Thursday, 11 April 2013

The politics of cheerfulness

I like to think that cheerfulness is a virtue: not only an emotional response to pleasant circumstances, but part of the disposition of someone willing to try to make a positive contribution to the world, even when times are hard.  As a character in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass puts it, ‘We have to be all those difficult things like cheerful and kind and curious and patient, and we’ve got to study and think and work hard…’. 

Since the formation of the Coalition, and especially this week, I’ve been struck by how powerful the politics of anger is, across the political spectrum.  So many people in Britain seem to define their politics in terms of what they are against, rather than what they are for.  (And I should admit to having delivered thousands of leaflets over the years including messages such as ‘only x can beat y here’.  I probably wrote some of them, too…).  Yet political anger is too prone to become dissipated. For instance, reversing most of Margaret Thatcher’s more contentious policies just isn’t on the agenda.  That isn’t a good thing, but suggests that passionate anger can all too easily become steam rather than heat.  (A tangible attempt to challenge this is Don’t Hate Donate).
One of the attractive things about liberals, as opposed to much of the contemporary ‘consumer left’ (who hate Thatcher, hate Blair, hate Bush, hate Clegg etc etc),* is that on the whole I think our disposition revolves around some positives; valuing things such as liberty, mutuality, locality and diversity, rather than being defined by what we don’t like.  The labels ‘left’ and ‘right’ require their opposites for definition, but liberalism is more self-sufficient.
Of course I don’t claim that cheerfulness is exclusively liberal, nor that liberals agree on the nature of our values.  Really this is just a rather long-winded way of saying that I’ve added a ‘Reasons to stay’ (in the Liberal Democrats) box at the top of the blog.

* To tamper a little with the inspired Word of Monty Python’s Life of Brian...

Reg: Listen. If you wanted to join the P.F.J., you'd have to really hate the Romans.

Brian: I do!

Reg: Oh, yeah? How much?

Brian: A lot!

Reg: Right. You're in. Listen. The only people we hate more than the Romans are the fucking Liberal Democrats.

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