Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The sympathetic eye 2

(Continued from this) If we the public insist that Tony Blair (or George Bush) think only of the children (the victims), then we the nation are doomed to lose all power over our fate. It is not that it is a bad thing to think of the children, it is only that others who do not think of the children but rather of their long-term aims will always have the ascendency. They will win; we will lose. That would be be unfortunate for our children and, I would maintain, for lots of others' as well.

Many have commented unfavourably on the influence the media has on the present British government saying that it leads to short-term, headline-grabbing initiatives that do nothing but allow ministers to claim that they 'are doing something'. There is justice in this accusation, especially as regards national issues such as crime and public disorder. One of the bitterest lessons that Labour had to learn in its long winter of exclusion was the importance of Middle England opinion and the influence of the media on that opinion. They have bent over backwards and licked their boots to keep Middle England onside for the last ten years. The Tories have had to relearn the same lesson.

In foreign affairs, however, Blair has usually trodden a very different path, one that put the interests of the country first however difficult it was to sell to the country itself. I admire his bravery and I think him to be right on most of the great international questions. The worry is that the next premier, or the one after that, may adopt the focus group approach to foreign affairs as well as to domestic ones. The ebb and flow of public opinion since the 11th of September have shown that it is swayed as much by sentiment and the need to have a good view of itself as by rational considerations.

The desire to retreat into a cosy cocoon and shut the blinds to the advancing conflagration is the consequence of our comfortable lives and is probably one of the reasons that those on top never stay there for long. A democracy is always prone to the humours of its electorate, and one that has been educated like ours and that is fed the emotionally charged imagery of the evening news is not in a position to make the imposed decisions between a rock and a hard place that may save it. The illusory choices of a pleasant view of oneself or of inaction are often irresistible. I fear our perfectly understandable desire not to be bothered by the intemperate actions of far-away people. But if we who have the power do not act, who will? Whoever it is, they won't do it for our benefit. I fear our desire for a quiet life because in certain circumstances it can lead to nothing better than a quiet and desperate survival.

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