I am not usually in the habit of disagreeing with Janan Ganesh, but today I am happily doing so.
In his FT column, he argues that almost uniquely we in the UK are over-exposed to bad politics, in a way that Americans, Europeans and Australians are not. Janan’s view is that “mature democracies have codified balances, this set against that, to limit the reach of mere politics into the authentic life of the nation”
Andrew Sullivan has written persuasively that the most deleterious impact of Trump is that it is now impossible in the US to escape the iron grip of politics:
One of the great achievements of free society in a stable democracy is that many people, for much of the time, need not think about politics at all. The president of a free country may dominate the news cycle many days — but he is not omnipresent — and because we live under the rule of law, we can afford to turn the news off at times. A free society means being free of those who rule over you — to do the things you care about, your passions, your pastimes, your loves — to exult in that blessed space where politics doesn’t intervene. In that sense, it seems to me, we already live in a country with markedly less freedom than we did a month ago. It’s less like living in a democracy than being a child trapped in a house where there is an abusive and unpredictable father, who will brook no reason, respect no counter-argument, admit no error, and always, always up the ante until catastrophe inevitably strikes. This is what I mean by the idea that we are living through an emergency.
Inside the SW1 beltway, it is easy to conflate the sclerotic Brexit process and the daily toll of scandals and incompetence in Westminster, and assume that, as the New York Times Steve Erlandger has it, we are undergoing a ‘full blown identity crisis’.
But it would be a categorical error to do so.
Just look at the numbers. This morning, the ONS published the latest national well-being survey and guess what? We are overwhelmingly satisfied with our lives, feel that what we are doing is worthwhile, and are happy on a daily basis. In fact these are the highest ratings for personal well-being since the survey was first carried out in 2011.
Pleasingly, British people seem to be going about their daily lives, falling in love, raising families, going to work, starting businesses, taking holidays, playing sport, volunteering and watching long form television series – and keeping politics in its rightful place. You wouldn’t know it from the expressive partisanship of Twitter, or the abject declinism that has shrouded politics and political commentary since the referendum result, but mostly, we are just fine. More of us in work and in university than ever before, our kids are at the best schools that have ever existed, and we are setting up little businesses in record numbers.
It seems to be that there is, in all this, something of a great political opportunity; something that the next Tory leader and Prime Minister must intuit: this is a country of optimists and of makers.
We have never been, and are never likely to be, much beguiled by political idolatry. Our basic life credo and are well-being is founded on immemorial bonds of family, friends, school and community.
Only when a leader emerges who understands this – one who recognises the limit of politics – will our polity emerge from the torpor that right now hangs over it.