Wednesday, June 03, 2009
A massive leader in The Guardian says Brown should go but the columnist Jonathan Freedland says it's too risky. Progressives, says Freedland, should vote Green and then work to save the Labour Party. Exasperation is the mood of the leader. Brown really doesn't get it. 'The McBride affair was poisonous to his reputation, but he did not seem to understand why.' 'Does not' would probably be more accurate. McBride was one of the nastiest eruptions in British politics I can remember. If Brown doesn't understand why, then he's not just inept he is wicked. But the big theme here is the word 'progressive' and the underlying assumption of both the leader and Freedland that the Labour Party is the only viable upholder of progressive values. This assumption - combined with a naive view of the meaning of progress - explains why the British left has long been and remains intellectually inert. First, let us say we accept the left's definition of progress. On that basis, Ted Heath's administration was more progressive than Labour because it took Britain into the EU. Equally, Margaret Thatcher outdid her Labour predecessors by breaking the anti-progressive, anti-democratic union bosses, destroyers of industries and jobs. Being 'progressive' does not necessarily mean being Labour. Secondly, to assume that progressive values do, indeed, inhere in one Party and, more particularly, one programme is to embrace the historicist fallacy. There is no one direction to history. So, for example, organised labour is not always right, sometimes it is dangerously wrong. If you want progress you must accept this or be lost in a wilderness of ideological struggles - like, in fact, the British left. Thirdly, the word 'progressive' cripples thought; politicians should avoid it at all costs. This is, in part, because political progress - like ethical, moral or aesthetic progress - has never happened and never will. For periods of time certain regions grow richer and more comfortable. This is not progress, it's luck and it ends. In such regions, the truly noble political goal is the pursuit of sustenance and stability, the protection of whatever it is - and, in our condition of radical ignorance, we can never be sure we know - that has provided us with this respite from the normal condition of the human animal. If, in this context, you redefine progressive so that it means this pursuit, a general ideal of sustenance and improvement within a system that we know is beleaguered and incapable of perfection, then it begins to make some kind of sense. It frees the mind from the demands of party, permits a humble acceptance of radical ignorance and supports the highest and most characteristic British political virtue, pragmatism. So yes, Brown should go now and saving Labour is a self-evidently frivolous goal, as will be, when the wheel turns again, saving the Tories.
Posted by Bryan Appleyard at 6:28 am