Po­lite thug­gery – that’s the essence of the peo­ple who rule over us

The Guardian - G2 - - Shortcuts - John O’far­rell

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

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