Hope and Glory?
I’m beginning to think there’s a connection between this weeks story about dogs shitting facing north and Unionist commentators output (presumably genuflecting south). Hamish Macdonell is on fine form squatting here (apparently someones had the temerity to mention Thatcher without hushed tones of reverence) – as is Simon Johnson lifting a leg here.
But things are shifting quickly now. Nicola Sturgeon and Yes are quite right to say – ‘Where is and what is your alternative?’ as they have been all week. The truth is that the No campaigns alternative was published by George Osborne on Monday announcing £26 billion cuts and can be seen announced daily by the agenda now set by UKIP. Despite Owen Jones’s plea that Ed Miliband mirror right populism with a left populism he would be sadly disappointed. Jones laid out his case in the Independent saying: “Every time Labour indulges in bashing immigrants and unemployed people, it just allows the Tories to set the terms of debate, driving issues up the national agenda that ensure the Right thrives. Labour will never win at being trusted to kick foreigners or poor people most, and should file for moral bankruptcy if it did.” The next day this was announced:
A Labour government will clamp down on British businesses using cheap foreign labour, Ed Miliband will pledge today, as he gives a warning that the arrival of migrant workers from Romania and Bulgaria could make the cost of living crisis worse for Britons. More here.
And so we have the Westminster parties tumbling over each other to keep up with immigration bashing agenda (‘Farage calls for five year ban on migrant benefits‘) – or Cameron’s ‘Think of a Number’ call for cutting annual net migration to under 100,000 by the next election in 2015.
Despite Mr Cable’s sombre and sane intervention [“It involves British people emigrating – you can’t control that. It involves free movement within the European Union – in and out. It involves British people coming back from overseas who are not immigrants but are counted in the numbers”] the race to the right continues.
What are we to make of it all? José Ignacio Torreblanca writing in El Pais:
How Great Britain Turned Into Little England could easily be 2014’s bestselling essay. Someone just needs to write it. All the ingredients are there: petty politics clothed in grandiose rhetoric; racial prejudice lurking behind the strident proclamation of principles; facile populism exercised in the name of a supposedly threatened identity; cheap demagogy passing for leadership; and the idealization of the past as a project for the future.
We are now in January 2014, a year in which – according to the agitators of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and eagerly seconded by several prominent members of David Cameron’s Conservative government – the UK will be stormed and overwhelmed by a horde of Bulgarian and Romanian immigrants from the continent, knocking the bottom out of the labor market and overcrowding social services.
What is happening to our English friends, who used to be a political, economic and even moral beacon for Europe and the world? There was a time, remember, when the UK was not only the world’s industrial hub, but also the factory of the ideas that made the modern world work: political and economic liberalism, the defense of democracy and liberty against tyranny and infamy.
This is squalid stuff. It brings to mind Gerry Hassan’s useful distinction this week about the bigger picture. Hassan, channeling East German political philosopher Ernst Bloch explains the difference between ‘hope’ and optimism:
Optimism has become one-dimensional, used to reinforce power dynamics, to make us feel a little smaller, and even utilised in interrogation and torture techniques. Hope, on the other hand, is something intrinsic to the human condition, and while it can be used for all sorts of purposes, it is profoundly emotional, about change and not settling for the status quo.
Many of the great campaigns of humanity have been defined by hope. Think of the campaigns against slavery, for the welfare state and against the hardships and degradations of Dickensian Britain, of Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement, the anti-war movements on Vietnam and Iraq, and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and internationally.
These were all at their best voices of hope and change that overcame negativity and scare-mongering. The future contours of British and Scottish politics will be shaped in the next year and beyond, by whoever can most effectively weld these two forces together and be the embodiment and articulation of a culture, politics and mindset of hope.
This possibility lies in stark contrast to the desperate voices of rivers of blood and anti-Roma hysteria. Torreblanca has the fresh eye of an outsider (how ironic) when he talks of “the idealization of the past as a project for the future”. This is clear with the deification of a ‘white past’ and with Osborne’s Dickensian agenda for the poor.
Britain now stands as a concept and with a politics that promises to take us ‘hurtling back’, to what decade and what century remains unclear.