Remembrance of sleaze past

The Crimson Feather has been stifled for the last half year, but is ready to flutter again, with a return that can be described as a tentative first examination of what continue to be turbulent conditions. As we move into 2018, reflecting on the year just past makes for chilling reminiscence. Thus I will stay inside a comfort zone of sorts, and use the first column of the year to compare the present era unfavourably with the last time the Conservative Party was in power in the UK during the sleaze-ridden 1990s, as gruesome as that period seemed at the time. For yes, the miseries of today really do make the 1990’s feel like the good old days, a decade that one needs to be brave to stick up for. A lot of the music stank, even allowing for exuberant Britpop nostalgia and other niches of quality. Haircuts have aged very badly. There is a dearth of great movies from that time, and one of the best might be forever more sullied not just by the extensive predatory antics of one of its leading stars, but also its director.

Since the tearing down of the Weinstein floodgate, people have been acquiring an education about the abuse of power. Many are even shocked, perhaps imagining the sexual revolution and other markers of social progress over recent decades meant the sort of impunity Weinstein, Spacey and their ilk enjoyed for so long was a thing of the past. But there are different rules for powerful people. Or rather, an absence of the checks that constrain the average civilian. And given that we are probably little more sophisticated as a species than from back when we were hunter gatherers, we can hardly be surprised by a bit of regression. The arc of the moral universe might be long, it might ultimately bend toward justice, but there are often times when it doesn’t feel like it. This Trumpian/Brexitian age of meanness and incompetence is one of them. And appropriately for this nastier age, the sleaze is more sinister as well. Far less consensual, far more violent. The one parallel is that there is a succession of names, always with the hint of more to come. As difficult as some of the tales have been to listen to, it is welcome that they are being exposed, even if some folks are fretting about what it might all mean in the future, or resorting to bizarre extrapolation.

Westminster itself has been far from immune from the #MeToo awakening, and you sense the full tally of reckonings has a way to go. But what of the scalps already taken? Well, it is of little surprise that even the humiliating apologies and resignations have lacked dignity, let alone the squalor and exploitation involved in the original abuse. The Crimson Feather has taken this opportunity to remember names from the past, such as Jeffrey Archer, Tim Yeo, Neil Hamilton, David Mellor, Jonathan Aitken. You almost feel a wistful nostalgia for these characters, much more so than the “bastards” of yore who made John Major’s life a misery. Apart from Neil Hamilton, obviously, who remains a baleful presence in the Ukip ranks. And you needed a stomach of iron to handle Mellor, then and now. But there were heavyweights in politics back then, like Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine.

Public life now is so degraded by comparison. Zombie economic ideas refuse to die, its adherents refuse to step aside from positions of power and influence. The economic miseries of the last decade, many of them avoidable, have had knock on effects in terms of the way people comport themselves in office and what they expect to get away with. The egregious appointment of Toby Young as a non-executive director on the board of the new Office for Students, before an almighty hue and cry prompted his resignation, exemplified this dismal trend. When an establishment is incontinent in this way, it carries with it a significant olfactory component with the unmistakable odour of decay.

The surrender of the Prime Minister to the wing nuts advocating the hard Brexit cause is a further example, one that also highlights the foolishness of appeasement of extremists who will never be satisfied. Brexit is predictably unravelling now, but it’s worth remembering that only a year ago, the proponents of this hard right coup felt they were in the ascendant, and were aggressive with it. The only surprise is that the crumbling of their position has been even more striking than we anticipated. But maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised, given the low opportunism of the leading Brexiters. And to watch the recent capitulation of Carillion, and the sordidness of the outsourcing company’s relationship with the government, is to be reminded of the lower calibre of politician that populates today’s ministerial ranks. That all this is happening when the geopolitical backdrop is so much more fraught with peril, when nuclear arsenals are controlled by some of the most unsuitable people imaginable, gives an extra piquancy to that end of days feel.

So come back, all ye Contemptibles from the 1990s. All is by no means forgiven, but memories being by nature not always so reliable, remembrance in this case has led to a strange kind of nostalgia forming. I hope to have occasion to banish such thoughts, but it’ll likely require redemption to come to this benighted era first.


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