Something is happening in our country which is a major break from past experience. We are I believe in the early stages of a quite fundamental change in the national mood. It reflects a confluence of several recent profound events in the life of the country which have woven a very different texture from passive acquiescence in the consumer materialism of the last few decades. In quick succession we have seen the bankers’ greed overwhelming the whole economy, unprecedented spending cuts aimed at the victims of the crisis, the collapse of the political class (in the expenses scandal, the failure of accountability, and the systematic breaking of promises), the continuing marketising of everything including the most precious of our public services, and now Wikileaks day after day exposing the sheer hypocrisy and manipulativeness of governments. The surprise is, not the spirit of rebelliousness that is now beginning to happen across the spectrum, but rather that it has taken so long to happen. So where next?
The conventional view is that this is a reaction to the harshest expenditure cuts for nearly a century. But it goes deeper than that. There is a sense of the end of an era, the break-up of the established order, and uncertainty and anxiety about what will replace it. This compounds, at varying levels of consciousness, awareness of the collapse of the neo-liberal ascendancy, the breakdown of the Eurozone (albeit we-re not members of it, though still a potential victim of the side-effects), the gradual ebbing of Western power towards the rise of China and Asia, the loss of ideological drive in the face of mindless consumerism, and the arrogance and incompetence of both the financial order (the bankers’ ramp) and the political Establishment (distaste at the superficial and hypocritical pieties of “we’re all in this together”).
There is a sense of loss of momentum and loss of direction as well as a deep and largely unspoken unease at the meaninglessness of it all. The celebration of wealth and ostentatious consumption is increasingly seen for the hollow shell it is. There is too a pervasive sense of drift, with the previous certainties of religious authority replaced by an iconoclastic secularism and shallow materialism which are neither satisfying nor meaningful. The triumphalism of the market – the institution par excellence which knows the price of everything and the value of nothing – has shredded the bonds of communal solidarity and individual altruism.
This is a fin de siecle moment. What is missing more than anything is a sense of ideological conviction, a belief in a more profound cause wider and deeper than self and personal enrichment, and a reconnection of political purpose with an encompassing and fulfilling vision. It will need an utterly transformed Labour Party to achieve that, but it offers the greatest prize since 1945.