Saturday, 13 June 2009

Parade of the parodies

An acquaintance recently expressed surprise that, being motivated by (if not always practising) calm mindfulness, I could embrace political activity such as the Palestinian cause. I could see the logic, of sorts. Politics is often driven by negative, adversarial feeling. But, of course, you don't have to be party to hateful hostility to be politically engaged.

In opposing the warmongers who have visited mass suffering on Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, it's useful to maintain the calmest possible demeanour in practical support of those at the receiving end of big power's own hate and aggression.

We can also work calmly and rationally towards the elimination of the BNP without resorting to their brand of hate, violence and incitement.

With the 'parliamentary crisis' still running - or the media's shrill, self-preening version of it - a similar kind of thought occurs about politics as a realm of hate and selfish gain.

Here's one to ponder: are most of the parliamentary class principally motivated by a basic concern for others? Here's another: are they remotely close to enacting comprehensive policies of compassionate advocacy? The two questions appear to coincide in the negative.

The truth is that, like many of the struggling citizens calling for their heads, they too are self-deluded victims of a political-market system predicated on gain, greed and survival at all costs. As we've seen, many don't survive. And the higher 'up' the political ladder, the more remote such people are from any notion of a true politics of compassion.

I have little hatred for Hazel Blears and her parliamentary associates for whom political life is a career, an exercise in stagecraft, a daily duck-and-dive in the art of evasion, denial, salespitch, backstabbing, aspiration, material reward, indulgent status, self-justification and even apparent public regret. The hating them bit is, if one is so inclined, easy. The desire, from this viewpoint, to see them locked up takes little further effort. But does any of that get to the serious heart of the matter?

The disconnect is neatly captured in Armando Iannucci's tour de force, In the Loop, with its sharp, vituperative study of ministerial dissembling and obsessive spin. As depicted, politicians are now, effectively, expected to lie and cover their backs. Unaccountable leaders wage privatised wars and bail out bankers without the slightest sense of shame or contrition. And the spinmasters are on permanent service to dress up all their venalities. All else - the actual idea of politics as a means of improving life, of securing justice, of stopping wars - is regarded as some abstract, fanciful notion.

We hear politicians say, many sincerely, that they entered politics to make a difference. But they probably know, deep down, that the 'logic' of the system, and their cossetted places within it, weigh towards the deliberate opposite.

The 'clean-up' response has only created another parade of the parodies with national celebs like Esther Rantzen putting themselves 'selflessly' forward. Rantzen, interestingly, described herself recently on the BBC as, "first and foremost, an investigative journalist." Perhaps she should undertake some critical investigation of her own political backer, the ex-high Tory businessman Sir Paul Judge and his Jury Team.

The Confucian ethics of selfless public office, it evidently isn't. But how more difficult to feel and discharge that kind of unselfish dedication when one's own economic wellbeing and survival is predicated on market rules.

Entering politics thus becomes a set of monetary and ego-fed calculations. I recall a number of the politics course intake at uni coveting a career in the Labour party as a sure, fast-track to economic and status advancement. Some were also fascinated by Machiavelli, and read The Prince as a kind of exciting manual on how best to effect those aims.

Wannabee politicos and a slave-copy media mark the daily, dark dealings around the Westminster village. Ministers rise and fall. MPs get ousted and interrogated by coy Newsnight presenters. But where amid all this manoeuvre and 'intrigue' are the more fundamental questions about political life as a place utterly bereft of humanitarian energy?

Hypocritical concern is the particular imprimatur of the liberal media. Thus, we've had that lofty defender of public virtues, the Guardian, calling for Brown "to be cut loose". All in the best interests of politics, parliament, the people, you understand. Brown is no longer 'up to the job', they worry; he doesn't command respect in the House, around the Cabinet table, in the constituencies. He's a liability. Not, of course, "he's the paymaster for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan"; or, "he's got a whole lot of war crime blood on his hands."

Not to worry. With Brown beckoning Sir Alan Sugar into the government, we can all now feel inspired to become aggression-fuelled entrepreneurs. Apprenticeships in market ruthlessness and political survival.

You're hired, you're fired, you're morally acquired.

Compassionate politics? Don't be a wimp.


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