Thursday, February 26, 2009

The politics of feeling

One cannot but be touched by the tributes in Parliament yesterday to the brief life of Ivan Cameron, and the condolences expressed to David and Samantha Cameron. Some say it was the House of Commons ‘at its best’; others that it was self-indulgent, ‘sentimental schlock’.

And therein lies the apparently unbridgeable gulf between those who cling to the form, order and reason of modernity, and those who have adopted the postmodern narrative of sensing, feeling and intuiting. Parliament is no longer about hard facts, lawyerly legislation or taxation, for that is a man’s world of sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It has been feminised for an age which yearns for spiritual aesthetics more than hollow politics. And to marry politics with sentiment one has to be both male and female at a glance. It is the political age of androgyny.

It does seem absurd that the business of government and the functioning of Parliament should be suspended ‘as a mark of respect’ for a 6-year-old boy. After all, children die every day in tragic circumstances: the death of ‘Baby P’ might be considered a case far more worthy of parliamentary lamentation and the suspension of democracy.

As Dr Helen Szamuely observes, ‘the death of six-year old Ivan is not a national tragedy’. She proceeds to list a number of personal tragedies in history which did not result in the suspension of proceedings ‘even for an hour’. Michael White in The Guardian also berates the Dianification of politics, noting that the death of as many as 146 children in the tragedy of Aberfan did not cause a suspension of parliamentary proceedings, and neither does the weekly list of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Dr Szamuely, he is of the opinion that ‘private and public life are separate and one does not and should not intrude on the other’.

Cranmer is reminded of the defiant gesture of Margaret Thatcher the day after the Brighton Bomb, in which some of her friends and colleagues were killed, maimed and crippled. But normal politics continued, enduring like the Royal Standard of England. Perhaps this was the final manifestation of political modernity – the age in which duty, obedience, respect and reverence were deemed essential. They underpinned the foundation of the dominant political and intellectual ideas of the age, forged through criticism and reform. But now we move in a different direction. Politics has been replaced by romance, and the narrative embraces the inexplicable and the indefinable. It is concerned with the science and mechanism of charm – the art of pleasing and imperative of weeping. One is no longer so much concerned with reason and logical discourse, but with reading human hearts.

And so the media places more emphasis upon clothing and jewellery than on policy or parliament. Politics is fused with feeling and experience, elation and depression. The antidote to the utilitarian creed of modernity is sensual emoting. What used to be masculine and muscular has been feminised with dreams of contemplation and moments of meditation.

The suspension of Parliament as ‘a mark of respect’ may not have been appropriate, but it felt it.

Politics, like theology, has to embrace the vernacular. And the narrative has become that of illogic and unreason. It may not be right or good, or even conducive to the rational and reasonable, but it is real and it is now. Politicians, like priests, either use it, or they cease to communicate and simply confirm their utter irrelevance.


Anonymous Gnostic said...

I'm with the good doctor on this one. While there is no denying the death of Ivan Cameron was a personal tragedy to all that knew him it is hardly a reason to forego business as usual for everyone else. Especially since this country is currently being rocked by various crises.

David Cameron recognised this for himself which is why he delegated Haigh to take his place in the Commons yesterday.

I cannot make up my mind whether Brown suspended PMQs yesterday out of respect (he did sound sincere and I believe he was) or out of relief. Perhaps a bit of both.

26 February 2009 at 08:31  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

My first reaction to this post was "my God, is this what we have come to be". But having sat back for a few moments, I think it is not a case that there is nothing to analyze here. It did seem to me at first that there was nothing to analyze here apart from the sad fact that certain people feel that there is. No, I think it is good that people are asking these questions openly because it has become clear that we have changed as a nation in many ways, some ways for the better, and some for the worse.

Of course we used to do things differently in the past, this is the whole point of the idea of progress. Again, I was initially inclined to be at odds with people who keep harking back to how things would have been done in 1916, but yes, lets compare the way we are now with how we used to be. But lets not be minutely selective, lets look at the big picture as a whole, who would like to be transported back in time to 1916? Not me thats for sure.

The fact of the matter is that all parties considered it inappropriate for it to be business as usual yesterday. And the speeches that were made were endemic of our times, non less so than Gordon's (which berates me to say so).

And where in all of hellish places did this word "Dianification" come from? Even my spell checker seems at odds with it in some kind of emotional response. But like I say, we are talking about these things, and it is good, because we all have human emotions, and if they have been brutally stifled and suppressed in the the brutal ways of the past, then it seems to me that we are now coming of age and growing up into a maturity of humane decency.

26 February 2009 at 09:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with you on this. Suspect that most Westminster folk spend much of their days at something of a loose end, so any incident offers welcome distraction. What has the life or death of little Ivan got to do with them, one wonders? They should get on with their jobs whilst his (obviously very) close family grieve. The best thing politicians can do for those who suffer, in whatever way, is to focus 100% on the job in hand.

26 February 2009 at 09:14  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Whoops. That should have been agreed with you up to the Thatcher bit. What followed must be resisted by all right thinking people. "Emoting" has no place in the running of a country.

26 February 2009 at 09:17  
Anonymous British Citizen said...

Despite the sad event, and the view that Brown is compassionate / a fellow griever, etc., it was done more to give Brown a bit of respite from PMQs.
It'll be interesting to see how long it takes Cameron and the Tories to get back in the saddle and give Labour a hard time again.
Agree with earlier comments that the country's current crisis is more important than Cameron's loss, however tragic.

26 February 2009 at 09:28  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

"Tories to get back in the saddle and give Labour a hard time again"

Gross misuse of the word "again"

And, generally speaking, typical Tory, cowardly and spiteful comments. How's that for an emotional response?

As much as I do not like Brown, I have to give credit where it is due, he is a machine when it comes to politics, but is this a good thing? I think if you summon up the courage to step out of the sewer and hose the shit off of yourself, it will not take too much time before you start to smell the flowers in the meadow of reality.

But I suspect from these comments that there are courses for horses, and pond life is, after all, part of the entire ecosystem of lfe.

26 February 2009 at 10:23  
Blogger BrianB said...

Instead of suspending prime minister's questions to mark the death of a small boy whom fewer than half a dozen MPs had probably ever even seen, would it not be more seemly, and better serve the national interest, if yah-boo petty party wrestling were to be suspended as a mark of respect for the current economic melt-down, and the genuine suffering that it is inflicting on those who lose their jobs, homes, savings and self-respect? What a relief if the party leaders, instead of ranting at one another like hysterical schoolgirls, were to call a truce and agree on national economic and financial aims which everyone could be called upon to adopt in the interests of the whole community!


26 February 2009 at 10:35  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

Why do you think that Gordon has this odd affinity with Margaret Thatcher? I suspect it is not even clear in his own mind. But subconsciously, he connects with the ice cold equanimity which characterised the Iron lady. Deep down he feels the disparity in his circuits, and latches on to her by way of justifying his own soulless approach. It is nothing less than a defense mechanism, an attempt to disguise something he is all to aware of, and shows extreme difficulty in disguising: the man cannot even produce a natural smile for God's sake.

26 February 2009 at 11:01  
Blogger BrianB said...

McKenzie, I believe that Gordon Brown's strangely wooden facial expressions are the result of the injury to his face received on the rugger field when he was a schoolboy and which lost him the sight of one eye. The curious habit he has of dropping his jaw at the end of a sentence is also, I gather, attributable to this old injury, which damaged his facial muscles. In the age of universal television this is a terrible handicap for a political leader (but a gift to Rory Bremner).


26 February 2009 at 11:49  
Anonymous mckenzie said...


I read this and it made me think of you, and Gordon:

A smile begins with the eyes. Notice a twinkle, a feeling of amusement in your eyes.
Notice how they move naturally as it becomes a smile with the eyes.

You should resist smiling with your mouth. It will only grimace, so keep it fixed.

When you smile with your eyes, it will spread and your mouth will move naturally and easily into a genuine smile. Let the smile with your mouth come naturally when it is ready.

Beam with your eyes, and keep the rest of your face motionless until it breaks into a warm, friendly smile.

26 February 2009 at 12:19  
Blogger Frugal Dougal said...

I too am a little uneasy at Gordon Brown taking the opportunity to suspend Prime Minister's Question Time, especially as William Hague had been willing to step in. On the other hand, Dianafication aside, it is good that MP's of sinister persuasions regarding people they regard to be different, even below hem, were forced to honour the death of a disabled six-year old. Lux aterna luceat eis, Domine.

26 February 2009 at 12:44  
Anonymous mckenzie said...

I think the truth of the matter is linked to what PMQ's has become: a shouting down session, were points are scored in a slagging off contest, and a tallying up at the end to see who came out the best which then provides the media drivel. What else gets achieved?

And it was in no ones heart yesterday to engage in such petty and superficial exchanges that serve no purpose other than to entertain the gladiatorial arena.

Maybe this whole situation highlights the absurd way that we choose to do politics in front of the world audience. Lets face it, PMQ's has become a highly irrational and emotional display which, it seems, does not provide for continued functionality in the face of situations like these.

(less is more..The end for today)

26 February 2009 at 13:04  
Blogger Bryan said...

It is not uncommon for any place of work to reach out to a fellow who has suffered a personal tragedy. Perhaps Parliament is to important for such personal measures, but I should hope not.

The death of one child might not be an event of national proportions, but the fact that Parliament is human enough to express concern for one of their own members should be heartening to the nation, some portion of whom's lives are daily touched with tragedy.

Shame on you, your Grace, for your callousness on this issue.

26 February 2009 at 16:46  
Blogger Unsworth said...

Whatever happened to our backbone and resolve? Where is our steely determination? Would Churchill have done this? For that matter would any other British PM have made such a decision? No, we should carry on, come what may, no matter what our losses and adversity.

Life - and death - go on. This event is, of course, a disaster for the Camerons - who have my profound sympathy and respect. But I doubt that such a suggestion would ever have come from Cameron himself who, I feel (or hope), is made of entirely different stuff to Brown.

It's my view that this suited Brown's book. The fact that he appeared to genuinely believe what he said in Parliament is graphic confirmation of his ability to deceive himself. After all, why do we have Deputies, then? What are they there for?

26 February 2009 at 17:26  
Anonymous A parent said...

Is it not strange that our Boys in Afghanistan are relegated to a brief mention just before the weather.
The Loss of a child by whomever and in whatever circumstances must be psychologically unbearable, whether for political leaders or Mothers and fathers lof our troops, sadly there are too many of these losses each day throughout the world to warrant more than a passing mention.

My condolences, to All parents who have suffered such a Loss.

26 February 2009 at 18:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leaving aside the issue of whether Parliament should have been suspended, I think that the more general point that His Grace makes is quite accurate.

This nation has been built on the Christian virtues, one of which is compassion, coupled with, historically, a reticence in expression of emotion, the 'stiff upper lip'. People used to recognise that the compassion was no less genuinely felt for being unexpressed.

Nowadays, there is almost a tyranny: an obligation to express emotion, with non-expression being seen, wrongly, as evidence that the expected emotion isn't felt. Furthermore, we now have 'outpourings of grief' at events which don't directly touch the lives of those who express their 'grief'. In these circumstances the emotion is self-indulgent and mawkish. Today's Daily Express headline included the words "The nation shares [the Camerons'] grief". No, a relatively few people who have similarly suffered, such as Gordon Brown, will be able to empathise, the rest of us can only sympathise and to claim otherwise is to mock the pain of the truly grief-stricken.

If His Grace is correct in saying that we are no longer guided by reason but my emotion, then I think that we're in deep water. If what matters most is how we feel then we become egotistical and socially anarchic.

26 February 2009 at 19:09  
Blogger Dick the Prick said...

I'm glad you mentioned Baby P Your Grace. In the PMQ's directly after the shitstorm 'CallMeDave' dispensed with his prepared questions and used all 6 to focus on the scandal as Brown appeared not to give a toss.

In contrast, we have a situation which has nothing to do with state, party, systems or politics and the house is suspended.

If failure of action cannot be admitted, then perhaps making virtue out of it will help.

Whilst all of us offer our deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathy - actions like this diminish parliament. It is for reasons such as this that leaders have deputies.

I don't think it was cynical or opportunistic - just really shoddy.

26 February 2009 at 19:35  
Anonymous stop the bus said...

Len, say something for God's sake, this conversation is going nowhere!

26 February 2009 at 19:55  
Blogger an ex-apprentice said...

With Your Grace's indulgence, I re-post a comment by Mr Stanislav, which seems relevant here:

stanislav's blues said...

The television is revolting. All across the marshaled, suited ranks of the twitterati is phoney sorrow; maufactured, expert-led grief; crass, vulgar sentimentality collides with the repulsive insincerity which only Gordon the Ruiner can muster; the nation, again, gorges on Death by Association.

Who made us into wailing, breast-beating Arabs; who turned the chamber of the house of commons into an episode of EastEnders -show some respect, you slags - who crashed the levee of taciturn self-restraint and Decency, Death's quiet, dutiful attendants. Who launched a Come All Ye, a national Festival of Sorrow ? Who made jelly of our stiff upper lip?

Time there was when heads would bow, kindly and wisely; this, they would recognise, sorrowfully, was a mercy, for all concerned; this would never endure. The grieving would find comfort in remembrance and among survivors; others would mind such business as was properly theirs.

Here, Ruin at our throats, awash in engineered and inappropriate mourning, we feast on the dead and bereaved, snarling at one another's greed.

26 February 2009 01:29

26 February 2009 at 20:10  
Blogger ZZMike said...

Bryan (with a "y") understands it. I can't add to what he said, only point to it. The point being, "one of their own".

It's worth comparing this with the Thatcher response. Both are quite appropriate.

Thatchers' response said that we will not be cowed by this cowardly action. Specifically:

"This attack has failed. All attempts to destroy democracy by terrorism will fail."

[The bomb was planted by one Patrick Magee. He was caught and sentenced to 35 years, but was released in 1999, after serving about 14,]

The death of a child is always a sad thing. It tests our faith - especially the parent's faith.

For "one of their own", it was proper to stand down.

As an American, the idea of "Question Time" is a bit strange. We don't have a parallel to that over here. The closest we have is a press conference (where nowadays, President Obama takes carefully-vetted questions from carefully-vetted "reporters". For those of you who know of Helen Thomas, I doubt we'll ever see someone like her speak out to Obama).

As far as suspending the work of Parliament goes, a cynic might observe that the less they do, the less injury they will do the country.

Over here, we have a similar feeling. The fewer laws our Congress makes, the less our liberty erodes.

26 February 2009 at 20:20  
Anonymous Highlander said...

I think this is a subject your Grace might wisely have left alone and chosen to blog about something else. There can have been nothing wrong with MPs showing collegial sympathy on the death of a child, and it was because the child was that of a fellow MP that Parliament was suspended briefly. The world did not end, nor did the dignity of the House suffer. Perhaps the very opposite.

26 February 2009 at 21:26  
Anonymous Voyager said...

In September 1916 Prime Minister Herbert Asquith's son Raymond was killed in action on The Somme....I do not believe Parliament was adjourned

26 February 2009 at 21:33  
Anonymous judith said...

I cannot agree with Your Grace.

Suspending Parliamentary activities in the Chamber for just 30 mins as an acknowledgement of the extremely recent bereavement of the Leader of the Opposition was a justifiable mark of respect in my opinion. It is hardly as if Whitehall ground to a halt for a week.

Yes, Hague and Harman could have had a knockabout session as usual in Cameron's absence, but given that they both know Mr Cameron well, I can't imagine either of them would have had their heart in it.

The House is just as much a place of work as a factory or an office in this respect; a feeling of shared humanity does not have to lead to the excesses of frenzied mourning that we saw after the sad death of the Princess of Wales.

These circumstances were extremely unusual, they were handled with dignity (by everyone except Denis Skinner apparently), and I do not think that it is such a bad thing to see MPs behaving like normal and decent human beings (for once).

26 February 2009 at 21:35  
Anonymous proonten said...

I think when your son dies in the somme in the middle of a fucking war, there is a very different set of emotions running through the system....tit!

26 February 2009 at 21:37  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Asquith was killed during an attack on Ginchy on 15 September 1916 and was buried in Guillemont Road Cemetery, Guillemont. The Prime Minister resisted calls for his son's body to be repatriated and issued the statement: 'Mr Asquith prefers that his son, who met a soldier's death, should have a soldier's burial.'

Raymond's sister, Lady Cynthia Asquith noted in her diary on 19 September, 1916: 'Heartbreaking day. Came downstairs in high spirits, opened newspaper and saw in large print: 'Lieutenant Asquith Killed in Action'. Darling, brilliant, magically charming Raymond - how much delight and laughter goes with him! It seems to take away one's last remains of courage. One might have known that nothing so brilliant and precious could escape. Now I feel I have really relinquished all hope and expect no one to survive.'

26 February 2009 at 22:13  
Anonymous not a machine said...

i think it was right , how could a man ask questions and not abandon what is dear to him.

grieving is somthing of inditerminate length , your grace reminds of the brighton bombing which was a cowardly political act, requiring a quick return to goverment . this is somthing dear to a family , who is the leader of a party. nick clegg is having two weeks off for the birth of his child , politics has not ceased !!

what party should fear doing the right thing , it is those that have lied that will find it unbearable in the end .

26 February 2009 at 22:33  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

26 February 2009 at 23:49  
Blogger Wrinkled Weasel said...

Whatever the sentiments, can you imagine how glib and emasculated PMQ's would have been, had it proceeded? Can you imagine anybody having the heart for a fight or even a bit of light-hearted banter?

David Cameron is a significant figure in Parliament. Parliament is a business, like any other. At times like that, the respect and support of your colleagues is a great gesture. It was half an hour's hiatus from the farce.

Why can't people see it as that, and leave it at that?

26 February 2009 at 23:55  
Anonymous Name/URL said...

Spot on Wrinkly. What the hell eh? A day off from the circus.

We have no clue do we, even after all this time we are still as insane as King Nefaratu or what ever his name was. Here we are suspended on a massive globe spinning around in an unknown soup of quantum God knows what. Its cruel that's what it is, cruel.

I think I will pray. Don't ask me who to, but I will anyways, and not for me either because it would be hypocritical, just for the world. Spinning around, millions of years of spinning around. Its all in the head.

27 February 2009 at 00:23  
Anonymous Nelson said...

Perhaps the afore mentioned response is due to the influence of the E.U, sadly we have sold our birthright for a mess of potage & now must suffer the consequences. We have surrendered our heritage & are now Europeans, our stiff upper lip now trembles with emotion, & our legendary grit is gone, maybe for good, who knows?
R.I.P Brittania.

27 February 2009 at 01:55  
Blogger BrianB said...

'Wrinkled Weasel' writes: "Parliament is a business, like any other." But hold on a second. Parliament is pretty obviously not a business. Nor is Parliament "like any other" (any other what? any other parliament? any other business?).

Someone will be referring to "UK plc" next. The UK is no more a public limited company than Parliament is a business.

Why throw in such a nonsensical assertion when the basic and perfectly sensible point WW is making is quite capable of standing on its own without the support of such absurdity?

Sorry, WW.


27 February 2009 at 09:21  
Anonymous judith said...

WW can well hold his own, but adding my tuppence worth, I suggest he meant 'business' in the sense of a group of people engaged in the same task.

27 February 2009 at 10:20  
Blogger BrianB said...

"I suggest he meant 'business' in the sense of a group of people engaged in the same task."

But such a wide definition of 'business' makes almost any statement about it both (probably)true and meaningless, surely?


27 February 2009 at 11:25  
Blogger Wrinkled Weasel said...

Brian, you got me.

I'll get me coat.

27 February 2009 at 11:45  
Blogger BrianB said...

WW, I'll join you (it's lunch-time and I'll shout you some fish and chips and a pint).


27 February 2009 at 12:37  
Blogger Little Black Sambo said...

"It is not uncommon for any place of work to reach out to a fellow who has suffered a personal tragedy."
Reach out? Tripe.

27 February 2009 at 14:59  
Blogger DC Trojan said...

If PMQ has become farcical, a display of form rather than substance, isn't that as much a failing of traditional resolve? If nothing of merit happens, then where is the harm in suspending PMQ on behalf of a very recently bereaved leader of the opposition? None, so far as I can tell.

Should the Parliament be more professional about when they choose to emote? Perhaps, but I suspect that had PMQ continued, those who accuse Brown of being so calculating as to manufacture the appearance of sorrow would have take the opportunity to deride his automaton-like nature. Not living on that side of the Atlantic, I don't pay enough attention to know whether the animus is reasonable, but it is animus nonetheless.

Speaking from this side of the Atlantic, ZZMike, I must thank you for a much-needed late afternoon chuckle at your characterization of a press conference with President Obama - essentially a cut-and-paste job from the Nation anytime in the last several years, but with "Obama" replacing "Bush." Still, it's a low-key criticism that is much preferable to the likes of Keyes teetering on the brink of incitement - the example of the Brighton bombing should serve as some reminder about the perils of "political" violence, whether real or in the fantasy life of politicians.

27 February 2009 at 21:07  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with earlier comments that the country's current crisis is more important than Cameron's loss, however tragic.

I agree also.

This economic crisis is going to claim the lives indirectly and directly of many millions of children all over the world. Some of which will be UK citizens.

It will result in the closing of hospitals and the rationing of medical care, especially for the mentally disabled. I contend that it has already done so, only the powers that be choose not to focus on such matters at this particular time.

Compassion is a strange perceived reaction from a men like Gordon Brown, given that it is he that is currently financing two wars in the middle east. Which would be bad enough already, but for the fact that he also chooses to send troops into battle without the most up to date equipment. Then sends the injured to the NHS for treatment.

Brown has the deaths of other peoples children on his own very grubby hands, both British, and middle eastern. As such deserves absolutely no sympathy from anyone for anything that happens to him personally.

Cameron deserves not much better, simply because he has not gone on record as saying he will on election to office end this pointless slaughter of the innocent.

Despotic murderers always justify their means by their dishonestly corrupted ends.

We have no business still playing deadly imperialist money making games in this or any other year.

God has shown both of these men what losing a child means, yet they both insist on promoting the murder of innocent children as a perfectly moral way of running the affairs of state.

Therefore they both deserve what they have got, even if their children surly did not.

IMO we should reserve our compassion for those that deserve it. In Browns case he could spend the next ten years dying extremely painfully of the worst type cancer imaginable, and still I would not give him even a single moment prayer.

IMO Brown is the devils representative on earth. The sort of man that would make the psychopathic likes of Stalin, Hitler, Blair and Pol-Pot green with envy.


28 February 2009 at 22:10  
Blogger BrianB said...

Yuk. Is that how religious belief interprets human tragedy?

28 February 2009 at 22:52  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older