Tom Harris, in Land of Angry, takes up the issue of commenters who, regardless of the topic he’s writing about, will use the opportunity to have another go at the government. He asks:
They’re clearly very angry. All the time. And they crave some form of outlet for their anger. Blogs – their own or other people’s – are, of course, the ideal medium, especially since their local newspapers stopped agreeing to publish their regular diatribes.
Well, that’s me! I’m angry, and angry all the time. And I regularly post up comments on Tom’s blog, very often about the thing I’m angry about: the smoking ban.
That’s me too. In my private life I’m as angry about the smoking ban as I am online. Although I don’t think many other people are. He ends by saying:
I responded to Tom by suggesting that much of current ‘normal’ political concern was at one time entirely ‘abnormal’. I wrote:
Replying in the following comment, Tom conceded the point, but said:
To which I replied:
I added that half of the steam would go out of these issues if they were seriously addressed. And I believe that this would happen. People shout all the louder the less they think they’re getting a hearing. They quieten down when they feel their grievance has been addressed.
Take the three issues Tom cited: the EU, the smoking ban, and Labour’s police state. They never get a decent public airing. There’ no debate about them. They’re not talked about in the media. And yet they matter to some people. True, they probably don’t matter much to most ‘normal’ people. But hot political issues very often aren’t about what most contented ‘normal’ people are concerned about, but with what some minority or other is angry about. Unemployed people are usually a minority, but nevertheless unemployment is a political issue. The closure of a steel mill in a town only affects a minority of people, but it’s still a political issue. Discrimination against gays or blacks only affects a minority of people, but it’s a political issue.
The odd thing about the EU is that it used to be a political issue that got endlessly discussed 10 or 20 years ago. Now it hardly gets mentioned, even though the passions it arouses have not dimmed, but have, if anything, intensified. The EU is not a hot-button issue for me, but all the same I’m genuinely puzzled about the current lack of debate about it.
As for Labour’s police state, it’s not a hot-button issue for me either. But then, I haven’t been fined £200 for stubbing a cigarette out in the street. Yet. If I had been, it would be a very big issue.
As for the smoking ban, that’s a hot-button issue for me because it’s had a direct impact on me, and a very unpleasant one. So it’s a big issue for me, and I’m angry about it and I blog about it and post comments about it. It’s something that hurts. It hurts like a foot that’s been run over. It hurts to the point that it’s very often the only thing I want to talk about.
At any point in the unfolding political process, people are getting hurt. Once it was the unemployed. Or blacks. Or gays. Or women. Or handicapped people. And they made a fuss about it, and something was done. Maybe not enough. But something. But now different people are being hurt, and in different ways. And there’s yet to be any real public recognition of these new grievances, just like once there wasn’t any recognition of the plight of the unemployed, blacks, and gays. A new set of problems has appeared, a new set of grievances. And in time those will be addressed, and then there will be another new set of grievances about something else. And so it will continue, ad infinitum. There will always be problems. There will always be grievances. That’s just how life is.
And the solution to all these problems and grievances is to seriously address them as rapidly as possible. If they’re not addressed, people will just shout louder and louder until they are addressed. If they’re not addressed, people will just get angrier and angrier. Just like the unemployed got angry. And the homeless got angry. And blacks got angry. And gays got angry.
The mistake, I think, of someone like Tom Harris is to suppose that there is one single set of ‘normal’ political issues about which people can reasonably become exercised, and that all other issues – such as the EU, or the smoking ban, or Labour’s police state – are ‘abnormal’ issues about which people are unreasonably angry, and which don’t merit serious attention. I’ll bet that in 1900 or whenever, when unemployment was becoming an issue, plenty of politicians refused to take it seriously. No politician would now.
And the same is true of the welter of political issues which have emerged in recent years. The political issue of the EU is not going to go away. Neither is the political issue of the smoking ban. Nor (if Labour is re-elected in May) is the political issue of Labour’s police state. They’ll only begin to go away when they are openly and honestly addressed, rather than swept under the carpet as they are at the moment, because some people don’t think they’re serious enough to merit serious attention.
It’s not Tom Harris that is the problem here. He at least is able to gaze upon his angry commenters with dismay. That’s a start. And that start is a hundred times better than that managed by the wider political establishment, which remains largely oblivious to all but those historical political issues which it has historically successfully addressed, and which is why this is increasingly the Land of Angry.