Thursday, 11 December 2014

Sentiment v humanity

At football grounds all over the country at the weekend, players lined up together for a joint team photo. Home players mingled with their visitors in a comradely fashion before they started pulling and kicking each other as usual.
A nice enough gesture in its way, a pleasing show of unity in the face of… Well, yes, in the face of what? Not – let’s be truly grateful for it – in the face of trench warfare. Which is what it was supposed to be in commemoration of.
Both my grandfathers fought in the First World War – one was killed in the Second – and I’m certainly not one to belittle or dishonour those who did. The situation they were placed in was in a very real sense the defining tragedy of the 20th century, and led, directly or indirectly, to most of the major horrors that unfolded upon the world thereafter.
The “Christmas truce” of 1914 and the famous football match that broke out between the trenches were poignant moments that remain rightly iconic.
But does a chummy huddle on a football field a century later really add anything worthwhile?
Or is it, like the kitsch display of porcelain poppies in the Tower of London moat, merely another instance of a shallow and disturbing social phenomenon?
The number of British families now forced to rely on food banks suggests that we have become a less caring society than we once were.
The callous tendency of government and media to characterise the poor as “scroungers” is another deeply unpleasant sign of it.
So is the common uncharitable attitude towards immigrants – including that alarmingly growing number of desperate people fleeing the horror of lands such as Syria.
Real compassion appears to have given way to false sentimentality.
It didn’t begin in 1997 with the outbreak of mass mawkishness that attended the death and funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. But the habit of strewing tokens in “memory” of people the mourners never knew got a massive boost then and seems to have grown ceaselessly since –encouraged, perhaps, by the purveyors of cards and cut flowers.
The callousness towards the needy was made socially acceptable in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher began the war on the poor still being enthusiastically waged by her Tory successors today.
It’s high time the balance was swung away from sentiment and back towards real humanity.


You have to feel for Chuka Umunna. Four and a half years an MP and already he’s being talked up as the next leader of his party.
As if there wasn’t someone still in the job and hoping to become prime minister next May.
A polished performer – perhaps even just a little too polished – in TV debates, Umunna is in no danger of suffering the fate that befell a previous Labour hope, the late Robin Cook. The fate, that is, of just not being good-looking enough for the trivial beauty contest that modern politics has become.
(And if you think that’s harsh on Cook, it’s what he himself gave as the reason for not standing for the leadership – a tragedy for Labour, and arguably for Britain.)
Umunna was the subject of a recent glowing profile in the high-brow French paper Le Monde, which described him as Britain’s Barack Obama.
And if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, he has now been touted for the leadership by the man Cook chose not to stand against. Tony Blair.
Which ought to be the death-knell for any decent Labour politician’s aspirations.


Last week’s Autumn Statement from George Osborne bore all the expected hallmarks of a chancellor trying to curry favour with the electorate five months before a General Election. All the electorate, that is, apart from all those facing further swingeing cuts in public services and wondering where on earth those cuts can possibly be made.
Once all the fine calculations were concluded, though, it could be seen as more classic Tory policy. A campaign of further moves to redistribute money – out of the pockets of the poor and into the groaning bank accounts of the rich.
Does Osborne really believe this is the way to invigorate a struggling economy?
Former American president Bill Clinton understood the principles better. As he explained it, the way to get the economy moving is to put more money in the pockets of those who have little.
Give a fiver each to a million ordinary people and they’ll spend it, keeping the wheels turning.
Give a million each to five rich people and they’ll bank it, taking it out of the system.

No comments: