Sunday, 2 January 2011

Envy: ugly on left and right

Osborne: better his wealth sits accumulating interest or paying someone's wages?
Envy will always be an ugly emotion, whether it comes from hate mail like Socialist Worker or a populist rag like the Mail on Sunday. Highly irrational, it is also very destructive, being an emotion that very easily leads to another - hatred.

As it happens, Socialist Worker have declined to comment on the story Mail editor Peter Wright seems to think worthy of a front page splash - namely that rich people enjoy spending money at Christmas.

I know, it's shocking, isn't it? George Osborne has gone skiing in Switzerland, Zac Goldsmith is in an £8k-a-week Barbados villa and prisons minister Crispin Blunt scandalously paid £22 to attend a New Year's Eve party on the Commons terrace, courtesy of Speaker Bercow.

As ever with envious, hate-enticing trash journalism, what these people should have been doing is never mentioned but if you read between the lines, it is often implied. The results can be as hilarious as they are irrational.

Take, for example, Mr Blunt. The Mail say his presence at Bercow's party was 'an embarrassment in light of the fact that at the same time a riot was brewing at Ford Open Prison in Sussex.' Clearly, he ought to have spent New Year's Eve in riot gear quelling the disturbance himself, rather than doing something so outlandish as enjoying himself.

The party itself was frequently described as 'lavish' - which is bang out of order on a day like New Year's Eve. Clearly the party ought to have employed a puritan sense of austerity with no music, no dancing and nothing more than stale bread and water served at the bar. Just like the good people of Britain.

Of course, that the 'lavish' £22 price tag more than covered the cost of the party, with half the proceeds gong to charity, merited a single line at the bottom of the article as part of the MPs' 'defence.'

In the case of Osborne and Goldsmith, the only implication I can pry out of the article is that they ought not to have spent so much money. Clearly it would be better, in the Mail's view, for them to avoid paying so many peoples' wages with their custom and simply allow their fortunes to accumulate yet more interest instead. Their real crime, naturally, was not allowing themselves to grow idly richer.

This is the real meaning of the term 'we're all in this together.' It was adapted by Cameron and Osborne from very similar words spoken nearly half a century ago by trailblazing monetarists like Friedrich von Hayek and Enoch Powell. It was perhaps not the best campaign slogan, given how easily it has been twisted into ammunition, but its central principle is sound; that every single person in this country has a stake in its prosperity and everyone contributes.

To say I dislike Paris Hilton, for example, is an understatement. I find her incredibly irritating, her influence on young girls frightening and her sheer idleness ingratiating. But frankly, it's none of my business. Her personality is most likely the result of bad parenting - something that permeates all class boundaries - and what she does or does not do with her (or her father's) money is up to them and them alone.

Plus, if I think about it rationally, she probably employs quite a lot of people and her wastrel lifestyle probably pays the wages of many, many more.

One thing I would never call her is 'socially useless.' It's one of the most disturbingly fascistic terms I've heard of late and the sort of thing you'd expect to hear from Mussolini, Mao or Stalin, not the head of the Financial Services Authority. That anyone could even think themselves capable of making such a judgement is bad enough; suggesting the people in question be taxed out of economic existence is plain tyranny.

And as far as class (or any other type of) hatred goes, I'd like to end on a cautionary tale from one TV's greatest creations, Spaced.

Bilbo: I used to know this guy, Minty. He had a dog who he'd train to attack rich people. He was into the whole class-war thing. He called the dog Gramsci after an Italian Marxist. Rumor has it, it could smell wealth from up to 20 feet. The thing is, it all backfired. Minty won 100 grand on a scratchcard and Gramsci bit his knees off. 


  1. I actually wrote a response to this and forgot to post it, I've just discovered while clearing up my computer. I'm not sure if it's finished, I haven't read it over properly but I remember the gist; and it mentions the NI water shortage if you can remember that far back! Here you go:

    While I completely agree with your criticisms of the Mail's usual style - suggesting, as you say, that Crispin Blunt should have been in the thick of the action, for example - I would suggest that what the subject matter highlights, and what actually appeals most to the common voter, is that politicians are more out of touch with the electorate than ever. While I wouldn't necessarily want to tell anyone what to do with their money (and yes I appreciate that high-earners spending their cash on luxury items is something we're supposed to be very grateful for and all that), I do think it's pretty pious that they tell people to tighten their belts without doing the same, particularly as we're (you'll like this..) "all in this together". Unfortunately, these people aren't like the Paris Hiltons of this world who we can simply ignore by choosing not to read OK! or watch itv2 until they inevitably choke on their vomit in a cocaine-fuelled romp with their nose up a hooker's arse; they are politicians, making policies and shaping people's lives. Rather than being "envious", isn't it possible that many people feel that seeing legislators throw lots of money around (though perfectly entitled to do it, of course) is not only terribly tactless, but indicative of the fact that they have no knowledge or experience of the consequences their own policies have upon the quality of life of ordinary people? Perhaps I'm wrong. Perhaps last year Zac Goldsmith spent £10k a week and this year has conscientiously decided to reign his winter holiday budget a whole 20% to highlight that we all need to make sacrifices. Perhaps I'm just jealous. Except I'm not, I had a lovely Christmas and have no interest in skiing whatsoever, thank you. While I wouldn't suggest that MPs resign themselves to a Christmas of bread and water (or just bread, for the Northern Irish representatives), just as Paris Hilton might do well to consider the influence she holds over young girls' lives and act accordingly, so might politicians.

  2. (It's Craig, by the way ;-) )