Thursday, August 24, 2006

The politics of hope (but mostly fear)

Finally, an admission from the government, in Ruth Kelly's speech launching Britain's own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Commission on Integration and Cohesion:

"Muslims feel the reverberations from the Middle East. Wider global trends have an impact."
So despite all the previous denials, foreign policy DOES affect British muslims' attitudes? Glad we've finally got that one sorted.

There's also a nice nod to Godron Brown's recurring desire to define what it means to be British with questions about "who we are and what we are as a country" - and even an acknowledgement that multiculturalism may encourage "separateness" to keep the Daily Mail on board. There's also a subtle adoption of one of the Tories' most controversial slogans from the last General Election:
"We must not be censored by political correctness"
In other words,
"It's not racist to talk about immigration"
The only trouble is, of course, that despite Kelly's assurances that this new Commission "is not, and must not be, a talking shop... [but] a practical exercise", it's incredibly hard to think of this government having done anything genuinely practical in the last few months (at least). All we seem to have had is talk and pointless shows of state strength - be they endless assurances about the state of the NHS or high-profile (but ultimately proven to be mis-timed and mis-placed) counter-terrorism raids.

Believe me, I'd love nothing more than to be able to find something positive in politics again, but for the last few years there's been nothing about HOPE in the rhetoric of any of the parties, merely fear. Fear of the Tories, fear of terrorists, fear of Europe, fear of economic collapse, fear of immigrants. The few times our politicians have appealed to our aspirations rather than our night terrors, their promises have proved to be either empty or ill-founded, their policies soon either abandoned or altered in the face of adversity.

Even Kelly's speech, which seems to be trying to promise a brave new world of cross-cultural harmony, focusses more on the current negatives than the possible future promises. She asks about "who we are and what we are as a country". I'm rather worried that the answer to both may be "distrustful wannabe-isolationists" - and that refers as much to the Don't Attack Iraq brigade as the Little Englanders...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What,to you,is a Little Englander?

Oh dont bother,you just show your mind works in stereotypes and soundbites but you think you`re a big brained intellectual.(yes,I stereotype you but its been shown it`s a waste of time trying to debate important issues with you)

8/24/2006 05:13:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

This is largely what I understand by the term, as would most people, I imagine. I tend towards the original Boer War definition myself, though, and used it in that context as a synonym for "isolationist".

However, quite where your vitriol comes on this occasion I'm sure I have no idea - why aren't you also asking me what I mean by "the Don't Attack Iraq brigade"?

Either way, if you don't like what I write (as you evidently don't from the consistently complaining comments that you've been leaving here for well over a year) could I politely suggest that there are several billion other web pages out there where you can waste your time?

(Oh, and just to infurate you further, considering that one dictionary definition of "an intellectual" - I'm using Chambers as it came to hand - is "a person who uses his or her intellect to earn a living, esp. a writer, philosopher, etc.", then yes, yes I do consider myself to be one, as I've earned my living exclusively from writing and editing for several years...)

Ta-ta, you tedious little man. Don't hurry back, there's a good fellow.

8/24/2006 05:38:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin, the phrase is fairly well defined in the paragraph it's used I thought.

I'm rather worried that the answer to both may be "distrustful wannabe-isolationists"

Little Englanders = "stop the world, I want to get off" brigade. A group I have even less time for than NM (see current blog title)

8/24/2006 05:38:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are the "Don't Attack Iraq brigade" "distrustful wannabe-isolationists", mate?

8/24/2006 05:43:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Justin - not all of them, to be sure. There was, however, a certain tendency on the extremes of the Stop the War Coalition who seemed not to want British involvement anywhere overseas ever.

8/24/2006 05:51:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Oh, and "distrustful" used there meaning "distrustful of the government and of other countries' intentions" - notably those of the US in that case. I don't buy in to the constant accusations of "anti-Americanism", as you know, but dislike of the Bush administration was surely a part of quite a few anti-war protestors' reasons for marching.

8/24/2006 05:54:00 pm  
Blogger BondWoman said...

See for the question: is this "Britain'" Commission, or "England's". Interesting question.

8/24/2006 06:03:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While 'dislike of the Bush administration'was probably not, in itself, a sufficient reason to oppose the war, do you not think that disagreement with the objectives of that administration, combined with deep reservations about the judgment and ability of many of its key players, was not a pretty good reason to worry about getting involved?

If you're not convinced that a hazardous undertaking is a good idea in the first place, your worries will surely be rightly exacerbated on learning that the chaps planning and leading are people you regard as dangerous incomptentents and ideologues.

8/24/2006 06:12:00 pm  
Blogger Nosemonkey said...

Bondwoman - intriguing. Hadn't quite thought of that - although I was pondering going off on a sidetrack about the homogenisation of society, loss of local dialects and customs, etc. Welsh and Scottish cultures have their distinct differences as part of the British whole, but so do (did, these days) those from Sussex, Yorkshire, Dorset, etc. etc. etc. - and of smaller areas within those larger wholes, be they by parish or whatever. "Who we are" has many answers...

SteveG - no doubt. Looks like I probably should have put a "some of" in there - I was referring mostly to the extremes of both groups. After all, even some Little Englanders acknowledge the need to do business with other countries - it's only the most nutty who think we can be self-sufficient in splendid isolation.

8/24/2006 06:48:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven't we been here before?

If the government wasn't interested in the results of a topical, relatively small scale consultation (stopping extremism) i doubt they'll care much about the conclusions of a less immediate, wider discussion (avoiding the societal divisions that facilitate the growth and expression of extremism).

8/24/2006 11:06:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I'll have a shot at answering Kelly's question about 'who we are as a country'.

To my mind, it's the wrong one, since any definition that's broad enough to include everyone who's self-evidently British will almost certainly be so vague that it's equally descriptive of most of Europe.

For good historical reasons, we've missed out on nationalism as a serious political ideology. That doubtless made sense if you were a C19th resident of the Austro-Hungarian Empire who wanted some home rule for the Hungarian-speaking areas (at least a resident who spoke Hungarian, that is) or if you were trying to pursuade other German speakers that you should all get together in a larger political body than the dozens of statelets that used to be part of the Holy Roman Empire. It also makes sense for people in the smaller countries that comprise the United Kingdom, since otherwise they tend to get ignored by the far more populous and wealthy component, England. But Britain's never needed to define a national identity in the C19th German romantic sense.

We've also avoided having to found our identity on an idea. Having got rid of the old order, the French needed something new to unite folks from such disparate places as Normandy, Paris and the Languedoc and came up with the revolutionary values. Ditto the Americans and the Soviets. But we've never had, never needed, a national 'mission statement' or statement of core values, and I need some convincing that we need one now. If the idea's to unite people, then it'll be counterproductive since what these core values might be is clearly controversial (unless it unites everyone in hoots of embarassed laughter because they're so platitudinous).

As far as I'm concerned, the definition of Britishness is the one that served us very well for centuries. It's a legalistic one, but none the worse for that; you're a British if, though birth or naturalisation, you qualify as one. That means you're fully entitled to the benefits of British citizenship and, like it or not, the legal obligations of being a British subject. And that's it.

The role of the state, to my mind, isn't to tell us how we ought to live, or what our values ought to be, or what language we should speak at home or whatever; it's to leave us alone to do our own very different things as seem best to us and to provide an impartial and independent legal system for sorting out the disputes that will inevitably arise from our so doing.

8/25/2006 12:05:00 am  
Blogger ziz said...

I think you were very unkind not to mention la Kelly's rather fetching pale blue 2 piece with massive revers (lapels to non-tailors).

I strongly suspect there is a subtle political message in the colour shift here , perhaps not as subtle as wearing say, a hijab but nonetheless a shift rightwards is discernible.

The comission or whatever name it is blessed with is a talking shop for the quangoised agiteurs of the moderate tendency - an illusion of action to put off the evil day when the Government have to put off the day of reckoning.

The Muslim hordes are 3% of the total population of whom 50% cannot vote. Teir electoral impact except in certain very distinctive seats is marginal as they will seek the advantage whatver party meets their interests - curiously just like white English Saxon Protestants - self interest rules UK, as ever it did.

Having stirred up the natred of the Muslim mobs they have to pay off the middle classes with wannabe jobs and money - the comission is ideal.

The najor problem the GUbment faces is when we runout of energy or the means to pay to import it.

8/25/2006 04:53:00 am  
Blogger Jonn Elledge said...

Okay, something genuinely good the government (or its agents, at least) is doing at the moment and which is receiving almost no attention, is the Building Schools for the Future programme.

It's not perfect - the fact that it uses PFI will irk a lot of people, I know - but I think it's a rare example of a genuinely great ambition coming out of this government that nobody seems to have noticed.

Just saying...

8/25/2006 10:16:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My definition of Littl Englander.

People who saw nothing wrong with the headline in the SUN in 1982 "GOTCHA".

8/25/2006 10:50:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have just discovered this blog. Most interesting, perhaps because it is surprising to encounter an articulate exchange of views anywhere nowadays.

I want to comment on what SteveG has to say about nationalism, which has become a dubious notion in modern politics.

The erosion of British naitonalism to accommodate the political aspirations of the europhiles is creating a huge democratic deficit by stealth. The most important task is the defence of our home-grown democracy which grew out of our particular historical experience and created a very special British understanding of the nation state.

As I see it, the nation state is the fundamental locus of political democracy, and the only mechanism which history has evolved for imposint social control on the unbridled aspiration of private capital.

If by 'Little Englanders' we mean those in this country who love the place enough to resist the kind of European amalgamation, political, social, economic and administrative, which allows others a free hand in deciding the smallest details of our lives, then count me in as a Little Englander.


8/26/2006 12:57:00 pm  
Blogger mattsymonds said...

Hello Connie,

Just a few thoughts based on your comments.

I don't think the decline of British nationalism has happened 'to accomodate the political aspirations of the British europhiles'. Speaking as a europhile, that's just utterly beyond us: you can't just arrange for a shift in the cultural practices of an entire nation in order to further the political aims of a small section of society. That's not just true for europhiles, of course, it also holds true for leftist anti-globalists, tory secessionists, UKIP, the BNP, et cetera. British nationalism may well be in decline, although I'm not so certain it actually is, but if that's so it's more likely because of a whole host of other reasons (the disappearance of empire most obviously).

Also, I don't see any necessary link between the nation-state and political democracy. There have been instances of nation-states which are not democracies and democracies that are not nation-states. Britain itself has only been democratic, in the commonly understood meaning of the word, since 1918, maybe 1928.

(Is Britain a 'nation-state' anyway? Has it ever been so? It does after all have two separate legal systems, two established churches, several different peoples, and quite a few languages.)

In a wider point, I don't think history 'evolves' anything at all for any purpose. That's a misapplication of concepts of historical change and scientific theories of evolution. It gives agency to a metaphysical force called 'history' rather than the actions of actually-existing men and women.

8/27/2006 12:40:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello, Connie.

My remarks were aimed more at the idea of nationalism as an ideology of political identity -- the idea that you're only really Ruritanian if you have, or conform to, certain characteristics thought to be particular to Ruritanians. In that sense, British 'nationalism' is an oxymoron, since we comprise two nations and a principality which are all pretty different and which contain within them some pretty huge differences. Try getting an English-speaker from Cardiff arguing with a Welsh-speaker from North Wales about the Welsh identity if you don't believe me!

Historically, I think you're mistaken about the nation-state being the locus of political democracy; ancient Athens was a city state, after all, and there's no reason to think its non-democratic features (no votes in the Assembly for women or slaves, for example) would have been automatically cured by extending the boundaries to include what we now know as Greece. Rather the opposite, I'd have thought.

Certainly in more recent European history, nationalism, in the sense of wanting to be a nation state, and democracy have sometimes tended to go together, but that's more of a coincidence of the fact that both nationalism and democracy were powerful motivations in people wanting to break free of imperial control. I don't see that they're particularly intimately connected.

8/30/2006 08:07:00 pm  

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