In praise of cosy boredom

November 24, 2016 23:21

Last month, the UJIA, working with video talks website JDOV, organised an evening of short talks and asked me to give one of them. The brief was to give the audience the message I'd want to leave them if it was my last speech to the Jewish community. Here is an edited version of what I had to say:

A couple of years ago I was appearing on a political panel about the future of politics and someone asked me if I regretted that there were no more big ideas in politics.

I told her I thought big ideas were overrated. It was big ideas that killed my grandmother and exiled my grandfather, that imprisoned my dad and had a good try at starving my mother to death. Big ideas stole our property and drove my family across continents and shot their neighbours. I live quite happily without them.

I like Britain and its suburbs and its boring democracy and its middle class gentility and its small ideas. As I told the House of Lords in my maiden speech, my mother was in Belsen and my father was in Siberia. Pinner is nicer. My grandmother used to say: "While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, we're safe in Hendon Central." This is a rather good summary of my political philosophy.

What makes this country a great place for Jews is its pragmatism, its slow, gradual moderation, its bourgeois complacency. Precisely the things that visionaries view with impatience and disdain.

We should understand what we have here and appreciate it

All of this is worth saying now because of a mood abroad that I think is profoundly dangerous for Jews. Let me summarise it. This country is being run down by the metropolitan elites, the bankers, the lawyers, and the politicians. The latter are the worst. Lying to the people, lining their own pockets, out of touch. Incompetent at best, crooks at worst.

You hear this just as often from Jews as from anyone else. Yet when people start attacking international money men and the cosmopolitan elite, the right reaction is not to join in. It is to feel slightly nervous. When people attack politicians as useless and greedy, the right reaction is not to join in, it is to wonder what the alternative is. Is a more heroic, master race of politician, someone who looks good on a horse and at a night rally dressed in white, really such a great idea? When the leader comes along to purify the nation and sweep away corruption, who do we think is going to be doing the sweeping? And who do we think the swept will be?

Alongside criticism of democratic politics comes criticism of "consumerism". It is hard to go to someone's barmitzvah without the rabbi having a go at it. I'm a bit baffled by the attack on consumerism. People mildly selling prepared sandwiches and new shoes to each other. What's wrong with that? I was brought up in Hendon Central and, as a 12-year-old child, I could walk to Brent Cross without having to cross a road. Was I really doing any harm? When my father was 12, he couldn't walk to the shopping centre because there wasn't one in Siberia. He couldn't drive there either because Stalin had the car.

So this is my call to fellow Jews to understand what we have in Britain, and appreciate it. We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world. If the politicians are so bad, how come so many thing are so good?

People live longer than ever and we have so much to eat, we worry about getting fat. For women, for gay people, for ethnic minorities this is a time of greater equality and of greater tolerance and respect.

Britain is one of the least corrupt, most law-abiding place on earth with the cleanest politics and the most honest public officials. Yes, we are right to worry about antisemitism. But the best defence of it is the prosaic stability of bourgeois values.

November 24, 2016 23:21

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive