There’s one bad habit you get into in the UK, and that’s running a continual existential balance sheet. OK that’s not so good…this makes it worth it….and so on. Maybe it’s because the bad stuff is so ever-present, and the good stuff can often recede from view.

For example, today I cleaned my door buzzer. It’s the door to the Crikey UK National Affairs office in Soho, and it covers a tattoo shop, a karaoke bar and three flats, and it was literally dripping with wax and dirt and schmuck. I thought it might be caked on, but it came away easily with a wire brush, gleaming metal in a minute.

As I came back down with a sponge to give it a polish, one of the co-tenants came in. “Oh good-o. I’ve been asking the landlord to do something about that for years.”

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“I’ve been asking someone to do something about that for years,” is a refrain that covers everything. It is part of the plaint of British life, the slow nagging tooth-ache of existence. Are these the most passive, fatalistic people on the planet? Or is it simply that in other places that might be equally beaten down and disengaged — Bulgaria or something — one simply doesn’t speak the language?

Who knows. Anyway, that’s the stuff you look to counter every day with something good. Which is a way of getting round to PM, Radio Four’s afternoon political slot, where politicians saunter in thinking they’ll trot out a few lines, and leave in three separate sacks.

Today it was Alistair Darling’s turn. Yesterday, having presented a budget which suggested that there would be no real pain, he found himself admitting that the cuts would “go deeper than Margaret Thatcher’s” to political editor Nick Robinson. Gobsmacked? I almost dropped me bread and drippin’. Was he cornered into admitting it? Did he want to say it, but sound like he was admitting it? I can’t tell.

If Labour has a unified strategy behind all this, it’s a bloody baroque one, I can tell thee. The usual dictum is to observe Occam’s Razor in these matters, and treat chaos as chaos, but labour’s performance is so sub-atomically formless these days that I can’t believe there isn’t some cunning plan.

Otherwise the budget strategy has unravelled in a day. And that would indicate that the party as a whole is so weak-willed, that there’s nothing holding it together. And that can’t be right, right?

That would mean that the latest dust-up over the House of Lords is not some total mess borne of an almost unquantifiable degree of cowardice. Jack Straw has proposed that it be replaced with an elected body – why? For what? There’s no suggestion that it will represent regions, so what the f-ck’s it for? — and now Peter Mandelson has put the kybosh on this because he is worried about the political fallout of disenfranchising the bishops.

The bishops? The 16 bishops who have a vote in the Lords, and can actually decide on legislation that affects our lives.

Like here’s another thing right – no you’ve got me going now, I’ve started so I’ll finish, get the next round in. Part of my lease suggests that if I am going to be away from the Crikey National Affairs office/studio/bedsit for more than 14 days, I am obliged to inform the landlord. It’s like some sort of feudal peonage.

Deference tends to be the opposite of discipline, so when it goes, it really goes. The dying days of this government are being attended by strikes, the latest being that of the railways who are going to go out for four days in early April. The strike announcement comes days after a three day walk-out by BA cabin crew. In both cases they’re utterly justified, as it’s a response to the casualisation of full-time, permanent positions, and this is the best chance to get some joy should the Tories get in and crack down again, but man, it’s hard yards…

Meanwhile with a country and a party to run, Gordon Brown is at the EU summit floating the idea of a European peace corps, “to bring back a sense of enthusiasm and purpose.” As always, it’s all about the jaded West trying to create some sense of purpose for itself. Energy going in every direction except the people you were meant to represent. And Labour proposing cuts deeper than Thatcher. And the bishops still in their castle.

When you factor all that in you can see why people start to regard gunk on a door buzzer, as some archaic, eternal thing, the slow accumulation of history, to be whined about until something is wheedled out of one’s distant betters.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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