In all our sanctuaries we sit at risk

Re-uniting the United Kingdom


My partner has begun to dread the subject of Cameron. Cameron fills our heads and house far too often. What if, after all, Cameron retains power this Thursday, or sometime thereafter ? Another five years of this, she wonders ?

But what if Cameron doesn’t ? What then ? Where will all this anxiety and indignation go ?

Who is this Cameron ? How can I, how can we, allow him such power to fill our thought-patterns, our speech-patterns, our meal-times, our ways of being ?

This continuous effort of mine to understand better who he is and what he does, from whence he gains and keeps his traction – is it a way of trying to dispel him and his works, to banish him from our meal table, through being able to place him better in our minds, establishing his true shape ? Or is it, on the contrary, just a symptom of my failure to keep him at bay, hold him in check  ? There he remains, like a balloon, a sleek and brutal rubberiness hanging over our heads, in our own space,  as we sit together.

Let’s hope Ed and his troops can banish Cameron from the nation’s meal-table on Thursday, though it doesn’t look as if there’s going to be a clean or decisive result, and I continue to fear the worst. And even if the man is driven out along with his acolytes, their meaning, the force they work by, and speak for, and seem to release, will certainly not be leaving with them.

I can roughly understand how a people can turn to unworthiness in times of confusion, when that unworthiness communicates so plausibly and with such confidence and appears – on the surface – to be offering neat answers that comfort some sections of our community.

But a feature that struck me afresh yesterday seems worth recounting here. I am not sure what its implications are. Does this fresh line of thought I’ve set out below throw any new light on Cameron and how he ticks ? Or does it say more about us, the electorate, the punters, the “plebs,” how we tick, or fail to ?

The Observer’s editorial today suggests that Cameron is merely Osborne’s “front man.” Interesting observation, which feels right. I would add another. Cameron is a salesman through and through. Perhaps he is nothing much else. I happen to think that he is also a highly dishonest salesman. It is important (but in present circumstances very difficult) to distinguish between evasiveness/guardedness/distance/spin on the one hand, and plain dishonesty on the other. So many of us, in our anger and enforced disengagement and powerlessness, are saying “they are all the same.” Not so. Spin and distance are bad enough, whatever the complex reasons for these. But plain dishonesty is a different thing.

I’ll pursue my thought about the salesman a bit further. For the past five years, Cameron has held the position of Prime Minister of a nation still called the United Kingdom. But through a string of examples I shall list below, I think he has shown utter indifference to what those things mean in reality – a lack of awareness or care which might almost be described as pathological. Over the last five years, have we really been seeing a Prime Minister at work, filling a high office of leadership over a country made up of various elements – or is he merely a privileged con man, making hay with whatever he can get away with ? The nation’s Head of State – or merely its Head Rude-boy, swaggering about in his bovver boots ? The leader of a densely populated nation, dynamic and complex – or merely pack leader for a narrow section within that nation, abusing and demeaning his high position merely to advance his own pack’s interests, its territories, its codes, at the expense of everyone else’s ?

I’ll resort to an image before running through the examples. For there is surely something extraordinary that has been going on here, under our noses. My image is a variation on Steve Bell’s condom. It is a kind of floating mask which looks a bit like a face. We have been willing to call this mask “Prime Minister” and to speak to it as if there’s a man inside. But what fills the mask is invisible. Or else the mask is merely hollow. It turns in a particular direction and speaks words to the group it is facing, seeking to win them over. Everyone standing behind the mask sees that it is hollow. The mask turns again and speaks to a new group. Another part of the nation now stands behind it and sees that it is hollow.

The extraordinary thing is that whatever lives inside the mask does not seem to notice the growing number of people now witness to its emptiness. One after the other it speaks against the groups standing behind it, trying to please whoever stands in front of it, seeking its own advantage in the moment. It doesn’t seem aware of the growing multitude who see that it is hollow. It doesn’t seem to care that its own narrow advantage in this moment will have no value if it leads to overall disaster in the next. Whatever is in front of it at this one moment, are all it cares about, if it cares at all. In fact, it doesn’t seem to have any sense, or concept, of “overall” either. It seems to sense and tend only to its own advantage, in this moment, now.

Let’s hurry down the list. Some of the examples have already been referred to in previous posts here.

1. The NHS.

The Tories know the NHS is popular, even though many of them hate it for ideological reasons. So their 2010 manifesto forbore to mention their plans radically to transform the NHS, according to Lansley’s plans. And from beginning to end, the mask has kept insisting on its loyalty to the NHS and its plans to keep supporting it.

But how many people work in the NHS ? Many thousands. All now know, from direct experience, that the mask keeps lying. They can see behind it. But it isn’t looking at them. It does not see itself as their Prime Minister, their leader. It is looking at a small number of people in the marginals who might be persuaded by the spin, the lie.

In its report, the King’s Fund, a respected independent body of healthcare expertise, calls the Lansley reorganisation of the NHS a disaster. The mask does not blink (it has no eye lids). It announces to its own audience that the King’s Fund praised it. The mask’s interest does not extend to the witness to truth available at the King’s Fund, and the expertise of that body can be ignored, even though its employees’ number are now added to those who know its emptiness, its lie. The mask keeps smiling caringly at its own audience.

And then heads off to talk to its own supporters in Wales. And there brings up the image of Offa’s Dyke, an ancient division between the Mercians and the Welsh. The NHS is all good under Tory management on the English side of Offa’s Dyke, the mask intones, but it’s all death in Wales. The mask secures a headline or two with that one, which was presumably its intention. The assertion happens to be a crass and irresponsible lie and to cause a great deal of justified outrage. But the mask sees no advantage to itself in pleasing those of the nation’s citizens who live west of “Offa’s Dyke”. So it turns away from them, showing them the darkness of its back.

2. The UK Welfare Benefit changes.

Enormous suffering has been caused by the Benefit changes introduced by the Coalition Government. The mask does not blink (it has no eye-lids). For its own advantage, it smiles in the direction of some focus groups and ideologues – and does not see the people it is persecuting  – or their champions, the bishops, the vicars, the food bank organisers. This is not the nation the mask need bother with. The bishops protest, publishing the truth. You’re wrong, says the mask, repeating its lie. The mask dons a halo for the cameras.

3. The Scottish Nationalist Party.

As we all know, the SNP has become hugely popular in Scotland. The Tories might just have played a part in that popularity. The mask and its gang secretly exult. In Scotland, before the referendum, the mask faced the Scots, proclaiming its love for them. Then it swiftly turned away and the Scots saw its darkness, its hollowness. Since the referendum, the mask has done nothing but demonise the Scots and the SNP, looking to win over a few UKIP votes, looking to its gang, seeking advantage for its gang – at the cost of its nation.

4. The Economy

The mask spends five years proclaiming its fiscal competence and discipline in contrast to those irresponsible spendthrifts on the other side of the House. Then, just before this week’s election, it makes extravagant promises of largesse to carefully targeted members of the population, smilingly. The fiscal competence line evaporates, no longer useful to the gang. It needs to recruit some new gang-members. The rest of the nation will have to pay for this uncosted largesse at some later date. But the mask does not see “nation”. Neither does it see “later date.” It sees only Me and the immediately Mine. My gang, today. Let tomorrow and nation be someone else’s worry.

And so on and so on.

I conclude :

For the last five years this nation has been beguiled. It has kept talking to a mask, a pretence, as if to a Prime Minister. What was behind that mask ? What really were we addressing, behind the mask ?

What will now become of this nation, already in danger of splintering under the pressure of the upheavals of our time, the momentous, almost tectonic developments taking place in our world ? To navigate and forge a civilised way through these waves we face, requires the best efforts of all of us, united and led by the wisest and most trustworthy among us, chosen with great care.

The importance of Thursday’s election result cannot therefore be over-estimated. We have allowed the role of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom to remain vacant for five years. The vacancy has been occupied instead by a parasitic source of activity that threatens the health of this nation and works through transparent deceitfulness, abusing the connecting lines of our democracy and demonstrating contempt for our community. We need to redeem ourselves by giving power to a worthy occupant now, and we need to give that person full powers to re-unite and responsibly govern our nation.

What or whom has this piece really been about ? Who is in question here ? Cameron or all of us ?