Friday, 1 November 2013

The Prime Minister and me…

One of my Romanian friends told me this story. In the last years of the Ceaucescu regime, bolder Romanians started erecting satellite dishes to pick up Western TV. As the dishes proliferated on tower blocks around Bucharest, the ageing dictator asked his henchmen what they were. 'Solar power collectors', they said, 'another way in which Romania is leading the world'.  He nodded wisely and carried on, deluded to the end about the country he destroyed.

I was reminded of this yesterday as I wandered home after a morning on the picket line. We did quite well, I think, persuading some people not to go in, talking to students and strikebreaking staff politely and calmly (one woman explained that she wasn't striking because 'my salary's excellent': solidarity, baby!). After we finished, we heard that the Prime Minister was visiting the city, and would be arriving at the railway station, so we headed up there, pleased that we'd have a chance to put our case about the country's educational degradation to the most important person we'd ever meet.

When we got there, a lot of shifty looking trained killers were wandering around, moving powerful cars and generally being important.

Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Police officers and Tories are apparently exempt from seatbelt and mobile phone laws 

We chatted to the uniformed police - who were pretty relaxed and friendly – and to the special branch cops, who weren't: when a colleague asked when Cameron was arriving, he was threatened with arrest for trespass!

There were about fifteen of us, neatly dressed academics looking forward to an exchange with the PM. Sadly, it wasn't to be. Rather than walking through the main entrance to the car,  he sneaked out through the café's kitchen, spending less than 3 seconds in the open air. I didn't even see him: the cars then roared away, running over my foot in the process. 

It felt like a Ceacescu moment. Here he was, not really visiting the city and its people at all. Instead, he moves from staged event to staged event, reminiscent of the Potemkin villages built for Catherine the Great to hide the Russian famine. In this case, he was visiting construction firm, Tory donors and notorious tax-avoiders Carillion to praise their apprenticeship scheme: I'd rather they just paid their taxes personally. But Cameron's agenda is clear: avoid the actual condition of this city (mass youth unemployment, one-third of the shops empty) in favour of a shiny happy event, just like Ceacescu and his solar collectors.

The gracelessness with which Cameron avoided the electorate in favour of publicity stunts with his mates is I suppose normal politics, but it was thought-provoking. Is he scared of us? Or is it a modern version of Queen Victoria, who pulled down the blinds of her railway carriage when travelling through the Black Country? Cameron's got blacked out windows and a Range Rover, but the contempt feels rather similar. 

Off he goes, at high speed 

This is the closest we got to a conversation with the prime minister


bill said...

'Tis a pity that Parliament Square isn't big enough to hold all the people who would like to tell Cameron what they thought of him -- Our own Ceaucescu moment thwarted by archaic town planning:-)

Jake said...

I wouldn't be too hard on those Special Branch officers. Imagine what it must be like to be expected to put your life on the line, possibly even use your own body as a shield, to stop someone from putting a bullet into David Cameron. Imagine doing that every day, for Call-Me-Dave or for some other Tory twat, trying to remember a time when you thought your job description entailed making the world a bit less shit (most policemen sign up thinking that, believe it or not) and wondering how it could all have gone so horribly wrong.

Small wonder they all look so pissed off.

Alex said...

I met Gordon Brown at Wolverhampton train station when he was Prime Minister. He moved a bit fast, with his staff eager to move him faster, but he at least knew where the correct door was.

saxon said...

Think yourself lucky, when Blair visited Warwick, we weren't even allowed on the same part of the campus, never mind getting shots (of any kind) through car windows.