Here and there – Further thoughts on our present discontents

Generalisations are sloppy, but we do see a malaise in both the U S and the U K that might fairly be described as shocking.  The moral and intellectual collapse of the Republican Party has been appalling, but I wonder if the acquiescence of so many English people in the gross misdeeds of Boris Johnson leaves them much better off. 

It is a very close run thing about which of Trump and Johnson is the more unfit for high office.  If a majority of Republicans believe that the Democrats stole the election – which is the equivalent of saying that the earth is flat – then the problems with the American education system are a lot worse than we thought.  But then a frightening number of those in Congress are committed to the literal truth of the book of Genesis – which is like saying there is no H or O in water.  And their policy in the Middle East is in some part driven by religious zealots called ‘evangelicals.’  Their contribution to world peace is roughly equivalent to that of the Crusaders – they got their eye in for massacring Muslims by massacring Jews en route. 

How the better people of England – or those that see themselves as such – contemplate the obvious failings of Boris Johnson is beyond me.  He surely could not pass muster for the sturdy readers of Country Life.  It will not have escaped your notice that the worst failures have taken place in those parties that used to call themselves ‘Conservatives.’

Johnson and Trump have at least two things in common.  They thrive on chaos; it follows that each of them gets very uneasy if government does its job and the community is stable.  And each cannot sustain the faith of a wife, but expects to sustain the faith of a nation.  How either could expect anyone who can read or write to believe him is a question that might fairly be put to God.

Not many professors of politics at Manchester University would be card carrying Conservatives.  In Reckless Opportunists, Elites at the end of the Establishment, Aeron Davis gives us fair warning of the direction of the breeze on the first page of chapter 1:

Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the leaders of the successful leave campaign, having stabbed Cameron in the back, then stabbed each other.

That looks transcendentally true to me, but I expect that the ‘chaps’ would be expected to apply a gloss – or, in Milton’s language, they could ‘gloze’ like the tempter – the snake in the grass.  But the author does lay out a handy check list of the symptoms of the illness that is infecting England – and, in one form or another, us and others.

Politicians appear to be willing to sacrifice everything to please themselves and to satisfy their own ambition.  ‘All others looked on hopelessly as Michael Gove and Boris Johnson took on David Cameron and George Osborne.  Nothing else mattered more than gaining power over the party – not the voters, not Britain, and not even the party itself.’  Animal acts were committed in public – so reminding us of the observation of Donald Trump about his shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. 

People rightly wondered if David Cameron stood for anything – ‘beyond classic Thatcherism delivered in New Labour–type packaging’ – dolled up by Saatchi and Saatchi.  Cameron looked to me just like Hillary Clinton – they both wanted the job for the same reason that people climb Everest.  Corbyn was instantly recognisable by all Australians – an old time Labor hack devoutly pure, utterly unelectable, and sublimely unfazed by either proposition – a pale old ghost sleep-walking to oblivion.  His type turned Australia into a one party state for thirty years after the last world war.  

Mrs Thatcher is widely loathed.  So is Tony Blair.  If you cross those two off, what is left after Churchill?  Blair is special on three counts.  He has raw animal charm – like Clinton; people were beguiled in the presence of this Western Dalai Lama.  He betrayed his class and then his party.  And he lied his way into war. 

Blair and Cameron did have a lot in common.  Both refashioned their parties to become election winners.  Both were more interested in party management and playing the statesman than policy development.  Both tried to secure the fabled ‘centre ground’.  Both came to spend more time with big funders, media moguls, campaign experts and the more exclusive parts of the Westminster Village than they did their MPs or ordinary supporters.  And in making themselves and their parties ‘winners’, they jettisoned traditional members, voters and core ideologies…The consequences of reinventing themselves as election winners, rather than representative parties, have been predictable.  …the figures for ‘trust’ in politicians and established ‘party identification’ have also continued to decline steadily.  Long-established loyalties to parties have been broken as electoral volatility has grown enormously.

That looks word for word true for us down here.  Who believes that the Liberal or Labor Party here really stands for anything – much less something that separates it from the other, or the ‘centre’, or the prognostications of the guru, or the resident psephology wizard?  Has it all not become just a tedious game of charades played before a bored gallery?

The permanent, independent civil service has been disembowelled.  ‘Traditional functions were outsourced to quangos and opaque multinationals.  With each of these steps, objectivity, impartiality, public accountability and service has been eroded further.’  The civil service is half what it was when Mrs Thatcher came to power.  The loss of respect and direction could be seen when the confusion of the states’ and federal coronavirus response made its masterpiece. 

The author heads this section ‘Civil servants outsource democracy.’  An essential part of the Westminster model has been trashed and we are now confronted by cadres of unworldly acolytes lining up for their go at the greasy pole.  Just as corporates have lost their corporate memory, so have government departments.  And instead of getting short, blunt advice from a trusted adviser of long standing, corporate and government managers resort to panels of advisers who are intent on humouring the client and protecting their bums with windy and glossy folderol that goes nowhere.

We are infatuated with wealth and ‘wealth creators’.  ‘Chief executives are more highly rewarded for raising share prices, cutting jobs, and exploiting monopolies, rather than innovating and making long-term investments.  And the new emerging industries of the hi-tech and gig economies make a lot more money by employing less people and avoiding taxes.’  Fund managers compete for the biggest returns and bonuses lock short-termism into the business cycle.  The individual investor – the Mum and Dad investor – is simply irrelevant.  

Trust in the press is at an all-time low.  Cost cutting has hit journalism hard and the author finds that ‘PR was becoming a very useful means for journalists needing to cut corners in a hurry.’  We get a well deserved raspberry.  ‘In the 2005-9 World Values Survey, the UK had the second lowest trust rating of the countries surveyed (the lowest was Australia, where Rupert Murdoch has reigned supreme for decades).’  As if on cue, the present federal government, in conjunction with Rupert Murdoch, wants to castrate the news source, the ABC, that most Australians trust.

And that’s before you look at the way that ‘social media’ is lobotomising minds and manners, and the way that coal interests have bribed enough think tanks, media and politicians to ensure that we do not act rationally to meet the one universal threat of our time.  So that we fire any party leader who gets seriously sane on the subject.  If necessary, twice.  And the world looks down wanly at this sad little duckpond in the Antipodes.  And New Zealanders get tapped on the shoulder and asked if we could borrow their Prime Minister.

And the descendants of convicts and their warders have imported the Eton model in an effort to impart caste and inequality in education, this on the footing that the diaspora clings to shibboleths that have long since faded in the mother country, and a generation that went to university on the free list now makes universities hawk their wares like tarts to foreigners.

Since the white people arrived here in this big and dangerous land, Australians have clung fast to their governments with the clinging attention of a slow, climbing koala.  The myth of the little Aussie battler is just that – moonshine.  In a nation where it is political suicide to suggest any reduction in reliance upon government, the terms ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ have signified nothing for generations now.  The term ‘conservative’ has been turned on its head and trashed.  People who acquiesce in the ghastly label ‘progressive’ are at risk of being consigned to effervescence at the margin and being offered up for target practice for the usual suspects at The Weekend Australian.

It’s not pretty – this preference for me to us, and us to them, and now for later.  The result is a falling off of purpose and of trust.  Good football and cricket teams know the rules and consist of players who trust each other.  We are losing that trust, and the upside or answer has yet to present itself.  In many ways we look like a spoiled child.  If so we deserve their paradigms – Trump and Johnson.  God help our future generations – because we aren’t.

6 thoughts on “Here and there – Further thoughts on our present discontents

  1. Hello Geoff,
    As a matter of balance, I assume you will write an article discussing the Democrat party putting Joe Biden up for President.
    By any measure, I cannot see how he is fit for office.

    • Peter

      Trump and Biden are male, white, aging, Americans who became President. Do they have anything else in common?
      it is not that the Democrats put him up, as you say – the American people elected him. The result, as the Republican leader of the Senate said, was not even close.
      If you say they made a mistake, could you give the first few grounds?



      • It was pretty clear the DNC wanted Biden.
        Probably because he would be easy to manipulate.
        The man is incapable of articulating his position without a teleprinter.
        I feel the democrats, like Labor here, no longer represent the working person.

      • There is substance to the last point in your reply – except it is not easy to describe the ‘working person’. It’s like the ‘middle class’ here – who claims to be upper or power class? So many who work with their hands are self-employed. Why do we have to ‘class’ anyone?

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