Saturday, 11 December 2010

Class War with Mrs Angry

That photograph of Charles and Camilla was everywhere yesterday, wasn't it?

At first, Mrs Angry was very annoyed at the amount of attention that was being given to the incident, when the really significant issue, the nationwide sense of outrage over the tution fees hike, was in danger of being overlooked. It seemed grossly irritating that a moment's slip in the security arrangements for a pair of over priviliged members of the royal family should be considered more important than the devastating economic impact on every ordinary family in this country.

But then I became interested in the photo itself, and what it had to say about the state in which we now find ourselves.

What the tabloids described as a look of fear on the royal faces looks more like anger to me: outrage, even, as outside the car, rioters, completely out of control, are lunging at the royal couple, baying for their blood, screaming 'Off with their heads' ... just extraordinary. This wasn't a scene from revolutionary France, the flight of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette from the mob of Paris: this was a pair of slightly bored sixty somethings off to the Palladium, to sit through the undeniable reign of terror that is our annual Royal Variety Show. Funnily enough, the route along Oxford Street was once the road that all condemned prisoners took to their place of execution at Tyburn, now Marble Arch; but of course, on this occasion, Charles and Camilla were heading in the opposite direction. These days, anyway, we don't punish our royalty by chopping off their heads; we make them sit through a performance of N-Dubz and Susan Boyle, and serve them right.

Now please don't misunderstand: I don't have any particular animosity towards the Royal Family.Not all of them, anyway. Like most people, I think the Queen is a dutiful, conscientious woman, and the rest of them : well, I really would prefer that they weren't indulged at the expense of the rest of us. As it happens, me being a champagne socialist, I er, ahem, have been to Buckingham Palace, once - and this will make you laugh - as the escort of someone representing the London Borough of Barnet, at one of those garden parties. Don't panic, Mr Walkley: I did behave myself. More or less.

Attending one of these events is a highly surreal experience, rather like being Alice in Wonderland: guests are ushered through the rather tatty looking palace - faded velvet curtains and yellow nets, very shabby genteel - by bad tempered courtiers in top hats brandishing umbrellas which they use to poke the visitors into line, (really) whilst shouting at the guests 'Take your hat off! Keep moving!' - and watching your every move, in case you leg it up the stairs, like the mob at Versailles, or pinch a Canaletto. You are then unceremonially prodded into the palace gardens, which you discover look rather like a badly maintained public park, Broken Barnet style - (although without the usual number of chavs sitting on the benches, spitting, and shouting at their pitbulls).

You wander about aimlessly eyeing up the other women's hats, and all the members of the armed forces in full dress uniform - and trying to avoid the Brian Coleman look alike mayors strutting around with all their municipal bling, (the only occasion, please note, Brian, when such excess is appropriate). You snigger at that woman from Emmerdale trying to walk on soggy grass in her spikey Louboutins. Suddenly, the doors open and the Queen and royal party are standing before you. Everything is still. The royal standard is flying in the clear blue skies above above the palace, a military band starts playing the National Anthem, and even Mrs Angry is momentarily, just a teeny weeny bit awestruck.

Well, actually, she is thinking to herself: ' F*ck me, I'm standing on the lawn at Buckingham Palace, staring at the Queen. And not laughing ... '

HM then descends to walk long the lines of guests. This takes ages. Your mind wanders. When she approaches, you have forgotten where you are and why: who is that little woman, and why is her face so familiar? Ah, yes - on the stamps. She smiles politely at you: you smile politely at her, she moves on. No, I didn't curtsey.

The experience was interesting, if only for one thing: a reminder that our society is still deeply rooted in the past, and one that is still strictly defined by divisions of class and wealth. While we had a Labour government, we may have fooled ourselves that we were moving towards a more equal society - if anyone really believed that the Labour government represented anyone other than a self interested group of opportunists lining their own pockets. Since the election, though, we have been thrown back right over the royal garden wall to where we feel more familiar: poking our heads through the iron gates of the palace, and gawping at the toffs.

And what an Eton Mess they are making of things, aren't they, Posh Boy and his public school chums? From our point of view, of course, not theirs. Of course they don't care about hiking up tuition fees. What's the fuss about - a few thousand quid? One of Samantha's handbags probably costs more than the new fees for one term of university education.

The children of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne will never have to worry for one moment about the cost of their education: Mummy, Daddy, or the family trust fund set up by their grand parents, will take care of that. Of course we are supposed to be comforted by the thought that students from poor backgrounds, you know, from up north and all that, whose parents still keep coal in the bath, and have an outside toilet, may qualify for an exemption for fees. The fact that most will now not even consider the option of further education because of the prospect of the burden of debt for the rest of their working lives is probably all for the best, isn't it? It would only lead them to expect something better than life in one of those dreadful sink estate ghettoes where they should stay safely excluded from the middle classes. No, not social engineering: think of it as an extreme form of kettling, maybe?

And ah, yes, the middle classes ... when politicians like Cameron and Clegg talk about the middle classes, they really mean, or want to pretend to mean, people like them, because they really don't want to admit to belonging to an upper class. They dress down in jeans, and open necked shirts from Boden, and think that we will be fooled. We're not, and we know that most middle class people do not, unlike them, have inherited wealth, or fabulously well paid jobs. They define themselves as middle class probably on the basis of education, or having a mortgage. Most significantly of all, they are the section of the electorate that the Tories must reclaim at every election if they are to return to power. This section of the electorate also represents the families who are going to be kicked in the teeth by the burden of debt that will accrue as a result of the tuition fee increase. Not rich enough to pay their childrens' fees for them, not poor enough to qualify for exemption. And their children, the ones in sixth form now, who are going to be the first students to be walloped by this scandalous fee hike. When the next election comes, these kids are going to be eligible for the first time to vote: that's going to be interesting, isn't it?

No middle class student is now going to vote Conservative. Oh, and how could I forget: sorry, it's hard to type without laughing at the thought of anyone ever again voting for the Libdems, let alone any students.

It's curious, isn't it, how little we have heard from our three Tory MPs and our three Libdem councillors, here in Barnet, on the subject of tuition fees? None of our MPs have any children, of course, so they have absolutely no understanding of the economic realities affecting most of their constituents, and probably care even less. Our Libdem councillors: hmm - has anyone asked them for their thoughts? No? I suppose Mr - sorry -new Lord Palmer is very busy being fitted for his ermine robes (unless Susette is knitting him some).

It's easy to criticise the idiotic incidents of violence in the recent protests. Cameron and his colleagues are no doubt delighted to have something to distract us all from the important issue, the vote itself. We should not lose focus of the fact that these were isolated acts, and that the vast majority of those taking part were there to excercise their democratic right to express the anger they feel, and the sense of betrayal.

During the Newsnight coverage of the vote and the demonstrations on Thursday, a reporter made the point that we were watching an unprecedented form of uprising, a national rebellion, that was fuelled not so much by students as by sixthformers - schoolchildren. In this borough we have already seen our own homegrown sixthform protest. Local MP Mike Freer and other Tories criticised this demonstration. This is predictable, of course: there is a huge gulf now between the political system of representation and the people it is supposed to serve. Whether it is nationally, in parliament, or locally, here in Barnet, until the politicians start to take notice of public opinion, this gulf will become unbroachable, and violent protest will increase to an unsustainable point.

It's often said that we've never had a revolution in this country because our class system has traditionally allowed for social mobility and such flexibility has defused the potential for any uprising. I'm not so sure. I think that the social effects of this Coalition government are going to be so profound that it will imprison people within new constraints of poverty, and the frustration that they will feel is going to find an outlet in more and more extreme acts of protest.

See that look on Camilla's face? That expression of outrage at the intrusion of mob rule is one of those defining moments of history. It's going to be an iconic image of these times: the day we redefined the meaning of class war.


baarnett said...

Mrs A, we proles and plebs appreciate your selfless undercover work at decaying BH, spying on bored-out-of-her-mind HM. Presumably the flunkeys like to order everyone about, because the job is unbelieveably pointless and tedious the rest of the time.

Although Barnet Eye believes it's politics as "business-as-usual", I'm not so sure. I still think there may be a sea-change going on. Great waves of political change do not necessarily have to be only in the past.

As you suggest, Camillagate has been a side-show to the real events, and a fast-growing resentment to cuts, which maybe are partly unnecessary, that is increasing the anger of an awful lot of society.

(How dare people shout to the royal pair, "Off with their heads!" That sort of thing, based on events in 1649, has to be the work of Parliament!)

I know we would have to find someone else to put on our stamps, but I have never liked the royals, any of them. They have always represented reaction, and there are many on the right of politics as well as on the left that want modernisation of institutions.

If the Coalition fails to sell the deal that the huge cuts are really necessary, they will be out a lot sooner than in four-and-a-half years' time.

Do we need to worry so much about selling government bonds, if they are mainly bought by UK pension funds, where higher income can be taxed by the government anyway? Because of the overhang from the Pa Broon disaster, George Osborne has been able to predict calamity, (instead of what might be more a sharp but less painful touch on the tiller) without any effective opposition.

Don't Call Me Dave said...

I think the Duchess of Cornwall was entitled to be angry. It is now reported that she had been poked with a stick. Well I defy anyone not to be slightly miffed at that! Whether you are a royalist or a republican, the fact remains that Chuck and Camilla are not responsible for the rise in student fees and were entitled, like any other citizens, to go about their lawful business without let or hindrance.

Mrs Angry said...

baarnett, I think you are right and that we are, or will be, witnessing a sea change in the political life of this country. Bring it on.
DCMD: sorry, I am trying not to laugh at the thought of Camilla being poked with a stick. Damn, there goes Mrs Angry's OBE.
Perhaps they should have used their Freedom passes and taken the bus like any other OAPs. Unfortunately Charles, fairly or not, has a reputation for enjoying a rather pampered lifestyle: manservant putting toothpaste on the toothbrush for him etc - I realise that your manservant probably does the same for you, DCMD, but to the protesting young folk, you know, their lifestyle does rather represent the epitome of privilege,at our expense, and at this time, in the light of the life long burden of debt being thrown on their shoulders, the couple must have seemed an appropriate target. This is not to defend any act of violence, of course but perhaps it isn't that surprising.

baarnett said...

I'm with Mrs A on this, DCMD. I would hope that nut-heads would have been restrained from any actual injury to the couple. A little bit of stress in their otherwise tedious round of public engagements was probably welcome anyway. And there is a new expression now:

"Well, it's better than a poke in the ribs to the Duchess of Cornwall."

I believe the Barnet student who suffered a stroke was refused access to hospital by members of the Ducks and Geese (Cockney rhyming slang). That I find disgusting, but also significant. We have senior police who are unable to devise effective policing methods. How do you control a march that is not prepared to be kettled for seven hours, and suddenly runs down, en mass, a side street? Answer: you can't.

The 'new establishment' may try and use disproportionately-heavy sentences on convicted protesters, even though crimes on property are "supposed" to be of a much lower order than crimes to the person.

Mrs Angry said...

I should say that I do of course have sympathy for the ordinary police officers who are injured in the course of these events, and think they have a very difficult job, which is made more difficult by, as you say, the lack of effective planning by the senior police officers. We have a right to demonstrate, and they have a duty to police demonstrations fairly. The use of kettling seems to me to be completely wrong, dangerous and unnecessarily repressive. The psychology of mob behaviour is very interesting, the way in which individual responsibility is transferred to the group as a whole, and the tribal instincts which come into play: this is where the danger lies in the lack of restraint, on both sides, with some demonstrators and some police officers. An added factor unfortunately is the infiltration of all major demos by troublemakers, who simply enjoy an excuse for a fight, whether in a protest or a football match, same idiots, same problem.

baarnett said...

I don't think it is the same idiots, Mrs A.

In the former, it is against the state and commerce (well, Topshop, anyway. Did I tell you I once walked down the stairs in BHS Oxford Street immediately behind Philip Green? Well, I have now!).
In the latter case, it is against other idiots.

Mrs Angry said...

I have to confess that I have often wanted to hold a protest in Top Shop, although not so much as a statement against the state and evil commerce, as to demonstrate the mind numbing boredom of waiting for my teenage daughter to finish trying on 27 different pairs of leggings. The only really effective form of direct action in this case is for me to threaten to try on some gold sequinned shorts or a leopard skin micro skirt. Usually does the trick.

Moaneybat said...

It's often said that we've never had a revolution in this country because our class system has traditionally allowed for social mobility . the social effects of this Coalition government are going to be so profound that it will imprison people within new constraints of poverty, and the frustration that they will feel is going to find an outlet in more and more extreme acts of protest."

Mrs Angry

Grahame Happy Valley and Dollis Green Acres is going to make no difference. I fear you could be right.