The Guardian's Julian Glover today raised an interesting question. Is outrage the common currency of political debate? He pointed out that commentators and columnist deal in absolute opinions. Yet real life is more uncertain.
As Glover said, "Uncertainty comes over as weakness. Tribalism thrives. On these pages over the last few years I have sometimes expressed ideas in categorical terms about which I could never really be sure. The greater challenge for any writer is mounting a defence of compromise. It is, perversely, sometimes feeble to sound bold and bold to sound feeble."
He's right. It's ironic that the death of ideology in British politics has coincided with a far more aggressive approach to political debate. That's partly down to the 24 hours media - their short attention span and need for drama polarises modest differences. (In more ideological times, current affairs programmes like ITV's hour-long Weekend World tried to explain rather than create controversy.) The media demands instant answers, instant judgements. Reallife is not so simple. Yet a politician who says he or she doesn't have all the answers is seen as weak. (That said, wouldn't we respect an honest politician who admitted the truth more than a blustering one?)
Glover's article prompted a stream of critical comments, not least because he's leaving the Guardian to become a speechwriter for David Cameron. It's hard to think of anything more likely to inflame the passions of the Guardian readers.
That, in one sense, proves Glover's point. I'm no fan of David Cameron, and am horrified by many of his government's policies (that broken promise not to lay waste to the NHS by yet more destructive reorganisations is high on the list). But like most voters I don't see him as the devil. I'm capable of making my own judgements about his actions and policies.
It's not just political debate that suffers from this mock outrage. Just look at any story about Apple on the BBC or Guardian technology web pages. Critics of Apple insist that anyone who buys an iPhone or iPad has more money than sense. Apple fans claim that rival products don't work. Needless to say, neither claim is right. We all make choices. That doesn't make other people idiots because they've chosen another type of phone or computer.
Live and let live...