It started like a classic rock concert. There was even some wrinkly-armed overhead clapping when the hero ascended the platform. The air was thick with nostalgia for a time before power when big ideas could scatter like seeds and nobody had to worry about bringing them to fruition.
And Paddy Ashdown has some big ideas. He considers that the âgimbalsâ (a favourite word) which support established orders of power are shifting. We are at the beginning of the end of western hegemony. America is in decline, China ascending. There will be blood he says if we do not adapt to the new reality.
This adaption requires the rejection of vertical power structures and their replacement with lateral ones. Everything is connected to everything in the modern world so treaty based global governance is the way of the future. Countries will need to cooperate over shared interests even if they do not have shared values.
Asked by James Naughtie what is to be done if the political class is not up to it, Ashdown replied âno clueâ. That seemed about right even after some subsequent waffling about the need to shed central power, create supranational structures, and re-engage with people.
The Q and A session emitted a strong whiff of âNew Dawnismâ â Hugh Kingsmillâs term for utopian thinking stalked by wickedness. A man insisted that the biggest problem facing the world is over-population and that women should somehow be coerced in to birth control. Ashdown agreed with the first part but not the second.
It was left to Naughtie to bring us back to earth. What of the coalition? Nick Clegg has got it exactly right was the reply. It is good for the nation and the Lib Dems will benefit at the polls when people come to realize that. Nobody guffawed at the last part. Nor when Ashdown added that his party was wrong on student fees because of what was said before the election rather than what happened after it.
Incidentally, the lecture opened with a few lines from Housman and closed with a few from Donne. Timely (if token) reminders that EIBF was a writerâs festival before it became a festival of politics.