Gaza and the narcissism of the elites

Why our political class prefers pontificating on Palestine to fixing problems in our own society.

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

Finally, MPs have found something to feel passionate about. An issue that gets their blood pumping. An issue that appears to have aroused them from their technocratic stupour, turning them from unworldly careerist stiffs who’d rather die than go ‘off message’ into pantomime Churchills making tub-thumping speeches about good and evil.

No, it’s not poverty. It’s not the energy crisis that is forcing our old to choose between heating food or heating themselves. It’s not the housing crisis that brutally blocks millions from making a family home. It’s not the border crisis. And it’s not the economic crisis. It’s nothing as trifling as your concerns that has electrified the elites. No, it’s not you – it’s Gaza.

There were many despicable things about the meltdown of MPs in the Commons last night as they tussled over which party’s ceasefire motion to vote on. There was the mindlessness of it all. The partisan dispensing with procedure. The statesmanlike larping. And the sheer delusion. We must send a message to Israel, squealed SNP MPs as they agitated for a vote on their harsher motion, the one that damns Israel’s ‘collective punishment’ of Gaza. As if Israel gives a single shit what a gaggle of bourgeois SNPers who don’t even know what a woman is think about its war on Hamas.

For me, though, the most striking thing was the sight of the political class coming to life. It seems they are capable of passion after all. They are able to shake off that soul-zapping managerial style and the careful, clipped HR-speak they’re all so fluent in. And all it took was a foreign war. One is left with the impression of an elite bored to tears by Britons and our trivial problems, who now spy in Gaza an opportunity to unleash their inner statesman.

It was summed up in the intervention of Mark Logan, a Tory MP who has broken ranks with his party to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. He made a telling distinction between the normal drab business of British politics and the once-in-a-lifetime moral challenge thrown up by Gaza. He said:

‘We’re MPs not to fix potholes. We’re MPs not to follow up if our nextdoor neighbour’s hedge is growing into my garden. That’s not what we’re here for. We’re here to protect lives. And this is the opportunity today.’

Let’s leave to one side that not a single life will be saved by the virtue-signalling of Britain’s puffed-up politicians. More revealing is the fact that Gaza has clearly reanimated the political class. It has blessed them with an ‘opportunity’ to shift their focus from dumb stuff – like potholes – towards important stuff, like saving the lives of the Earth’s wretched. Gaza is a godsend for an establishment that finds its own country, and people, a tad tiresome, and that longs to larp as the globe-trotting makers of history.

It seems to me that Gaza is being used as a soapbox for moral preening by politicians desperate to deflect attention from their own uselessness. Bereft of ideas for Britain, instead they moralise on the Middle East. So the SNP might be rocked by scandal, with an unpopular leader, and utterly incapable of ending drug deaths (Scotland has the highest drug-death rate in Europe). But at least it can say ‘Save Gaza!’. At least it can bask in the moral glow of Israelophobia. At least it can carry on winning favour with opinion-formers whose favourite bloodsport is Israel-bashing. The kind of people who are unmoved by the deaths of poverty-stricken drug-takers on Glaswegian estates but who suffer sleepless nights over the deaths of Palestinians.

In a way this has long been the case. The cultural elite’s fascination with foreign wars is often motored less by genuine internationalism than by disillusionment with the working classes at home. The left in particular loves to take refuge from Britain’s Sun-reading, white-van-driving little people in the struggles of faraway peoples. The bored bourgeoisie of the West sees only savages in their own local towns but noble savages in Palestine or Cuba. The Smart Set’s obsession with Palestine in particular has grown in direct proportion with their feeling of distance from, and even disdain for, their own dim fellow citizens. Events in the Commons last night suggest this moral exploitation of Palestine by a lost elite has now moved beyond the left and thoroughly entered the mainstream.

Palestine now, in the West, is less a political issue than an outlet for the narcissism of the elites. A means of moral showboating. A refuge from the rabble. A retreat from the tough task of fixing the local. Hence, the Palestine flag in every mover and shakers’ social-media bio and those interminable chattering-class protests against Israel – it’s all just a stage for moral posing in the post-political, post-class age. They’re so vain they think this war is about them.

The end result is that the upcoming by-election in Rochdale in the north of England, which has a sizeable Muslim community, is being referred to as a ‘referendum on Gaza’. But what about the vast economic and social challenges faced by the folk in Rochdale? Do they not matter? Must everything be subjugated to the moral imperative of ‘Save Gaza’ and to the elite’s cynical mission of replacing hard politics with cheap morality? The West’s rulers should get on with the job of improving their citizens’ lives and leave Israel to finish the job against Hamas.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: UK Parliament / Maria Unger.

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