“If you have tears, prepare to shed them now”
When Mark Anthony uttered those words, he could have had no idea that he was writing the manifesto of the politics of postmodernity.
“Bear with me,
My heart is in the coffin there with Jenny,
And I must pause until it comes back to me.”
And you can hear the electorate mutter:
First Citizen: It seems that what he says makes sense.
Second Citizen: If you think about this correctly, he has been treated very badly.
Third Citizen: Has he, gentlemen? I am afraid someone worse will come in his place.
Fourth Citizen: Did you notice what he said? He is very sincere.
Second Citizen: Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping.
Third Citizen: There's not a nobler man in Britain than Gordon.
Fourth Citizen: Now pay attention. He's starting to speak again.
And speak again he did. And there was no scowling, no coldness, no ‘clunking fist’: in fact, he presented very well indeed; his audience warmed to him.
“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt.”
Did we not distinctly hear Gordon Brown say last year, in a clear side-swipe criticism of David Cameron, that his children are not political props?
Unless they’re dead, it seems.
It is not so much the public display of grief – a grief which is doubtless sincere, for who can bear the depths of grief over the dead of a first child? But it seems awfully contrived, indeed, hypocritical.
Some politicians can woo crowds with oratory, some with policy, some with charisma.
But when all else fails, when you’re behind in the polls, besieged by your own ministers, derided by your supporters, despised by your backbenchers and rejected even by Polly Toynbee, cry.
The strategy appears to be to make us empathise with a man who appears to be devoid of empathy. And the vehicle is the Piers Morgan confessional (how did the odious Piers Morgan ever become the British Oprah Winfrey?) for the nation to grant its corporate absolution to the Prime Minister for his sins of omission, and commission. It is not so much sofa government as chat-show government: and debate about policy is supplanted by dredging up past experiences; thinking is subsumed to feeling; policy gives way to personality.
And this is a cross-party pursuit, for David Cameron did it himself.
On Scottish Television last week he talked about the past year, the death of his own son, and he too fought back the tears: “It’s an incredibly difficult thing when you lose a child. I took some time off, probably not enough actually – I should have probably taken a bit longer, and just stopped to think about everything.”
He continued: “It’s something that just hits you in an incredible way and it takes quite a long time before you can even start to put things on track. Then afterwards you do find things do get better, but it’s not a straight line, you have good days and bad days, and that’s the way that it goes.”
There is an 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. Until yesterday, Gordon Brown was unyieldingly the former; David Cameron supremely the latter. But 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; the Dianification of politics.
Remember 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? 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.
Politics, like theology, has to embrace the vernacular. And the narrative has become that of illogic and unreason, and the medium is the television screen. 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.