Polite thuggery – that’s the essence of the people who rule over us
The thing that really galls me about Conservatives is they think they are so damn respectable. I remember once being silently waved away from a Conservative voter’s front path for having the audacity to sully her property by wearing a Labour rosette on it. Her nose was so far in the air, she nearly fell over backwards. Just a horrified “shoo! Shoo!” gesture from behind the net curtains and that was it; not even a chance for me to tell her about Labour’s pledge on the minimum wage that she would soon have to be paying her domestic staff. To her, I was vulgar and uncouth, and probably had rickets and industrial diseases to boot, simply because I was wearing the colours of the people’s party.
These sort of Conservatives genuinely think they are the refined and upstanding ones; and that those ghastly Labour people are crude and ill-mannered, with their indecent suggestions of ruining hundreds of years of our national traditions (of one group of people keeping all the money and power for themselves).
For all my lifetime, the Conservative party has pulled off this incredible con-trick of combining apparent social respectability while behaving like the worst kind of thugs with the casual stroke of a pen. We think of hooligans as being young working-class males at 70s football matches, we are made to think of violence as something started by drunks in pub car parks, but there is another sort of violence that is remotely perpetrated by apparently courteous people who exude charm and manners and sophistication.
Polite thuggery, that’s the essence of the people who rule over us. Charming barbarians all of them; they know which cutlery to use for the starter because they have polished table manners. They don’t think it is in the slightest bit rude that, due to their actions, someone else is queueing for dinner at a foodbank. Theresa May would be mortified if her telephone went off in the theatre, but refusing a safe haven to unaccompanied child refugees is apparently perfectly acceptable. When they flog arms to be used against Yemeni civilians, do Conservatives lie awake at night worried that they might have said “your majesty” to that Saudi crown prince, when the correct term of address for him was “your royal highness”?
Jacob Rees-mogg presents himself as such an old-fashioned gentleman; how quaint he is, we all think, with his Latin phrases and his many oddly named children; he is so amusingly posh and highbrow, I bet he listens to classical music on Radio 3 and doesn’t think of the Specsavers advert. Then you look a little closer and see the apparently civilised veneer conceals a value system that is brutal and barbaric. Victims of rape or incest should not be able to get an abortion, he says, gay couples should be denied the right to marry. He criticised Cameron’s attempts to get more non-white Conservative candidates; a devout Christian faithfully voting for all the government’s most un-christian policies.
Conservatives think they are civilised because they know how to pronounce Magdalene as “mawd-lin”; and they don’t feel weird saying the word “cummerbund”. But, just because they have minions carrying out their orders, that doesn’t elevate them above the ugly consequences of their vicious decisions. Doubling homelessness was a choice, the freezing weather will soon be here and more people will die on our streets as a direct result of even colder-hearted decisions made by Conservative ministers. Maybe it’s just me, but I think leaving people to die is very, very rude.
Yet Labour MP Laura Pidcock was lambasted for saying that she could not be friends with the Conservatives who make these choices, as if she was the one who had somehow crossed a moral line. As if it’s all just a university debating club and parliamentarians of all sides are supposed to stagger out of Westminster restaurants joshing; “Oh look, David, Theresa; did you put all those homeless people in that doorway? What are you guys like? Bedroom tax? Oh, Iain, you’re trouble, you are! Cutting disability benefits? Damian, you’re a cheeky little monkey, that’s what you are!”
Remind me of the correct etiquette: do you pass the sick bag from left to right?
As long as we don’t get angry with them, that would be impolite; as long as good manners are maintained and we don’t mispronounce Jeremy Hunt’s surname. We will all be civilised about this, not get agitated about how uncivilised these thugs keep being. Meanwhile, metaphorically speaking, the whole cabinet continues to ride around on mopeds with their faces covered; they are going through red lights, mounting the pavement, doing wheelies and ripping handbags from the shoulders of the easiest targets. Theresa May should have a huge spider’s web tattoo on her neck; Boris Johnson should have a blond mohican and a studded leather jacket with “no future” written across the back. At least that would be more honest.
John O’farrell’s political memoir Things Can Only Get Worse? is is out tomorrow
The whole cabinet continues to ride around on mopeds with their faces covered