Monday, 19 September 2011

The real meaning of betrayal

It was in watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy that I was struck by this thought.

As anyone who knows the story will be fully aware the betrayal of their nation and ideals by double-agents within MI6 was not related to circumstance but to the narrow self-advantage of temporary gain. The treasonous actions of the Cambridge group of sleepers and moles were so abhorrent because they were self-defeating - in allowing themselves to manipulated through unquestioning support of their ideals they ended up supporting a cause which stood against everything they initially claimed to believe in.

So le Carre's narrative becomes an allusion to the process of political debate as it was played out on the international post-war stage. And in this it becomes newly relevant in respect of the current debate about coalition politics in Britain.

But where the Bill Haydens set out with a polarised mindset of either being for or against their utopian vision it is the flawed and complicit George Smileys who ultimately prove their heroism by convincing his opposing spy-master Karla to defect through the means of uncovering the base corruption of values at the heart of all conflicted establishments and by seeking to set them right from within. He argues that only by acknowledging the individual as a morally ambiguous agent working within the restraints of reality can he or she triumph over the cynicism of corrupted ideals caused by the amplification of artificial differences, and thereby step closer towards a unifed universe. That all revolutions fail because they depend on the impossibility of imperfect humans achieving unobtainable absolutes is the natural corrollary which animates his enemies of civilisation.

Balancing the grimness and grit to find a way through the murk he treads a fine line, yet le Carre's artistic achievement is in how he successfully uncovers the reality of the secret world through his fictional account and thereby makes a profound exposition of the interwoven nature of political relationships in society without exposing his acquaintances in the world he knew so well. Unlike other more scandalous writers such as Peter Wright, le Carre ('the square') wrote a story of betrayal without betraying anyone - as he said in an interview "It's a matter of pride to me that nobody who knows the reality has so far accused me of revealing it."

For LibDems roundly accused of betraying students over the issue of tuition fees the story offers some subtler comforts.

It is in the difference between Smiley's slow, methodical and self-effacing approach and the enthusiasm of blind idealism transformed into ruthless murder and self-aggrandisement as represented by Hayden and his cohorts that we can start to understand real betrayal is not in changing what you say you'll do, but in changing the reasons why you do what you do.

In going against their pre-election pledge to students in order to form a coalition LibDems did not betray students and the party's commitment to education, even if the leadership did betray their word.

Whatever may be said about the advantages of ministerial cars in supporting an egotistical rump the concurrent slump in opinion polls should be enough evidence that Clegg & Co's choice to take action wasn't cynically or selfishly intended - indeed the party remains fully committed to a fairer form of financing higher education by eventually phasing out tuition fees altogether while ensuring people from poorer backgrounds are not disadvantaged by eliminating up-front fees and raising earnings thresholds for repayments.

The accusation of betrayal is a myth, and it is perpetrated by the same people who pushed the higher education system into crisis just as they pushed the economy of the country into crisis.

The accusers have sought to use the shock of disrepute against LibDems to their own narrow political advantage without explaining how widening access to Universities can be achieved via any alternative sets of financial reforms to HE funding.

The accusers have projected their own ideological betrayal onto LibDems by denying the requirement to balance idealism with reality and the need to find pragmatic solutions.

The true betrayal is theirs because the real meaning of betrayal does not depend on intentions, but on results.

No comments: