WHO GIVES A S**T?

TrussThe title of this post – without the asterisks – used to be the title of a feature on the weekly video series I produced under the title ‘25 Hour News’ between 2014 and 2015 (or thereabouts); this satirical swipe at the banality of rolling news channels sometimes climaxed with said feature, usually consisting of one brief non-story about a vacuous celebrity, thus invoking the phrase ‘Who gives a shit?’ I guess this segment was a comment on the kind of non-stories about vacuous celebrities that still appear amongst the online headlines of Yahoo News, which hasn’t changed in a decade. You know the kind of thing – ‘Amanda Holden wears revealing low-cut dress at film premiere!’ and all that bollocks. However, perhaps the one thing that has changed in the past decade is that politics have gradually sunk to the same level as Amanda Holden’s revealing low-cut dress so that one can just as easily apply the ‘Who gives a shit?’ tag to our elected representatives. A sequence of what one might call Reality Television politicians – ‘characters’ like Boris who have used their loud personalities to capture the public vote much as contestants in the Big Brother House used to do – have dragged the standing of their profession to the lowly status it currently occupies, sharing the spotlight with Amanda Holden’s cleavage.

It goes without saying that spouting facile buzzwords and papering over the absence of ideas with meaningless pseudo-‘Birt-speak’ has been a hallmark of leading politicians since the slick and heavily-spun New Labour period; but the practice has certainly intensified in the 24-hour news and social media era so that what a Cabinet Minister or the Leader of the Opposition has to say about ‘Strictly’ is discussed in a manner that implies it matters as much as the more serious stuff they should actually be talking about. Failing that, just wear a T-shirt bearing the infantile legend, ‘Never Kissed a Tory’ and snigger at the back of the class. I suppose the ultimate triumph of this trend was the election of sitcom toff Boris Johnson as both Conservative leader and Prime Minister in 2019; and now three disastrous years later Bo-Jo has officially (if reluctantly) handed the reins of power to his Foreign Secretary, the frighteningly lightweight Liz Truss, whose lack of an OTT comic persona is compensated for by her undeniably hilarious inability to convey gravitas.

Ms Liz’s elevation to Prime Minister, following an interminably lengthy hustings campaign undertaken when the need for an effective, actual leader of the country has never been quite so urgent, was a thoroughly underwhelming spectacle; and now we have a new PM who few bar the most deluded Tory members expect anything from or even give a flying f**k about. Like the new Doctor Who or the new James Bond, who really cares who the new Prime Minister is anymore? We’ve had so many of them over the past 15 years – and all bloody useless – that it’s hard to summon up anything other than shoulder-shrugging indifference, knowing already that the only change they’ll make to our lives will be to make them worse. Indeed, some of the more cuckoo Boris groupies unimpressed by the two lacklustre contenders that were shortlisted to succeed him seem to imagine if Liz loses the next General Election, the Messiah will return from the wilderness and lead them back to the Promised Land. Interestingly, Boris himself has also hinted at this as a possibility, not quite releasing that a) we don’t have a Presidential system in this country and b) he’s not Donald Trump. Mind you, there are precedents.

Take the former Prime Minister Edward Heath: from the moment of his toppling by Margaret Thatcher in 1975 and right up until the shakiest moments of her first term at No.10 five years later, Heath remained convinced the Conservative Party would eventually crawl to him cap-in-hand and beg him to return to Downing Street. That said, this conviction was largely in Ted’s head and wasn’t shared by any of his fellow backbenchers; the fact that some of today’s more nondescript Tory MPs are so despondent at the prospect of a Truss premiership – not to mention still blinded by Boris’s tarnished charisma – that they are petitioning for their hero to come back shows just how successfully the all-surface/no-substance brand of politician has been sold as the answer. Naturally, with the overbearing nature of his carefully-cultivated character still obscuring for some the gaping moral void behind the facade, Boris is the most extreme example; yet there’s no more substance to either of the final two who battled it out to take his place. Whoever had won it was destined to be greeted by a chorus of ‘whatever’ from the wider electorate; perhaps having no say in the matter also added to this apathy.

Expectations have never been lower for a new Prime Minister and yet the need for a fresh tenant of No.10 to act on the many pressing issues facing the country has rarely been greater. I remember when Barack Obama was sworn-in as US President for the first time in January 2009, with the financial crash of the year just gone hanging over the ceremony like the blackest of black clouds. A lot of hope had been invested in Obama as a new dawn after the divisive Bush years, yet perhaps the scale of the task was too immense even for a man who had galvanised the American electorate into believing again; Liz Truss has no such hope resting on her shoulders, and she also comes into office knowing she has barely two years at the most before she has to call a General Election. If she’s to achieve anything at all, she has to act fast.

All US Presidents have to deal with the gauntlet thrown down by Franklin D. Roosevelt, the one that measures the potential effectiveness of a President by how he performs in his first 100 days; but few had entered the White House since FDR with such economic challenges facing them as Obama was confronted by in 2009. Truss has a similar set of challenges before her today, but she can’t hold the previous administration responsible in the way Obama could, what with her being a prominent member of the previous administration – and she was notably the only contender on the early televised debates to refrain from apportioning any blame to her predecessor (indeed, she even paid tribute to him in her acceptance speech upon winning the contest, greeted by momentary silence until someone was prompted to provoke a muted round of applause).

But this is a recurring problem when a governing party internally elects a Prime Minister, locking the electorate out of the democratic process; it’s something that generates the belief that nothing has really changed despite the change at the top – and the Tories have now done it three times in the last six years. It’s possibly another reason why the foregone conclusion of Truss’s promotion elicits such a lack of enthusiasm. Maybe the electorate is equally underwhelmed in the knowledge that when the next General Election comes in 2024, the choice will be between Liz Truss and Keir Starmer, presenting the people with an even more uninspiring option than we had last time round with Boris and Jezza.

Even if we weren’t being beaten into permanent pessimism on a daily basis by predictions of every crisis laying in wait for us, the future looms on the horizon like a worse version of the present. The understandable allure of the past was highlighted in an excellent ‘Spiked’ post penned in the wake of Mikhail Gorbachev’s death last week, in which it referred to the 1990s as ‘a holiday from history’. This brief calm before the unrelenting storm of the 21st century oozed hope, from the release and post-Apartheid presidency of Nelson Mandela to the end of the Soviet Union to the false dawns of Clinton and Blair; even the decade’s crises retrospectively seem minor compared to what we’ve endured since. No wonder those who came of age during the 90s now look back on it with the same feel-good nostalgia as Boomers recall the Swinging 60s. Anyway, back to 2022 – Liz Truss is Prime Minister, and who gives a shit? Well, we all should, I guess, but it’s no surprise so few of us do.

© The Editor

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6 thoughts on “WHO GIVES A S**T?

  1. As the soviets used to say “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The recent PMs get worse at every incarnation. Now they have elected Mr Bean’s sister. Is it possible to scrape beyond the bottom of the barrel?

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    1. I think the ‘election’ of Ms Liz answers your question! Needless to say, it was such a depressingly foregone conclusion that 99.9% of this post was penned yesterday, thus ensuring instant response.

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      1. The same journalistic process as obituaries for aging public figures. Quite apt. Someone described the appointment of Truss as ‘changing the lightbulb in a broken fitting’. Still only two years to a general election. I can barely contain my apathy.

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  2. I barely noticed today that we have a new prime minister, I barely care anymore. I am spending my time browsing the situations vacant columns (well, websites nowadays) to see if I can find anything that will make a vague dent in what I’ve lost in the past few years never mind keep pace with inflation last seen around when Dark Side of the Moon came out. I would have probably been roused out of my indifference if there was a faint shred of honesty about how sh*t things really are, but no, just keep waiting and trusting and you’ll all be ok, little people. Just ignore the directorships, the CEO salaries, the expenses, etc etc etc.

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  3. That those of us still with at least two brain-cells to rub together all become cynical is probably no surprise, mainly because when a ‘new’ leader takes over, whatever they may have said in the process of their elevation, the harsh reality is that they are merely sitting atop a huge machine, the real control of which is mostly way beyond their reach, so they never quite deliver the climax which they promised in the foreplay.

    The ‘energy crisis’, which is feeding the inflation rate and the cost-of-living issue, largely originates from international issues in which the UK PM has little or no influence, yet is expected to accommodate its impact so that no-one suffers, which is just not possible. Governments and PMs do not have any independent money, all the money they have at their disposal must be raised from their nation’s people and businesses – even if they borrow it now, both the ongoing interest and eventual capital repayments have to be raised somehow sometime, generally in taxes, as that’s their only channel of funds. The only debate between contenders, either within one party or elsewhere, is how the cash can be raised – you take your choice, but you’ll still pay your money in the end.

    Of course, if we’d chosen to go to real war to defend Ukraine, rather than the phoney war of economic sanctions, we’d have been spending vast amounts of borrowed cash on military costs, which would almost certainly have dwarfed any impending energy-cost support. Let’s not forget, the debts from World War II were not finally paid off until 2008 – chances are the short-term energy support costs, big as they will be, won’t take 60+ years to cover.

    Liz Truss appears to be a completely charisma-free zone and, given her history of seismic shifts over her political life on such matters as disarmament, the monarchy and Brexit, suggests that she has few foundation beliefs apart from self-advancement. To be fair, in the latter case she has now succeeded to the ultimate position, although whether she’s intellectually up to it seems dubious.

    As ever, I’ll see how she works out, she may become a brilliant PM, smoothly solving all our challenges and leading a competent government which quickly returns the nation to a solid state with a promising future. Meanwhile in the real universe . . . . . .

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  4. It may be a grumpy old man thing, but I find it hard to be even slightly optimistic.
    In the UK we have a wheen of organisations that, to put it politely, are not fit for purpose, and are getting worse and gobbling up more and more dosh.
    NHS and Social Services, Police, Justice System, Education, Energy Supply, Transportation of every kind, Armed Services, affordable homes, Foreign relations, – all are Royally fecked. All must have more “Funding” – a polite euphemism for your, and my, spondulicks.
    And now we are told that meat is bad and we must eat bugs, and not the tasty Morton Bay type.
    And it is raining, and I saw the geese flying South a week or so ago.
    Also, for us people North of the border, our own reason to be cheerful, our own, our very own Angela Merkin, Wee Nippie, aka, Wee Jimmy Crankie.
    Pass the whisky.

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