Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Morality and betrayal

There are very few commentators who leave you feeling completely humbled. David Marquand is one of those that do. His most recent work, Britain since 1918, is the definitive history of British politics since WWI for me. He looks at how four typologies- Tory nationalism, whiggism, democratic collectivism, and democratic republicanism- have woven their way across British politics over the last century or so. No prizes for guessing that the democratic republican strand has been the weakest- much to our cost.

If you read just one article today, make it his article headlined The moral economy can't be righted until we accept our own culpability in today's Guardian. We're in this together. We have chosen this course over three decades. It is time we address our own shortcomings as well as that of the elites. Marquand writes:
Now the neoliberal idyll is over. The casino has shut its doors. The neoliberal moral economy is in crisis. But the crisis is not the work of greedy bankers, lax regulators or corrupt MPs alone: they are only grubby flotsam floating on much deeper currents. It will not be ­resolved unless and until we acknowledge that we, the "people", are also part of the problem – that the real culprit is the hyper-individualistic, materialistic hedonism of the entire culture, popular at least as much as elite.
That sums up both elegantly and brutally the situation we are now faced with. He thinks Obama has got it- rooted as he is in the morality of Lincoln and King- and I agree. He wonders whether Brown has it also. Well, the Prime Minister did declare that the 'Washington consensus' was dead at the G20 Summit. The question now is whether he will have the courage to declare Thatcherism dead. If he does and backs it up with meaningful analysis and a vision of the future, British politics could be at one of its historic turning points. Who knows? Perhaps it could usher in the first age of democratic republicanism- belatedly.

Post script: If you wish to understand the republican discussion on the current political crisis- one that emphasises political and economic empowerment then I'd recommend Stuart White's two posts at Next Left yesterday- here and here. As you will see, I let my thoughts on primaries- I favour a closed primary process for selections- be known. Stuart kindly took my arguments on board in his second piece.

I will address David Cameron's political reform argument when my Labour movement column is published later over at LabourList.

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