(Théodore Géricault, The Raft of the Medusa: Louvre)
Now is the winter of our disconnect. Or not.
‘Hora novissima, tempora pessima sunt — vigilemus’, the twelfth-century monk Bernard of Cluny wrote, ‘These are the last days, the worst of times: let us keep watch’. His poem, De Contemptu Mundi (On Contempt for the World) was around 3000 lines long, in an elaborate metre with many internal rhymes. It attacked various failings and abuses in the contemporary world, interspersed with rapturous descriptions of the heavenly Jerusalem.
We are in election mode. Or the end of days, some say. ‘Leading politicians openly lying through their teeth’, the Librarian observes, watching the evening news. ‘When did that change?’
I don’t know the answer. I’m old enough to remember politicians resigning when they were caught out and shown to have lied to their colleagues and the electorate. But now – they don’t seem to bother much. I recall a piece in The Guardian a few weeks back by Catherine Fieschi. ‘We need to stop asking why voters believe populists’ untruths and why they let themselves be repeatedly swindled by them – because they don’t and they aren’t. The purpose of populist lying is not to be believed. Only very belatedly do we seem to be grasping that the politics of lying and shameless behaviour are powerful elements in populism’s corrosive ideology.’
Yes. I feel: no more excuses. This is where we are. The Tory press, i.e., most of the British press, is frothing away about internal Labour struggles, or the time Mr Corbyn had a postcard from a Hamas leader, or the dangers of taxing rich, tax-evading bastards properly, or how Marxist-Trotskyist-Maoist-Leninist something or other was. And yes, I’m immensely tired of quarrels over ideological purity or who is betraying the revolution or who said or did what to whom and when. I wish Her Majesty’s Opposition had opposed instead of sticking their hands in their pants, I wish they’d formulated the proper response to Brexit, the Tory project to make this country smaller, poorer, meaner and nastier but far more vulnerable to predatory foreign companies.
And yet – this is where we are. On one side: Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Raab, Patel, the hostile environment, dismantling and flogging off of the NHS, a weakening of workers’ rights, food safety and environmental standards; a little more broadly: Farage, Banks, Cummings, all the dodgy friends and backers; a little more broadly still: Trump, Bolsonaro, Erdogan, Modi, Orbán, Duterte, Salvini, the AfD, the Bannon playbook – and Putin. On the other side – by this time, I hardly care as long as there is another side: but let’s say a Labour Party that I have a few quarrels with, the Greens, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats (that I have more quarrels with): still, a lot of people that I could be in the same room with while still managing to keep my dinner down.
Anyone that thinks that there is ever – ever – going to be a political party that they agree with in every particular is deranged or simple-minded. ‘Elsewhere’, Marina Hyde observes, ‘imbecility remains a key battleground, with debate over which party is fielding the more extravagantly or malevolently stupid candidates.’
Indeed. Nevertheless, there can no longer be any difficulty about which side you’re one and which one you wish to be associated with. A pretty stark choice. This will be the one you’re stuck with – only for a few decades but still. . .