Sarah Sands: How the household broom restored our pride

Share
Related Topics

When Norway wanted to show social healing of its deep wound, its citizens held up roses. Young Iranians tried and poignantly failed to bring freedom by showing hands painted green. America reaches instinctively for the Stars and Stripes in times of national trauma. And Britain? Oh, we have the broom.

One moment we are in the throes of Los Angeles-style riots, murderous social breakdown, burn baby burn. The next, an Ealing comedy. On Twitter, everyone begged to see pictures of the broom army on newspaper front pages, to show that good had prevailed over bad.

And what an entirely fitting symbol for our patriotism. Silly, plucky and unfashionable. The broom was pure antidote to the consumerist rage of the weekend. Is there anything less bling than a brush? As soon as local residents gathered with their buckets and their Marigolds there was a sense of a more peaceful, suburban Britain reasserting itself, of mucking in rather than exclusion.

The violence was born of adrenalin and fantasy. The streets looked like a video game, with no one to turn it off. Steal the cars, take out the feds. As daylight returned, shame replaced the murder and mayhem. There was little exhilaration and swagger left among those paraded before the magistrates.

The broom is as metaphorical as, well as a literal image of restoration. In a friendly way, it demands the physical labour that can help us in times of stress. Who was ever afraid of a broom? Who does not take joy in the order conveyed by a well-swept floor or pavement? The broom speaks of sanctity, but does so with a music hall quality, the stuff of mothers-in-law and Widow Twankey. No self respecting gangsta is going to want to be seen with a broom.

The comedy and the kindness of the broom was reflected in the expression of the sweepers. A serious intent, but a bit of a lark. Not since Dick Van Dyke led the sweeps in Mary Poppins had we seen such evidence of the power of the bristle in our capital city. The generosity and humour was infectious. Here was Middle-earth roused from mildness. Witnesses who described the "dead eyes" of the hard-core looters must have felt their blood warmed again at the sight of the broom Mexican wave, and accompanying cheers.

David Cameron has talked a lot about the Big Society, but he never mentioned brooms. Unusually, he failed to see an opportunity for symbolism in its practical and neighbourly qualities. Even Boris Johnson took a moment to recognise the potential in the imagery when he headed for the streets to stiffen the spine of Londoners. "Where is your broom?" they shouted at him. The light dawned and he picked up his brush and waved it aloft.

The broom is not political. It manages to be both trad and strangely funky, with a classless, ageless appeal. The broom does not convey the aggressive ideology of the hammer and the sickle nor the threat of the raised fist, but talks to a more understated triumph. The crowd's cry of "Where's your broom?" is never going to be revolutionary rhetoric. But a new broom brings change, just the same.

Sarah Sands is deputy editor of the 'London Evening Standard'



React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon could have considerable influence over David Cameron in a hung parliament  

General Election 2015: What if Cameron were to end up in hock to the SNP?

Steve Richards
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before