Friday, April 13, 2007
I am indebted, as ever, to Frank Wilson for drawing my attention to this article by Theodore Dalrymple, a crusty, pipe-smoking, cavalry twill-wearing nom de guerre for a doctor who has done much work in prisons. Dalrymple's thesis is that Blair 'both represents and is a cause of an acceleration in a change in character of the British people.' The old virtues of 'stoicism, honesty, fortitude, irony, good humour and so forth' have been supplanted by 'deviousness, ruthlessness, an eye fixed on the main chance, sanctimony in the midst of obvious wrongdoing, toadying and bullying'. As a result, 'good people are like a defeated class in this country.' Dalrymple's evidence is derived, primarily, from his experience of public servants. I don't doubt that, in this area, he is broadly correct. I am uncertain, however, about Blair both representing and causing this change. Would it have happened anyway? Dalrymple is rightly sceptical about the idea that countries get the leaders they deserve - what did Cambodia do to deserve Pol Pot? - but, in a democracy, there is surely some truth in this. Even the most intensive spinning can only work if people, at some level, acquiesce. And, if they do so with sufficient enthusiasm, then the whole moral climate is changed. The term 'good people' is redefined. Judging this change involves standing, undemocratically, outside this process. At the heart of the matter is the hyper-democratic condition - or pretence - of the contemporary political process. This engenders a new tyranny, validated by a spurious, spun populism. But, happily, it can go horribly wrong as in the case of Downing Street's idiotic, populist decision to let the sailors sell their story. It went wrong because of a feeling that the military in particular should embody values that transcend the ephemera of populism. The incident demonstrates that this feeling has survived intact, in spite of the current moral climate. We need many more such blunders and fewer lies about exactly who was at fault.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:39 am