I used to be content with life. But these days I am no longer content. The discontent began on 1 July 2007, and has remained ever since, just like those overcast English summers we seem to have had every year since.
Back in the days when I was content, I wasn’t much interested in politics. It’s the discontented who go into politics, in order to put something right. The contented have no need to do this. So they don’t. Why fix what ain’t broken?
Discontent can arrive very suddenly. Back in the early 1960s at school I had a lot of friends, and some of them were Irish, and one day a few of the Irish kids started pointing fingers at the English kids and calling them names and getting really angry. And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. But once the Irish kids all got angry with the English kids, they stayed angry, and began to prefer their own company to ours. Years later, I realised that it must have been the start of the Irish Troubles, and it had spilled across the Irish sea all the way to my Irish school-friends.
And looking back on it, I can understand their anger much better now, because now I’m angry in the same sort of way. Because now I’ve got the anger they had, that doesn’t go away. And now it’s my friends who don’t understand me, just like I once didn’t understand my Irish friends. And so we have drifted apart, just like with my Irish friends. It’s a new rift that has opened up.
And nobody’s listening. Nobody can see the widening rift. Just like back in the 1960s.
Funny that it’s happening just when Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams have become the government, more or less, in Northern Ireland.
But if nobody’s been listening, it may be in part because I haven’t been listening. Because while I was content, I was only keeping half an eye open, and only half listening. And if you’re content with the way things are, more or less, then you’re more than happy to let the government carry on governing. You leave it all to them.
But the result, when people switch off like that, is that there ceases to be a dialogue between the governors and the governed, and the government is pretty much left talking to itself, because nobody much is interested in what they do. And because the government is left having its own internal dialogue with itself, government and governed get out of tune with each other. What should be one conversation becomes two, and develops along different lines to different conclusions.
But if the contented weren’t interested, the discontented were. And it wasn’t just the Irish who were discontented, but also all the Marxists (who are never content), and the environmentalists, and the antismokers. They were all discontented for one reason or other, and they all campaigned and lobbied, and fund-raised.
So of course it was them who ended up as the government.
Well, it wasn’t going to be me, or anybody that I knew, was it?
And so in Britain these days, and all over Europe, and probably in the USA too, you find people who were being arrested (and maybe even imprisoned) back in the 1960s who now re-appear driving around in government limousines. Like Manuel Barroso, for example. And Baroness Ashton.
And so of course the government is going to be made up of assorted Marxists and environmentalists and antismokers and all the rest of them, because they were the people who were lobbying and campaigning and fund-raising, and who learnt the ropes, and built up the contacts.
And now they’re changing things towards what they wanted. Lots of windmills for the environmentalists, and lots of Central Committees for the commies, and smoking bans for the antismokers, and so on. The deals were probably all cut years ago, in Granita: “Okay, you can have your smoking ban, if we can have our windmills. Deal?” If you have the sense that these people aren’t listening to anybody, it’s because they’re not. They’ve had a long list of things they’ve wanted to do to you, and now they’re going to do it to you.
And now they have become the contented, and we have become the discontented.
The wheel has turned full circle. The former outcasts – the McGuinesses and the Barrosos – have become the new aristocrats. And most of what they have to say is for the other aristocrats to hear. Not for ordinary people, who mostly aren’t interested anyway, because they’re quite content and aren’t listening. Brussels and Westminster and the newspapers and the mass media are all talking to each other rather than to anyone else.
I wonder what it’s like for Manuel Barroso, being driven in his limo through the streets of Brussels? Does he still feel like a Maoist? Or does he now think of himself as an aristocrat? I wonder if, in his dreams, sometimes he finds himself no longer storming the Winter Palace, but sitting inside it waiting to be stormed.
And if all these Marxists and environmentalists and antismokers and control freaks and assorted other nut jobs are making a complete pig’s ear of the job of governing, is it in the least bit surprising? These are people who spent their whole lives crawling painfully up the greasy pole to positions of power, much like airplane hijackers who’ve fought their way into a cockpit. Do they know what to do once they’ve got there? Not really. There are only one or two imperatives for them: banning smoking being one. But do they know how to fly a plane or run a modern industrial economy? Of course not. There wasn’t a chapter about that in the IRA bomb-making manual.
It’s like when Lenin took command of the new Soviet Union, and discovered – horror of horrors – that Marx had left no advice how to manage the new workers’ paradise. He’d been far too busy plotting and planning and making speeches, working hard to get to the top, to notice little details like that. So it all had to be made up from scratch.
Which is what the new aristocracy is doing too. And it shows.
I don’t know what can be done about the contented and the discontented. The discontented have powerful motivations to become politically engaged, and the contented have very little at all. So it seems to me that the discontented must regularly end up in power (as indeed they have) and the contented must be dis-empowered (as they have been and are being).
And at any one time one of them can be found inside the Winter Palace and the other one at its gates. Whether it’s Manuel Barroso outside, or Manuel Barroso inside, is all down to the spin of the wheel of fortune.
But exactly right now it’s Manuel Barroso and Catherine Ashton and all the rest of them who are inside the Winter Palace rather than outside. And if the tumbrils come rolling for anyone any time soon, it’ll be for the likes of them. Because they’re the new aristocracy, and it’s their necks that are on the block.
I think I can grasp the measure of the nightmare which keeps wakening Manuel Barroso. It begins with him as a young man leading the charge across the courtyard of the Winter Palace, and seating himself triumphantly on the tsar’s throne. But it ends with him being led back out and hanged in the very same courtyard.