In every endeavour there always comes a point at which you need to think seriously about whether it wouldn’t simply be easier and better to start afresh. Halfway through making a lego model you realise that it isn’t going to stand up. Writing an email which you realise on re-reading makes a completely different point to the one you meant to make. Reviewing a contract where the amount of redlined text is greater than what has been left untouched and still it seems to have got further away from the deal you agreed. The problem of asking for directions and being told “well, I wouldn’t start from here”. The recognition that no amount of lipstick will make the pig any more attractive.
It is an unusual time at the moment because the number of different areas of public life where we seem to be approaching this point of decision are greater than I can remember. The protesters camping at St Paul’s Cathedral and occupying Wall Street seem to be demanding a complete rethinking of how capitalism works. Conservatives (and others) are clamouring for a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. Labour is engaging in a bout of introspection to work out what it is for. Neither are close to what the self-styled campaigners for the interests of the 99% (ie everyone other than the richest) are campaigning for.
If this is the case, how come there’s no real movement to effect change from any direction? If the Labour Party is seen to be as wedded to the status quo and the interests of the 1%, how come there’s no movement to sideline it, much as the Labour movement sidelined the Liberals nearly a century ago or the SDP attempted nearly 30 years ago? If the Conservative Party is barely worth its name how come there is no new party trying to carry the torch on or a significant move to UKIP?
Is it just that the practicalities of doing so are too hard? This seems unlikely, there are lots of disaffected people out there who are already working hard on their campaigns. However much politicians might listen to newspaper proprietors or large corporations they still rely on ordinary individuals for votes and for activists to trudge the streets.
Is it that the system is too heavily weighted in favour of the status quo? Perhaps, although when the status quo is something which even the leaders of the mainstream are unhappy with there must be some scope for change. At heart, it is hard to get to lead political parties without being a populist. That’s what gets you to your own “Clause 4” moment.
Or is it that in fact, however much most moan, the truth is that the majority’s desires are less highly principled than all that? We are living through very tough times economically and most people have been affected adversely to a greater or lesser extent. But, rather than wanting to smash the systems, all most people want is for the tough times to end as soon as possible. Although there is widespread sympathy for the more radical elements in the abstract, in practice, it would be too risky to leave behind everything that we already know. A fairer distribution of wealth sounds like a good idea, who doesn’t like things to be fair, but do we really want to give anyone the coercive power to confiscate 20% of the wealth of the top 20%? Are we sure we might not ourselves be in the category of donor rather than beneficiary? Which would be terribly unfair when we feel that we are the squeezed middle. Do we really want Nigel Farage to be PM or can we live with someone faceless in Brussels having powers that we don’t really understand?
Maybe following the convoluted cross-country route is going to be a better way of getting near your destination than back-tracking a long way to where you should have started from then finding somewhere to park and paying for a train ticket. Perhaps you were being a bit harsh on the pig and all they needed was a new hairdo and a bit of self-confidence.
It depends on whether you think the fundamentals of society are OK and just need to be improved within their own terms or that they are wrong and so harmful that a revolution is needed. Change is hard to deal with for most people. I’m not sure that we are yet in a place where the trauma of radical change in any of the competing directions being offered would be less than the hardships being faced if things were to continue largely as they are.
Until there is a coherent and realistic alternative future beyond the platitudes of “down with this sort of thing”, change is the last thing that will get real popular support.