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Pervasive climate of cynicism

There are a lot of excellent analyses of the French political earthquake in today’s papers. But I found Dominique Moisi particularly on target:

“The poison of cohabitation and the stench of scandal might have been expected to bring calls for an ethical revolution or political renewal. Instead, the pervasive climate of cynicism has created a tolerance of the unacceptable and the quasi-normalisation of the extreme right.”

I’ve long thought cynicism one of the most dangerous of sentiments. Its results are now plain to see in Europe. (incidentally, too many people confuse cynicism with scepticism. Scepticism is healthy and good; cynicism is destructive.) Although Chirac is certain to win the second round vote in two weeks time, the politics of intolerance, nationalism and exclusion have gained immeasureably from Sunday’s result. And Le Pen now has two weeks to insinuate his poison into the general political realm.

As many observers have noted, Britain — with a hugely popular left-of-centre government — is increasingly looking like an exception in Europe (and the west, more broadly). I think it’s partly because of the near-collapse of the right in Britain after 18 years of government. But it’s also because of the policies constructed by the Labour party during its years in the wilderness. It accepted thoroughly liberal economics, and it also put in place policies to address concerns like law and order.

The success of this is graphically illustrated by the polls in today’s papers showing that chancellor Gordon Brown is even more popular than prime minister Tony Blair after delivering the most popular budget speech in 40 years. And the main message of that budget? We’re going to increase taxes to fund public services. In the prevailing political climate of the last 20 years, who would have thought that a resoundingly popular message?

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