Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Audacity of Hope

Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.
 - John Kenneth Galbraith

By two minutes past ten on Thursday 6 May 2010, the hope I'd been nursing was dead. I wasn't expecting miracles, nor the descent of a yellow-winged angel to anoint Nick Clegg as the chosen prophet of progressive politics. For the secular Clegg, I imagine the blessing of the most high would be a little like receiving the personal endorsement of a mass murderer. I wasn't expecting the sort of upset which turns the political world on its head, nor an Obama moment when you can feel change in the air like the first breath of spring after a long, cruel winter. All I hoped for was that the promise which had been made in the wake of the first live leaders' debate, when polls and pundits alike showed the Liberal Democrats' popularity at unprecedented levels, might in some small way have been made good upon.

I'm English, and hope isn't something I've been conditioned to accept - I tend to view it with suspicion, like you would a trail of twenties leading down a dark alley. But I dared to allow myself a trickle of cautious hope, that the Lib Dems might build slow and steady  to the sort of position which'd stand them in good stead for the next election. Small steps, I told myself. Nothing worth doing comes easily. But the burst of popular Lib Dems support was nothing more than a mirage to the desert wanderer.

And here we are now. A man who's been the beneficiary of the best education money can inflict, who's lived a life of privilege yet dares to decry those who say "what are my entitlements" rather than "what are my responsibilities", and whose 'Big Society' pledge is little more than a front for the dedicated strip-mining of public services which don't meet his lofty ideals, is now in charge of our daily lives.

Yet... I don't feel as afraid as perhaps I should do. Cameron may have emulated outrage that Labour dared to cling on to Number 10 even after 'losing their mandate', but the crux is this: even after 13 years of spin, unjust war and complicity in torture, the Tories still can't get a majority. If anyone's demonstrated they lack the mandate to rule, I think it's you, Dave. In a way, it's a triumph for progress and the rejection of archaic, self-centred politics that the Tories have been forced to dilute their poisonous policies with a healthy dose of social justice. It's shaken their smug assertion that theirs is the default setting for British parliament, and whatever happens 'twixt Conservative governments is merely an abberation to be wiped from the history books as soon as they can be re-written.

Yes, we'll see some rolling back of civil liberties and attitudes towards the disadvantaged, the single parents and those who don't adhere to the cosy image of home-counties pipe-and-slippers Englishness. Not as many as there might have been without Nick Clegg in the Deputy PM's chair, nor without Lib Dems in the cabinet. They may have made a deal with the devil for the sake of a country in need of governance in a time of need, but don't imagine the Lib Dems are lining up outside White's Gentlemen's Club for their membership papers.

They're still the same progressive, compassionate party they've always been. And blood-signed bargain or no, they'll fight where they can to curb the worst excesses of the Tory government.

At least, I somehow manage to hope they will.

No comments: