Greasy Pole: Slags and Swamps

To get on in what they see as their exclusive world a politician should popularise a word or phrase by which they can be readily identified and remembered – even if it turns out to work against them. Like Tony Blair and ‘education, education, education…’ Or David Cameron and ‘We are all in this together’… And Theresa May, when she was in opposition and usually relying on her flowery shoes to promote herself, telling the Tory conference that they had earned themselves the title of ‘The Nasty Party’ (although recently her Minister of State Lib Dem Norman Baker resigned because he had found that working for her was ‘like walking through mud’ – which may turn out to be his exclusive phrase). And with that same preoccupation with mud there has been the persistently striving Defence Secretary Michael Fallon uttering a warning about the British people being ‘swamped’ by an influx of immigrants which makes them feel that they are ‘…under siege with large numbers of migrant workers and people claiming benefits’.


These comments, just when Nigel Farage is grinning so boozily and hopefully on the side-lines, did not appeal to David Cameron. Naturally he had to step up to defend Fallon, if only because he had so recently promoted him: ‘It is right for politicians to raise concerns about immigration but we should always choose our language carefully’ he advised the Commons. Less heartening for Fallon would have been the support from one of Labour’s most spectacular ministerial failures: ‘I believe both Michael Fallon and I were right to speak out on the issue’ offered ex-Home Secretary David Blunkett in the Daily Mail, also suggesting that all UK citizens should be expected to be able to speak English and restricted to benefits based on what they have ‘contributed’ to the country. Whatever changes Blunkett has been through since he was relieved of the stress of ministerial life have not included any development of insight or socially therapeutic thinking.


In spite of the risks that another speech from him may have stimulated more responses like Blunkett’s, Fallon did his best to apologise, confessing to Radio Five listeners that ‘I misspoke yesterday, I used words I wouldn’t normally have used’. He did not expand on his use of ‘normally’, which might have raised the matter of his reputation, which helped so much towards his promotion as ‘The Thinking Man’s Rottweiler’. And he made no comment on his use of the word ‘swamp’ with its connotations of a cruelly prolonged, widely destructive and epidemical disaster. Was it related to his background as an ardent ‘No Turning Back’ devotee of the Iron Lady (who herself in1978 gave voice to her thoughts about ‘…people are really rather afraid that this country might be rather swamped by people with a different culture’)? Years later, as Thatcher was being ousted from Number Ten, Fallon called on her to try to convince her that ‘all was not lost’. At first he was turned away, told that she was too busy but when she knew he had called she had him brought back to make his obeisances. On the anniversary of that day, which is stubbornly celebrated by some of the areas laid waste by the harsher poverty under Thatcher governments, Fallon demonstrates his unchanging devotion to her memory by wearing a black tie.


Fallon was first elected in 1983, he lost that seat in 1992 but came back, for Sevenoaks in Kent, in 1997. He was soon embarked on a ministerial career, probably in recognition of his talents as a ‘fire-fighter’ to douse any smouldering rebels on the Tory benches. His big chance has been his promotion to his present job as Minister of Defence, after only two years in Business and Enterprise. In his time he has held a series of directorships one of which was in brokers Tullett Prebon, a major donor to the Tory Party and involved in the FSA investigation into what in the City is bashfully called malpractice such as the notorious LIBOR interest fixing operation. Another interest of Fallon has been Quality Care Homes whose comforting title overlays its reputation for paying its workers less than the proposed minimum wage and its low assessment on some matters by the Care Quality Commission.


For a couple of years leading up to Thatcher’s resignation Fallon was a Tory Whip, so that experienced Members had to learn how to handle him while aware that, as one of them put it, ‘…If he said that everything is going swimmingly’ he was actually saying ‘It’s a fucking disaster’. One example of what was on that Honourable Member’s mind was an incident soon after the Tory victory in 2010, when Cameron was strutting his stuff as the leader of a ‘female friendly’ government. It involved one Bryony Gordon, a journalist who had worked for the Daily Telegraph and whose material and style was represented by the title of one of her major autobiographical works The Wrong Knickers; A Decade Of Chaos. She was at a leaving party in a ‘grotty bar’ in Westminster when Fallon, who had been drinking at another party, arrived and told her that she was a ‘slag’. The uproar, inflamed by Gordon, was not appeased by Fallon’s minders assuring everyone that he had used the word ‘slattern’ – a distinction too fine to be of any help to the floundering minister. In another incident a couple of years later Fallon arrived at a Christmas party thrown by a wealthy Tory MP. He was an uninvited guest and had already been drinking. He quickly clamped himself to a young woman noticeable in a dramatic party dress. Again it was necessary for him to be extracted by a minder, anxious because the woman was employed by the Russian energy industry while Fallon was the Minister of State for Energy.

As they approach their final general election the Cameron government will intensify their campaign to re-write history by convincing us that they are in progress to cure the blundering chaos of the Labour government. This, they will argue, is due to their insightful policies and sublime personalities. Included in this will be Michael Fallon, now revealing himself in a ministry where his earliest predecessor Liam Fox slipped from a strong contender as a future leader into obscurity. The politics of capitalism will always be scattered with miserable, exposed failures.


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