Conservative, liberal, and all the rest

Out of the mouths of Vulcans

One of the great things about sites like Facebook is that every now and then a half forgotten name from the past pops into your head, you rattle it into the search box and up they pop. It can be fascinating and enjoyable to see what someones journey through life has been since it diverged from yours.

So I was happy to see an old friend of mine from university called Gordon on there, someone I’d not seen in ten years. He seemed to have a wife and kids, stuff we’d talked about back when it was in the distant future.

He and his girlfriend Tess were American exchange students at Swansea University. Me and Gordon got on incredibly well. We hung around together, travelled to Ireland together and he came to stay at my parents.

Gordon was a pretty political guy. I suppose he was fairly left wing by American standards which is to say not very by British standards. It was from him, a gun owner and recreational shooter, and not Charlton Heston, that I first heard the phrase “From my cold, dead hand” But he supported the rights of any group you care to name; gays, African-Americans, Native Americans, ‘diversity’ was his watchword.

So when I sent him an email saying hi and asking how he was I was dismayed to get this reply

“Things are good! Thanks. I read some of your writings and, well, have a nice life. I hope the whole conservative thing works out for you”

When he’d finished typing he blocked me. Apparently Gordon’s support for diversity stops short of people’s politics. That is a diversity too far.

I think that’s sad. Beyond having the memory of a nice guy and friend tainted he isn’t even right; like Margaret Thatcher’s idol Freidrich von Hayek, I am not a conservative. I’m a liberal.

I don’t mean that in the sense that it is used in America where it has become a term for what, in Europe, we would call social democrats. I mean it in the original, enlightenment sense, of being a believer in the sovereignty of the individual.

This is why I am not a conservative. There are still very many areas where the scope for free people to pursue their welfare and that of others, to map out their own paths and define their own destinies is hobbled. I do not want to conserve this.

So much for semantics. The real sadness here is a lost friendship. And for what? Because he didn’t like my politics? Many don’t. I don’t like theirs.

But there is more to each of us than that. Human beings are deep, complex, fascinating creatures. There is more to each of us than our politics, our social class, our nationality, religion, race or sports team. As the Vulcans had it, ‘Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations’

So there are few more depressing trends in the world today than that of sticking labels on each other. ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal’, ‘rich’ or ‘poor’, ‘Christian’ or ‘Muslim’, all of these may be partly true for some of us but are never wholly true for any of us. We are all more complex than that with more identities. To boil us down to this label or that label strips us of the rich variety of our humanity. It is debasing and dehumanising.

In large part this accounts for the increasingly divisive and bitter tone that public debate is conducted in. I’m guilty of it myself from time to time.

So in losing, or not regaining, a friendship with Gordon, I have not lost some leftie Democrat. I have lost a guy who came to see me in the plays I was in, who I introduced to Newcastle Brown Ale and who I spent long hours with discussing the novel I wonder if he wrote. I lost a guy I liked just because my politics were different from his.

As for my friend Tess, well, she’s better off with her new guy. He’s a lovely chap, a dyed in the wool Democrat, but we get on because there is more to us than our political views. We are all human beings. Which ever box you tick on election day, that remains our inalienable common ground.

The rise and fall of Occupy London

No, you’re not

One night last week the BBC news ran an item about the Tobin Tax on financial transactions. An economist bobbed his head up and down speaking rather earnestly about why it would be damaging. Then something extraordinary happened; the report cut to a rather nondescript person standing at the Occupy LSX camp outside St Pauls Cathedral who maintained that it definitely would be a good idea.

Why, I wondered, were they giving a few dozen oiks* like this a national platform? Why not drag someone out of the Dog and Duck and ask them? I felt like Jacobin Mugatu in Zoolander when confronted with Blue Steel; “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!”.

Occupylsx began back on October 15th when protestors were, entirely predictably, denied permission to ‘occupy’ the London Stock Exchange, a building which is already pretty well used and not apparently in any urgent need of further occupation. They found an eager welcome at St Pauls Cathedral. Fewer people attend Church of England services each week than watch Eggheads on BBC 2 nowadays so the clergy, which also has a fair degree of sympathy with the protestors, probably thought it would be fun to have some new people to hang out with for a couple of days.

Alas the Church had underestimated the protestors’ staying power and sheer ingratitude. When the church was forced to close its doors for the first time since World War Two a number of high ranking churchmen at St Pauls resigned. Faced with a loss of tourist revenue the church asked the protestors it had given shelter and succour to when they were turned away from the Stock Exchange to leave. The protestors repaid the church’s generosity by telling them to get stuffed. Church politics drowned out actual politics and the protest, instead of being about capitalism, turned out like a scruffy episode of The Barchester Chronicles.

Recognising the loss of focus the protestors launched a new occupation on October 21st, this time of Finsbury Square, a square outside the City only notable for being where the 271 bus terminates. This occupation attracted almost no attention and the attempt to refocus the movement fizzled. Compared to 32,988 ‘likes’ for the Facebook page of Occupy the London Stock Exchange, the Occupy London Finsbury Square page has just 51.

With interest dwindling even in the main occupation at St Pauls the protestors decided on another attempt to refocus the movement. November 18th saw the occupation, or breaking and entering to give it its legal name, of an empty office building in Hackney owned by the bank UBS.

Once inside the protestors opened a ‘Bank of Ideas’, as one occupier put it “The Bank of Ideas is an educational space where people will be able to trade in ideas and creativity rather than cash”

If this all sounds a little vague don’t worry. According to minutes of the meetings at the Bank of Ideas concrete proposals for radical change are being made. November 21st saw a “Proposal to make a white board to illustrate decisions made” and another “To establish an ‘Art School’ and ‘Healing Space’ for healers, group therapy, art and movement, music, dance. Space for WG’s (Working Groups) and individuals, for occupy volunteers and general public”. That was as nothing compared to the minutes of the first meeting which declared “you have to BELIEVE you are going to be here longer, the energy can push us through! ‘feel the magic’”

And these are the people the BBC is asking about the Tobin Tax. When you see them being taken seriously perhaps you can understand why someone might feel like Will Ferrell’s elaborately coiffured fashion designer.

Unlike the occupy protestors in New York, who have still failed to come up with a list of demands after two months, the London occupiers issued a statement almost immediately. But it was striking how much it looked like statements issued at every protest over at least the last twelve years. That is because they are a hard core of activists, do not have mass support, and they represent very few but themselves. They are seasoned activists who are launching one occupation after another to try and hold the media’s attention.

On October 22nd more than 2,000 people demonstrated outside Parliament in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership but you’d never have known from the BBC. That is ten times as many as are sat outside St Pauls playing pan pipes for Palestine. Yet it is the small, unrepresentative, hard core members of the occupy movement who are put on the TV. They are not the 99%. They do not have numbers. Just persistence and a favourable tailwind wind from the media.

This article originally appeared at Global Politics

* Substituted by the editor for the original ‘drug addicts’