Friday 23 November 2018

Friends Like These

In my day, "I could never be friends with a Tory" was the cry of the hardcore Blairite. That was more than the narcissism of small differences. It was the hurt and anger of people who would have liked to have been Conservative politicians in their own home areas.

But they had not come from the right families or gone to the right schools. So instead, they had to try and be Labour politicians in places of which they had never previously heard. They hated every second of it. They still do.

Those people were and are the embodiment of the broken promise of Thatcherism, and now also of the broken promise of New Labour. By now, MPs were supposed to have become suburban, déclassés, ideologically non-ideological (or so they were to have told themselves), barely partisan at all, and as likely as not to be female.

They were supposed to have risen through the state schools, the good but not grand universities, and the private sector, to have taken their places as the custodians of an economic and social liberalism that the use of soft power where possible but hard power where necessary had made unquestionable at home, so that the use of soft power where possible but very hard power where necessary could spread it across the whole wide earth by means of an unquestionable alliance between the European Union and the United States, an alliance with Britain at both its cultural and its military heart.

Well, how has that worked out for you? There are now eight partially overlapping pathways into the House of Commons, and none of them goes anywhere near that terrain.

There are the public schools, and there are the public sector trade unions. There is the full-time left-wing activism of bachelor autodidacts who have rarely or never had day jobs, and there is the full-time right-wing activism of bachelor autodidacts who have rarely or never had day jobs.

There is Scottish Nationalism as a way of life as complete as being Amish, and there is rarely or never having left the Welsh-speaking countryside. There is the fundamentalist minority among Ulster Protestants, and there is what used to be the IRA, as it would be again if the need were ever felt to have reasserted itself.

At any of those points, there are independent incomes derived from heavily subsidised agriculture. There are academic sinecures, and there is much the same thing at think tanks that enjoy all the fiscal advantages of educational charities. There is straight public sector employment, and there is parastatal employment at everything from certain charities to those companies which only ever bid for central or local government contracts.

And there is the good old Welfare State, especially if you can get yourself signed off on mental health grounds, at which point you can begin to put in 20 or 30 years of full-time activism before entering Parliament in middle age. Good luck to people who play that game, because if the State chooses to define as a mental illness the desire to study the traditional Great Books and the various schools of heterodox economics, then those with that perfectly sane desire should grab every penny that the State is therefore prepared to pay them.

They should. They do. And they will. More than to anyone else, the Parliaments of the twenty-first century will belong to the bachelor autodidacts who have rarely or never had day jobs. There is a Left like that, and there is a Right like that. But they are both steeped in the Great Books and in the various schools of heterodox economics. They are both defined against the loss of community and the loss of sovereignty, losses that have been both the causes and the effects of deindustrialisation, of economic collapse, and of pointless wars. In many ways, they are one tribe. Certainly, they find no difficulty whatever in maintaining long and close friendships with each other.

Meanwhile, the ageing cool kids are still bellowing that they could never be friends with the other side. But they are rapidly running out of opportunities to be that picky.

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