Much to my family’s annoyance, I am not a ‘box set’ kind of guy. I know it is the thing, all to sit down and get hooked together on some American TV show. Maybe it is a way of avoiding temptation to my addictive gene, but I have never seen a single episode of The West Wing; I liked The Sopranos well enough, but not so much I wanted to sit down and watch them all in one go on holiday; as for The WIre, I gave up after one episode because I quickly grew tired of hearing the word ‘mothafucka.’ Nor has my feminine side ever been tempted to join partner and daughter to watch hour upon hour of Sex and the City, OC, Gossip Girl or any of the rest of them.
Though not being a box set kind of guy, I like to think I can still be a finger on the pulse kind of guy, so even if I am not an expert on The Wire, I know what the Tories are up to when they seek to persuade people that modern day real life Manchester is like the dramatised version of Wired-up Baltimore.
Looking at Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling, I suspect he is not really a box set kind of guy either. He is one of the busier members of the unbelievably lazy and unproductive Shadow Cabinet, and does far too many visits, churns out way too many speeches and statements to have time to sit down and watch all that mothafuckin’.
But he, or more likely Tory comms director Andy Coulson, can spot a good headline/talking point, and Manchester equals The Wire falls into that category. It doesn’t matter that it is absolute balls, offensive to Manchester, and with the potential for a backlash when they go there for their party conference in a few weeks time, it gets him and the issues talked about, and by the time the next popular culture resonance is called for, people will probably have moved on.
The problem for the Tories is that the popular culture resonances appear not to be a supplement to policy, but a replacement of them. Party HQ lets it be known ‘Holby City woman’ is their key target. What does that mean? Nurses? Or the women who watch? On the structure of government, they say their way of avoiding TB-GB style tensions between Dave Cameron and Georgie Osborne will be to make Number 10 and Number 11 ‘like the West Wing.’ How?
Now I should here plead guilty to some pretty ghastly cultural blah myself. Adding Tony Blair’s voice to the ‘free Deirdre’ campaign running as a storyline in Coronation Street was probably not my finest hour. But it was kind of funny, and what’s more, nobody can ever say TB was short on policy ideas, either in Opposition or, as when Deirdre was in peril, in Government.
This is the difference, I think. We were perfectly happy to feed out the odd popular cultural line as a way of filling media space and showing we had a foot somewhere in the real world. But meanwhile there was a policy agenda being pursued that actually mattered. I still fail to see what policy agenda the Tories are trying to promote to the country.
Instead, just as TV stations sometimes announce a theme for a week, apparently this is ‘broken Britain week’ for the Tories and in her speech tomorrow Theresa May will doubtless try to paint a picture of Britain as one gigantic set of Shameless, and it will be as inaccurate as Grayling’s grotesque portrayal of Manchester.
There is a good piece by Misha Glenny in The Guardian today who unlike Grayling has researched life on the streets of West Baltimore as well as the streets of Moss Side in Manchester. ‘I can happily reassure Grayling:’ he writes ‘west Baltimore has not come to Moss Side, nor is it likely to in the foreseeable future so he may want to tone down his alarmist rhetoric which doesn’t help the police or the communities involved.’
He details a few facts on homicide and gun crime – facts are clearly of little interest to Grayling – which expose the absurdity of his comparison. Baltimore has just over one per cent of the population of the UK, but over a third as many people are murdered there as in the whole of our country. ‘Even sleepy Vancouver,’ he says ‘has a much more serious problem with drug gang shoot-outs than Manchester does.’
Glenny admits to being no fan of some of Labour’s policies on criminal justice, but he points out more facts showing crime falling, and Britain slipping down the murder league table, below Finland, Iceland and Portugal, let alone the US. He also points out, as Labour politicians need to, the role previous Tory governments played in fostering what deprivation and violence exists in our inner cities.
It is touching to imagine Glenny thinks Grayling’s real concern is helping police and communities, rather than exploiting any problems they may face for political gain.
Tory HQ’s real concern today though will be the announcement that next year’s Big Brother will be the last on Channel 4. This is welcome news to anyone who laments what so much of modern day TV has become. But a big blow to Dave and Co. I mean when it comes to cultural references showing you can get down with the yoof, Big Brother has been the Daddy.
Ps … anyone out there know what Dave’s policies on law and order are?