I came across this story via another website (not through browsing the Telegraph website, I’m not that far gone) and was very interested in its implications for people’s identity and self-definition.

The article reports on a study that took as its starting point the maxim of people becoming more conservative as they get older. According to the article, the study derives relevant data from a huge database of answers to surveys on people’s values, concluding not only that this rightward drift is genuinely the case, but also that people who have experienced this drift tend to be under the illusion that they are still as left wing as they used to be – even to the extent of voting for parties with a position left of their true beliefs. My interest was piqued by the involvement of values surveys, and I’ve drawn the article to the attention of my friends at Cultural Dynamics.

Given its positioning in the Telegraph, I suspect that some on the right will see the article as bolstering their belief that they are correct whilst others with more idealistic beliefs are naive, foolish or even dangerous. But there is a more important lesson for the left: stop allowing the right the monopoly on being ‘realistic’.

I’ve made no secret of my impatience with some of the attitudes and activities of the ‘traditional’ left, including the socialist factions and the centralist, state-obsessed Labour Party, and of my support for more constructive solutions that seek to build local communities’ independence from both the state and the market. This is even more pressing in the current financial crisis, when the government’s ‘tough but realistic and honest’ line – despite the dishonesty, lack of imagination and spurious ideology that I fear characterises some of its proponents – will pay huge dividends unless the left comes up with constructive alternatives. And if that means maintaining opposition to cuts but also taking the Big Society to heart, then let’s do it. What does ‘champagne socialist’ mean if not someone who sits on the sidelines, pontificating on the situation whilst ensuring that they have the excuses – the kids, their job, their lack of time, the amount of fizzy plonk they’ve consumed – so that they don’t have to get their hands dirty?

The best way to show that an ideal is ‘realistic’ is to make it a reality. The best way to show that that reality isn’t just a one-off is to put in place the framework for it to keep happening. The Transition Towns movement is – or could be, once it breaks beyond its somewhat class-restricted base – a fantastic example of this principle in action.

So what am I still doing sitting at the computer, you ask? Well, I’ll get into that another day – I’m just on my way out.

Thought experiment. Imagine I’ve just insulted your mum, but that due to some mysterious paralysis, you can only get revenge by taking issue with my post through the comment facility.

You can also email me at majeed@cantab.net, find me on Twitter @majeedneky or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/majeedneky.