The politics of feeling
And therein lies the apparently unbridgeable gulf between those who cling to the form, order and reason of modernity, and those who have adopted the postmodern narrative of sensing, feeling and intuiting. Parliament is no longer about hard facts, lawyerly legislation or taxation, for that is a man’s world of sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. It has been feminised for an age which yearns for spiritual aesthetics more than hollow politics. And to marry politics with sentiment one has to be both male and female at a glance. It is the political age of androgyny.
It does seem absurd that the business of government and the functioning of Parliament should be suspended ‘as a mark of respect’ for a 6-year-old boy. After all, children die every day in tragic circumstances: the death of ‘Baby P’ might be considered a case far more worthy of parliamentary lamentation and the suspension of democracy.
As Dr Helen Szamuely observes, ‘the death of six-year old Ivan is not a national tragedy’. She proceeds to list a number of personal tragedies in history which did not result in the suspension of proceedings ‘even for an hour’. Michael White in The Guardian also berates the Dianification of politics, noting that the death of as many as 146 children in the tragedy of Aberfan did not cause a suspension of parliamentary proceedings, and neither does the weekly list of fallen soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Like Dr Szamuely, he is of the opinion that ‘private and public life are separate and one does not and should not intrude on the other’.
Cranmer is reminded of the defiant gesture of Margaret Thatcher the day after the Brighton Bomb, in which some of her friends and colleagues were killed, maimed and crippled. But normal politics continued, enduring like the Royal Standard of England. Perhaps this was the final manifestation of political modernity – the age in which duty, obedience, respect and reverence were deemed essential. They underpinned the foundation of the dominant political and intellectual ideas of the age, forged through criticism and reform. But now we move in a different direction. Politics has been replaced by romance, and the narrative embraces the inexplicable and the indefinable. It is concerned with the science and mechanism of charm – the art of pleasing and imperative of weeping. One is no longer so much concerned with reason and logical discourse, but with reading human hearts.
And so the media places more emphasis upon clothing and jewellery than on policy or parliament. Politics is fused with feeling and experience, elation and depression. The antidote to the utilitarian creed of modernity is sensual emoting. What used to be masculine and muscular has been feminised with dreams of contemplation and moments of meditation.
The suspension of Parliament as ‘a mark of respect’ may not have been appropriate, but it felt it.
Politics, like theology, has to embrace the vernacular. And the narrative has become that of illogic and unreason. It may not be right or good, or even conducive to the rational and reasonable, but it is real and it is now. Politicians, like priests, either use it, or they cease to communicate and simply confirm their utter irrelevance.