and some warmth in the air, things might look very different. Somehow I doubt it, but you never know.