Any diagnosticians of the ailments besetting nations and their cultures will have been alarmed by the latest symptom of our terminal national decline, which is the loss of our short term
memory. I’m writing this on the last Monday of November, and the news is all about economic planning and volcanoes. And yet just four weeks ago the nation was thrashing around in a turmoil of prurient disgust at the degree to which the fabric of our politics is riddled with complacent yet insatiable sexualised misogyny: MPs were suspended from their parties or lost government or shadow office over allegations of sexual harassment; one very senior, aggressively combative Cabinet Minister resigned because he could keep neither his hands to himself nor his (probably forked) tongue in his own face; another one, by the time you read this, may well have had to resign because of his obvious need to keep images on his portable laptop computer to enable him to masturbate wherever he goes.
Forgive me for spelling it out, but we need to appreciate precisely how squalid this all is, how apparently petty yet essentially disastrous it is that our nation’s institutions, supposedly designed to serve us all, basically exist to provide cover for ugly old men to wank and frot and grope their way down the corridors the power.
Although now, of course, we’ve moved on. As usual, the Prime Minister promised a deep and thorough investigation which was announced, I suspect, solely for the purpose of being instantly forgotten. The caravan moves on, or whatever the metaphor is for the cripplingly short attention span of our media, itself a perfect mirror for the nation’s collapse into senility.
Politics and the media, we know, are inextricably interwoven; not so much symbiotic as parasites feeding off each other. Their practices, too, are often identical, which is why so many of their personnel are interchangeable (just think of them all: Michael Foot, Bill Deedes, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Benito Mussolini, and on it goes).
These practices reflect and arise from the nature of the two jobs: institutionally insecure and driven by short term contingencies and deranged deadlines, fuelled by not enough sleep and too much drink, infantile attention-seeking and adolescent neediness, it’s unsurprising that both encourage the worst kind of ruthless psychopath to rise to the top.
Consequently, you’d be hard pressed to prise apart the sweaty hysteria, the mad mingling of the fuhrerprinzip and the abiding stench of cynical betrayal that unite the Whips’ Offices and a
tabloid (and not just tabloid) editorial conference in their common and constant recreation of The Lord of the Flies. Unsurprisingly, both environments incubate the worst behaviour to sate our basest instincts.
Which is why the editor of the Daily Mail has notoriously defined his quarter century in the job by his highly sexualised bullying. As Private Eye keeps reminding us, millionaire anti-elitist Paul Dacre is legendary for his “double-cunting”, when his staff get called thus in the space of a single screaming fit. In any other business he’d be up in front of an industrial tribunal more or less permanently, but hey! This is showbiz! Which is meant to excuse a culture that long ago metastasized through the organisation and much much wider.
And it stretches from the very senior Mail columnist who, when editing another national (Sunday) newspaper and chairing the weekly postmortem conference reviewing the latest edition, would never address a word to any of his senior female editors until he reached the fashion pages, down to the sheer futile nastiness of the hatchet jobs his hacks write at Dacre’s behest on everyone who’s defied the Mail and its prejudices, from judges to women who’ve dared to complain about sexualised bullying.
Newspapers, like fish and everything else, rot from the head down. Which conveniently permits them, while their brains turn to goo, to demand with fury that the foulest behaviour is virtuous, while also demanding no one dare call them out for it. As ever, the bully plays on our better nature, like our natural niceness when making allowances for our elderly loved ones getting a little bit racisty with their carers. So when both our politics and our media behave as badly as they can, be it personal sexualised harassment, casual and thoughtless denigration or the deliberate scapegoating of millions of our fellow citizens as a point of policy, it’s because they can’t help it, poor things. Isn’t it?
It’s the same with Brexit. It seems we’ve sunk so low into the twilit world of senile dementia, forgetting everything except dim dreams of Imperial Glory, that it would be cruel even to point this out. Though at some point some one, somewhere, may decide it’s a kindness to turn off our life support.