Friday, 16 April 2010

Song of the day

Well, there are two big news stories today.

They are the 'historic' first leadership debate between the prime ministerial candidates and the grounding of thousands of flights over northern Europe due to volcanic particles entering the flight paths of aeroplanes following the eruption of the wonderfully-named Eyjafjallajokull volcano.

Amidst all the cynicism about politics in the aftermath of the expenses scandal, Iraq and everything else this oldie is strangely appropriate.

I particularly like the line: "...come back as fire, burn all the liars and leave a blanket of ash on the ground."

Handily Greg Neale recalls a story I also remember about how an eruption of the Laki volcano in 1793 conspired to add to the general toxic atmosphere of pre-revolutionary France. According to Gilbert White an acid, acrid 'red mist' descended on the land (and is blamed for the death of up to a quarter of the global population as 120m tonnes of sulphur dioxide was released into the sky, together with changed climate patterns and subsequent failed harvests) which contemporaries such as Ben Franklin saw as an indicator for the forthcoming social tumult.

Perhaps it was more a case of the retrospective wisdom of commentators who latched onto the event as a metaphor for the times than a direct indicator (in a similar way to the sinking of the unsinkable Titanic foreshadowed the death of the ancien regime), but nevertheless it is inescapable that the comparative mindsets of the people on either side of the channel and their reactions contributed to the political climate.

The dogmatic and volatile religious fervour in traditionally-Catholic France (exemplified by the replacement of one absolutist cult after another, from Louis XVI to Robespierre and the Jacobin Reign of Terror to Napoleon himself) which viewed their supreme deity as having forsaken the people or betrayed their trust contrasts with the gently sceptical and scientific Protestantism at large in the mind of Britain (eptiomised by Hampshire's country pastor and naturalist White) which tends towards self-reliance and a generally inquisitive attitude.

I may be being optimistic, but with all the new outlets for information and comment including this humble blog and the first televised debate last night I actually have some serious hope that all the liars will be burnt as they are exposed to a more intense level of scrutiny - something that already seems to be happening with Cameron's claim about a £73k Lexus as indicative of waste in the Police force, Brown's claim that Police will be 'visible' on the streets 80% of the time being hung out to dry and a greater focus on all the claims made by each side.

LibDems traditionally suffer from a lack of profile and also from a consequent lack of scrutiny of their manifesto figures and actual policies, so although I'm pleased that Nick Clegg has been resoundingly named the victor of the first debate (whatever that means) I think it will serve the party better should we see a significant rise in the number of votes and seats gained, or even should the state of the LibDems become decisive to the formation of the eventual government: the threat of scrutiny is nothing to be feared!

It's ominous that experts are already suggesting that we should be prepared for a second, larger eruption from the neighbouring Katla volcano - one of Icelands twin 'angry sisters'. Although Eyjafjallajokull has only exploded 3 times in a millenium, each time it set off Katla... maybe this time the people will really look at the manifestos on offer and overturn the assumed consensus that hard-line policies are most popular.

Don't get me wrong, I like procedural rigour, but without the imaginative perspective to go with it and be able to see where we're headed politics offers nothing but excuses for past mistakes. This country really does need to explode the myth that perpetual top-down clampdowns is any way forward.


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