Oh dear. That is to say, three cheers for this comedy post by the New Statesman’s Laurie Penny. It turns out there is scarcely any limit to David Cameron’s deviousness. I mean, consider all this:
Over the next two and a half years, a full calendar of bread and circuses has been scheduled to keep the British public happy and obedient while the government puts its economic shock doctrine into effect. This year, it’s the Wedding of Mass Distraction; next year it’s the Diamond Jubilee and after that the Olympics. The timing is a gift for any government attempting to push through punitive and unpopular reforms – the chance to smother dissent with a dampened commemorative tea towel of pomp and circumstance. This is the highest function of what Guy Debord called the society of the spectacle: not just to distract popular attention from the machinations of government, but artificially to invoke the imagery of a national consensus that doesn’t exist. In David Cameron’s Britain, respect for the popular mandate is in no way important. All that matters is the iconography of public ritual, just enough to make everybody shut up and shout hurrah.
This is enjoyable piffle and weapons-grade piffle at that. How cunning of David Cameron to arrange Prince William’s wedding! How smart to have arranged for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee! How devious to have persuaded Tony Blair to bid for the Olympic Games! My word, at this rate he’ll be so smart he’ll find a way of selling the Big Society…
But, wait, there’s more gold here, Jerry, much more gold!
Precisely the same logic of baseless deference is at play when the press condemns student protesters who swing from war memorials during anti-cuts marches. While everyone gets worked up about a few kids harmlessly tampering with symbols of wartime sacrifice, the greatest war memorial of all – the welfare state – is being ripped to shreds.
Universal health care, universal education, out-of-work benefits, voter enfranchisement and respect for women’s unpaid labour were all legacies of public consensus after the two world wars; all are directly threatened by the brutal programme of cuts about to be enacted by this government. As far as regards respect for the fallen, Cameron may as well have burned down the Cenotaph and replaced it with vending machines and a flashing sign reading “Big Society".
Venerating the static symbols of Britain’s uncomfortably bloodstained imperial traditions requires much less compassion, and much less effort, than preserving the living institution bequeathed to us by former generations. Give the public a ceremony and a huge parade, the theory goes, and general complaisance will follow. This time, though, our leaders are beginning to worry that it might not be enough.
I don’t really give a damn about some foolish protestor swinging his way around the Cenotaph – bloody-stupid-but-heat-of-the-moment-and-carried-away-stuff – but I doubt the average Briton sees the Cenotaph as a "static" symbol of "Britain’s uncomfortably bloodstained traditions" and not just because most people are sensible enough to see the Empire as a creature of its times, for worse and sometimes for better, and all the rest of it. No, they probably – and rightly – view the Cenotaph as being as close to a sacred thing as we have in this country tday.
For that matter, whatever his faults, I’m unpersuaded the public see David Cameron as a latterday Nero. Nor that they really believe that the age of universal health care and universal education is over. Indeed, it’s also hard to see how this government is attempting to eliminate voter enfranchisement, unemployment benefit or even, whisper it, "respect for women’s unpaid labour".
So I assume that Miss Penny’s post is really a too-subtle-for-me jape and not at all evidence that aspects of the left have lost their minds just as surely and completely as some parts of the right did during the Blair-Brown ministry.
Oh, and she might as well read some history: large parts of the welfare state pre-date WW2. But in her own way Miss Penny shows herself to be just as extreme as those American nutters who think Barack Obama is unravelling all that was ever sweet and good and holy about the United States. The mentality is just the same and so is the divorce from reality.
But who can fail to be stirred by her concluding rallying call?
This is exactly why the possibility of disrupting the stultifying public pageantry of the royal wedding must remain on the table. Do we want to be part of a culture that sits in front of the TV, whining while the big decisions are made for us and cheering on cue? Or do we want to be part of a culture that stakes a claim, stands firm and answers back to injustice?
Yeah. Whatever. Or you could, as I believe the kids say, get a life. Or manners, since deliberately trying to spoil someone else’s enjoyment of something you consider trifling or boring or irrelevant might be thought rude. What’s the point?
For that matter, all the available evidence suggests that the Great British People do like loafing on the sofa while complaining about everything. That’s one mark of this country’s success.
PS: Fish in other barrels that remain unshot? Your time may yet come. And anyway you are still in a barrel.
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