An Old Man and his Balcony

I’ve been following developments in the British election over the last few weeks, the most radical event being the introduction of American style television debate among the party leaders – and that’s it. The best they could come up with? A facile copy of a debatable electionary tool, and such is the sheepish nature of the electorate, it really looks as if the whole election has actually turned around this puerile event – Nick Clegg redeeming himself to become a front runner, and let’s be honest, looking at the younger candidates, old Brown is just too old, too jaded, too stuffy to win this game. And did they have coherent, workable answers to the questions being put – of course not, not one of them, but that’s not the point, that’s not what’s important. What’s important is that they look as if they had the answers.

Take a little step back and what do you see – three besuited middle aged men puffed up discreetly with makeup, gestures buffed up with training sessions in how to emphasise this, to undermine that, repeating scripted phrases in an absurd simulation of authenticity, each one trying desperately to convince us that their act is more real than the next.

So what does it mean when one of them comes out on top. It means that either a Nick, or a David, or a Mr. Brown, okay, definitely not Mr. Brown, is the best actor of the lot, the most convincing in his chosen role. The substance, what they stand for, is by and large immaterial.

These are stylised politicians, politicians trying to be actors pretending to be politicians, and when we actually try and find the difference between them we are left with a tiny set of nuances, he’s a bit older, he’s a bit fresher, he’s a bit sharper, but in reality they’re all the same, constructed in the slickened image of a presidential politician devised by the various media experts floating nervously in the background. And when a bit of reality enters the scuffle, it’s a disaster – we’re all shocked, flabbergasted and outraged at the two-faced bigot who snubs his electorate – and an off the cuff remark, a plainly stupid aside given the electoral recording machine, becomes a downfall – never mind whether he was right or not.

Far worse, of course, than the candidates medial homogeneity, is the absence of any substantial difference in policy. Whatever happens, whoever gets in, by focusing on style what one ensures, what a ruling elite can ensure, is that the status quo remains the same.

Another very disturbing piece of news this week is that they’re planning to shut down Middlesex University’s renowned Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, where I studied many years ago. Closing it itself is a scandal given its world class research record and it’s not inconsiderable contribution to the University’s name and revenues. But it also seems to be a part of a wave of closures in Philosophy departments in Britain which, given the popularity of Philosophy among students, looks more and more like an attack on critical thought itself, fuelled by vacuous arguments that Philosophy is superfluous because it doesn’t help you get a job – as if learning and thinking is simply about getting a job, or as if Philosophy does not provide its students with a powerful set of analytical tools which are useful in any field. Best not to think about it, really.

If you want to support the department please sign this petition: save Middlesex Philosophy petition.

And that’s about all from me this week – all I’ve been doing is staring out of the window at the man across the way. Then I wrote a poem about it. You can read it here.