The Suede frontman, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and writer Josh Cohen are among the winners at the inaugural Idler awards
On Wednesday we invited a few gentlemen and women of the press to attend the inaugural Idler of the Year Awards at Pushkin House in London’s Bloomsbury. Our aim is to celebrate those who have promoted idling in their work and to attack to those who have done the opposite.
Our winner was Brett Anderson from Suede, for three great idling achievements: the brilliantly louche title of his second volume of memoirs Afternoons with the Blinds Drawn; for writing the great idler’s anthem of the 90s, “Lazy”, and for appearing on the cover of our January issue this year. Brett is one of those brilliant people whose work and genius developed while he was on the dole. One wonders whether today he would have been forced into a gainful employment and we would have lost Suede. On accepting his award – a small wooden deckchair – Brett said that he had been asked by a friend that morning how his speech was coming along. “Embryonic, was my reply,” Brett said. “And it has stayed in pretty much that state till now, which I think is in the spirit of this award.”
Our runner-up was writer and psychoanalyst Josh Cohen for his brilliant anti-work polemic, Not Working: Why We Have to Stop, which is published by Granta and is coming out in paperback in January. Highly recommended.
Our Anti-Idler of the Year Award went to Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has repeatedly attacked the wanderers, idlers and outcasts. She was one of a cohort of MPs who conspired to assemble a badly written far-right manifesto some years ago called Britannia Unchained. The authors argued that the chains in the title were the chains of idleness. “The British are among the worst [surely ‘best’?] idlers in the world,” they wrote. “We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor. Whereas [surely ‘while’?] Indian children aspire to be doctors or businessmen, the British are more interested in football and pop music… Too many people in Britain prefer a lie-in to hard work.” Erm…. yes?
Patel is an anti-idler to her very core. I see this morning that she has proposed new laws to make it easier to arrest gypsies – who are often seen as idlers. I would remind readers that gypsies were among the targets of the SS in Nazi Germany. They were rounded up into so-called “gypsy camps”, forced to labour and later murdered. Does Patel not understand that as well as the doctors and lawyers and scientists, a healthy society needs the idlers, the music-makers, the dreamers of dreams?
By contrast we gave an award to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell for proposing a four day week. There is a distinguished intellectual tradition of arguing for more leisure. Bertrand Russell proposed a four hour a day in the 1930s, and his friend John Maynard Keynes outdid him by suggesting that a three hour day should be ample to produce what we need. The rest of the time, those two august gentleman reckoned, should be devoted to football and pop music. OK, they didn’t specify football and pop music, but that was the spirit of what they were talking about. Merry-making and philosophy, that is what life is about, and that is what the ancients and the medievals knew.