From Tony Blair to less extremist politicians a ‘country divided’ is pathological. “Oh – Jeremy Corbyn!” – how he has raised from the ashes the unspeakable Lazarus of hard-Left politics. How we lament that golden period when “we were all in this together”.
And so we were.
The banks caught a cold, we surely sneezed. Richard Branson’s profits fell, we trembled. The Church of Conservatism had an argument, we felt destabilised.
We lived through this period as though in a Tim Burton landscape of grotesques and entanglements, a black-and-white nightmare of concealed meanings and purposes, of distorted and unfathomable relationships. “I own my council house now – so I have to vote Conservative!” We knew were were ‘together’ because we knew who was not part of us – the dark-skinned, the vulnerable, the dissidents.
Screw up your eyes, concentrate hard on a singularity, stand stock-still for a moment and all this was true. We were truly in this together. Capitalism had evolved into a soup where all our interests blended together. A country undivided.
“Oh – Jeremy Corbyn!”
Politicians speak always in code. Corbyn is, by no standard, of the ‘hard-Left’. He’s barely left-wing at all, in the sense that he has few challenges to the status quo other than relatively mild reforms to it here and there. But, yes, he is a radical threat. His radicalism lies in just one place – denying the myth of ‘togetherness’ – reasserting the wholesomeness of ideological difference. This is the truth that cannot be spoken and which has to be encrypted. Because a country divided is a country that awakens to the reality that there are properly competing values and interests. It is no shame for the Conservative party to stand for the status quo – and, thereby, for established wealth and corporate power. That is a legitimate interest group, in that it has a sound philosophical foundation in a theory of social justice. It is not an approach to social justice that all find sympathetic, and so it must be challenged with another. The Labour Party offers a different – historically fundamentally different – universalist view of social justice based on radical reform of the status quo. Other political parties bring other, often partial, ideological positions to bear – secular religion, environmental issues, and so on. All have legitimacy in a democracy. All have a place in the bustling market-place of democratic argumentation.
It is a democratic absurdity to deny alternative ideologies. For a political campaign to deride another’s politics is part of the texture; for that campaign to deny the legitimacy of another’s ideology is the thin end of an authoritarian wedge. Governments must assume power through merit: there is no merit without passing through the fire of public argument. But even worse when it is a government of the day that denies an alternative, for then we move up to the thicker end of the authoritarian wedge towards Fascism: the belief in absolute Statism, where what the State believes and says is to be accepted with no dissent. It is with this we flirt when we try to argue that this politician or that spells the demise of the country. This is the historical cul-de-sac down which Mussolini led a hapless Italian State: “for Fascism the State is absolute, individuals and groups relative”. Just another way of saying, ‘we are all in this together’.