Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Of teachers, ideology and Professor Jung

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

WARNING: idiotically long post.

When I woke this morning, I found myself thinking of Left and Right, and all the assumptions that shuttle along behind those labels. (These are the kind of things I ponder as I brush my teeth.)

I came of political age under Mrs Thatcher, so I went to the Left. It wasn't a considered decision. There were no politics in the house where I grew up; there was only what would win the 3.30 at Kempton. My father did have an anti-establishment streak; he quite enjoyed startling the respectable element by singing Irish rebel songs at entirely inappropriate moments. Perhaps some of that rubbed off. As a teenager, I read The Beats, and the Existentialists, and went to see a lot of Ken Loach films. (I was also obsessed with Scott Fitzgerald, which doesn't quite fit into this grand narrative, but never mind.) I went to the Left, because it was where the bleeding hearts were. Of course I did, what else would you expect?

Later, when I started thinking more forensically, I stayed there, because I believe in a robust state, think that free markets must be properly regulated, am wary of the amorality of large corporations, and think that while the pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is all very well, some people don't get the good fortune of bootstraps in the first place. The liberal in me also hated social conservatism: the idea that the married heterosexual couple was the ne plus ultra of arrangements, leaving the single mothers, the gays, and those of us who refuse to say I do as implicitly lesser creatures.

Now, something very strange is happening. The Left is angrier than at any time since the miners' strike. It's a curious rage, more than just the fury at losing an election. I think it is something to do with the loss of assumption. The old joke was that the Left was romantic but wrong, while the Right was repulsive but right. I believed this myself; I quite liked being romantic but wrong. You can see it playing now, in the attempt to paint the Conservatives as demonic, rubbing their hands with glee as they bash the poor. The Coalition, with the Lib Dems as the tragic deluded patsies, are hell bent on rewarding their plutocratic buddies while trashing the chances of the underprivileged. It's not politics, or pragmatism, it's class war, because everyone knows that, however much rebranding they try to do, the Right loathes poor people.

I suddenly realise that I held some of these assumptions myself. Not in the extreme good vs evil way, but in a horridly smug assumption that people on the Left were rather nicer than those on the other side. No wonder I drove some of my right of centre friends mad. And there's the point: I actually have right-wing friends, and relations too. The heavenly stepfather is a staunch One Nation Tory, and he is the kindest man I know. It was partly for this reason that I gave up tribalism, before the last election. It had been coming for some time, but now it is official. I can't bear the knee-jerk, school playground, finger-pointing, holier than thou, Manichean shouting that goes on from either side of the ideological divide.

I think the rage of the Left is because they can no longer claim the exclusive mantle of goodness and niceness for themselves. The Prime Minister may turn out to be wrong, politically, but it is patently clear that he is not evil. It is hard to transform a reasonable man into a cartoon monster. On the other side, it was obvious that Gordon Brown, despite his concern for child poverty and the poor of Africa, was capable, at times, of being not a very nice man. There was the petulant dismissal of Mrs Duffy, the fabled shouting at underlings, the hurling of telephones, the employing of the egregious Damien McBride, the overweening ambition.

In government, Labour did some very good things for social democracy. It also did some not so very nice things. There was complicity in extraordinary rendition, the locking up of children of asylum seekers in holding camps, the cosying up to the bankers it now vilifies, the ruthless briefing against anyone, within or without the government, who disagreed with the party line. Ministers who did not stay rigorously on message were cast into outer darkness. (Just ask Frank Field, who thought the unthinkable, just as he was asked, and paid the price.) Journalists who wrote disobliging things were frozen out. Say what you want about Alistair Campbell and Lord Mandelson of Foy as political operatives, but they were certainly not cuddly, fluffy creatures of the light. They were masters of the darker arts.

Just as I was contemplating all this, and recalibrating all over the shop, I came across a piece by Katherine Birbalsingh, the inspirational teacher who gave such a rousing speech on education at the Tory conference, and as a result was sacked by her school. It was a perfect example of Jungian synchronicity, always a good way to start the day. Although she is of the Left, once all the way out on the Marxist wing, she had the temerity to agree with some of the Coalition's ideas on education. As a result, her leftist friends no longer talk to her. Let us contemplate that for a moment. It's not very lovely, is it? It is neither romantic nor right. It's just petulant and stupid.

My principle objection to this kind of tribalism is that it is so intellectually lazy. By definition, there must be ideas on both sides of the political divide that are correct and incorrect. Neither party may lay claim to inerrant brilliance. One side is not automatically nicer and kinder than the other, any more than one side is automatically right. All politicians make mistakes, whichever drum they march to.

As I redefine myself as a small L liberal centrist, I yearn for arguments on the merits. It's not a very sexy thing to ask for, but it's what I want, not just for Christmas, but for life.

And now, to take your mind off the continuous political shouting, which infects the airways like white noise, some soothing autumnal pictures.

Can't get enough of the leaves:

27th Oct 2

27th Oct 3

27th Oct 4

27th Oct 5

The roses are still flowering as if it were high summer:

27th Oct 7

The sedum continues to delight:

27th Oct 8

The lavender is still putting out new buds, to my utter astonishment:

27th Oct 1

The dear salix is now bereft of leaves, but its bare branches have an austere beauty all their own:

27th Oct 6

Talking of beauty:

27th Oct 11

27th Oct 10

As you know, I sometimes like to fool about with contrast and light and colour and tints and general effects with my photographs. This one is utterly untouched. This actually was the colour of the rowan berries against the sky when I came outside this morning:

27th Oct 9

Sometimes people wonder why I choose to live in Scotland. This is why.


  1. Yes, it's difficult to be stuck there in the middle where people don't listen to what you're actually saying but to what they believe you to be saying.

    But hang in there, Tania, it's all we can do.

    And yes, the autumnal colours of Scotland are glorious!

  2. Ah Nene, it is always so lovely to hear from you. Here is to the dear old middle ground. (Especially appealing when covered in autumn leaves.)

  3. Wonderful post Tania and I fully agree with you. We too experienced a hung parliament recently and your thoughts seem to echo what a lot of folk are feeling in these times. What a sky.

  4. That's an excellent post (did not seem long - perhaps because it flowed so well) - plenty to agree with (and I think the picture of the Rowan is wonderful).

  5. I've only just discovered your blog, or any blog for that matter! And your book - which I think is brilliant and such a treasure.

    I don't know if you've discovered the TEDtalks online but there was a great lecture along similar lines. The relative merits of the left and right wing positions, with the potential for balance and taking the best from each. I thought it was a refreshing approach. Hopefully the following link will work, if you haven't already seen it.

    I'm also loving the leaves.

  6. Connie - thanks so much. Always lovely to know I am not the only one.

    Huw - thank you. So glad you liked the glorious rowan.

    Rachel - it is always thrilling to find a new reader. Welcome to the wonderful world of blogs. Thank you for the TED recommendation, and so pleased you like the leaves.


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