The Terrifying Thing About #MillionMaskMarch is They Don't Know What They're Marching For

07/11/2014 12:20 GMT | Updated 06/01/2015 10:59 GMT


The coverage of Wednesday's #MillionMaskMarch demonstrations have unsurprisingly focused on the ten people arrested in London. The determination of the mainstream press' to portray any form of social dissent as dangerous anarchism is, at this point, so predictable that it's humdrum.

But in their efforts to ensure the denizens of the Home Counties continue their nocturnal quaking unabated; they've missed something truly terrifying. Plenty of the #Million seemed clear about what they were marching against, but none could articulate what they were marching for. This is chilling but it's also unsurprising. It's the inevitable result of the elimination of alternative thinking in public discourse.

Few lacked a reason to march on Wednesday. They hated the "establishment cover up" of paedophilia, they hated the welfare cuts, they hated politicians in general. One even hated royal lizards. They chanted "One solution: Revolution". It wasn't clear whether they hated or adored Russell Brand but his book, "Revolution", is symptomatic of the same malaise. Brand rubbishes capitalism, he rubbishes the monarchy, he rubbishes a lot, but his only solution is to throw it all out. There's a degree of intellectual fashion in rubbishing Brand's book in return but (possibly accidently) he hits on some important issues. Brand's failing is that he has absolutely no idea how to solve them so ends up proposing some amorphous and unfocused "revolution".

But this paucity of intellectual response is unsurprising. Since the 1970s we, as a society, have been steadily eliminating abstract reasoning from public debate. Universities now "prepare students for the workplace": We go to university to get a job; we used to go to get an education. In schools science and maths is compulsory (not, in itself a bad thing) but history is an option after 14 and philosophy is not even on the syllabus until A Level. In politics appeals to "common sense" have replaced appeals to ideals like justice, truth, equality or freedom. Belief in a cause is almost a disadvantage in politics. Career hungry apparatchiks carve their beliefs in the image of the leadership of the day in the hope of ministerial preferment. This is a vicious circle because the ever growing pool of yes women and men means that party leaders have little reason to promote the brilliant but independent minded.

The marchers' chants of, "Whose streets? Our streets!" also reflect the method of our politics. Appeals to aspiration ("fair pay", "equal rights", "stop the war") have been replaced with the desire purely to gain power. No thought is given to what that power might be used for or why one might want it at all. Having power is all that counts. In this the marchers share the outlook of our political class. When David Cameron was asked why he wanted to be Prime Minister he replied, "I think I'd be quite good at it." It wasn't so much his (feeble) answer as the surprised tone in which he gave it which revealed that moment may have been the first time he'd actually given the matter any thought. The teachers, miners, lawyers, doctors, landowners and soldiers who once populated parliament have been replaced by "professional politicians". Their entire professional experience revolves around getting and keeping power. Unlike Nye Bevan (a miner and activist), Harold Wilson (a senior civil servant and one of the youngest Oxford dons of the century) or Margaret Thatcher (a research chemist and barrister), they have no alternative experience or chance to develop an independent worldview. Since Thatcher no leader has offered an original way to govern the country.

As a result the media reports the process of politics in the absence of any substance. Ed Miliband is castigated for seeking to reform capitalism. But the substance of the criticism is that Miliband is a bad leader because this is a bad pitch; no one seems to care much whether capitalism actually needs reforming.

We've been taught for too long that "there is no alternative". From Thatcher onwards it has become an almost cultural belief that a rapacious bastardisation of capitalism, in which the state protects the powerful and punishes everyone else, is simply a fact of life. We can look for people to blame, we can make sure others are worse off than us, we may event get a few fingers around a lever of power: We can play the game but we can't change it. This is, of course, a lie and (as I've argued before) the left are as much to blame as the right. But until we, as a society, change, not just the way we act but, the way we think, the disenchanted will have nowhere else to go but #MillionMaskMarch and Russell Brand - too culturally and intellectually blinkered to see that revolution may be the method, but it is never the solution.