Saturday, 22 March 2008

Matthew Parris: Britain on uncertain seas

[...] Who knows what's happening? Perhaps nothing, after all. Perhaps this will all blow over. But what unsettles me goes deeper than a sense of mystery about the future. At most junctures in history there arises the feeling of a lull before a possible storm. Heck, we were in a worse state in 1945, or 1979. Danger was more imminent in the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 posited bigger unknowns for the future. But at these crossroads the air was full of ideas: strong ideas, competing ideas, confident philosophies, angry dissent. People had policies. Ideologies clashed. Politicians and thinkers jostled to present their plans. Leaders led.

But what distinguishes this hiatus in 2008 from those earlier forks in the road is the impassivity of our politics, and the idleness of political debate, as we wait. There is a sense of vacuum.

There was not in 1979, as there is now, this curious hollowness in the air. Where today is the bold advocacy, the impatience to persuade, the urgency of argument? Where are the shouts of “Here's how!”? It is as though the stage were set for some kind of theatrical climax, but peopled only with stage hands and the rattle and murmur of the scene-shift. Where are the leading actors, the big voices, the great thoughts?

Pictures of David Cameron in his kitchen, a family scene sweetly contrived to frame his thoughts on paternity leave, or whatever, and images of the passionless figure cut by Alistair Darling at the dispatch box, his grey stare charged with all the philosophical depth of a shop-window mannequin, stick in my mind. Are these the spirits of the political age? Read more
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