Of Crickets and Oxen

Because half a dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of greatcattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that, of course, they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little, shrivelled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.

So wrote the father of modern conservatism Edmund Burke. His words have rung true for well over a century and continue to discern some important truths for our modern world.

Indeed, the number of grasshoppers busily chirping in our public discourse versus the great mainstream that Burke’s magnificent metaphor represents as the thousands of oxen, is as relevant today as it was in 1790.

Unfortunately, the chirping crickets are concentrated in many of the institutions that have hitherto stabilised and guided our society through much of our history.

While small in number, their voice is magnified through the lens of the media, their engagement within the bureaucracy and their influence within our schools.

As such, they are shaping the future direction of society more than their numbers warrant.

Woe betide the politician who is prepared to suggest that the crickets’ voice is disproportionate to their numbers or out of synch with mainstream concerns. Yet that is precisely the case.

In modern parlance, we refer to the vocal minority and the silent majority. In this upside-down world of minority influence, the politician who continues to reflect mainstream constituent concerns is derided by the ‘crickets’ as fringe or extreme.

This is because the chirpers are scared. They are scared of critical analysis of their agenda and they are scared of losing their influence in the public debate.

But others are scared too. Few are prepared to enter the sacred PC zones self-declared by Burke’s metaphorical crickets for fear of being attacked, pilloried or marginalised.

It is not hard to find the evidence of this new fear.

Last weekend, I attended three constituent ‘surgeries’ spread over a Sunday morning. I lost count of the number of people who sought ‘a quiet word’ to raise issues that they were afraid to raise in front of others.

The fact that they all raised the same issue and shared exactly the same concerns suggests that the silent majority have been cowed into public silence.

Despite the time-honoured evidence that the people are often more sensible than their politicians, too few of our elected representatives are actually prepared to listen to the people’s wisdom and publicly speak up on their behalf.

Mainstream concerns are very real concerns. We need more of those in public life prepared to advocate for them, irrespective of what the crickets might have to say about it.

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