BEFORE I describe political realities, let me say what they are are not. Political realities are not what is studied in the Oxford PPE course, nor are they those interesting journalistic topics which are the stock-in-trade of the commentariat. Above all, political realities are not concerned with ideals and principles. Political realities, as opposed to political chat, are always about interests.
My first example of a political reality in real life was the episode late last year in which outstandingly brave members of the public tried to disarm a terrorist at Fishmongers’ Hall in the City of London. What had been taking place in the hall earlier that day was, by contrast, an example of political unreality. A group of academics, sociologists and assorted wishful thinkers were at a conference to discuss a programme they had devised to rehabilitate and ‘de-radicalise’ convicted terrorists.
What are the criteria for adjudging that a murderous enemy of the people has been successfully and fully rehabilitated? Do you subject the terrorist to an examination – or two examinations, or forty-six examinations – before you declare him rehabilitated? There is no way of deciding that the rehabilitation has been successful.
What the academics, sociologists and wishful thinkers did was in effect to take a chance that their man was no longer a threat to the public. They were morally – and perhaps even criminally – in the wrong. Their fatal wrongdoing was the result of operating the political unreality which insisted that they could correctly judge that their man had been thoroughly rehabilitated when there was no way they could ever be sure of this.
By contrast, those brave men who took on the terrorist were operating a political reality because their actions were neither theoretical or abstract, but in everybody’s clear and obvious interests.
My second example considers an event which involved a nation’s enemy: the assassination of the Iranian terrorist leader Qasem Soleimani. This man had been responsible for the murder of tens of thousands, and US military intelligence had revealed that his plans to commit a further atrocity on the grand scale were well advanced. President Trump decided, on the evidence, that Soleimani should be stopped in his tracks.
It was only to be expected that the President was subjected to the disapproval of people of the same hue as those who operated the rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programme. They said that, rather than commit the bold military strike which got rid of Soleimani, he should try to ‘contain’ and so limit Iran’s aggressive actions.
There is a name for this policy and it is appeasement. But appeasement, in the attempt to limit damage, ends by provoking greater damage. Fortunately, we have an example ready to hand. In 1935, Adolf Hitler tested the resolve of Britain and France by sending his troops into the Rhineland. Judging the event to be only a small-scale incursion, the allies decided against a military reaction in favour of what at the time was termed ‘engagement’ with Nazi Germany. Unsurprisingly, this persuaded Hitler that the allies had no stomach for war. So he was emboldened to make larger incursions such as his invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938. Infamously, the allies decided on appeasement again and committed themselves to the swindle of the Munich agreement. It was only when Hitler invaded Poland the following year that it dawned on the allies that Hitler’s aim all along had been the domination of Europe.
The result of ‘engagement’ and appeasement was death and suffering on a worldwide scale. The likelihood is that the great evil of the Second World War would never have occurred if the allies had retaliated with the overwhelming forces which they possessed at the time and driven Hitler out of the Rhineland in 1935.
Appeasement fails precisely because it is an example of a political unreality. The supreme example of appeasement is pacifism. The pacifist tells the enemy, ‘Do as you like, bomb us to kingdom come even, and we will offer no resistance.’ The philosopher R G Collingwood defined pacifism as ‘an ungrammatical name for an illogical idea’. He explained exactly why, and it is worth quoting him in full:
‘The pacifist does nothing to decrease war. On the contrary, he promotes it to the utmost of his power by ensuring, insofar as in him lies, that the war-makers shall have their reward. Pacifism is thus warmongery complicated by defeatism. The pacifist is not interested in political realities. He is interested only in his own clear conscience. Let the world be given over to the sword, his conscience is clear so long as he did not himself draw a sword. That he forced others to draw it is nothing to him.’
My third example of political realities and unrealities involves the whole demos in the shape of the general election of December 2019. This contest resulted in a Conservative landslide when the electorate voted down the preposterous fantasies of the Labour Party’s manifesto. They could see that these had not been costed. Mr Corbyn was saying in effect, ‘Vote for me and I’ll give you a perfect world.’ Spectacularly, even Labour’s traditional supporters did the unimaginable and voted Conservative. They did so because they were unwilling to see the money they earned by the sweat of their brow and paid in taxation squandered. Moreover, they were not prepared to allow a man alleged by many to harbour anti-Semitic sentiments, and who had consistently referred to the country’s enemies in such terrorist gangs as the IRA and Hezbollah as ‘my friends’, to become their Prime Minister.
For this they were denounced and reviled by Labour’s elite ideologists, champagne socialists and Hampstead Marxists. One prominent Labour MP was rude enough to refer to those former Labour supporters who had voted Tory as ‘stupid’. But it was not they who were stupid, rather the Labour ideologues – the equivalent of those wishful thinkers in Fishmongers’ Hall – who were stupid, because they had allowed themselves to be persuaded by a political unreality.
Real politics is substantial and incarnate: it is not about theories and abstractions but actualities, about people and things.
If I may slightly adapt a well-known line, in order to become realities, political words must be made flesh so that they can dwell among us.