The spring fashion this year: anti-war chic

In all the right circles and at all the right dinner parties, politics is suddenly back on the agenda
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The Independent Online

Can you feel it? There is a sense of purpose and excitement in the air that cannot entirely be explained by the whole bulb-bursting, bud-popping, sap-rising, mate-finding thing that nature does at this time of the year. What is happening right now feels specifically human. A nation is on the move, together, united by that powerful, old-fashioned sense of community that only a war can bring.

Can you feel it? There is a sense of purpose and excitement in the air that cannot entirely be explained by the whole bulb-bursting, bud-popping, sap-rising, mate-finding thing that nature does at this time of the year. What is happening right now feels specifically human. A nation is on the move, together, united by that powerful, old-fashioned sense of community that only a war can bring.

No, not that war, stupid! Clearly, only running dogs of the oil-crazed military-industrial complex in Washington would support a real war with tanks, jets and bombs. The campaign du jour, which every right-thinking person is obliged to support, is for peace, goodness and virtue. The spring fashion that we shall be wearing this year is conscience, and very becoming it is, too.

Anti-war chic has much to be said for it. After years of political apathy, an issue has arrived that matters so much that millions of viewers will be thinking very seriously before tuning into Celebrity Fame Academy rather than Channel Four News. Suddenly current affairs has become a hot topic, with the world falling apart, the markets in free fall, political careers being made or shattered and, unbelievably, at the centre of it all the dear old United Nations.

There is an almost ecstatic sense of excitement among the media commentators. Weary of reporting for years on death and disaster in far-off countries of which we know nothing, they are at last able to report on a crisis that not only affects us all but is one in which Britain occupies a position as near to centre-stage as it is ever likely to be. "This is as big as it gets," Andrew Marr gasps. "We are sailing into uncharted waters."

In all the right circles and at all the best dinner parties, politics is back on the agenda. In the past, when someone raised the issue of the moment – education, asylum-seekers, the health service, even the Kosovo adventure – a damp fog of boredom would descend on the gathering as if someone had opened the window on a chilly winter night.

Now there are no fallings-out because, apart from a few politicians, everyone agrees that war is a terrible thing, as yet unjustified by events. With a new enthusiasm and expertise, people who had never given a tuppenny damn for world events pronounce authoritatively on resolution 1441, the Kurdish question and the way Angola is likely to vote within the Security Council.

The manner in which the protagonists in this great global drama are behaving has also confirmed our more comfortable prejudices. We always knew that George W was the clueless cowboy, a bad actor playing the tough guy in a B-movie, and that the Rumsfeld/Ashcroft gang belonged to some outlandish Dr Strangelove nightmare. Tony Blair, suspect for so long, has at last given those who once voted for him the chance to hate him as the betrayer of all that is right and good.

On the other hand, darling Clare Short is back among us. There have been moments over the past five years when she seemed to be worryingly on-message, but now, with the perfect timing of a Mo Mowlam, she has caught the public mood and boosted her own popularity ratings.

In the past, the fact that anti-war chic is most comprehensively embodied by that dodgy droitiste Jacques Chirac might have caused problems, but now that we are all Europeans (or, at least,we have come round to the French way of doing things – wine, cheese, sex and now politics), it is of no importance.

Unlike many protests in the past, from Vietnam to fox-hunting, the current campaign has the huge advantage of not involving the slightest risk to your person or your reputation. Marches are happy social events, populated by our favourite soap stars and comedians. Activism simply involves adding one's name to a few busy, concerned e-mails drawn up by other couch-protesters and then sending them on to your friends, content in the knowledge that one has played one's part.

To be anti-war means being shoulder to shoulder with the stars, buying a copy of George Michael's protest single, being seen in public with a smart "NOT IN MY NAME" T-shirt, which depicts you as both concerned and on fashion's cutting edge.

Of course, as tends to be the case in great popular movements, the trick of thinking things through or recognising complexity has been lost in the excitement and emotion. It is a perfect reversal of what has happened in the past when nations, urged on by their leaders, have rushed with blind enthusiasm into conflict.

Intoxicated by our sense of virtue, we have reduced debate about the war to a feel-good fest, full of celebrities, warm words and a fuzzy sense of generalised concern. It is a sort of deadly version of Red Nose Day – but without the laughs.

terblacker@aol.com

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