Monday, 5 September 2016

Once upon a time...

It seemed to start in the Blair era, but it was prevalent long before then, that politics had to tell a simple story. And furthermore, in the interests of the now overused phrase ‘joined-up government’ everybody had to have a role in that story. In what came to be called ‘the narrative’ you were goodie or baddie, villain or fool and once cast you were destined to play your part until you were written out of the show. If you were lucky you got a nice, juicy departure and your name lived on, but more often than not you quietly exited, stage left and were never heard from again.

The script of the political soap opera is thinly drawn because the audience isn’t interested in layers, in depth, in subtle nuance of character. We like our players, pantomime-style, to be little more than two-dimensional; it’s much easier to understand them that way. While we may enjoy a taut, twisting plot in a ninety-minute movie, watching the good guy become the bad guy then switch back for the goodbye, such willing suspension of disbelief isn’t sustainable for long periods outside of cinema. On the outside we want the simplicity of knowing when to boo and when to clap.

Enter the junior doctors. Clearly the good guys; they bounded on stage accompanied by the theme music that said they’re on our side. Clever people, we thought, far too intelligent to be manipulated; they will only be striking because the government is cruel and stupid. Up went the cheers, discussions were held and an agreement entered into; spit, shake hands – don’t forget the anti-bacterial scrub – curtain. But wait, what’s this? They’re striking again? Oh no, we’re a simple audience and we thought we’d already seen this bit. Jeremy Hunt was the bad guy and we booed him off stage. Now we aren’t sure whose side to be on.

Doctors are supposed to be bastions of intelligence and thus, we would like to think, common sense. Everybody, left and right, should be on their side for they only speak truth, surely? But now we are watching an entirely different, yet still recognisable screenplay, the one where the oh-so-clever people are being manipulated by shadowy Marxist conspirators... or are we? In the absence of all the facts, we have to rely on the deeper narratives that have been embedded for years. Socialism good, Conservatism bad... or the other way around. It’s like watching a film where you suddenly realise you haven’t been paying close enough attention so now, whichever way it ends, you’re not going to be satisfied.

In the wider population people generally rub along and make do with what they’ve got. Their desire for colour – for most lives are insufferably drab – is fulfilled by fiction. It is little wonder then, that for most people political engagement is difficult. You have to concentrate, watch, listen and follow the arguments. But when your reward for doing all that is to realise that we are no further on and nobody is listening to you anyway, it is little wonder that most people switch off and watch Bake Off instead.

Things are actually going quite well right now. We have a new Prime Minister who seems to have the weight, the heft for the job. Unemployment is low, as are expectations, so there is little need for unrest. And yet unrest is what we’ve got. Andrew Marr’s newspaper round up yesterday seemed to be a concerted effort to find ways to attack Theresa May instead of the bastion of impartiality we have come to expect from the national broadcaster. (I jest) Why are so many people on the left so very pissed off when there is so little substance to their complaint?

It’s that bloody narrative again, isn’t it? Let’s see, despite little in the way of actual evidence their story tells of the systematic oppression of gays, disabled, trans, immigrants, fathers, mothers, students, nurses, doctors, etc, etc, etc. This is what oppositions do and the left are the eternal opposition in Britain. Sod working for the common good, instead they stir up malcontent; rejected again and again by the electorate and in the absence of any chance of gaining power the sole purpose of the political left  seems to be to piss on everybody else’s chips. And in the end it’s an attractive narrative, to play the downtrodden underdog, so attractive that even supposedly intelligent people are drawn into it.

It’s hardly a plot for the future though is it? The left wing narrative plays to a sense of despair, something which all of us have experienced at some time. But it’s not enough to despair and then get over it, succeed and move on; the beast needs feeding and the fodder is any group whose situation can be portrayed as disadvantaged. It has long been said that the left practise the politics of envy; a green-eyed monster preying on the vulnerable. So, remind me, which is the nasty party now?

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