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Is there a new mood of defiance in Britain?

Something is happening in our country which is a major break from past experience.   We are I believe in the early stages of a quite fundamental change in the national mood.   It reflects a confluence of several recent profound events in the life of the country which have woven a very different texture from passive acquiescence in the consumer materialism of the last few decades.   In quick succession we have seen the bankers’ greed overwhelming the whole economy, unprecedented spending cuts aimed at the victims of the crisis, the collapse of the political class (in the expenses scandal, the failure of accountability, and the systematic breaking of promises), the continuing marketising of everything including the most precious of our public services, and now Wikileaks day after day exposing the sheer hypocrisy and manipulativeness of governments.   The surprise is, not the spirit of rebelliousness that is now beginning to happen across the spectrum, but rather that it has taken so long to happen.   So where next?

The conventional view is that this is a reaction to the harshest expenditure cuts for nearly a century.   But it goes deeper than that.   There is a sense of the end of an era, the break-up of the established order, and uncertainty and anxiety about what will replace it.   This compounds, at varying levels of consciousness, awareness of the collapse of the neo-liberal ascendancy, the breakdown of the Eurozone (albeit we-re not members of it, though still a potential victim of the side-effects), the gradual ebbing of Western power towards the rise of China and Asia, the loss of ideological drive in the face of mindless consumerism, and the arrogance and incompetence of both the financial order (the bankers’ ramp) and the political Establishment (distaste at the superficial and hypocritical pieties of “we’re all in this together”).

There is a sense of loss of momentum and loss of direction as well as a deep and largely unspoken unease at the meaninglessness of it all.   The celebration of wealth and ostentatious consumption is increasingly seen for the hollow shell it is.   There is too a pervasive sense of drift, with the previous certainties of religious authority replaced by an iconoclastic secularism and shallow materialism which are neither satisfying nor meaningful.   The triumphalism of the market – the institution par excellence which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing – has shredded the bonds of communal solidarity and individual altruism.

This is a fin de siecle moment.   What is missing more than anything is a sense of ideological conviction, a belief in a more profound cause wider and deeper than self and personal enrichment, and a reconnection of political purpose with an encompassing and fulfilling vision.   It will need an utterly transformed Labour Party to achieve that, but it offers the greatest prize since 1945.

2 Comments

  1. Adam Colclough says:

    The campaign against the cuts imposed by the coalition government provides the left with its greatest opportunity for a generation or more, this is matched by a risk of corresponding proportions.

    The opportunity lies in people’s loss of faith in the old way of doing things and the chase after endless growth that has made them stressed out indebted and anxious; the risk in allowing protest to turn into anarchy as seems to be happening with the campaign against higher tuition fees.

    To capitalise on the opportunities available to us people of the left need to have the courage to talk about things, fairness, redistributing wealth and the like, that the right leaning media mocks because they are the stuff of its nightmares. We also need a clear message about the ways in which our kind of society will benefit everyone and not just the lucky few, something that has been sadly lacking from the policies put forward by the Labour Party since the election.

    Most importantly of all we have to recognise that building a fairer society is a long rather than short term project, a single protest march or movement will never be enough to win the day on its own.

  2. Tim Pendry says:

    An excellent piece that makes me believe that the ‘official Left’ may be on the edge of ‘getting it’ at last …

    I suggest that the Left goes back to where Marx started – philosophy. Intellectual socialism arose out of the best understanding of the day – German Idealism and scientific method – to emerge as scientific materialism. Neither of these quite cuts the mustard any more.

    The critique of rationalism, firmly based on neuro-scientific understanding of how we perceive the world, and the phenomenological approach to human experience (partly expressed as the existentialism that has become associated with the Right but is potentially of the Left in its liberatory aspects) have undermined the intellectual basis of the traditional socialist project.

    There is a historic alliance between the democratic dream of a fair society and the anarcho-libertarian one of a free society to be made – possible in the next cycle in a way never possible before. The two dreams are in danger of getting into a brutal fight that can only benefit the authoritarian right.

    Wikileakism and student anarcho-radicalism are here to stay and the fair society needs to embrace and not try to contain these movements …

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