The sight of a kite ensnared and tangled up in a tree – lonely and isolated, desperate to be free – is always a somewhat melancholy vision. You can almost sense the sadness felt not only by the child who once held that tugging string, but also by the parent who had to comfort the child as the realisation that all was lost, and the tree had won suddenly struck home. Now Endcliffe Park in Sheffield is not usually known as a graveyard for kites; the field is as wide as it is broad and the beautiful trees that grace the perimeter generally keep their distance.
Imagine then my surprise this morning to discover not one but two kites stranded and silhouetted high up in the treescape. Stranger still was the thought this view brought to mind. Parks and politics don’t usually mix but fate seemed to have created what seemed to me a political statement, possibly a chronicle of a death foretold.
The first kite was magnificent in blue and gold, six-foot tall and four feet wide – a geometric vision of beauty shimmering in the morning sun. Although clearly ensnared and left behind it may well have been a gift from the Gods, droppedfrom the clouds rather than the toy of a mere mortal. The kite sat tall and proud as if carefully positioned to dominate the landscape. The second by contrast was small and made of plastic, it was marooned low down in a secondary sapling, and while the mighty blue kite trailed bright white string, this one dribbled what looked like cheap fishing line (frayed as if unable to unite its various strands). It was red.
Can you see where this is going?
Apparently there is a Chinese proverb that says ‘unless there is opposing wind, a kite cannot rise’ but in the context of British politics it appears that only one kite is really rising, and the other is tumbling down. If truth be told the wind of opposition has arguably been so feeble that the Labour Party’s kite appears leaden rather than light. Too many strings held by too many hands and panels punctured by those within the party who favour a different design. Shot down before lift-off, stuck in a sapling, left behind.
Politics should provoke a sense of wonderment, belief, and faith in the power not of the wind, but of collective social action. Could it be this essential quality that politics has lost?
Compare this to the mighty blue beast in its tree-top aerie.
The Tories have the wind in their sails and Theresa May’s star is shining bright. Does anyone really believe that her decision to call a General Election had nothing to do with Brexit? Far closer to the truth to suggest the rational exploitation of a floundering opposition, the lack of an opposing wind, the chance to fly high. The risk for the Conservative Party is almost that the wind may become too strong, the string too taut, the party too confident, the majority too large.
I turned and walked along the River Porter and left the kites behind. And then as I left the park I suddenly realised the Kite God’s true message: It was not that one was big, bold and blue, or even that the other was ripped, rejected, and red; it was that neither was actually capable of flying. The beauty of a kite lies in the simple connection it provides between an individual and those invisible natural forces that we know exist well above our physical reach. The beauty of democracy – as Bernard Crick argued so eloquently in his In Defence of Politics (1965) – was that it also sustained a clear sense of connection between the men or women on the street, and those broader social forces that will inevitably shape our lives. Politics should provoke a sense of wonderment, belief, and faith in the power not of the wind, but of collective social action. Could it be this essential quality that politics has lost?
Soft Brexit, Hard Brexit, Fuzzy Brexit, Beer and Brexit… all little more than slogans that acknowledge the acceptance of a defensive, aversive, anti-‘other’, isolationist mode of populist politics. This is not a partisan point. British politics is currently dominated by everything that is ‘anti’ (anti-political, anti-establishment, anti-politician, anti-European, anti-immigration, anti-this, anti-that) and our world is framed through the negative. No political party can soar on huff and puff alone. My sense is that this is why the parties are ultimately trapped in a snare of the their own making – like kites in a tree – because beyond empty slogans they lack a positive vision that people can believe in or any sense of direction about where society is going or why.
Theresa May – soon to be President May – is focused upon freeing the UK from a “European trap” of its own making… I’m just not so sure. The travesty of the recent appearance of Theresa May on the BBC’s The One Show was the failure to ask the simplest question – ‘Deep down and being honest, in your heart-of-hearts, do you really think leaving the EU is the right thing for the UK to be doing?’ My sense is that she would have momentarily paused for thought, a very personal and unscripted moment that revealed a tortured soul. The pained expression on her face as she discombobulates the question instead of answering it…the sight of a kite ensnared and tangled up tree – lonely and isolated, desperate to be free – is always a somewhat melancholy vision….
Featured image credit: IMG_3110 by Neeta Lind. CC-BY-2.0 via Flickr.