Old Holborn's optimism gave me pause for thought. We are of a similar vintage. Am I just a grumpier old geezer? Is he just naive? The last time I felt as optimistic politically as I usually am in my business and personal lives was in the late 1970s. The tired ideas of municipal socialism I grew up with had patently lost their force. The trade unions were despised by all except a hard core of their members. My socialist friends and neighbours deep behind Labour lines lacked enthusiasm to defend the manifold, obvious failures of their ideology. The left-wing lecturers at my law faculty were despondent that their ideas were in retreat. Something was in the air.
I recognised the same feeling (with horror) as New Labour swept to power. Mrs P and I watched the news from Britain on an hotel room TV in Gdansk. I remember saying to her, "Perhaps this won't be so bad. The Conservatives need this. They have gone stale."
The sad truth is that thinkers are in a minority. The masses follow fashion in everything. So while I may have been right to doubt that "the people" will sustain their current anger about (or even interest in) politics, it doesn't matter. They need only recognise a change in the intellectual zeitgeist. They will follow the fashions set by very few active thinkers as unthinkingly as they follow the "ideas" of couturiers of whom they are only dimly aware.
With this thought in mind, I looked for any signs that this might be happening; for some straws in the intellectual wind. Here's what I came up with, from today's RSS feed.
Matthew Elliott of The Taxpayers' Alliance (an organisation so obviously necessary, it's hard to imagine why it was not formed centuries earlier) is given space in the Sunday Times. This was the first serious newspaper I read, as a teenager, and I regarded both it and the weekday "Thunderer" as "my" newspaper for the first half of my adult life. It has long been a debased Murdoch rag unworthy of serious consideration and a cheerleader for the piratical Blair/Brown raid on the productive minority. Yet now it is allowing the derided voice of the taxpayer to be heard.
Bishop Hill has fun with the internal contradictions of Guardianisti thought, referring us to the anguished comments on Martin Kettle's recent, thoughtful Comment is Free piece on aid to Africa. Kettle writes about Dr Dambisa Moyo (see film), who has been arguing that aid makes poverty worse. As Bishop Hill points out;
And, as he adds, the Guardianistas are further confused by the fact that their "green" beliefs tell them they should buy their pulses from the local farmers' market, to avoid "food miles", rather than from African farmers. In so many ways, their "caring" beliefs promote poverty. It almost seems they love the poor so much, they preserve poverty. Perhaps they can't maintain their hypocritical self-regard - the smug signal by which they identify themselves to each other - without the poor to pity?
These ideas have been discussed before, but the fact they are in The Guardian - a newspaper that serves the New Labour aparatchiki and which could not survive without government job adverts - is arguably an important straw in the wind.
It's harder to explain the significance of what happened in Luton yesterday. The press would have us believe that "extremists" organised (or perhaps hijacked) a protest against the scandalous behaviour of Muslim radicals at the homecoming parade of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment back in March.
Around 500 demonstrators marched through Luton, Beds, on Sunday waving banners bearing slogans such as "No Sharia Law in the UK" and "Respect our Troops"
Far more than fair enough, most of us might think. But then we couldn't possibly justify the violence which followed, including the police fighting running battles with protesters, and Asian businesses being attacked. Perhaps the straw in the political wind here is that so many people could be mobilised for such overtly politically incorrect purposes; their anger overcoming their fear of being branded "racist" or "islamophobe." The concern, however, is as to who mobilised them. It rather looks like the fascist wing of statism was behind it (or at least piggy-backing on it).
If so, conventional politicians must take much of the blame for having identified themselves so firmly with the problem from which fascists are cheerfully making hay; unrestrained immigration of backward people who despise the British way of life (and perhaps even the British nation itself). The success of Joanna Lumley's wildly popular campaign for the Ghurkas proves that Middle England is not racist. It doesn't have a problem with hard-working immigrants who want to be British. It's not the colour or religion of the Islamists that's the problem, but their neo-imperialism. A nation is entitled to defend its way of life. To the French, the Poles, the Russians that is obvious. Yet our political class has branded the desire to do so "racist" and made "racism" the most serious of thought-crimes.
Meanwhile, in Jamie Oliver's home village in the shires, a scarecrow contest associated with the annual village fete has caught the local imagination. To the organisers' amazement, locals have been very creative. 67 scarecrows have appeared around the village, including this one (click to enlarge) - satirising corrupt MPs. He is as good an emblem as any of the current political mood.
So no, I don't think OH is right to believe that the British people are ready to set a new direction in our politics. But perhaps they are ready to be led in one. The question is, who will lead them?