On Friday night I was booked to do the newspaper review on the BBC News channel. As I walked to the studios along London’s Regent Street, I saw the area had been roundly trashed. Broken glass, beer cans, wet and filthy red hats, coats, white fake moustaches filled the street and pavements. Had there been a mass abduction of Santas by envious, ill–mannered, inebriated extraterrestrials? The stench of urine was everywhere; next to All Souls church, someone had defecated and a blank-faced, tired, black cleaner was using newspapers to clear up the mess. This was the goodwill left behind after the annual SantaCon parade, when revellers dress up as Santa ostensibly to cheer people up.
I talked to a few who were still around and compos mentis. Was it a charity? “No. Just, like, fun.” Not for the shit collector. Nor those BBC broadcasters who had to get police escorts. Nor restaurant staff who had to barricade themselves against marauding drunks. Not since the last urban riots had I seen such scenes of nihilism and wilful degradation. It was, though, a perfect metaphor for what we have become – selfish, unrestrained, Bacchanalian, orgiastic.
I wonder if these goodtimers saw the homeless on the streets? Numbers have risen fast in the last three years: in London the figure is 13 per cent higher than last year. Did they stop for a chat and offer money or food to the cold and huddled in sleeping bags? Somehow I don’t believe they did.
In December the humble son of God now must give way to the voracious god of mammon. Christmas, more than ever, celebrates unholy consumption and greed. Poorly paid workers toil away in this country and abroad, making stuff which the loaded don’t need but must have. In a glossy Sunday mag, models were wearing shimmery, sequined party dresses for these insatiable millionaires and billionaires. A red “jewelled” number by Dolce and Gabbana costs £32,946 exactly. How many women stitched those jewels on the fine fabric? How much were they paid? Did their eyes hurt and, if so, how badly? Did their fingers bleed? (Maybe the company can send in answers.)
For £30 a Syrian refugee would live for a week; for £50 a British child of a single mum here would get some proper food, perhaps shoes and a dress for Christmas. Even raising these questions in our times, is thought strange, loony, indicating political backwardness. Socialism is as dead and buried with flares and cheesecloth.
For this fanatically ideological Government, indigence is a crime. More working households are on the breadline; food and fuel poverty are at shocking levels. 13 million Britons can’t make ends meet. The British Medical Association warns of a public health emergency. George Osborne should reopen workhouses, that great Victorian solution to the supposed laziness and sloppiness of the unemployed and destitute. Voters support these policies because they are persuaded that the poor, not the rich, are social and economic vultures.
Back in the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher and President Reagan brought in the first wave of guilt-free avarice and rebranded it as patriotism. Michael Douglas, as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, represented that new breed of go-getters who were properly and almost universally despised. Today’s Gekkos are not in such danger, not even when they wreck world financial markets. Instead London’s mayor wants them canonised.
Mariana Mazzucato, a professor of economics and innovation at Sussex University has just published a vital, incontestable new book, The Entrepreneurial State, debunking private vs public sector myths. She makes the case for a bigger and smarter state which would benefit everyone, including governments and business. I fear we will never have that again. Instead, as she points out, people have got used to the idea that social welfare should be “relentlessly trimmed” while “corporate welfare grown inexorably”, by which she means tax breaks and deregulation.
Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the nation’s favourite at this time, is no long a story of times past but times present. Our government is Scrooge, its meanness seen by millions as necessary, wise, virtuous. Generosity to them is foolish and profligate. The most vulnerable are cold and hungry, the disabled driven to the edge. But hey, lucky self-pleasurers, don’t give a damn. Spend, spend, spend, get, get, get, eat, eat, eat and get sloshed. The SantaCon debauchers have started the festivities, join in, be merry. If you have the dosh and the heart.