Greasy Pole: Timer for a change?
“There is nothing to hope for from a clutch of privileged Tories”
When they woke up on 2 May, did the electorate realise what they had done with their votes on the day before? Were they alert to the fact that they had encouraged David Cameron’s party to an excited optimism that, after all those agonised years of Blair’s Britain, they had been brought to the threshold of again being accepted as The Natural Party Of Government? (The capital letters are used in acknowledgement of how vital such concepts are to the well-being of the Conservative mind). The experience of Labour government, particularly since their last election victory in 2005, went a long way to persuade many of their previous supporters that, apart from anything else, it was time for a change even if the only other choice was a Conservative government. Gordon Brown has not helped his party by being such a tormented gift to the slick operators of the Tory propaganda machine. So it came to pass that people whose daily life is continually threatened with being little short of a wretched struggle to balance their income against what they need to get by were narcotised into opting to be ruled by a government led by an Old Etonian whose great achievement has been to re-fashion his party’s image by blanketing its disreputable past.
Panic-stricken Labour MPs, as they contemplate an approaching electoral massacre, may take some misguided comfort from their history. In the 1968 local elections, when the standing of the Wilson government was at rock-bottom after the devaluation climb-down and the imposition of “necessary austerity measures” (for which read “wage cutting” and “reduction in working class living standards”) they managed only a 30 per cent share of the vote – a little more than their 26 per cent this year. However they staged something of a recovery so that when Wilson called the 1970 general election they were the pollsters’ favourite. The snag, however, was that they still could not avoid defeat by Ted Heath’s Conservatives. This might have taught their successors something about the volatility of voting intentions which are not based on an understanding of capitalism and its destructive machinations. But in the 2005 general election, when Labour’s majority was slashed from 161 to 67, the response of MPs was predictably chaotic, as they queued up to lay the blame at the door of their then leader. “You can’t beat about the bush” said one of them “Blair was a negative factor on the doorstep, time and time again”. Another plunged hastily (too much so, in view of recent events but in any case he has announced that he will not be standing again and the local Labour Party have selected his successor) into: “It would be nice to see Brown crowned as early as the next party conference”. In a moving display of grief at losing her seat, a former Blair Babe speedily adapted her alleged principles and applied to join the Conservative Party. We are witnessing a similar reaction, as the promised post-Blair revival fails to materialise and the Tory threat gets ever more menacing. Brown’s response was as exhausted and as unhelpful as ever:
“Of course we can recover from this position…by sorting out the immediate problem of the economy and showing people we can come through, as we have in the past..,.by showing people that we have the vision of the future that will carry this country…into its next phase.”
Once again, Labour have no more to offer by way of explaining their defeat than to blame the shortcomings of their leader. Only hours after the results had been declared on May 2, the calls for Brown to go began, with a desperate search for an acceptable alternative. Should it be ex-postman Alan Johnson? Cadaverous John Hutton? Already discredited Jack Straw? Head Prefect David Miliband? Risibly callow James Purnell? There is no cause to believe that any of these would, in the face of capitalism’s anarchy, succeed where Blair and Brown failed. And while Labour commences yet another civil war the Tories have time to wallow in their victory and plan the campaign to take the greater prize whenever the government dares to take their chance in another general election.
In this it could not have turned out better for the Tories than for Boris Johnson to be elected Mayor of London, even if they had to bring in some expensive manipulators to persuade this irritatingly professional buffoon to look a little more credible as someone to be trusted to manage a city with a budget of £12 billion and to throttle off his more oafishly empty attempts at humour. There will now be a period during which Johnson’s mayoralty is taken as a measure of the likely success or failure of a Cameron government. It is not only on his avowed intention to replace the lumbering bendy buses with Routemasters with conductors and to ban alcohol on public transport that Johnson will be judged. He has also promised that all Londoners will actually be able to live in homes which they can afford (while accepting that what he can afford is rather better than anything available to most Londoners). There will be special attention given to the problem of youth crime and particularly to the fearful procession of youngsters being murdered in the capital. To this end Johnson has appointed as his Deputy Mayor an admirer of his – Ray Lewis, who was once governor of a Young Offenders Institution and who now runs something gloriously called a Young Leaders Academy in London. Lewis advises the parents of the boys attending his Academy that they should remove the TV from their bedroom and stop any listening to “dirty music”. His boys are taught to march and to salute: “When we go out, they walk in line, they walk in time, they catch the eye”.
Johnson’s approval of the “boot camp” style of dealing with young delinquents conveniently overlooks his history of (suspiciously unrecorded) offences. He did not report to the police an approach from his Old Etonian friend Darius Guppy, asking him to arrange to have a journalist beaten up who was investigating Guppy’s record as a fraudster too closely. During his time at Oxford Johnson (with Cameron and Shadow Chancellor George Osborne) was a member of the Bullingdon Club which, although it claimed to be a sporting and dining club, devoted itself to serious vandalism. One of their achievements was to hire a string band to play at a garden party and then to destroy all the instruments, including a Stradivarius. In a recent outing involving Johnson they wasted a beautiful cellar in a 15th Century Oxfordshire pub. The pub owner called the police – which the club members dismissed as due to his lacking “a sense of humour” – and Johnson remembered their arrest:
“The party ended with a number of us crawling on all fours through the hedges of the botanical gardens and trying to escape police dogs. And once we were in the police cells we became pathetic namby-pambies.”
To the fury of the pub owner, the police did nothing more than impose a few on the spot penalties – rather different to how they would have reacted if the damage had been caused by youngsters from Oxford’s Blackbird Leys estate. But the Bullingdon is rather more exclusive – to begin with the traditional dining suit costs three thousand pounds and there is a need for a rich relative to smooth things over and avoid calling the police by paying generously for the damage. This is the background of the man elected by the people to rule the heaving, tempestuous city of London.
So is it time for a change? Ten years of Labour rule have shown that party quite unable to prevent, or even interfere with, the crises and malfunctions of capitalism. There is nothing more to hope for from a clutch of privileged Tories. But rather than dither in a futile panic between one bunch of hopeless careerists and another, why not use the vote properly and effectively and opt for a real alternative?