Ryan Shorthouse: Let’s talk about love to put passion in politics

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POLITICS today lacks passion – and I mean the type of passion that makes you want to rip your shirt off and roar. No Churchill or Thatcher bellowing in defence of the free world. No Labour leader brazenly leading the fight against squalor and inequality. Other than a few notable exceptions, the public see bland bureaucrats.

This lifeless show is partly a product of an around-the-clock media machine hungry to trip up politicians. But the inspiring goals of the last century – equality and freedom – no longer tug at the heartstrings. Though there is more to be done, history has seen the biggest battles in the name of these gigantic and admirable ideals won, at least in this country. Wonderful progress, really. But many parliamentarians now have no major principles to fight for, concentrating instead on climbing “the greasy pole”. Are there any great ideals that politicians can battle for in the 21st century?

Yes, one, I think: love, the highest of human experiences. Sad that politicians cower from it, fearful of sounding zany in a public debate sterilised by technocratic language.

But this profound emotion – familial, romantic or divine – glues society and drives economies. Hard work and entrepreneurialism; of course status and recognition are motivations for these, but the biggest driver is love – to provide for our family, to make our parents proud.

Love motivates the millions who give frustrating and necessary care for relatives. Every minute of every day my granddad looked after my Nana, a proud and gregarious woman, deteriorated and disabled by dementia. His devotion – alongside falling in love with my partner, Katy – taught me more than a book ever has. Values such as sticking together and caring deeply for others – values beyond personal success – are no longer abstract, eloquently written about, but lived and connected with. Love makes us much better people.

Britain faces several social problems in the decades ahead. Four, I think, are particularly under-appreciated and problematic: the increased sexualisation of young people; the rise of loneliness; an ageing society and the relative decline in young people’s educational levels. More people giving and experiencing love could help tackle all of these.

Such a profound feeling cannot be socially engineered, of course not. But politicians should throw off the shackles, unbutton the collar, and talk – passionately, poetically – about the importance of love,.

First, young people are soaked with sexual imagery as influential celebrities flaunt their sexiness. Young people are internalising that hotness matters first and foremost. Society rewards sexiness; Professor Catherine Hakim points to evidence that those with more “erotic capital” are more likely to have a higher income. Pornography really has become normalised among young people, distorting attitudes towards sexual relations. Freud needs putting in his place: love, not sex, should be the main driver of human affairs.

Our culture strongly prizes independence, fought hard for by feminists and other passionate campaigners. Indeed, it is vital for choice and control in our lives. But alone it is insufficient, if there is no one to share the fruits of our labour with.

More people are working long hours, cutting into time for leisure and community, and living alone, with a 36 per cent rise in the number of people living alone aged 45 to 64 over the last decade. Loneliness is the ugly consequence of an unbalanced focus on autonomy. We should campaign hard for the importance of relationships and marriage for human flourishing.

Third, a renowned and problematic phenomenon is our ageing population: recent estimates from the ONS show the number of state pensioners will rise by a third between 2012 and 2037.

Increased longevity is a remarkable achievement in advanced societies; but relatives face having to provide more financial and practical support. People’s patience is being tested, their expectations in life revisited; strong dosages of love will continue to be needed.

Finally, we need to improve children’s education levels to ensure we have a highly-skilled workforce. It is parents, and their willingness to engage in their child’s education from a very early age, which has the most impact on children’s development. What will make parents read more to their children and seek out the best possible school for their child? Love.

This politics of love can be new terrain, beyond the usual agendas of both the political left and right. It is inclusive and liberal, going beyond the exclusivity that social conservatism can be associated with. And it is more personal and tangible than the abstract solidarity trumpeted by the left.

Come on politicians, let’s talk about love.

*Ryan Shorthouse is the director of Bright Blue, a think tank campaigning for the modernisation of the Conservative Party.