When he became Prime Minister in 2007, Gordon Brown promised to create a so-called ‘government of all the talents’, which led to the rather comical political acronym, GOATS.
To some, this was seen as an act of political opportunism; an intention to move Britain towards a technocracy at best, and cronyism at worst.
For others, this was seen as a visible manifestation of a movement towards consensus-based politics, which had been gathering pace since after the Second World War, and was further exacerbated by ideological exhaustion after the Cold War.
Whilst it is easy to brush Brown’s emphasis on consensual politics aside as some kind of public relations stunt, it does have at least some political significance:
Traditional political discourse has often taken the view that the post-war era ushered in a thirty-year period of consensus. The belief in Keynesian economics as a combination of both state regulation, and free market economics, was perhaps the most visible indication of this political consensus, which sought to appease both democratic socialists, and traditional conservatives, alike. It is also this that Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan referred to as ‘Middle Way’ politics, which lasted between 1945 and 1979.
So wide-reaching was this new consensual approach towards politics that theorists, such as Martin Bell, referred to it as an age of ‘Endism’ – the contention that we are now living in a ‘post-ideological’ world, where socialists have won work rights for industrial labourers, where feminists have won equal gender rights in the form of universal suffrage, and where conservatives have been able to uphold a regulated market as the economic norm in Western society.
Perhaps such theorists are, however, overlooking a fundamental dynamic in contemporary political discourse; Francis Fukuyama’s claim that liberalism has won over the struggle between cold-war ideologies, and in doing so, has imposed itself on Western civilisation as the ruling paradigm.
The use of the term paradigm is incredibly important in this debate, and can help us to really question whether we are living in an age of Endism.
In his book, The Nature of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn depicts a paradigm as an over-arching view of the world, a world-view, or entrenched theoretical perspective, which invalidates all other ideological perspectives to the extent that it becomes an hegemonic force: an unquestionable view of the world, which can only be altered by a radical change in political understanding. For example, the Winter of Discontent’s grave economic consequences led to a new political paradigm – the revitalisation of ideological zeal in the form of the New Right’s neo-liberalism, and the subsequent election of Margaret Thatcher.
Many claim that Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ project was designed to fill the void left by the demise of Thatcher, it may be logical to conclude that Endism is this generation’s ruling paradigm, which will duly be superseded by another political paradigm yet to come.
There is a suggestion, however, that with the current re-emergence in political polarisation in the West, Endism is on its way out. Indeed, political dichotomies as shown by the current political divide between the Left and the Right, David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, serves to reinforce this point even further.
This can be most vividly illustrated by this year’s State Opening of Parliament, which was significant for a number of reasons. Not only was it Her Majesty’s 65th time, it was Jeremy Corbyn’s first time at the centre of the occasion – undoubtedly, a serious moment in such a staunch republican’s political career.
So, where do we go from here? I am inclined to suggest that there are two approaches;
Firstly, a pessimistic approach which views Gordon Brown’s GOATs, Harold MacMillan’s Third Way, and Martin Bell’s Endism as opportunistic political expressions to win votes, and impose liberalism as the ‘official doctrine’.
Secondly, an optimistic approach, which claims that there are some things in politics which simply go beyond the political divide; that all share an aspiration to reach the common good – that which Aristotle referred to as ‘the good life.’
As someone who subscribes to the second, my conclusion is that regardless of the emotivism of current politics, a recognition that on the whole, parties and politicians are reaching towards nirvana, but have different ways and means of achieving it, can truly open a radical dialogue for achieving social progress.