Monday, January 15, 2007

Conformism masquerading as profundity

There was a wonderful example of just what Fred Halliday was talking about (see below) in the Guardian last week by Liam Byrne and Bill Rammell. These Blairites wrote to emphasise the importance of "the politics of aspiration" to Labour's electoral strategy.

I have only seen Bill Rammel in operation once, giving a spectacularly inappropriate address to an Adult Learners' Awards event in London and it showed his deep attachment to conventional wisdom. He had just come back from China and had not been appalled by the oppression, the pollution, the corruption or the other aspects of Chinese development that Will Hutton wrote about earlier. Instead, he clearly had "seen the future and it worked". The bewildered award winners were then harangued on the reason for the fact that the funding for their courses was to be cut was so that cash can be concentrated on level 2 skills so that we can compete with China!

This column was in a similar vein. There is an element of truth there. They claim that the next election will be decided by 48 constituencies and that, "Sophisticated research tools mean we know more about these seats than ever - they tell us that in these constituencies, it's the votes of four or five groups that will decide the outcome". They are right. However, rather than questioning a system that renders the interests of 99% of the electorate irrelevant and forces us to bow to the desires of four or five groups in 48 constituencies and thus talk about the need for reform, they embrace the situation and see "aspiration" as the way that New Labour will win again. "The politics of aspiration is quite simply the common denominator of the New Labour coalition".

What on earth is "aspiration", other than another example of New Labour's rhetorical vacuity? At least they accept it isn't a static concept, "aspiration in 2009 will look different to 1997". That aspiration has aged doesn't give anyone much of a clue. Is it less "modern" or more so? We all have aspirations. For some of us it is to retire to Greece and to write. For others it is to see every ball in an Ashes series in Australia. Some look for promotion at work, others try to avoid it. Aspiration is meaningless unless it is defined.

The nearest they get to clarifying what they mean is another generalisation, "an ambition to get on in life". Ah, I suppose they mean careerists. Hang on a second. Haven't I just blogged on that? Isn't careerism Arendt's "banality of evil"? Well I never, New Labour's target voter is Adolph Eichmann.

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