Tuesday, December 01, 2015
What's Going On
This one, from last night, wondering why the decision whether or not to bomb Syria has turned into a bizarre nationwide pile-on to the leader of the opposition when it was the Prime Minister's idea in the first place, and not even he has made much of an effort to justify it.
Well, I'd suggest that the crazed Labour Party pissfights signify this - we're witnessing the UK's anti-war movement at the absolute zenith of its power and influence.
Even now, when anti-war politicians have access to far greater resources and publicity than ever, the very idea that it's permissible to oppose war generally, or any war in particular, couldn't really be further from political acceptability.
This, I'd argue, is because there's simply no level of actually effective anti-war sentiment that's admissible to mainstream British politics. Barring a very few and peculiar set of exceptions, it's just not possible for a high-profile public figure to consistently oppose the UK's wars without being showered in opprobrium.
Note that I'm not even talking about some kind of grand Gandhian Satyagraha here, nor a Christlike national turning of the other cheek. A visible public figure consistently noting that our wars backfire catastrophically, and then concluding that we shouldn't engage in any more until this massive defect is sorted, is usually enough to provoke the kind of clamorous condemnation on display above.
You might think that given recent events, this kind of fire-breathing hate-fest is all about Jeremy Corbyn but really, this misses the point.
Consider this - which anti-war politician or pundit can confidently expect a fair hearing in the UK, right now or at any point in the last two decades? Can you think of any that could consistently criticise our endless wars, without being instantly dismissed, at best?*
I can think of maybe a couple - Peter Hitchens and Matthew Parris spring to mind, although only because they're tolerated as cranky eccentrics, like mad uncles ripping into the whisky at a wedding. Their complaints are indulged because it's understood that they pose no threat to anyone. They also allow the major papers to feign a kind of even-handedness - look, we might have filled the front eight pages with ecstatic wargasms and fearsome red-baiting, but Hitchens said the Prime Minister is a vainglorious fool, so it all evens out.
Otherwise, it's a bust**. Because, contrary to our self-image, we are a warlike people. All of our relevant institutions are bent towards it and every proposed war is automatically assumed to be the wisest course of action. This being the case, the only chance of avoiding any particular war is an unexpected 2011-style, incompetence-based parliamentary fuck-up.
I note this not even to lament it, really - it just is.
The point worth remembering though is that this is probably it, the high-water mark of modern British anti-war politics. And it amounts to every newspaper in the land queueing up to denounce dissenters as traitors or lunatics, and to back yet another deranged war to the hilt.
I put it to you that in this context, perhaps leadership squabbles within the Labour Party are the very least of our worries.
*The best I could come up with was Kurt Vonnegut, and he's dead. It's also worth noting that half of the Times obituary for Vonnegut was devoted to painting him as a dupe of neo-Nazis at best, if not an outright sympathiser himself. Wonderful people at the Times.
**There's also the regional parties, where it's widely understood that anti-war sentiment is an electoral gambit, open to reversal at the first sign that there might be votes in it. And even then, nobody much cares what they have to say, outside of actual elections.