Wednesday, 6 January 2010

When the winds blow cold

Ian Bell, writing in the Herald, puts his finger on our unreal situation…
“It is a little known invented fact, but the Eskimo peoples, no strangers to inclement weather, have over 100 different words for “sod this”.

Strangely, only one refers to snow. The rest involve politicians.

Some say, indeed, that the folk of the far north will from time to time offer an elaborate greeting as they shovel their way through the white murk of winter. My translation is not exact, but the salutation goes something like this: “Pre-election campaign? Are they effin’ kidding?”

They’re not, though. Even after a year of being told what it is they don’t get, of being given the precise measurements of their distance from reality, even as Britain shivers and toils through the weather’s spectacular onslaught, they carry on regardless.

Is there enough grit on the roads, or enough chatter, already, of hung parliaments? Is a 30% increase in gas demand something to worry about, or should we fret instead over what Clegg really thinks about what Brown may think of Cameron’s thoughts on Clegg? At this point, any government liable to be formed in the spring would be a true minority affair. The majority are somewhere in the outer darkness.

I only wish I could call this satire. Judging by the headlines leaking from the Westminster bubble, arguments over a “Cameron gaffe” or a “Blair risk for Labour” matter more, to the usual suspects, than widespread distress, vicious fuel poverty, economic dislocation, energy security, transport disruption or councils struggling to keep any sort of show on the road. Yet again, the political class are talking among themselves.
Their scripts were already written as the new year approached. The press releases had been prepared, the speeches rehearsed, the interviews arranged. Nothing so trivial as reality, three cold engulfing weeks of it, could be allowed to intervene. As best as I can tell, in fact, all that white stuff would not even be noticed in the warmth of the TV studios.

Should you spot a metaphor for recession in all this, well done. Award yourself another can of de-icer. It is hardly novel to see politicians busy about their private games, all the while oblivious to urgent issues. No-one is saying, either, that prolonged bad weather amounts, as yet, to a national emergency. But the disjunction is simple: on the one hand, airwaves and press full of self-serving party trivia; on the other, the single fact of current life for tens of millions.

No, I’m not surprised by it either. Part of the reason why politics has fallen into disrepute has to do with the myopia of politicians. They seem to have lost whatever ability they ever possessed to anticipate problems and, more importantly, to foresee public reactions. When should they have begun to pay more attention to the weather than to their – generally fraudulent – arguments over policy differences? A week back sounds reasonable to me.

One depressing truth of “freak weather events” is that the real cost is never counted until after the fact. Increasing numbers of people are suffering now: so much is self-evident. But how many, and how badly? The prosperous will shortly be wincing at their heating bills; the less well-off are freezing because they do not dare to stay warm. As usual, we will only learn later how many have died. Will we also hear from the people who aim to run a country, who knew – or should have known – about the numbers of the vulnerable?” The Herald 06/01/2010
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