Just before watching the 1993 thriller film The Fugitive, I came across a cute little video on the YouTube channel of the British Conservative Party, the description of which reminds us that May brings a "crucial choice" for the British public, a choice between the forces of good and evil.
If you were born in the Deep South of the United States, chances are that you're holding the same opinions as a conservative Christian. If you were born to socialist parents, it's likely that you will emerge a socialist too. But the pattern continues past beliefs: a person's feelings toward something, by which I mean how they emotionally react to particular concepts or events, are easily influenced by parental instruction and societal upbringing. My feeling of discomfort when sharing a room with someone who is smoking are likely the result of an upbringing in a family of non-smokers.
Historical determinism affects far more than feelings and beliefs. Influenced greatly by Marxism, historical determinism suggests that the life of a person, including their thoughts, education, health and opportunities, is heavily defined by their place in history. A woman born in a Middle Eastern country is likely to have little access to education, to become a mother and be treated as the property of her husband until her death. She may well believe what she has been told, that her sex is weaker and should remain in the house, raising the children and looking after the family, submitting to her husband at his command. Similarly, a boy born to a poor working family in the era of the Industrial Revolution would likely find work in a factory or a workhouse, labouring in dismal conditions and living in a small, overpopulated home, supporting a large family who would be unlikely to do anything different to him. He would be politically illiterate, unaware of his country's affairs on a grand scale, unwelcoming to immigrants and foreign visitors.
All of this can make us wonder whether the beliefs that we hold, or rather we have inherited, are rational, and whether we are rational to continue holding them if we are aware that they may have been given to us.
OK - this is the second post in quick succession that relates to the current British government and how it could crumble. I want to make clear that I am not an anarchist and I am not plotting the government's downfall.
In fact, engineering the government's destruction seems futile anyway. When the Panama Papers revelations broke, evidence from a poll indicates that only 8% of Britons were "surprised" when they were informed of the complex tax evasion schemes that many of the world's wealthiest have used to dodge tax bills. You would have thought that a leak of information big enough to bring down Iceland's premier and prompt calls for the resignation of our own would have Britons outraged and up in arms. Nope. People aren't particularly surprised. They may be incensed but it hasn't really come to surprise any great number of people.
Avoiding taxes by basing your business in an offshore or continental tax haven such as the Cayman Islands, Switzerland etc. isn't a new thing. Businesses have been doing it for years. Private Eye reports on it in almost every edition. Television shows such as The Revolution Will Be Televised accompanied its comedy with hard-hitting facts about the many millions that corporate heads and well-off elders avoid paying in tax through their clever planning and bending of the rules. People are all too aware of just how sneakily the 1% attempt to hide their cash and avoid taxes. When the Panama Papers were published, yes, it is a huge scandal and people should be punished for it, but plenty of people thought of it as the latest episode in a long, tedious series. In fact, the depth and scale of the deviousness reinforced the frustration and hopelessness of those who wish the change the system.
Thousands of people marched to Downing Street yesterday calling for the Prime Minister's resignation, but it doesn't seem likely to me that David Cameron will give in to the demands of the demonstrators. It doesn't seem in the spirit of this government, nor in the spirit of the Coalition, to give in to criticism. Industrial output is pathetic and the National Health Service cannot survive the government's economic plan. Junior doctors are striking, removing themselves from the emergency departments for the first time in the history of the health service. The party is divided over Europe and continues to smear its political opponents with exaggerated criticisms and untruths. Yet nothing can dethrone the Conservative Party besides a Labour victory in a general election in 2020.
Not only does the Cameron administration seem impregnable to whatever problems scandal and incompetence create, but it also has the uncanny ability to be able to spin anything that comes its way. Shortly after the Prime Minister's involvement in the Panama Papers came to light, the government stated that the Panama Papers demonstrated the need to be tough on tax evasion and that it was leading the way in doing so. It had managed to turn a story about the suspicious financial affairs of the leader of the nation into evidence in favour of the government's plans to tackle other people's suspicious financial affairs.
Will anything but a general election bring this government down?
"Offence" is a frustrating word. It has been used in many a context, to the point where "offence" reflects a variety of feelings toward the same thing. Some people are offended by what I write as a contributor to The Yorker or to the Huffington Post or elsewhere; some people are offended by what I would argue in an essay on philosophy; some people would be offended by what I would have to say about Kierkegaard's religious philosophy, tabloid journalism, the Green Party, Ronald Reagan worshippers, slippery politicians and other things. It's entirely possible that someone will read this and be offended by this very blog post, or even this paragraph. You can never escape offence, just as you can never escape criticism. But if we were afraid of criticism, then we would never put forward any ideas or opinions at all. From scrutiny comes progress, as I like to say.
At the Oxford Union, Brendan O'Neil pleaded with the audience of students to be dutifully offensive, challenging social norms and ideas without fear of reparation. At first I thought, Hear, hear. But far too often, this can be misconstrued as the permission and even the encouragement to be plainly unpleasant, rude, vulgar, mocking, personal, farcical and ridiculous. Freedom of speech can be cited as the passport to write and say whatever the hell you like.
Freedom of expression relates to ideas, not to tone and attitude. You are free to speak unkindly of the deceased at a funeral to the face of the grieving widow, but I should hope that you don't! People realise that perhaps it isn't the time or place to be critical, especially to a weak, emotional listener who was fond of the late individual. Similarly, the best arguments are the ones without swearing and insults accompanying reason and thought.
We should be offensive in the sense that our offence is a challenge, created by the submission of an interesting idea that will provoke disagreement; we should not simply be crude and insulting to anyone with whom we wish to argue.
The release of the so-called Panama Papers has been exceptionally troubling for the UK government, as the Prime Minister's promise to discipline tax evaders and tax haven users has been decimated by his own party and father. But it comes at a terrible moment for the government. A seriously challenged Budget implemented by a distrusted Chancellor who is not keeping to his plan, representing a party divided on the predicament that is the country's membership of the European Union and a government that is perceived to be letting down Great Britain's flagging steel industry.
Iceland's Prime Minister faces a vote of no confidence: will David Cameron be out too? I don't wish to begin my blogging with hyperbole and speculation, but to me it seems as though several crises have all come at once for the government; I am very interested in just how the Conservative Party responds to the Panama Papers and to the general crisis as a whole.
I don't expect the Prime Minister to call a general election. A credible challenge to the continuation of this government will begin at first from within. Rumour has it that David Cameron will resign his premiership if the public votes to depart the European Union, or if a victory is won by a hair's breadth, and with the date of the referendum so near, we could soon be seeing the end of David Cameron's time at the top. But between now and then, David Cameron could step down for other reasons, specifically a challenge from another prominent Conservative or a vote of no confidence against him or his government.
All in all, it is an exciting moment for politicos like me - but perhaps not for steelworkers, Europhiles or Conservatives.