Younger than that now

There’s some good stuff from Ross McKibbin in the current LRB:

the two major parties fundamentally share the same ideology. Despite assurances that the political elite is interested only in what works, this is the most intensely ideological period of government we have known in more than a hundred years. The model of market-managerialism has largely destroyed all alternatives, traditional and untraditional. Its most powerful weapon has been its vocabulary. We are familiar with the way this language has carried all before it. We must sit on the cusp, hope to be in a centre of excellence, dislike producer-dominated industries, wish for a multiplicity of providers, grovel to our line managers, even more to the senior management team, deliver outcomes downstream, provide choice. Our students are now clients, our patients and passengers customers. It is a language which was first devised in business schools, then broke into government and now infests all institutions.

But this rings oddly false:

there is still a sense in which the Conservative Party is not of the real world. Its infantile reaction (fully shared by Cameron) to possible reductions in the British EU rebate – like its attitude to Europe generally – is not the behaviour of a party which wants to be taken seriously.

I’m enough of a Marxist to get extremely twitchy when I hear the word ‘infantile’. Even if we could forget Lenin’s infamous use of the term, ‘infantile’ wouldn’t be a term that belongs in serious political discourse. It’s not criticism so much as gatekeeping: you and I, responsible adults, have our legitimate disagreements within the spectrum of legitimate and responsible politics, but as for them… dear oh dear, why don’t they just grow up?

It was (for obvious reasons) several years ago that Roy Jenkins appeared on Desert Island Discs and nominated a ghastly piece of Stalinist choral kitsch as his first choice (“And every propellor is roaring/Defending the USSR!”). It dated back, he explained, to his undergraduate days, when he indulged in “infantile leftism”. Which struck me.

Our Infant
Tell me, Vladimir Ilyich: when you swam
Those bright days, history running fast about you;
When you stood war from the green West, from the frozen sea;
When the paint was flaking, when last month’s posters
Flapped torn in the streets; when time resumed
And progress was stemmed; were you the only adult?
Were they children, who in that dawn saw other days,
Who would unwire your fences, lift the webs
Necessity had placed with your hands:
Were these people children, infants to be corrected? For they died without descendants, these children,
Soon after you died old. The young webs,
The temporary fences lived and flourished
Till a nation’s leader walked in the dark West,
Walked among the nations as an equal.
It was a glorious nation in its new,
Iron adulthood: a land of strength,
A young triumph over the old world;
And that great baby there was singing its song.

How young he was then! How childish to suppose
There was ever a young dawn in this dull world,
How rash to support the new ruler over the old!
Now, old in the old West, he looks back
On a life well-aged, on the drift of time
That has borne him into this maturity:
Now no bright dawn, now no land of glory
Singing in his voice; now in adult tones
He walks in adult passages, swaddled
In the soft belief that nothing could be better,
Drinking the sweet medicine of no change.

In most areas McKibbin has a sharp eye for New Labour’s ‘market-managerialism’, but when it comes to the EU he’s also drunk his medicine. But in a way that’s only to be expected. Hugo Young’s ‘blessed plot’, the entrenchment of unaccountable bureaucratic power at the European level, preceded New Labour – and seems likely to survive it.


  1. BrianB
    Posted 25 December 2005 at 09:34 | Permalink | Reply


    I wonder whether ‘infantile’ has that echo still for very many people, so long after those dreary polemics?

    Who wrote the very striking poem? (Pun not intended, obviously.)


  2. Phil
    Posted 25 December 2005 at 17:15 | Permalink | Reply

    I think those resonances are still echoing around anywhere where people still take Lenin seriously – which doesn’t account for that much of the world, obviously, but it’s not negligible.

    The poem is mine. I had a couple of stabs at getting poetry published several years ago, but the effort (and the waiting around) was so disproportionate to the results that I gave up. (Tribune printed one, about the ceremonial re-interment of Imre Nagy.) I’d write this one less flashily now, but I still rather like it.

  3. Meaders
    Posted 30 December 2005 at 12:47 | Permalink | Reply

    Boo! You shouldn’t be so dismissive of “infantile’s” wonderful capacity to inflame pointles sectarian debates… for this alone, the word has provided many decades of harmless amusement.

  4. Phil
    Posted 30 December 2005 at 12:50 | Permalink | Reply

    A Trot Wrote:
    …pointles sectarian debates…

    Heh. We are all sectarians.

    (I like ‘pointles’ as a typo, incidentally, but it’s not as good as the line I once saw on a newsgroup – “Your words are meaningles”. Sounds like a more tinselly meme…

  5. Chris Williams
    Posted 3 January 2006 at 16:21 | Permalink | Reply

    Nothing to add, as such, save that the giftrap is currently reading “orohhrl”, which is too Tolkienesque to pass over right now. Infantile of me, I know.

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