27 February 2009

Taking a sip from Loch Lethe...

It has often occurred to me that Nietzsche was right on the button when he suggested that forgetfulness is not simply the absence of memory, but is an active force. Not that it would have interested him particularly, but nowhere else is this truer than politics. There is something rather wonkish and distasteful about all these harpers and crooners burping up faux or insignificant historical comparisons or writing crushingly unimportant PhDs on the history of the Labour Party or more or less lettered versions of the aforesaid.

Nobody gives a toss. As we are at times made clearly conscious of - politics is radically temporally unmapped. The agenda is gloriously presentist, such that one could be forgiven for forgetting that the past ever existed at all. To paraphrase that divine little spanker J.-J Rousseau, I venture to declare that a state of reflection is a state contrary to political nature, and a journalist with a memory is a depraved animal. Or certainly a counter-cultural curiosity, who no doubt consoles himself with conceit hidden in the scorched images of recollection. The rest of us discard such smoky truisms with thoughtless casualness. And thrive, with outraged indifference, on a new set of idiocies, boredoms and political victims.

Recall the PM wallowing in troughs of public contempt - extricating himself for a period, groping his way out of the mire - being tickled by the caresses of the media - only to be kicked back into the gutter again. Memory ruins the whole drama of the piece. It is the province of the embittered ex-PM, once safely and harmlessly ensconced in his or her constituency - or for that matter, his or her ermine-edged zoot suit. Watch a rerun of Have I Got News for You. Heartless, flickering memories might be prompted - hot words prodded by a reflective poker - crises, chaos - all absorbed inside the consuming stomach of forgetfulness.

The human head isn't the image of the political world - the stomach is.

To connect the theme rather concretely, I was amused to see the Times carrying the headline "Lib Dems accused of flip-flop as Tavish rejects Independence Referendum". The Telegraph report that:
"Without the Lib Dems, the First Minister needs to win over the Conservatives or Labour, but both have made clear their virulent opposition to staging a vote. Failure to push through a referendum would leave his administration's programme in tatters, with a series of other keynote policies, including local income tax, already shelved."
Presumably that virulent strain of opposition among the Labour party is a fairly recent strain - or in the interest of public health, have we forgotten the illustrious captaincy of Wendy Alexander? "Bring it on", etcetera? Or Duncan McNeil's unprompted assurance that:
“[The Labour Party] have no principle objection to a referendum. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to give up our right to scrutinise that Bill and hold them to account.”
Now, of course, Iain Gray is suggesting that the Government drop the bill entirely. This the same unfortunate soul who infamously was ordered out to tread the BBC boards on 07/05/2008 and defended Wendy's position - doing so with the zeal, charisma and clarity for which he is rightly fameless: "We won't stand in the way of the people having a say."

Painful stuff.

The Liberal Democrats can feel rightly miffed that the whole tour de stupidité has been discreetly sidelined, Labour's position credited with a solidity of political leadership which the facts cannot sustain and Iain Gray cannot personally evade.

Perhaps we ought, just this once, to decline that second glass of political forgetfulness.

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