PRIME minister David Cameron’s speech yesterday at the Tory Party conference makes thoroughly depressing reading for anyone who believes – like Socrates, Aristotle, Karl Marx, Robert Louis Stevenson, Walt Whitman and John Lennon – that there is more to life than dull, unremitting toil from birth till death.
It’s a slaves’ charter, a manifesto for early risers, a guilt-inducing head master’s lecture dotted with faint threats towards the idle. It shows that he is spectacularly out of touch with what people want – which is to enjoy life.
Like his Presbyterian predecessor, Cameron’s rhetoric is Calvinist in the extreme. His party, he says, will “reward” those who “put the effort in”. Those who don’t put in the correct amount of effort will, by implication, be somehow punished by the system.
He says that the Tories are a trade union. A trade union for whom? For slaves, that’s who. “This party is the union for hardworking parents… the mother who works all the hours that God sends to give her children the best start.”
But the Tories are not a trade union. Trade unions sprang out of a resistance to 16 hour days in the Victorian factories and have traditionally attempted to limit the length of the working day.
And hang on. Do we really want mothers – or fathers, for that matter – to work all the hours God gives? Dave, that’s considered to be a bad thing, not a good one. And surely if parents want to give their children the best start in life, they should avoid killing themselves through overwork, which, as research scientist Andrew Smart notes in the Idler, is as dangerous as smoking, and as everyone knows can have a devastating effect on family life.
Hard work leads to depression and illness. We should be dreaming of a future where we do not have to work every hour that God gives.
Cameron then returns to that most unimaginative of political goals: full employment. In the 1920s, economists in the UK and US looked forward to a leisure-filled life, where we had time to read, play, hang out, study and do nothing. As Oscar Wilde said, the only goal worth fighting for is full unemployment, or at least, a shorter working week to start with. The four-day week has been discussed lately by Larry Page of Google, Richard Branson and Mexico’s billionaire Carlos Slim. If the big business leaders have the compassion to understand that life is not all about work, why can’t the Oxbridge politicians? I think it’s because they are not living in the real world; their’s is a world of ideology, not reality. They are all little Lenins at heart.
So Cameron has a dream. A dream that he will one day be able to survey a nation of grafters while he sips claret in his book-lined study. Or is it book-lined? Sometimes you wonder whether these politicians have ever read a word of Keats or Coleridge or Walt Whitman. Philistine slave-drivers all!
Here is that dream. I think you’ll agree, it’s pretty inspiring stuff: “I think of the millions of people going out to work, wiping the ice off a windscreen on a winter’s morning… raising their children as best they can, working as hard as they can.” In other words, slaving for the monopolists and earning money for the shareholders so the rulers can line their pockets.
No Dave. We want freedom, we want fun, we want autonomy. We are not slaves. Where is the poetry, where is the magic, where is the life and the laughter?
Note: This is by no means the first time that the Puritans have tried to ruin our fun. In the clip below, recorded at the Idler Academy in 2011, Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at Bristol University, explains how the Puritans ruined our fun in the 17th century.