By John Battle.
The American P. J. O’Rourke, asked what is the point of politicians, replied they were only interested in survival by “sustaining an image of competence” from one day to the next. Increasingly as our politics becomes “Americanised” and media driven, this narrow view seems not only accurate but even long term in the era of 24/7 news and Twitter feed. The issue is not only “surviving” with reputation intact from one news bulletin to the next but crucially sustaining an “image” of competence rather than the reality. What is sacrificed is not only longer term thinking and vision but the political search for truth about reality. Politics reduced to a process of survival cannot develop hope. It therefore feeds off fostering fear, in which the space for rational debate, argument and discussion of alternative principles and policies is occluded.
Recently BBC commentator Nick Robinson referred to the Government’s need to “control the narrative”. We have been moved on from sinister “spin doctors” trying to control the agenda and spin information in the government’s favour to a tone of positive government necessity. The “narrative” must be controlled or the country will spin off the rails! What’s more the “dominant narrative” has to be defended at all costs, blaming the last government for the financial crisis rather than the banks and insisting that the poor are the cause of too much public spending and as a result must pay the highest price of “austerity”. Occasionally, under pressure, this dominant narrative shifts when it is realised that Europeans do not come to Britain “just to live on benefits” but to work and are so low paid they need a wages top up (in reality a subsidy to low paying employers).
Archbishop Oscar Romero reminded us that the task of the Church was to “tell the truth about reality and accompany the people”. We need both to listen to the experiences of the people and liberate the stories of their reality (Justice and Peace groups could work more closely with SVP members), and to be more outspoken, challenging the dominant narrative and reintroducing alternatives. If politicians themselves are too afraid to speak out, then we must raise the agendas at every level.
Deep hope does not come from within politics but from with “faith communities”. Faith is the source of hope and that includes developing a sense of faith in people and our capacity to change and remake our world, co-creating as brothers and sisters with our common shared parent.
There are alternative narratives; and in our tradition it runs from the Crib to the Cross but ends in Resurrection. There are no short cuts but a need for outspoken action.
John Battle, former MP for Leeds West