When it comes to discussing important matters such as global politics, religion, one man’s terrorist being another’s freedom fighter, good versus evil, the meaning of life, common human values, the defence of civil liberties versus government’s key responsibility to protect the public, ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’ [often attributed to the 18th Century writer/philosopher Voltaire, but in fact a quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1956) given as an illustration of Voltaire’s beliefs] and the infinite capacity of human beings to find reasons to justify waging war upon each other, I am acutely aware that in terms of intelligence, common sense and insight I am seeking to operate in a rarefied atmosphere well above my pay-grade.
Mind you, that doesn’t stop me having opinions!
The fact is that every human being is unique and (one would like to think) that all men and women are equal, each entitled to similar dignity, treatment, respect of others and importance/priority as anyone else. And yet, in different societies to differing degrees, they rarely are.
Is this proof of ‘wondrous variety’ or a worrying symptom of the unfairnesses of life that ought to be addressed?
I’ve commented before on the inequalities of life-chances and the different (genetic?) skills, attributes and awareness with which we all come into the world.
When it comes to matters of the economy, for example, is it really right that in a democracy both the gormless vagrant on the street corner and the most eminent professor of economic theory in the land have the same single vote?
Arguably the answer is yes, especially when (for example) you can quite easily line up one group of fifty economists who hold that austerity and ‘getting a gripe upon the public finances’ is the best or only route to stability and then another group of fifty who believe quite the opposite. Surely they cannot both be right … or can they?
How does one square (or resolve) the position of Israel with that its neighbours and others who deny its right to exist?
How do you proceed when Saudi Arabia operates what the West would regard as an oppressive regime – lack of respect for human rights, denying women the right to drive and so on, right up to the fact that it has apparently been funding ISIS and building mosques all over Europe with the intent of spreading its Wahhabi version of the Sunni vision of Islam – when its oil and riches are sorely needed by us all and, in Britain’s case and I’m sure others, tens of thousands of jobs in the domestic armaments industry depend directly upon sales to that country?
Similar examples are legion and therefore I will stop trying to list them.
Which brings me to the vexed subject of what happens when principles collide with the ‘real world’, or – in Jeremy Corbyn’s case, after forty years of ploughing a certain furrow with his particular set of beliefs and views upon the issues affecting society and the world ‘from the outside’ (by which I mean of importance and power) – when, seemingly by extraordinary random happenchance, he becomes leader of the Labour Party and therefore presumably a potential ‘heir apparent’ as British Prime Minister at the 2020 General Election.
Although certain doom was confidently predicted by a strong majority of political pundits, ‘establishment’ (vaguely Blairite) Labour MPs and Twitter-adherents, I have been somewhat impressed by his general performance since his elevation.
Okay, I admit that I’ve been tuning in to Prime Minister’s Question Time, successive news broadcasts and his public pronouncements rather in the manner of an unabashed rubber-necker driving by some horrendous multi-vehicle pile-up on the opposite side of a motorway, hoping/expecting to witness some catastrophic meltdown or implosion and then an ignominious departure from the scene.
It hasn’t happened. For me his homespun performances in parliamentary debates have added a significant novelty factor to the normal wishy-washy soup of Commons daily life. I’m not saying they’re brilliant but they’re certainly different.
Then there was the ‘did he, didn’t he?’ (non-event) storm surrounding his appearance at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday. I thought he definitely bobbed his head momentarily before resuming his position beside David Cameron but the next day the Tory press was trumpeting that he hadn’t and instead had been deliberately disrespectful.
As it happens, I was out driving to the shops yesterday afternoon when the Prime Minister was finishing his statement upon the aftermath of the Parisian bombings last Friday, including the vexed issue of whether Britain should extend its military action into Syria, and then it became Mr Corbyn’s turn to respond.
It was a strange performance. Hitherto he has been pretty self-assured on his hind legs in Parliament, but yesterday he ummed and aahed … paused often, seemingly losing his way … and was hesitant throughout his effort. Perhaps this was because he was acutely aware that he had to tread a very careful line between saying what he actually thought and knowing that if he did so he risked ‘turning off’ the listening public at home and/or running a gauntlet of potential outrage from the bulk of his MPs, few of whom voted for him as their leader.
It’s often tough being a political leader and statesman in our troubled world with its innumerable complexities and seemingly irreconcilable complexities, but sometimes it can be equally problematic for those in opposition. Watch this space.