May 04, 2005

Like Roy Jenkins

Watching from this distance as Tony Blair stumps around (in one of the few British national elections I won't be voting in...), I can't help agreeing with Roy Jenkins that Blair is a conviction politician rather than the empty vacuous spun smile he's so often portrayed as being (pace the Eye's delicious Vicar of Albion caricature).

The point, though, is that Blair's strong convictions are (religiously) moral rather than ideological (not that ideology can't be rooted in morality). But in a country like Britain where we're almost all secular to the point of being quite uncomfortable with religious display or ideas, and where historically we're much more used to ideological conviction, a leader who has strong moral convictions will probably always come across as sanctimonious at best, and emptily hypocritical at worst -- and will often seem to have no convictions at all.

But they're there, just unrecognisable to most of us. We British hoi polloi generally understand and recognise idological motivation, but have little empathy with the religious version, if we recognise it at all. People genuinely can't believe that Blair may sincerely hold some of his beliefs, mainly because to do so requires a certain religious mindset that just doesn't exist any more in most parts of British society. For me, though, I think that with Blair -- as with Thatcher, tellingly enough -- it's actually hard to conceive of him being able to think of himself as essentially wrong on any big issue. That's conviction politics.

Out here in the US where people seem more at home with the religious version, or at least more familiar with it (it's difficult to avoid in a country as religious as the US...), Blair seems part of a much more familiar phenomenon (if a rather more thoughtful and liberal version). Perhaps that's one of the less-discussed reasons why in Britain Blair is so often tarred with the brush of being an American-style politican....


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