In October 1854, Lord Cardigan’s Light Brigade charged the Russian artillery at Balaclava, on the Crimean Peninsula. They were composed of Light Dragoons, Lancers and Hussars.
“Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred”.
Over the summer, the Labour Party establishment has charged into pretty much the same place. Tony Blair et al can look blinking around them through the smoke and bullets, and exclaim that this valley of Death is ‘Alice in Wonderland politics’. But it is they who so gravely misunderstand the ground on which they now stand.
“Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die”:
Equally striking, behind the Labour Lancers are the Conservative Hussars, yet to start their charge. They gleefully look on as their old rivals are obliterated right under their noses. It seems not to have occurred to them that they will be next. They are, after all, to all intents and purposes the same.
“Not tho’ the soldier knew
Someone had blunder’d”:
It is certainly New Labour that is being crushed. But it is more than that. It is what they represent: Insiders operating a state apparatus. Political oligarchy in thrall to debt (and hence bankers). The Establishment. Stasis. Hand of narcissism in glove of neo-liberalism. The polling shows that it is not just New Labour whose core vote is splintering. The General Election this year bucked this trend, because the Labour Party contrived to offer the worst of both worlds. But things have changed irrevocably. And the British public see the Conservative Party in much the same way as they see New Labour. Right now they are savouring the spectacle of New Labour squealing like the stuck pig that it is. Doing the same thing to the Tories will be just as sweet.
Fundamental changes are underway in the world and of course this changes how people see politics: The death of a 25 year neo-liberal economic consensus; deep questions being raised about how we might collaborate, and so change an institutional structure designed for competition and antagonism; a social contract – and a union – so clearly under strain; the early years of a Technology Revolution which will prove every bit as profound as the Industrial Revolution; Globalisation; Sustainability challenges; Migration. What is our Purpose?
The failure of the political establishment to engage with and respond to these things is not restricted to New Labour. It is a peculiar spectacle, to watch the equally lightweight Conservative Hussars peering through the smoke, laughing at the misfortune of their ancient rival, failing to even realise that they in the same place.
Our society desperately needs our politicians to tool up with some serious intellectual, moral and philosophical hardware if they are to stand a chance of getting out of this place intact. If they don’t, they will increasingly be shot to bits by forces they can barely see, let alone understand. “Ce n’est pas la guerre: c’est de la folie”