Friday, 27 March 2015

The Tom Brown Conundrum

Tom Brown or Flashman?
Yesterday, I heard a Daily Telegraph journalist, on TV, describe Ed Miliband's problem as follows:  "He looks like the kid who at school we all wanted to bully.  He's the kid who's lunch box we wanted to steal."   I'd like to say that this comment tells us more about the nature of Torygraph journalists than it does about Ed Miliband, but unfortunately, there is an element of truth in his comment, and it was not immediately challenged by any of the other journalists at the time.  The reason is that, this is precisely the way the media have presented Ed Miliband, and his problem, as they see it, in becoming Prime Minister.

I for one, never saw any kids at school, I wanted to bully, or whose lunch boxes I wanted to steal. Quite the contrary.  Perhaps that is what differentiates a socialist from a conservative.  Whenever I have read Tom Brown's Schooldays, or watched the film, I have always associated with the bravery and the values represented by the self-effacing Tom Brown, rather than the rich, arrogant, bullying Flashman.  Perhaps, that is why Jeremy Paxman's question to Cameron, last night, about his natural affinity with Jeremy Clarkson, and a string of other establishment figures, who have been found to have broken or bent the law, in one way or another, was particularly relevant.

As a society, Britain continually tells itself this story about being a peaceful, tolerant and sympathetic country.  Yet, the reality is that it has always been a country that has thrown its weight around across the globe; it is a country that spread racist and supremacist views, right out of its Public School system, across its Empire, partly to justify its enslavement of millions of people; it is a country where despite all of the anti-discrimination laws, bigotry abounds.  Whether you are black, Jewish, Muslim, a woman, gay, or disabled, or, just like Ed Miliband, portrayed as a geek, you are likely to find yourself under attack - both physical and verbal - as a result of that bigotry.

So, its no wonder that a comment from a journalist, that presents us all as a nation of Flashmans, who could never relate to Ed Miliband as a Tom Brown, as the kid who had to simply put up with such bullying, provoked no response.  Its the same establishment mindset that has no problem with the idea that any ordinary worker, who assaulted someone, should be sacked on the spot, but which rallied around their own posh boy, Jeremy Clarkson, to demand that he be let off, and instead blamed the BBC, with apparently no concern whatsoever for the poor bloke who was assaulted, and who still had to go into work with the bully who had attacked him.

This is the hypocrisy of the British establishment and its media.  It runs news stories about kids who have committed suicide because of bullying at school or on social media, and opines at what a sad state of affairs that is.  Yet, it then has spent the last few years doing exactly the same thing to Ed Miliband, and, by extension, every other person in the country who is a bit of a geek, who is the kid who reads books, and so on.  The reason Miliband shows so badly in polls, as against Cameron, is not just because incumbent Prime Ministers always have an advantage over challengers, in that respect, its because the media have continually told us that Miliband is the kid at school who always gets bullied, and Cameron is the posh, popular kid, whose friend we all want to be.  Its politics, reduced by the media to the level of Beverley Hills 90210.

Unfortunately, the TV Leaders debates only emphasise that idea that politics is all about presentation, which is why I've always thought that they are a bad idea for democracy.  In the end, Miliband did well in the programme, and it was obvious why Cameron did not want to debate with him directly, because for the last five years, he has not been able to give a straight answer to any question put to him at Prime Minister's Question Time.  The only time he has come up with anything approaching a straight answer, is in the last week, as part of an obvious political game over VAT.  But, given the Tories' record on VAT, Miliband was quite right to say nobody could believe Cameron's answer.  The Tories would be likely to get round the issue, for example, by just extending the scope of VAT to food - as they tried with the pasty tax - or to children's clothing, books and so on.

The decision Britain faces in the Election then, as presented by the media, over the Leaders' Debates, is do its people see themselves reflected in the mirror of a self-effacing Tom Brown, with basic decent values, and a commitment to fairness and principles, or do they see themselves reflected in the mirror of a rich, Public School, Posh Boy and arrogant bully like Flashman?

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