September 25, 2009

TO INHERIT THE FUTURE YOU NEED TO REBRAND THE PAST:

The history wars: It is time for British politicians to stop bickering about the past and confront the future (Bagehot, Sep 24th 2009, The Economist)

[A]rguments about history are a kind of comforting displacement activity. Talking about the past, for some politicians, may be less a way of understanding the future than of avoiding it.

For more than a decade, the business of politics has been spending: the dispensation of baubles, pork and promises to assorted groups; the divvying up of an ever-expanding cake. This is the world most politicians on every front bench grew up in. It has now vanished. Suddenly everyone parrots the need for spending cuts, like courtiers paying hurried obeisance to a new king. But the two main parties are coy about the details, either because these are too alarming to share, or because nobody knows what they are. Likewise, another pressing worry—how to make the British economy less dependent on financial services—is mostly discussed in vapid generalisations about “green” jobs. Much easier to revisit bygone choices than confront new ones.

In democratic politics, it is not quite true that he who controls the past controls the future. In a way, the reverse is the case: opinions of a party’s image and prospectus retroactively alter the way their histories are regarded. At their conferences, Labour and the Tories need to end the history wars and, if they want to inherit it, concentrate on the future.


Whichever party is most closely identified with the Third Way politics that have dominated Britain since 1979 will win, so long as they pretend that they are doing something new to get their base to come along.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2009 7:18 AM
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