Idealism in the age of the selfie

WHAT is wrong with idealism? With actually believing in something and sharing those beliefs in a clear and cogent way – not hectoring or bullying, not telling everybody how wrong they are, just talking about things that matter.

In the me-me developed world where the self and the selfie are more important than thinking about society and our communities, it is refreshing to hear anyone, let alone a politician, talk passionately about big issues, to question what free markets and “competition” have done for the services we need and use (railways, buses, mail, hospitals).

Jeremy Corbyn and Prince Charles probably don’t have much in common – indeed, the former probably would abolish the latter (as a future monarch, that is). Yet in their idealism, they have much in common. Both believe passionately in the values they have developed through their work, experience and contact with people in all walks of life.

Over the past two weeks, those of us who are up with the farming programme, if not the lark, have heard a two-part interview with Prince Charles, recorded on a farm he has bought in a village in the remote and deeply rural Romanian region of Transylvania. This is nothing to do with blood-sucking vampires, or brutal sadistic local rulers. It is about preserving a rich biodiversity and a style of subsistence agriculture which has largely disappeared from other parts of Europe.

The Prince talked calmly, but with that underlying passion that has driven him into conflict with agribusinessmen and those who believe the future lies not in family farms where the land and the animals are cared for, but in vast factory farms where animals never see the light of day and no bugs can tamper with the production of monoculture crops.

The Prince born to be king and the would-be Labour leader both have a vision of making things better for the individual within society, not promoting the success of the individual over society. Both are derided in the media, neither are seen as practical people. Both come with “health warnings” from those who believe the only way forward is through economic policies that hand ever more power to global corporations while offering a spurious promise of “choice” to the consumer or voter.

Every time that Tony Blair or one of his inner circle attack Jeremy Corbyn they increase the number of people who want to support him. Perhaps Tony Blair is so hated because he disappointed the aspirations of so many voters. He raised hopes of better things, of an optimistic, energetic and more caring government. He dashed these hopes against the gilded palaces of personal and corporate greed, and with his support of an American government whose ill-informed foreign policies were always about oil and big business and exporting “the American way” and nothing about the lives of ordinary Iraqis or Afghanis and building a sustainable future.

Sustainability is a word that is bandied about constantly, frequently to defend energy and housing  policies that are unsustainable and damaging to the environment. Take the government’s introduction of the right to buy housing association homes. How are increasingly hard-pressed councils supposed to fulfill their side of the government’s policy by providing new social housing in an area like, say, Covent Garden, where a former council flat has recently been sold by its owner, after exercising his or her right to buy, for more than £1 million. Where are the people who provide the basic services – street cleaning, emptying dustbins, driving buses, caring for the sick and elderly and those with dementia – supposed to live when all the social housing has gone?

Anyone would sell their former council house for £1 million if they could. It’s only human. Humans, like all animals, are essentially selfish. It’s in our genes. We want the best for ourselves. That’s why Morrison’s special farmers milk brand will fail – only those who can afford to show their support for farmers by paying more than the usual supermarket price will actually buy this milk. And most of them probably already buy local milk at farm shops and farmers markets.

It is the idealism of Prince Charles and Jeremy Corbyn that is the problem. They want us to think about more than ourselves. They want us to think about a future which can be better, one where wealth and power are not synonymous. The word “socialism” has been used about Corbyn, in as pejorative a way as the word “liberal” was used in Bush’s USA. Prince Charles is seen as a posh, unworldly elitist.

Do you want a world where the only cows are in factories the size of a supermarket distribution centre? Do you want a world where the people who provide basic services have to travel for two hours or more to clean your office building before you get to work?

Do you want a world where your human right to take a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa matters more than your right to a roof over your head or a meal if you are a homeless person.*

You don’t have to agree with everything Prince Charles says. Nor do you have to think that Jeremy Corbyn would be a success as a future Prime Minister. But we should treat what they say with respect. From their very different perspectives, they are asking us to think about the consequences of a headlong rush to a more selfish globalised world.

Whether it’s the pub or the post office, the family farm or the flower-rich meadow – when it’s gone, it’s gone. We have spent most of the past 50 years throwing the baby out with the bathwater – the prince and the politician are asking us if this is the world we want.

Fanny Charles

* Earlier this year two priests in Florida were taken to court and convicted for running a soup kitchen for homeless people.