Greasy Pole: Calm down and listen
David Cameron…serving at a barbecue alongside the Most Powerful Man In The World…striding through a hospital with Nick Clegg and Andrew Lansley telling everyone in earshot how much he loves the NHS…walking hand in hand with his wife on a Balearic island with not a Russian oligarch’s yacht in sight. David Cameron taking time in Prime Minister’s Questions to admonish Labour MP Angela Eagle to “…calm down dear and listen to the doctor”. All in a day’s work for a Prime Minister lording it over his contemporaries but nevertheless not secure enough to dispense with the need to assert his standing with regular, frequent publicity stunts – even when, strictly speaking, they are surplus to his requirements. Like slapping Eagle down when she was only protesting that he was mistaken in saying that the former Labour MP Howard Stoate had been defeated by a Tory when in fact he had stood down at the election. Surplus because in 2005 Cameron pledged to do away with that kind of misuse of Parliament’s time: “…the shouting, finger-pointing back biting and point-scoring in the House of Commons. That’s all got to go”. Surplus because in the event he had nothing to lose by a soothing apology for his insignificant error before resuming shouting and point-scoring. Perhaps he was too arrogant to realise that this was just the kind of triviality to get both sides in the Commons blowing up a storm, as part of their unrelenting efforts to conceal the fact that there is no considerable difference between them.
Spinning somewhere towards the edges of the storm of bogus protest was the figure of Michael Winner, who is not a favourite of feminists but is famous as the director of what should rightly be known as some of the most tawdry of films and for flaunting his riches with excruciating conceit. Although the phrase “calm down dear” has been in common usage for a very long time Winner claimed to have originated it for use in a TV insurance advertisement and said for good measure that “…the Prime Minister has used it before which shows he’s in touch with the British public…” It is not known whether the ex-Etonian Cameron was happy to be exposed to so warm an embrace by so nauseating a personification of capitalism’s ugliness. In any case Angela Eagle (“…frighteningly feminist…” – Daily Telegraph) is not known for modestly declining an opportunity to attract attention to herself. She won Wallesy from the Tories in the 1992 election and has held it since – the first time that constituency has had a Labour MP. She has recently been engaged in a Canute-like struggle to prevent to closure of a local biscuit factory – the largest private sector employer in an area where, she says, there are 16 people known to be chasing every vacant job. In 1997 she declared herself to be lesbian, the first MP to do so; this was soon after her twin sister Maria had become an MP, making them to the first set of twins in the Commons. To those who associate with them they are known as a formidable pair.
Until Labour were wangled out of power in May 2010 Angela Eagle held a number of governmental jobs and had a spell as a backbencher after being sacked by Tony Blair – perhaps as punishment for her being mutedly rebellious over the Iraq war and describing him as “fatally damaged” by it. In 2007 she was brought back by Gordon Brown and is now Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, squaring up to the Coalition’s Danny Alexander over which party offers the most effective disguise of their hopeless floundering amid the maladjustment of world capitalism 2011. Eagle’s claim in this contest is likely to be based on her being of the common salt – her father was a printworker – who clawed her way to university, fearlessly declared her sexuality in the cause of freedom and equality and then progressed to the base of the Greasy Pole. The facts, however, are not so promising for her. When she was a minor minister at the Treasury under Chancellor Alistair Darling there was no evidence of economic policy being influenced by any searchingly innovative contribution from her. In Labour’s final spell of power, when Eagle was in charge at the then Ministry of Pensions, it was made clear that if Labour were returned at the election they would implement policies as harsh as anything planned by George Osborne. In March 2010 Darling conceded under questioning that in fact Labour’s expenditure cuts would be “deeper and tougher” than those imposed under the Thatcher government in the 1980s, when Eagle was at Oxford studying for a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics which, she may well have hoped, would turn her out as a new style of political leader. She gives no reason to believe that she is disappointed to be as unoriginal and futile as all the others.
So what now of David Cameron and his slick wise-cracking appropriation of a sneer trade-marked by the execrable Michael Winner who had himself appropriated it? Ruling class demands on us are unrelenting, if variable. We experience episodes when we are disciplined to stay calm, for example when the country to which we are said to owe loyalty inflicts on us the fears and desolation of a war. And there are others when we are regimented to be excited – for example in April when we were swamped under a pervasive hysteria companion to the marriage of a couple of notably useless young parasites. We do not have to endure this catastrophic waste of human abilities; the argument for replacing this social order with another rooted in human interests sprouts from a solid base of facts historical, material, social…This is to be calmly assessed and excitedly brought into being.