Monday, May 14, 2007

The old left in change?

Phillip Adams was an icon of the Australian left in the 1980s and 90s. So it's noteworthy that, in discussing the English dramatist Dennis Potter, he should write:

How can anyone ever be bored anywhere at any time? Isn’t there’s always something to observe, to think, to feel?

Potter applied this intensity to his love of England. Not of Britain; he was repelled by its connotations of imperialism. He loved England and its “Englishness”. But he wasn’t xenophobic, fully expecting others to feel the same way about their countries and cultures. Yet there was much happening to his England and the English that he deplored. Admitting that he no longer saw himself as “of the Left”, that there were issues on which he felt conservative, and recognising that there were times the country had needed some radicalism from the Right, this son of a coal miner deplored the influence of Thatcherism ...

Even if Adams is just building up to an attack on Thatcher, it's still an unusually sympathetic account of national feeling to come from a figure like Adams. Adams is suggesting, reasonably enough, that it's not xenophobic to love your own national tradition if you expect others to do likewise. He also, in terms of a sympathetic account of Potter, presents us with the idea that England might have needed to counter the influence of the left with some activism from the right.

Sometimes I get the impression that members of the "old left" in Australia are discontented with the way things have actually turned out. There's a sense of loss in some of their writings. In the case of Michael Leunig the discontent has pushed him over the edge, to what sometimes comes across as misanthropic ranting and hatred. Adams, perhaps, is more inclined to a mellow re-evaluation of how things stand.

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