What is Romanticism?

Back in the old days, my tutorial partner and I were given a simple essay title: “Emily Brontë — romantic realist. Discuss”. My tutorial partner wrote an exemplary essay which explored (as far as I can remember) every aspect of Wuthering Heights. She has gone on to become the successful novelist Clare Chambers. I, on the other hand, flummoxed around for a week trying to find out what ‘romanticism’ was. I read several books on it, and, in the end, wrote an essay comparing Brontë to Keats, who was the only ‘romantic poet’ that I knew much about. Our tutor did his best to be kind about it, but it was fairly clear that I had neither grasped Romanticism, nor made any particular application of it to Wuthering Heights.

So, off and on, I have been thinking about ‘what is romanticism’ for the last twenty-five years. In the hope that it may save someone else twenty-five years thinking about it.

In considering Romanticism, I have been trying to draw the threads together of Brontë and Keats, since that is where I began, medieval verse romances, such as Sir Gawain and the Lady Ragnell, the Romantic period in classical music, including Beethoven and Schubert and above all Wagner, the German philologists of the late 19th century, Marxism, Nazism, the play (and film) Cabaret, and the modern obsession with Vampires, which functions in a totally different way from the modern horror-trope of zombies and other undead. I want also to consider romantic views of science and history, and the connection all this has to ‘romance’, which from time to time is declared dead, only to rise again from the merely erotic.

If Wikipedia had existed when I wrote my original essay, I would probably have gone to the Wikipedia article on Romanticism. I would, I think, have been just as misled as I was by the half-dozen or so books on Romanticism that I read when preparing for it. 1 The Wikipedia position — at the time of writing, and it will no doubt evolve — is that Romanticism was a movement or an era which began in the second half of the 18th century.

I would have been misled by this because, to establish whether Brontë was a romantic, it would have only been necessary to place her in the history of ideas. But people are still writing romantic literature now — Mills and Boon continue to do a roaring trade — and many people consider themselves to be more or less ‘romantic’ without committing themselves to any particular movement of literature or art. More importantly, romanticism of the kind that exists now existed long before the Romantic Era, and draws its name from the medieval verse romances, of which the most famous was the Roman de la Rose. A movement in its own time, perhaps, romance transcends modern genres. There is romantic science-fiction, for example Dune or Rocannon’s World, and science-fiction which is absolutely not romantic, such as the original Foundation Trilogy. There are romantic detective novels, such as Murder Must Advertise, and anti-romantic detectives, such as Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep. We have romantic fantasy, of which Tolkien’s Silmarillion is as good an example as any, and, by the same author, the entirely unromantic Farmer Giles of Ham. Romantic Comedy is such a staple of summer and Christmas film releases that it has its own name: Rom-Com. There are romantic thrillers of which the James Bond series are probably the best known, and utterly unromantic, such as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s People, although alert readers might consider that The Honourable Schoolboy was a romantic thriller. But, going back, it would be hard to make the case that Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was not in some sense romantic, and even more so for Romeo and Juliet, whereas Richard III clearly is not. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales contain stories which are clearly romantic — the Franklin’s Tale, for example — whereas others, such as the Miller’s Tale, are clearly as far from romance as is possible to get.

I could explore exhaustively all the characteristics of all the things which are referred to as ‘romantic’ or ‘examples of romanticism’, but, again, I would still be misled. This kind of ‘literary criticism by numbers’, now substantially aided by the internet, does not get us very far.

Ultimately, ‘romantic’ and ‘romanticism’ are words which communicate more or less what we mean. But, no matter how much the literati and the art-historians would like to control the term, ‘romantic’ is a word in common use, and, well, we know it when we see it. Perhaps my biggest problem in writing the original essay was that I failed to take into account that our own intuitive sense of what the word means is more important than any screeds someone else has written about it.

But, in coming to terms with this, I would like to suggest that my other original instinct was perhaps not so far wrong, because it seems to me now, considering political, scientific, literary, historiographical, theological, philosophical, musical and art-historical forms of romanticism, that it was Keats who more or less nailed it in one:

[Referring to a Greek vase, in Ode on a Grecian urn]:
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know. 2

It is the equation of truth and beauty — though we will need to look a little more closely at what is ‘beauty’ to unpack this — which is at the heart of romanticism, at the heart of what we call ‘romantic’, and at the heart of some of the catastrophically bad consequences of taking romanticism from the realm of art into the realm of politics.

The German Romantics considered their movement to be about ‘Sturm und Drang’ — Storm and Pressure. By this they (I believe) meant that their movement was about the things which excite the greatest emotions. You have only to listen to the music of Wagner, or, indeed, to Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata to hear composers attempting to create the maximum level of emotion through music. There are no ‘nice tunes’ in the Pathétique, but it is hard to listen to it without being sucked into its emotional tide. In this sense, not only Mahler, but also Stravinsky are romantic composers. Indeed, the first performance of Stravinsky’s Sacre de Printemps (The Rite of Spring) created so much Sturm und Drang that it caused a riot. This is by strong contrast with the impressionist, or we might perhaps say symbolist writing of Debussy in Chansons de Bilitis, a similarly pagan-inspired theme, but written laconically, like a dream, something which he takes further in the hauntingly disorientating Syrinx.

I would like to suggest that beauty of the kind Keats described is not only ‘Sturm und Drang’, but anything which creates a feeling of beauty in the unobserved observer. It is this mediation through the unobserved observer which is essential to romanticism. Life, as a general rule, is not beautiful in the sense the romantics would talk about it. Even when it is not cruel, apparently meaningless, trivial, boring or spiteful, it is simply not organised enough around what we would most like to see to make it ‘beautiful’. Once a day we get a sunrise and a sunset, and, because they organise everything into a world of different colours, strong, long shadows and the centrality of the sun at the horizon, we generally do regard them as beautiful. Online stock photography sites state in their guidelines that they are not interested in pictures of sunsets. Why not? Because almost everyone who has a camera has at some point tried to photograph one, and, generally speaking, these pictures look ‘nicer’ than the run of the mill disorganised shots which most photographers take.

In one of my other lives as a teacher of photography, the thing I most struggle with is helping people to choose the point of view, and subsequently the crop, which lends the most organisation to the picture, so that it moves from being ‘life-like’, which most photography is, to ‘beautiful’, which most photographs are not, even when they are pictures of things most people regard as beautiful (cats, flowers, sunsets).

An interest in beauty, though, is not unique to Romantics, any more than Sturm und Drang is. If anyone wants to see an entirely unromantic example of both Sturm and Drang, they need look no further than Hieronymous Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross. This extraordinary painting, which you might mistake as being the product of a modernist art movement, though it was made in 1490, has both storm and pressure in abundance, but no-one looking at it would consider it remotely ‘romantic’. Nor, perhaps, would the people who use the word in the way Keats used it consider it ‘beautiful’. It is, in a certain sense, a very beautiful painting. I used to live in Ghent and visited the museum of fine arts fairly frequently. T S Eliot’s The Waste Land is full of Sturm und Drang, but it is not remotely a romantic poem, and, again, it’s unlikely that Keats would have described it as beautiful.

The kind of beauty Keats was referring to is a scene which, by being depicted and framed, and thus making us the unobserved observer, is complete, organised, and speaks to the emotions in a way which gives a sense of infinity, as we say in photography. This is the ephemeral quality he is trying to grasp in Ode on a Grecian Urn, where, because they are static, the lover is never quite able to catch hold of his beloved, and therefore remains forever in an ecstasy of chase without capture. The original life behind the scene may not have been beautiful at all — it may have been sordid, or violent, or merely a deep disappointment. But once captured for ever and depicted, it becomes beauty.

Let me broaden this, lest I fall into the trap of talking about Keats at the expense of the rest of romanticism. Essentially, I am arguing that romanticism is what you get when the artist, in whatever medium, organises the internal reality of the work of art to coincide with that which is most beautiful (be it beautifully sad, tragically wasteful, joyous, exalting, or whatever other kind of beauty appeals). Some stories are implicitly very beautiful. The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, for example, which has been reworked many times in many centuries, is implicitly so, and it’s very hard to do anything to it which stops it being thus. There is no way of portraying Orpheus descending to the underworld to rewin his wife by the power of music, only to be thwarted because he fails in the prohibition to not look back, as something cynical, tawdry, sordid, commonplace or coincidental. Other stories, however, cannot be made romantic without making them mawkish, sentimental  or twee. It was Oscar Wilde, reflecting how tastes had changed in just  a few years, who said: “you would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh” at the death of Little Nell in Dickens’s Old Curiosity Shop. Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl is another example, as is — though many readers will dislike this — the murder of Alec by Tess in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Hardy needs to have Tess put to death ‘by society’ in order to achieve the particular ordering of life which he is presenting, which forms the substance of the ‘beauty’ of the story, that a pure woman is persecuted by society and eventually put to death, through no real fault of her own. Aside from the murder and execution, Hardy’s account is fairly compelling. A beautiful but naive girl from a poor family is preyed on relentlessly by Alec Stoke-d’Urberville, and mistreated and insulted by those around her, either from jealousy or (in Hardy’s view) priggishness. It would be hard to believe that these things didn’t happen, and hard not to shed a tear for all of the girls misused in this way, and who then bore the consequences of them. But Hardy is looking for the ‘final-blow’, as Mahler might have put it, and this must be death, if his character is to be raised to the tragic heights of a Macbeth, a Hamlet, a King Lear or an Othello. Unfortunately, the British legal system of the time, with all its faults, did not allow for a woman to be executed simply because she was naive, had been seduced, or had had more than one lover. 3. The only crime for which Tess could be executed which would not also demean her with its pettiness would be murder, and Alec was, as the saying goes, asking for it. But the character of Tess which Hardy has taken many pains to present to us would have been entirely incapable of any such deed and, if she had done such a thing, would have gone through many crises of conscience afterwards. Hardy’s romanticism gets the better of him, and we have the casual triumph of ‘beauty’ over ‘truth’ which is the dark side of the romantic movement: when the truth is not beautiful, the truth is altered.

Romantic writing, when used for fiction, in the hands of a master writer, has produced some of the greatest literature in the world. Ultimately, for a novel to be satisfying, we want the threads tied together, we want the good to be victorious and the wicked punished, and we want other characters to know that the good character was good all along. We want love to be fulfilled, even if this is beyond the grave (Wuthering Heights, to return to where we began), and profound to displace the commonplace while Platonic concepts such as love, honour, heroism are shown to be written into the underlying laws of the universe. We want this all the more in fiction because we rarely see it in real life. This fits naturally in with what romanticism is about, though that is not to say that a-romantic writing cannot organise these things equally well, and to equal satisfaction.

In the hands of a lesser writer, we see the fingerprints of romanticism when characters go out of character for the sake of plot symmetry, when things which are possible but unlikely (to go against Aristotle’s famous dictum) happen to make the story work, and when symbols get confused with real objects, and the relationship between the two is left unclear.

In the hand of a poor writer, we either get so much sturm and drang that the pages become choked with it, or the story does become hackneyed, mawkish, sentimental or simply predictable.

If these things are kept only within the realms of literature, painting or music, then no harm is really done (though realism may well have been damaged).

However, the close of the German romantic movement really did result in a fatal confusion of what was beautiful and what was true. At the start of the stage musical Cabaret, Christopher Isherwood’s character Cliff Bradshaw is told by the border guards that he will find Germany a very beautiful place. The story goes on to point out the constant dichotomy between what is beautiful and what is real, right up to the point of Bradshaw’s departure, where the border guard asks him if he found Germany beautiful.

This is all very well as the musical of the play of the novel by a young homosexual man who experienced Nazi Germany first hand, but Isherwood’s instincts in describing the roots of Nazism are not simply a response to the way in which Nazis viewed unconventional sexual orientation. Hitler’s philosophy grew directly from his interest in Wagner, and from the writings of Nietzche, though this is not remotely to suggest that Nietzche would ever have approved of where Hitler took them. In desiring beauty, Hitler was drawn to the beauty of Teutonic mythology, and to developing his own myth of the beautiful Aryan. From there, it is a short step to the superiority of the Aryan over other races, and from there to the superiority of the beautiful Nordic-looking Aryan — tall, blonde-hair, blue-eyes — and a hatred for those factors which might corrupt it. Coupled with a romantic view of science, which enabled Hitler and his followers to imagine they could take enormous shortcuts in the evolutionary process, they were left with a mandate for eugenics and what would now be termed ethnic cleansing.

I am not remotely suggesting that Romanticism leads inevitably (or even frequently) to anti-Semitism, totalitarianism or any such thing. But the equation of beauty and truth — the world as organised by the shaping, unobserved observer versus the world as it actually is — leads us into a world of false steps if we take it from fiction into reality.

Let us return for a moment to Emily Brontë. Was she a romantic realist? Of course she was. The characters drawn in Wuthering Heights are extreme, violent,  dangerous, mad. But there is no essential improbability in their actions once you accept the premise that so many people of such passion and violence, or at least vindictiveness, should be inhabiting such a small part of the country. The realism is made more patent by the inclusion of the drab narrator Lockwood, and his fussy narrator the nurse, both distancing us from the extraordinary characters, and presenting two layers of unobserved observer, though even Lockwood is eventually dragged into the story, albeit in only a transitory fashion. The romanticism is obvious in the way that the entire tale and its characters are constructed to unleash a maximum of passion and have things taken all the way to their logical (from a plot point of view) conclusion.

But this gives us an important counter-example to the notion that romanticism and realism are opposites. True, much romantic literature is unrealistic, but much unromantic literature is also unrealistic.  Romanticism is really the opposite of the world-weary cynicism which we see in most of le Carré, Raymond Chandler, the early TS Eliot, William Golding and the author of the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes. Romanticism is one antidote to the claim that everything is meaningless. In Romanticism, the answer is that the world is shot through with meaning, and that meaning is linked to what stirs the emotions when observed. It is not the only antidote. The world can also be seen as shot through with ironic purpose, with spiritual purpose, with moral purpose, bound together by a social contract, or held together by immutable scientific laws. Romanticism is just one of the many meta-narratives — things which explain everything — which the post-modernists have been trying to escape from.

Show 3 footnotes

  1. I am not criticising Wikipedia here — to me, the encyclopedia which we make ourselves is one of the best things about the internet, part of my GWAFFTEY (Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, eBay and YouTube which defines the majority Web 2.0 experience). However, it is a summary of what has been written, not a place to find insight or understanding. It is this fatal misprision which has misled many students who, up against deadlines, believed they would find in Wikipedia what they failed to glean in proper research.
  2. Keats is quoting Sir Joshua Reynolds in this
  3. Dorothy L Sayers solves this problem rather better in Strong Poison, and perhaps Hardy would have been wise to pay more attention to the then brand-new writings of Arthur Conan Doyle on a certain Mr Sherlock Holmes

In the nation’s interests

I have received howls of protest over the last few days from Lib Dem members, people who voted Lib Dem but usually vote Labour, and people who have never voted Lib Dem and never intend to. Some have demanded that Nick Clegg immediately fall into line behind Cameron and stop negotiating for ‘party advantage’. Some have insisted that for Clegg to co-ally would be a betrayal of all that is most sacred. Some have told me that talking to Labour was equivalent to state treachery, and Clegg can never be trusted again. By email, phone, Facebook, txt, tweet and even visits to my door, and, bizarrest of all, an email sent from Australia by someone I had never heard of directed to all Lib Dem candidates who contested the election, it’s been made clear to me that whatever Nick Clegg did, not everyone would be happy.

I have to confess I’ve struggled to get quite as emotionally caught up in this as some people. Those of us who stand for parliament do so with an underlying notion of public service. Of course we want our party to win. And there is always personal ambition: we want to be in there, making the decisions, with our fingers on the turning of the world. But nobody would go through the five weeks of gruelling punishment, preceded by four years of selection and campaigning, preceded in turn by how ever many years of becoming involved and going through a candidate approval process, unless there was more than simply the desire for our team to win.

Nick Clegg was always honour-bound to make his decision in the nation’s best interests. Anything less would have simply ruled him unfit to be a party leader.

The only question was: what decision would be in the nation’s best interests?

I will put my cards on the table: after last year’s expenses debacle, and this year’s scandal over the Ashcroft million, electoral reform seems to me to be one of the nation’s most important and pressing concerns. The result of the General Election — no clear majority in parliament, nothing like a majority in the popular vote (Tories polled only 12% more than Lib Dems, lest we forget, but gained more than five times as many seats) — demonstrates very clearly that the public are not satisfied.

But, although pressing, electoral reform is not the most pressing concern. I do not accept the view of the scaremongerers that Britain is about to go the way of Greece. David Cameron has already had to eat his words that a hung parliament would spell economic disaster. But it is true that the economy is right at the top of the list of things that need to be fixed now, and fixed right.

A coalition with Labour was always a long-shot, and Clegg was right to honour his election pledge and talk first to the party with the most votes. But he was also right to at least attempt a deal with Labour. This was not treachery, as some of the Tory press and some of my own correspondents have suggested, but a necessary and entirely honourable step: Clegg was duty bound to explore both feasible possibilities as he decided for the United Kingdom who should be the next prime minister.

For the record, I think it would have been possible to do it. (I do not say that it would have necessarily been the best thing, but I do say that it would have been possible). Those who argued that this was undemocratic forget the very shaky ground on which they stand: Labour and the Lib Dems between them gained more than 50% of the popular vote, although, because of our misrepresentative system, this was not quite 50% of the seats in parliament. Labour certainly seemed ready to promise a much swifter, much surer route to electoral reform. And Gordon Brown nobly was willing to accept Nick Clegg’s other election promise — that, whatever happened, Brown would not continue as Prime Minister.

But it was Labour MPs themselves who made it quite clear that they had no real interest in staying in government. From the point that (then, still) government ministers went on the record in public stating this, the chances of a deal with Labour were over.

Many Lib Dem voters find the coalition with the Conservatives distasteful. I personally remained on good terms with all the candidates in the Stratford election, except for the BNP who never attended any of the debates and with whom I never spoke. But there have been instances where Tory attacks were brutal and unfounded. And we have endured the jeers and scorn of the Tory press barons for more than a generation.

It is certainly true that very few will have voted Lib Dem with the aim of putting David Cameron in government.

But Nick Clegg still had to put the nation’s interest ahead of his own. The choice between a Conservative minority government which would be almost certain to fall in recriminations within six months, in which time it would have made little real progress in tackling the economic crisis, and none at all in electoral reform, or a true Lib Dem Con coalition, was one that simply could not be made in any other way from the way it has been made.

The solution is not perfect. David Cameron could have divested himself of the lacklustre George Osborne. If having Vince Cable as chancellor was too much to swallow (though it would have pleased the nation, and the markets), Ken Clarke was waiting in the wings, the only member of Cameron’s team who had ever served in a senior role in a government. There could have been (and should have) a commitment to a referendum on true electoral reform, not merely the disproportional Alternative Vote (AV) system. If the Conservatives believe that the public has no appetite for electoral reform, then they should have agreed to a referendum on the real issue. If they were willing to accept a grudging compromise and no more, they should have offered a simple bill on AV as Labour did, and left it at that. The nation is to be put to the trouble and expense of a referendum without being allowed to vote on the real topic of discussion.

Nonetheless, the prospect of an autumn election has receded to the horizon. Cameron’s lightweight team will be strongly bolstered by 5 Lib Dem cabinet ministers, and a total of 20 Lib Dems across his ministries.

Lib Dem fortunes at the next election will almost certainly suffer, and there will equally certainly be a spate of recriminations and even member-resignations. And this is the true mark of Nick Clegg’s leadership: at personal cost, he has put the interests of the nation first.

The politics of hate

Do you hate the Tories? Or perhaps Labour? Or (heaven forfend) maybe even the Liberal Democrats? Or — deep down — did you breathe a secret sigh of relief at the rise of the BNP, as, now at last, there was someone you could legitimately hate without being diminished as a person by that hate?

When I was sixteen, I once told my (then) girlfriend “I really hate mods”. Mods, at that time, were not first year Oxford University exams, nor modifications to video games or other software, but were the fashion alternative to ‘rockers’. “Oh dear,” she said. “I don’t hate anyone”. We later split up, and while I, through many pathways and byways, became a politician, she successfully pursued her dream of being a diplomat. Of course, I didn’t remotely ‘hate’ mods. I didn’t even really know what mods were, and it turned out later that some of my friends were mods. But, at the moment, it seemed to establish me more as a ‘rocker’ if I said I hated them.

Many years later, I was having dinner with my ex-fiancée (not the same person as the former girlfriend) and another friend. I mentioned that I was going into politics, and, knowing that she was a skilled and passionate person, I asked if she would consider running my campaign. “Oh.” She said. “Which party?”. “The Liberal Democrats,” I replied. For a moment a shadow appeared to pass across the sun (which was impossible, because we were in a Chinese restaurant in Soho where the sun never came). All the Oxford-London fell from her voice, as she said in horror, with as deep a Rhondda valley accent as I’ve ever heard from her: “The LIBERALS?” She appeared to rise to her feet (though she has since assured me that she did not), as she said again, in a voice which seemed to fill the restaurant with centuries of astonished grief and hurt. “THE LIBERALS?”

She later confided in me that it wasn’t the Liberals she hated (we’re actually the Liberal-Democrats), but the Conservatives. She later went off and joined the Labour party, and became a Labour parliamentary and European candidate. We’re still friends, and, no, this was not why we split up, which was, in any case, ten years earlier.

Especially in politics, we use the word ‘hate’ rather freely. But there are times when our distaste for our foes is really no more than ‘I hate Marmite’, and times when it is rather more. Ann Widdecombe famously said that she went into politics to fight socialism. ((She also, equally famously, appeared on Doctor Who in support of Simon Pegg’s John Saxon, aka The Master. If she had waited long enough, she could have joined Tony Blair’s New Labour to fight socialism.)) I always found this odd. If she had said ‘to fight communism’ I could have understood it. But socialism? Really? I remember that hatred between the Socialist Workers Party and the National Front in the 70s. And, of course, the undisguised hatred of the National Front for anyone who did not look exactly like them. As Britain, we somehow learned during the 1970s that hate based on race, then known as ‘racialism’, but now known by the catchier term ‘racism’, was simply wrong. But, in 2001, it suddenly became fashionable and acceptable to hate one particular category of foreigner, the ‘bogus’ asylum seeker. It didn’t take long for the term ‘bogus asylum seeker’ to be melded in the popular conscious with, simply, ‘asylum seeker’, so that anyone who came to these shores fleeing persecution could look forward to disdain, disgust and derision from those they met.

It’s always easier to get people to do things if you can stir up strong passions. Hatred of the BNP will doubtless bring many people into politics over the next few years. But hate is a uniquely destructive attitude. It causes us to obsess over our enemies, to see conspiracy theories, to misinterpret innocence, to categorise other people into the hated group simply because they look or sound similar. Hate causes us to mistrust, to pre-judge and to misjudge. It develops double standards in ourselves, which become embedded in a persona of hypocrisy. It causes us to skew our own positions. When we hate, we lose sight first of truth, then of honesty, and, finally, as the rot really sets in, of plausibility. We see the entire world as a battle between what we hate and what we use against that which we hate. As times moves on, those who refuse to take sides garner even more of our malice than those who are the original object of our detestation.

Hatred twists the most normal, sensible people into a horrific parody of themselves. I’ve found things written about me on websites, or said about me in meetings, by people who have never met me, never heard me speak, and (possibly) never read a word I’ve written. And yet, simply because I belong to one party rather than another, they see me as fair game for whatever they choose to throw. But these same people are, in their ordinary lives, quiet, sensible, law-abiding, the kind of person you would be quite happy to see as a magistrate or a school-teacher, or (until you found out), your town councillor.

Not all politicians are like this. In fact, it seems to me that it is more often supporters of politicians rather than politicians themselves who pursue hatred as a vocation. After I first stood for public office — as a councillor, in a seat I couldn’t win, and didn’t want to if I did — the Labour councillor who did win came up to me and said ‘Well done lad’. After the 2001 General Election, the Tory MP who won the seat came up to me and told me that he thought it was highly likely I would become an MP sooner or later, and gave me some advice on my campaign. Not sneering, measly-mouthed advice, but sensible, valuable advice, which he had learned himself, and which I have taken to heart.

All politics is made up of temporary alliances of people who agree on some important things, and disagree on others. Part of the reason we are locked into a seemingly endless cycle of boom-and-bust electoral landslides in the UK is that our parties have become virtual armed-camps. The rhetoric of Prime Minister’s Question Time makes this quite apparent. You cannot pretend a man is the devil one day, and then plan with him how the country could be served and improved the next.

Whenever I talk about this, people start to be nervous. “If we cannot hate, should we just roll over and let our opponents have whatever they want”, they start to say. Of course not. But we need to rediscover our vocabulary. We can disagree, dispute, rebutt. We can dismantle a flawed policy, discredit a misleading piece of information, decry an unworthy attitude. At times we may denounce an opponent who has, for example, claimed for a mortgage that did not exist. Not hating barely has an impact on the range of means by which we can oppose. You can love and respect someone, and yet be quite clear they are entirely wrong. You can recognise the good in someone’s motives, and yet also recognise they are completely incompetent. And you should. The duty of opposition is to oppose. It is an honourable duty, and serves the public good. But no good is served by hating them ((that is, hating a person — it is entirely right to hate injustice, hate people trafficking, hate cancer, and so on)).

It is time to take the malice out of British politics.

Gurkha victory is a victory for us all

Gurkha victory is a victory for us all

Today’s victory for the Gurkhas is a victory against the long tide of narrow nationalism which has beset Britain for more than twenty years. It is a simple matter of honour that men who have risked their lives for this country should be allowed to settle here. The argument against — the only argument, though never a good one — was that giving rights to Gurkhas would run against perceived public opposition to granting residence in Britain to anyone at all who was not born here.

A government of principle should have given these rights whether or not they were popular simply because they were right. But now the government has been forced to see that the public does care about rewarding honourable service honourably.

Let us hope that — in these crisis stricken days — Great Britain will rediscover those values of honour for which it was once known the world over. Britain is great not by being an uncompromising fortress against the world, but by paying its debts.

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