Friday, 15 April 2011

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Leon Trotsky would have admired modern Britain: it is a backward country that has achieved a state of permanent revolution while the Germans sit in bourgeois comfort. This is no less so in true-blue Buckinghamshire, where I stable my own Trojan Horse, where the Conservative Party holds 46 of the 57 seats (on fewer than half the votes mind!) and which achieves unintended year on year what the international revolutionary movement failed for decades to foment on purpose.

As a nation which prides itself on being the most stable and settled in the world, and as a people with a name for a cautious, deliberate, pragmatic and almost hostile approach to change, this may seem odd. But, far from drawing on our supposed continuity and deeply-rooted sense of self, look how much changes at the hands of those who most loudly proclaim them, and how quickly; is redefined, renamed, reframed and, like so many wheels, reinvented all the time, even when they may not be wonky. It indicates neither confidence nor vitality but ... uncertainty.

Is it just possible that, to adapt a song about every England football manager that I can remember, We Don't Know What We're Doing?

Look particularly at government - at all levels. With or without recessions, in good times and in bad, it seems compelled to inaugurate change, and somewhat after the manner that Basil Fawlty approached the concept of panic; namely, as the great man said when asked to refrain from it: "What else is there to do?"

For example, when Gordon Brown became Labour Prime Minister, shortly after being voted the most successful ever Chancellor of the Exchequer [IPSOS-MORI poll of 300 academics, all members of the Political Studies Association, November 2006], remember how it was reported that he had used the word 'change' three hundred and nineteen times in his first speech to the Commons? What we needed was more of the same, surely?

And now that the obese and flatulent corpse on which Brown rode to power has burst, what is the solution to our woes and the key to our salvation? With what shall we mop up the mess? Why, 'change'! It was the Conservative Cameron's campaign slogan; great change, unprecedented change; change, moreover, that we, this sceptical and sensible people, must embrace. What we need from the Conservative party is a strong dose of our native caution, surely? Is this man preaching 'the Big Society' without having read his Edmund Burke?

And what of the great responsibilities of the state: education, health, the welfare of the unfortunate (or importunate, as you like)? Shouldn't these be based on a relatively settled and shared understanding of what the state is to provide, and based in turn on a reasonably clear social compact? Yes they should, but no they aren't.

Again, for all the dynamism of the rhetoric it betrays uncertainty; a vacuum into which rush all sorts of bogus, transitory and contradictory little certainties that will be replaced tomorrow.

No wonder that we are all lever-pullers now, and that we ask not "whether?", but only "how?".

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