Back in 2010, outside 10 Downing Street, David Cameron publicly credited New Labour with making Britain more ‘open at home’. Perhaps he was referring to civil partnerships and the inquiry into the botched investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence, and all flowed from that. He was not referring to SureStart centres.
It would have been better if Mr Cameron had not been making this pronouncement in a Downing Street that is now gated and patrolled by armed officers in bullet-proof vests wielding sub-machine guns. Armed response vehicles prowl our streets. The SAS is presumably on permanent standby should jihadists storm a shopping centre. Our police are now less Dixon of Dock Green, and more Judge Dredd.
When Mr Cameron was ten years old, he could have walked unimpeded into Downing Street and stood in front of No 10 for as long as he wanted. I know, because in 1977, I did this.
Open? The Palace of Westminster is now a fortress, with gates and barriers. The need for this was demonstrated earlier this year. Barriers now separate traffic from pedestrians on London’s bridges.
Open? A spot of poor driving in Kensington caused an emergency security meeting in Downing Street, while businesses near the Natural History Museum were evacuated. A bible-preacher deciding to annoy commuters on a train caused a panic as they fled the carriage. Fighter pilots now have rules of engagement to shoot down civilian airliners over Britain. An airliner was escorted by Typhoons to Stansted last week.
Open? The 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence in south-east London caused a public furore from Day One. There had to be a change of government and the repeal of double-jeopardy legislation before it was properly addressed. Seven years later, the death of Damilola Taylor not far away mobilised the justice system that did not relent until his killers were jailed. How about Corey Junior Davis? A few weeks ago this 14-year-old boy was blasted at close range by a shotgun in Forest Gate in east London and died in hospital. Corey did not get the same attention. In fact the deaths of black men and boys due to gangland violence in London is now reported as blandly as sectarian murders in Northern Ireland were during the Troubles.
Open? The Mayor of London reassures the population that terrorism is ‘part and parcel’ of urban life. Terrorism is normalised with a standard media cycle, removing all outrage and anger to limit community tensions. We now have to accept that being massacred in public spaces, buses, and trains in the 21st century has replaced death by infectious disease in the 19th.
Open? The Labour Party is open. Openly anti-Semitic. Openly Stalinist in its policies and activities. Its female MPs have to beg the leader to restrain his supporters from making open threats of violence and rape, and other abuse.
Open? Universities, previously places of education, discovery, challenge and enlightenment, now ‘no-platform’ guest speakers, provide ‘trigger-warnings’ that presume widespread emotional trauma amongst students and have ‘safe spaces’ where discourse is heavily controlled according to fixed political ideas.
Cameron might have been damning New Labour with faint praise, especially as he credited Tony Blair and Gordon Brown with making the country more ‘compassionate’ abroad. The rightness and wrongness aside, Tony Blair sent troops overseas to fight in quite a few conflicts. Perhaps Blair did it all out of ‘compassion’ rather than national interest.
What Cameron was referring to was Labour’s social reforms, which run according to a ‘progressive’ agenda. This is based on the concept of ‘oppression’ that must be progressively relaxed. But where does progressivism stop? In the name of progressivism, ‘liberated’ parents are now poisoning their children’s bodies with strong hormones and the prospect of mutilation when they are older. They do this because their children are unhappy and they believe this is the only way to make them happy.
The concept of progressivism could be viewed as a graph, where the horizontal axis represents the advance of time from, say, 1945, and the vertical axis represents social freedom. But where does it end? Perhaps it is in a world where there is no differentiation based on identity or values, all being regarded as equal or interchangeable, or both. But that would mean the abolishment of identity, of individuality. There are philosophers who believe that people have no identity or indeed consciousness and that language does not confer identity, but only difference. A dog is not actually a dog. Its ‘dogness’ is defined by the ways it is not a cat or a rabbit.
Alternatively, this could end in people being defined exclusively by their identity instead of as individuals. There are numerous articles in The Guardian and elsewhere in which the author writes not as a human being who holds personal views but ‘as a woman/feminist/socialist/member of a profession’ and so on. The function subverts the flesh. The collective identity comes before the individual human being. Individualism may have been a human trait acquired by circumstance, such as the need to distance oneself from others during plagues to avoid infection. But that is no reason to diminish it or revert to a herd identity.
There seems no end to this ‘progressive’ agenda, despite all the reforms that have taken place. When the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality was marked, some prominent activists used this not to celebrate, but to attack the ‘oppression’ which had gone before and to complain that it was a flawed reform. They refused to acknowledge that curbs were ‘progressively’ relaxed. They could not recognise progressivism and instead wanted revolution.
The graph model seems out of date, especially when feminists are now brawling with transsexual activists in public areas. The problem is that agitators for social freedoms cannot stop agitating once those freedoms have been achieved. There is always a newly-perceived or confected barrier that has to be breached.
Perhaps the model is not a graph, where the axes proceed to infinity. Consider that instead it is a closed system containing two or more entities that completely occupy the entire space. As one entity expands, the other entities must contract.
We seem to have reached peak progressiveness. Various groups have adequate legal protections against social or economic disadvantage based on identity. However the unintended consequence is that identity is being used for entitlement and advantage over achievement and ability. Recently the Culture Secretary blocked the appointment of a person to the board of Channel 4. However, it was the identity, and not the actual ability of the candidate, that was the issue, as the person blocked was black and female. So it was assumed that these were the factors that prevented the person from taking up the position. Indeed David Lammy MP asked the Prime Minister: ‘Does she not think there is a woman or a black person in the country worthy of being on the board of Channel 4?’ According to Lammy, it is no longer a case of the best person for the job, but the best identity.
We are less open. Discussion and debate is now being unreasonably closed down as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic or Islamophobic. As a result, people are being hurt and killed unnecessarily. People are policing their thoughts as never before as all discourse is increasingly politicised. History is being edited, most recently by trying to make out that Britain’s greatest sailor, Horatio Nelson, was a white supremacist on the basis of nothing at all but a feeling. Ideas are not being explored and silos of identity are being given a greater licence than that allowed to those who do not fall into a defined group. To criticise the licence is a social, and possibly actual, crime.
It was French journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan who stated that ‘like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children’. Progressivism does not take bites, but nibbles over time. Social reform has reached a plateau, where the reformers’ demands (never requests) are more outlandish and outrageous. They are making us less happy, less free, and less safe.
It’s not a graph any more. It is a closed system. And as such, it is reasonable, possibly even necessary, at times, to push back.