Don't rely on wishful thinking to bring about a better world. Get your own hands dirty

I want to shout, “Wake up!” in every liberal or leftish ear

Share

It’s awfully easy to subscribe to the Grand Inevitable Tide of Progress theory of history. Of course slavery was going to be abolished. It was only natural that women should eventually be given the vote. American independence was self-evident, the collapse of Communism ineluctable. And as one young Labour researcher told me this week, “apartheid was always bound to come to an end”.

Following that thinking, this week’s news that the Supreme Court in India has declared homosexual acts illegal, and that their Australian equivalent has effectively annulled the same-sex marriages recently contracted in Canberra, is almost irrelevant. I guess most readers of this column will content themselves with the thought that both India and Australia will come round, in the end. The force of progress, after all, is so strong that it cannot be resisted for ever. You might indeed have come to the same conclusion about the Ukrainian President’s original decision not to sign up to a special relationship with the EU. Vladimir Putin may have his moment of backyard bullying, but it’ll all come right in the end, won’t it?

Have we learnt nothing from history? By far the most gay-friendly city to live in the 20th century was early 1930s Berlin. That’s why so many wealthy British and American gay men, such as Christopher Isherwood, travelled there, when homosexuality was still a fiercely policed criminal offence in their own countries. But by the end of the decade, the cabaret bars were closed and gay Berliners were wearing pink triangles in concentration camps and dying alongside Jews, Communists and Roma.

That’s why I caution against the presumption of progress. In truth, there is absolutely no guarantee that India or Australia will come round, or that Ukraine will be allowed to follow its own course towards greater independence from Russia.

Progress is never inevitable, because one man’s progress is another man’s defeat. However anodyne the choice between political parties may seem, we live in a world of competing visions of how the world should be. Take one example, Europe. Countless Tories believe that the collapse of the euro and the EU itself is inevitable, and virtually every columnist in every British newspaper has predicted at some point or other that Greece or Spain or Ireland will inevitably leave the euro. Yet the casual presumption of big business and the internationalists among us that Britain will never be so daft as to leave the union is a terribly dangerous complacency. If we don’t organise for victory in that particular battle for the economic future of Britain, we pro-European patriots will lose by default.

But my biggest beef with the Grand Inevitable Tide theory is that excessive optimism is the curse of the liberal ideal. We read in The Independent some horrible story of international repression or government incompetence; we dip our biscotti in our cappuccino, and quietly muse to ourselves that it’ll all be all right in the end. The good guys (or dolls) will win. Evil will never triumph. All shall be right with the world, in the end.

But I want to shout, “Wake up!” in every liberal or leftish ear. Good things don’t just happen thanks to wishful thinking. Barbarism often triumphs. Progress is frequently reversed. And since the days of Thatcher there has been a steady ratchet in British politics that has seen most right-wing economic policies only half repealed when the Conservatives have been out of power.

If there is one thing I’ve tried to argue in the 28 months that I’ve been writing this column, it is that political engagement does matter. Whether one lot or another wins does make a difference. The mind-numbing boredom of parliamentary committees, the bone-chilling delivery of leaflets in the freezing rain and the soul-destroying business of raising funds for political parties all add up to more than a row of beans. Progress was won by a man prepared to die for a cause, by women prepared to be howled down and abused for their views, and even by people combining together in a disciplined political party to bring about a whole programme of change.

As many have said a million times, it’s a privilege to be an MP, but it’s an even greater privilege to write a regular unfettered column in a national newspaper. This is my last outing, so I end with this: politics needs more campaigning activists. You may hate MPs as a class; you may be up in arms about your own MP or some particular policy failure of the government; you may be in despair about the futility of Prime Minister’s Questions. But don’t rely on wishful thinking to bring about a better world. Get your own hands dirty and fight for what you believe in.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Gold Ferrari sits outside Chanel on Sloane Street  

Sunday Times Rich List: We are no longer in thrall to very rich people

Terence Blacker
David Cameron was openly emotional at the prospect of Scotland leaving the union before the referendum  

Remember when David Cameron almost cried over Scotland because he loved it so much?

Matthew Norman
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions