Sunday, 3 February 2013

Normal Service Resumed and Tribal Warfare

The great benefit of a holiday is to come home rested and with batteries recharged, ready to face the familiar realities again with faculties restored.

Ten days ago, we left England with pavements frozen under grey skies, with gloves and scarves essential, and turned up on Lanzarote awash with warmth and sunshine; I was swiftly into shorts and short sleeves. On the airport road, I removed my socks and converted the car glove compartment into a sock compartment. The socks stayed there till we got back to the car rental place today. 

But by leaving England we got away not just from painful temperatures as much in the moral sense as the physical.

David Cameron had kept us waiting six months for a speech on Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Over that time, the Eurosceptic current of his Conservative Party, always the loudest and perhaps the most powerful, had become more confident and more outspoken; meanwhile, polls were becoming increasingly favourable to the United Kingdom Independence Party. UKIP (pronounced you kip, as in you kip while we sneak up and seize power) was initially a single-issue party, making a speciality of anti-EU fervour so intense as to be downright rabid. Recently, UKIP has branched out to embrace pretty well any illiberal cause, including homophobia and xenophobia. Watch this space: hydrophobia 
may be next.

UKIP is unrepresented in parliament, so it was curious to see it regularly scoring higher in polls than the Liberal Democrats, the third biggest parliamentary party and a partner in the current coalition government (OK, very much the junior partner, supported by the Conservatives in much the same way and with much the same results as a rope supports a hanging man).

Nigel Farage of UKIP: frightening Cameron out to the right
...and if I met him looking like that, he'd frighten me too

So it was unsurprising that Cameron, despite his stated enthusiasm for the European Union in the past, tried to outflank UKIP to the right and came out with an essentially Europhobic position in that long-trailed address. As is his hallmark, despite the months of delay, the talk revealed how incapable he is of thinking through any position he adopts. He claimed he’d speak out in favour of staying in the EU if was able to renegotiate the terms of British membership. That rather begs the question of what he’ll do if, as seems likely, he’s unable to obtain terms that the uglier circles of his party will find acceptable. 

It is interesting that significant voices not just in Europe but even in the US warned him of the perils of the course he’d adopted. What is downright frightening is how well his perilous, half-baked position served him in the polls: after many months of opposition leads in the YouGov polls that grew from 9-10% up to 10-12% (probably overstated) , the Labour Party’s margin of advantage fell to 6-7%.

Being truculent towards Europe is obviously still popular.

Fortunately, though, Cameron is finding his old sleight of hand less easy to pull off any more. It was good to see the YouGov lead for Labour come back up to 9% yesterday, 12% today. Feels like normal service is resuming. The nasty Cameron blip lasted only as long as my holiday.

That’s encouraging. It looks as though we can keep chipping away at the government’s standing and stay right on course to defeat it comprehensively in 2015.

The physical temperature has improved too. Super-glacial rather than sub. It feels as though I really shall be able to take up my normal life again fully re-invigorated.

Postscript Fascinated to see the row over Jared Diamond’s book on tribal societies: is he right to suggest that tribal societies are more violent, with warfare endemic, than state ones?

Jared Diamond proving too much tribalism can produce regression
The controversy seems completely artificial and irrelevant. 

We in the west are incapable of living a single day of peace; indeed nations such as Britain, France and above all the US seem not to find fulfilment unless they’re fighting two simultaneous wars. True, our countries fight those war somewhere else, which limits the damage to our own real estate. But when it comes to creating an appalling mess all around them, we’re at least as effective as any tribal society ever was; and I bet the tribes look after their injured warriors when they get home. 

When we stop inflicting our violence on others, and shamefully neglecting the young people we send into harm’s way, our tribes may be better placed to pass judgement on others.

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