Back To A Small ‘C’ Britain
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that we’re a little Northern country that financially punches above its weight, combining sophistication with brutish selfishness, and in uncertain times we timidly retreat to a level of safety. Last night we did it again; after six weeks of campaigning that might have stood for the very model of democracy we chose a dull centre-right Conservative leader over a well-meaning but wrong-headed centre-left Labour leader who sabotaged his chances with one of the most unappealing policy lineups I’ve ever seen in this country.
Everyone knows you’re meant to make promises that encourage votes, then rescind them in power in favour of unpopular legislation. Ed Miliband decided to headline the unpopular policies first. His tax on homes would have only affected a few, but a decade of zero interest and dead pensions means that everyone putting their life savings into property felt it would be the thin end of a wedge. Vague promises about saving the NHS were made, but there’s a sense that David Cameron knows there’s only so much of the NHS he can privatise before public anger kicks in. In this sense it felt as if the Conservatives had already co-opted any promises Labour might make.
It was only ever a two-party battle (battle seems rather a strong word – tepid water fight, perhaps), with the Lib-Dems reduced to the level of Ukip and the other doomed sidebars that flesh out elections to make them seem fair. All have now fallen on their swords to make way for Cameron’s way. The question is whether Labour will ever rebuild without the support of a Scotland heading for devolution.
Further ahead, we have the looming spectre of Boris Johnson (currently being taken to court over record levels of city pollution) seeking to spread his grotesque elitist policies to all corners of Britain. A country where he is Prime Minister would be unthinkable; beware the Holy Fool, for he will survive kings, and in this case we can expect hundreds of vanity projects designed to appeal to deposed dictators. A Swarovski crystal bridge for Newcastle, perhaps, or a thousand-metre golden tower for Devon, opened by Dame Katie Hopkins?
I’ve often wondered what Johnson’s real vision for Britain might be; he rarely mentions health, ecology or the work/life balance that decides what truly makes places liveable. He remains popular because people underestimate him and don’t seek to uncover a long-term agenda.Â There’s a terrific speech in ‘Tom & Viv’, an underrated film about TS Elliot, about the nature of England and its so-called ‘quiet values’, which perfectly captures the Place of Greater Safety attitude that governs our political mentality. I can only think that under Johnson a future small ‘c’ conservative term would quickly become big ‘C’, completing the nation’s transformation into a sort of Switzerland, money-laundering for the world and producing nothing of interest or use. We were once described by Napoleon as a nation of shopkeepers. Perhaps it would be fairer to say we’re a nation of money-changers. And from last night’s results it seems that many people are perfectly happy with that.