…Rules OK? From Batman to the Sun Bomber to Otis Ferry & the Chambermen, the newspapers are now gorging themselves on Stunt. This is the outcome of what must have been a feast of secret planning over what the rest of us thought was just the Silly Season. The invasion of the House of Commons, the first since Charles Ist’s time, as they keep telling us, was an extraordinary example of Middle England trying to make its voice heard against the swagger of urban journalism and the sheer might of Blair’s majority. He’d best make the most of it, because with blood on the streets as we saw this week, it’ll never survive a General Election in its present huge state.
The participants in the Commons raid were drawn exclusively from equestrian circles – huntsmen, polo players, a stud owner, a jockey, and Nick Wood is Lady Weinstock’s chef for heaven’s sake, surely privy to news from the very heart of the equine establishment. If these people are so desperate and can’t get the establishment (they still think they ARE the establishment, mind you) to rein in Blairpower this time, then the game’s definitely up. Futures in foxiness look an excellent bet.
But any reference to an ‘equine establishment’ in Britain leads straight to Gatcombe Park and the Royal family at one end, and the Jockey Club at the other, both organisations with a vital need for organising good PR coupled with a fantastic record of non-achievement at it. But not this week. This week’s been excellent for the Royals: Prince Harry’s interview – merely a stunt by another name – has put his mother back on the front-pages (as if she’d ever been off them) and shown a sympathetic side he’d do well to keep close to hand. The idea that he’s going to join the British Army with its dearth of quiet reflection, tolerance and sophistication is certainly at odds with the image projected this week.
Ultimately a stunt is only a stunt. It’s a relatively blunt instrument, calculated to gain column inches and court fame, but no stunt is a substitute for its inspiration. You can fill pages of newsprint, but whether you can truly Make Things Happen in politics is quite another matter. Stunts and publicity, like newspapers but unlike governments, are about the immediate, the here and now. The heart of politics is about long-term, attitudes to organic change and evolution in society. You simply can’t rush it: you can’t make the public believe in things they don’t want to believe in, however much you bash them on the head or in the heart, as despots and revolutionaries have discovered to their cost down through history just as frequently as high-minded reformers.
Which is what Tony Blair used to be. Now he’s just the next ex-Prime Minister.