And the whiner is…
Meet the winner of the inaugural Miserabilist of the Year Award: the prudish and prudent Presbyterian killjoy heading for Downing Street.
Over the past month, spiked has been asking its readers and writers to name the Miserabilist of the Year – the man, woman or organisation who has done most to spread doom and gloom in 2006. It’s been a stiff competition between various stiffs, with nominations including David Cameron (for being anti-chocolate); Ken Livingstone (for being Ken Livingstone); Caroline Flint (for her Puritanical crusades against drinking, sex and anything else that whiffs of pleasure); and various penny-pinching, risk-hating, youth-bashing local councils; a choir that sings Christmas carols about dying from drink-driving; and a housing association putting smaller baths in its new homes to force residents to use less water (and to live like Steptoe-style gits with their knees stuck under their chins).
Yet despite the starry line-up of cantankerous curmudgeons, spiked has decided, having read and debated the many nominations, that there can really only be one whiner: Gordon Brown, chancellor of the exchequer and probably soon to be PM. Not only does he have a facial expression that makes him look like he has been ‘walloped by a dead trout’ (as one nominator put it) – he is also at the cutting edge of today’s miserabilist politics of low horizons, always seeking to cut back, tighten the belt and increase security. He is a manager masquerading as a statesman, who is likely to run the country like a beancounter rather than a firebrand politician. Whatever you think of Tony Blair (who, let’s face it, could have won the Miserabilist of the Year Award any year from 1997 to 2006), Things Can Only Get Worse under Brown. He doesn’t even have Blair’s toothy grin with which to grin through New Labour’s illiberal, killjoy policies.
This year Brown has shown that he will go further in the ‘war on terror’ than Blair has done. In a major speech on security in February, he declared that he would reorganise every arm of government around terrorism, in effect giving rise to a war cabinet and a war mindset in a nation that isn’t even at war (except with handfuls of wannabe jihadists in the Home Counties and the north). He said security would be his top priority (he used the word 61 times). Not only had the Treasury Department become a ‘department of security’, he said; so, too, has the foreign office, the health department (which must spy on sick foreign people, apparently), and the transport department (trains and buses are weapons now, remember). He claimed terrorists might get their mitts on chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons, with which they will threaten ‘our very existence’, and we need new forms of censorship and ID cards to deal with their threat. Under Brown we can expect more scaremongering and less liberty: a security state built on fear and paranoia.
This year, Brown also repackaged his penny-pinching miserabilism in trendy green lingo. In his pre-Budget report in December he announced that he would target 4×4 drivers and air travellers, making both pay fatter taxes so that they will know the error of their ways. In a speech to the UN in April, he said everyone must take ‘personal and social responsibility’ for environmental matters, and he will encourage us to do so by ‘taxing “bads” and promoting goods’ – that is, punishing those of us who wish to indulge in ‘bad’ things, such as travelling by car rather than by bus or bike or exploring the world on cheap flights; and promoting ‘good’ things such as Sustainable Homes (which Brown is very keen on, reportedly) which will have those small baths in them that help to eliminate wasteful relaxation time and will come with strict instructions on turning off the TV at night. Here, Brown is updating his pious Presbyterian instincts – that people should live frugally and only have fun if it is necessary and justifiable – by swaddling them in environmentalist-speak. That Brown can slip into green garb so easily is further evidence of the neo-Puritanical streak running through today’s politics of environmentalism.
Brown will spread his miserabilism far and wide. This year he continued his crusade to reinvent himself as ‘Mr Africa’, even holding an embarrassing and gushing video press conference with Hollywood starlet Angelina Jolie to discuss Africa’s plight. Brown’s vision (with a very small ‘v’) for Africa is further ‘sustainable development’ and the promotion of ‘good governance’. As various articles have explored on spiked this year, sustainable development effectively means sustaining poverty: it elevates the need to keep things small-scale and ‘environmentally-friendly’ over meaningful development that might actually and radically transform Africans’ lives. And ‘good governance’ is often coda for Western governments and international institutions dictating to African leaders how they should run their affairs (see Poor ambitions for the world, and Make lecturing Africa history). The old colonialists spread the old religions around the Third World; Brown will spread his new religion of self-denial and self-sacrifice.
It has become fashionable to mock Brown for having a dour personality. His people set about trying to change his image this year, in order to make him appear ‘more human’. As one report said: ‘Brown has swapped his crumpled red ties for pastel neckwear, smartened up his teeth and invites Kevin, a hairstylist from Cherie Blair’s favourite salon, Michaeljohn, to bring his scissors to No 11. A course of television training has taught him how to soften his voice and “talk human”.’ But this isn’t just about personality – who cares if a political leader is weird and grumpy, so long as he has vision and a mission? The problem is that Brown’s politics are dour and dull. He is a man for our times, encapsulating the narrow-minded, illiberal, pious politics of low expectations that is so widespread today. You can put as many pink neckties under his frowning gob as you like, but it won’t make much difference. It is the political climate that needs shaking up, not Brown’s fashion sense.
All those who think Brown, the Old Labourite, will make radical changes to New Labour’s Britain are in for a shock. In fact he will have a stultifying effect on debates and arguments for progress. Brown is now the face and voice of New Labour, representing its inherent values of austerity, interventionism and security-over-freedom better than anybody else. He is a more than deserving winner of the Miserabilist of the Year Award; and next year we can look forward to him going one better and becoming the Prime Miserabilist of Britain. For an antidote to what promises to be a joy-killing extravaganza in 2007, make sure you continue to get spiked.
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