Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Ann Widdecombe and the rise of Strictly Come Democracy

By pretending to make a fool of herself, she ends up making a fool of us

Share
Related Topics

Isn't democracy just amazing? Are Britons not the luckiest, nay most ingenious, people on the planet? Their ancestors – at least the power merchants among them – contrived the first parliament in the world and in time, after desperate struggles and sacrifices, came universal suffrage. Makes one proud. In the 21st century this plucky nation took people power that much further, that much higher, created The X Factor! Strictly Come Dancing!! I'm A Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!!!

Citizens, we're all in it together – fine hands that have never touched dust, grubby hands inlaid with dirt and tar, sweet, unlined hands of children, veined and creased old hands, all texting, voting, then awaiting the results, with fervent, killing anticipation. I saw a young man having an asthmatic attack as the X Factor results came through and a 12 year old chewing her nails and fingers until they bled.

Simon Cowell is more powerful than all MPs put together and to mark this startling advancement of active electoral engagement, Ann Widdecombe, a ruthless über-Tory MP, has left the irrelevant, old Parliament and got into the modern, much-more-influential palace of democracy. The shrewish politician is also a shrewd politician. Sparkling in bling and sequins, this iron maiden turned unlikely people's princess may be on her way to amazing victory in Strictly Come Dancing. What bliss it is to be alive in this dawn of popular will.

Ms Widdecombe's intolerance, her frightful social conservatism, and hardline tendencies are all puffed away by a floaty waltz, a foxtrot. Just a few reminders: she converted to Catholicism because she is against women priests. She voted for 42 days' detention without charge for terrorist suspects. She defended her government's policy to shackle pregnant prisoners. Just last week on The Andrew Marr Show she came out robustly against letting mothers breastfeed their babies in the workplace.

Yet from left and right, they pat and praise this game old bird. By pretending to make a fool of herself she makes fools of us. Allen Ginsberg, the Sixties bisexual beat poet, wrote: "Democracy! Bah! When I hear the word, I reach for my feather Boa." The excessively clever Ms Widdecombe did just that, smiled, and invested in our collective idiocy – reaping high dividends.

Today's citizens truly believe they are changing the course of history when they disavow parliamentarianism and turn instead to interactive television, distracting programmes which feed the ego. There they can disdain expert opinion, ensure the exit of this or that wannabe on Strictly, X Factor, I'm a Celebrity and others. I watch the shows too – as fab entertainment, not because they mean true government of the people, by the people, for the people.

While the population is preoccupied with song and dance, Britannia as she was burns, burns down. Unlike millions of citizens in all other European countries, though some do want to revolt or register their alarm, most British adults are doing little about the state we are in or will find ourselves in very soon. TV is their opiate. They have other diversions too, folk who can't be bothered with politics, economics or the social environment – except the odd rant on radio phone-ins and the internet. Fans came out on a bitterly cold night when the World Cup cities were chosen and declared. Many cried like babies because football was not "coming home". They should save their tears. Soon some of them may not have homes to live in. Here are some home truths, facts gleaned just this week, facts you are not likely to get from Cowell or cheeky Brucie or even Ant and Dec.

New findings published by the impeccable Joseph Rowntree Foundation show that half of all children living in poverty are from in-work households. The Government still insists that work is the only way out of an impecunious, hopeless life – either false propaganda or foolish, untested sanguinity. Thirteen million Britons are living in poverty, 44 per cent of them in "deep poverty", the highest proportion on record. By this summer, the unemployment rate for 16-24 year olds was the highest in 18 years. The nation's children and youth are being wasted under the polished new Thatcherism worn proudly by our PM.

Next, a report by civil servants (which, remarkably, had no publicity) warns that the new housing policies could lead to seriously increased homelessness, overcrowding, peripatetic families whose children may have to be taught in temporary classrooms; second-rate education, then, for those who need it most. Nearly a million households will be affected. We know police authorities are worried about an increase in crime as these inhumane polices are pushed through by Tory ideologues and their new best friends, the Lib Dems.

Funding for sports for young people is to be severely cut, libraries too; Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (who worked in marketing getting gullible customers to buy from big food giants and other such clients) is a deregulation fundamentalist, as is fat Eric Pickles, who wants thin government.

No more tough action from ministers to stop smoking, excessive drinking and bad eating habits. Instead those who ply the people with addictive products are now key government advisers. So too Philip Green of Topshop and other outlets, who manages to avoid paying tax in this country in spite of making billions. And then of course the vote on tuition fees. Think of what all this means. Think and get angry and do something. At least wake up.



One has to admire the student protests, which continue in spite of punishing police tactics. A small number of other activists are doing what they can, but the rest of the country seems to have lost zeal and muscle, has become one big couch potato, holding mobile phones and remotes, consumed by the glitz and glam of reality democracy.

What a treat awaits them this Christmas. Vince Cable, drunk on power, swaying this way and that on hiked-up tuition fees – his own policy – will appear on a special Strictly Come Dancing show. He will smile, glide, carry his partner to ecstasy and the people too. And they will forgive him all his political sins. Meanwhile, as I said, Britannia turns to ash.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

React Now

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

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Residents of the Gravesham constituency are 10 times closer to what Peter Hain scorns as the “Westminster elite” than are those of Linlithgow and East Falkirk  

Will no one stop the march of localism?

Jonathan Meades
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam