The days of trade union leaders in England sitting down to “beer and sandwiches” with politicians are not much more than an historical memory. Perhaps it was in those days that the cynicism set in.
The union bosses weren’t adverse to calling men out on strike, leaving them to survive on meagre benefits, while sitting themselves on comfortable salaries, and their idea of solidarity extended no further than the interests of their group. Heavyweight unions would use their muscle to extract concessions for their own members paying no more than lip service to a notion of working class unity.
The belief that there were “good guys” and “bad guys” in politics was erased by three years at the LSE. The black and white merged into a formless patch of murky grey; radical politicians were rare, and revolutionary ones were rarer. In the years since 1945, Britain had had only two premiers that brought revolutionary change, Attlee on the Left and Thatcher on the Right.
Theological studies in the three years that followed confirmed the suspicion that the world, with few exceptions, was comprised of people who were bad and people who were worse.
Thirty odd years of spectator politics brings scepticism towards those who profess to have only the interests of others in mind as they seek election. The Democrats in the United States now present themselves as champions of an alternative foreign policy, having starved the Iraqi people during the Clinton years. The sanctions cost the lives of maybe half a million Iraqi children and what did the Secretary of State say? It was a price worth paying.
Guilty of even bigger humbug than the politicians are the musicians who present themselves as champions of justice and peace, while, of course, adhering to very affluent lifestyles. Openly selfish hedonists probably have more integrity than the secular saints of the rock stage.
Cynicism loomed large while scrolling through the list of performers playing in Dublin this autumn – a veteran of Woodstock is appearing for two nights at a city centre venue, still singing protest songs after forty years. A great old radical, but mysteriously as expensive as everyone else playing – surely such a seasoned campaigner would not wish to make as much money as openly ‘commercial’ bands, would she?
The concerts would probably be a great night’s craic – go along and sing along with the songs and feel righteous about not being one of the “bad guys.” Just so long as there is no illusion that any of this stuff is any more sincere than blokes in big cars going to Downing Street for beer and sandwiches.