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Why I Believe in Bourgeois Stability

Daniel FinkelsteinFilmed at UJIA Sippur 2014

I was brought up in Hendon Central. This talk is a call to understand what we have in Britain and to appreciate it.  We are living in one of the most prosperous countries in the world at one of the most prosperous moments in history. If politicians are so bad how is it that we have it so good? Listen to Daniel Finkelstein now on JDOV.

Daniel Finkelstein, OBE, is the Associate Editor, a Columnist and Leader Writer for The Times. He also sits in the House of Lords as Lord Finkelstein.
As well as his weekly political column in the comment section and his Saturday Notebook, he writes the “Fink Tank” for the Saturday paper, a statistical column on football.

Between 1997 and 2001, he was chief policy adviser to the Leader of the Opposition Rt. Hon. William Hague MP and Secretary to the Shadow Cabinet.  In 2001, he was Conservative parliamentary candidate in Harrow West.

Between 1995 and 1997, he was Director of the Conservative Research Department in which capacity he advised Prime Minister John Major and attended meetings of the Cabinet when it sat in political session.

Daniel was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by the City University and joined the House of Lords in the autumn of 2013.

I am not really a great believer in drama and I suppose that you might say that’s really my theme today. A couple of years ago, I was sitting on a political panel about the future of politics, as I often do, and someone in the audience asked me whether I regretted the passing of big ideas, whether I regretted the idea that there were no longer big ideas in politics.

Well I thought for a moment, and then I told her that I thought that big ideas were overrated. It was big ideas that killed my grandmother and exiled my grandfather, that imprisoned my dad and had a good go at starving my mother to death. Big ideas stole our property, and drove my family across continents and shot their neighbours. I live quite happily without big ideas. I like Britain, and its suburbs, and its boring democracy and its middle class gentility and its small ideas.

In the House of Lords, when I made my maiden speech, I was asked to say something that was of relevance to me, to give a little bit of my own history and to explain its relationship with my ideas. And I ended up saying that my mother was in Belsen and my father was in Siberia, and Pinner is nicer. My grandmother used to say, when the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, we are safe in Hendon Central. And I think this is rather a good summary of my political philosophy. Or to take the title of this event, I believe that often observations are a better friend of the Jews than dreams or visions.

What makes this country a great place for Jews is its pragmatism, its slow, gradual moderation, its bourgeois complacency – precisely the things that visionaries view with impatience and disdain. Anyone who watched ‘American Beauty’ will know that the entire theme was the sort of private hypocrisy and disaster of the suburbs, whereas I am a celebrant of the disaster of the suburbs. All this is worth saying now because of a mood abroad that I think is very dangerous to Jews.

Let me summarise it like this: this country is being run down by the metropolitan elites, the bankers, the lawyers, the bureaucrats, the media and the politicians. The latter are the worst, they’re lying to the people, lining their own pockets, they’re out of touch, the politicians are incompetent at best and crooks at worst, you can never get a straight answer to a simple question, no wonder no one votes and quite right too.

You’ll hear all this as often from Jews as from anyone else, maybe you’ve found yourself saying those things yourself. Indeed it’s such a common refrain, it’s become like grumbling about the weather. Yet when people start attacking international money men and the cosmopolitan elite, the right reaction is not to join in, it’s to feel slightly nervous. When people attack politicians as useless and greedy, the right reaction is not to join in, it’s to wonder what the alternative is to politicians. Is a more heroic master race of politicians, someone who looks good on a horse and at a night rally dressed in white really such a great idea? When the leader comes along to purify the nation and sweep away corruption, who do we think is going to be doing the sweeping and who do we think the swept will be?

I have to say it makes me nervous too when people talk about human rights as if they were a mad politically correct idea. And is there any more scary idea than trying people in the court of public opinion? The real courts, the courts of law and the rule of law are the friends of the Jews.

Alongside criticism of democratic politics, comes criticism of the market economy. Both left and right dislike what is called ‘consumerism’ and it’s hard to go to someone’s Bar-Mitzvah without a rabbi having a go at it and at the catering for the Kiddush. The first time I ever heard of Poggenpohl kitchens was as an object of disapproval in someone’s sermon, my Mam had to tell me what Poggenpohl was.

Personally, I’m always a bit baffled by the attack on consumerism. I look at the world and its history and I see hunger and pestilence, war and natural disaster, nuclear weapons and dictatorship. So much evil, and yet searching for the worst problem of mankind, the rabbi comes up with shopping. As it happens, I really can’t think of anything more benign than shopping. Maureen Lipman always says she would like to be buried in Brent Cross Shopping Centre because that way she can be sure her daughter will visit her every week.

I was brought up in Hendon Central and as a 12 year old child I could walk to Brent Cross without having to cross a road. Was I really doing any harm? I can’t think what it was. I wasn’t expressing an opinion, or turning my back on spirituality, or passing judgment on mankind, I was buying a CD. People mildly selling prepared sandwiches and new shoes to each other, what’s wrong with that? The freedom to purchase a new corkscrew may not rank alongside freedom of speech or the religious freedom as a right to place on posters, but to most people, most of the time, it’s more useful. When my father was 12 years old, he couldn’t walk to the shopping centre because there wasn’t one in Siberia. He couldn’t drive there either because Stalin had the car. That’s why when he could he came here where he could enjoy Brent Cross and Hendon Reform Synagogue and where he didn’t have to worry whether someone approved of his consumption of either.

A society in which everyone is trying things on in the changing rooms of Topshop is one which is by and large happy to let Jews get on holding up a piece of horseradish, waving it in the air and chanting in Hebrew and no one much gets it into their heads to think that the Palwins we are drinking is someone else’s blood.

So this is a call to my fellow Jews to understand what we have in Britain and appreciate it. We live in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, at the most prosperous moment in history. If the politicians are so bad, how come so many things are so good? People live longer than ever before and we are happier. We have so much to eat we are worried about getting fat. The chances of my son being killed in a foreign war are small. For women, for gay people, for ethnic minorities this is a time of greater equality and of greater tolerance and respect. Britain is one of the least corrupt, most law-abiding places on Earth, with the cleanest politics and the most honest public officials. Yes we are right to worry about anti-Semitism, but the best defence of it is the prosaic stability of bourgeois values.

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