We have occasionally published posts in a satirical series on this Coalition Government – Despatches from Cambodunum, i.e. Roman Adel.
The problem with this government, however, is that they are past masters at self satire – as the latest Grant Shapps Tweet has shown.
Hours after the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s budget for the rich, Grant Shapps, the Conservative Party’s Chairman tweeted an advert.
The 2nd century (AD) Roman poet, Juvenal thought that two things would keep the ancient Roman population from stirring up trouble for their masters – free bread and circuses.
Apparently our coalition government thinks the same – but without providing the bread!
Twitter writers and web bloggers have gone to town about this, describing Shapps as patronising and stupid. As one put it ’26 nations in search for Grant Shapps intelligence’. They’re unlikely to be successful.
There is, unfortunately, a serious side of this issue.
It is not just that Shapps’ tweet clearly represents the views of the out-of-touch Eton educated cabinet but that it comes at a time when hundreds of thousands of families – men, women and children – are going hungry.
According to Oxfam, food poverty has become a very serious issue in Coalition Britain.
Take for example the case of Suzanne Harkins, who lives in Paisley, Scotland. She recently told Panorama: “It was devastating. It got to a point that there was no food in the house and any food that did come in had to feed the two children and my husband and I would go for days at a time without eating.
“I was still breastfeeding Mason at the time and I stopped producing milk because I wasn’t getting enough nourishment into me to produce milk to breastfeed him.”
Ms Harlow is clearly not alone. The Trussell Trust, the largest provider of UK food banks, fed 700,000 people last year.
In December last year the British Medical Journal published a letter from Dr Taylor-Robinson, Professor Whitehead and colleagues who cited new figures released by the Government which revealed a surge in the number of malnutrition cases diagnosed at English hospitals since the recession.
In 2008/9 there were 3,161 cases. In 2012/13 the number of cases had risen to 5,499.
They also draw attention to reports from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which found a decrease in the number of calories purchased by families, as well as “substitution with unhealthier foods, especially in families with young children”.
Dr Taylor-Robinson and Professor Whitehead are surely right when they argue: “Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights.”
There are several food banks in and around Leeds. They would love to hear from you if you have time to help or can spare some food – but please check what sort of food they require first.
Mr Shapps seems oblivious to their existence.
There is one further point about Shapps’ tweet: use of the word ‘they’.
Whether by design or through carelessness, Shapps referred to hard working people as ‘they’. That’s a revealing word– not more of the things ‘we’ enjoy but what ‘they’ enjoy!
They play bingo. They drink beer.
As Owen Jones writes, “it looks like a conscious attempt by well-heeled Tories to distance themselves from the great unwashed, who are presumably all getting hammered in bingo halls.” We agree, except that it’s just as likely unconscious – and all the more revealing for that.
Journalists, politicians, twitter users and bloggers have all drawn attention to just how patronising that word is in the context of Shapps’ tweet.
Ed Balls, shadow chancellor:
“It was so patronising, and I can’t believe the Chancellor – did he really sign this off? I can’t believe he said to people, working people, bingo and beer, well that’s all you care about.
“What about energy prices? What about jobs? What about getting on the housing ladder? What about small businesses who can’t get bank loans?
“On all these things he was silent. He’s not going to fob off and patronise people in our country.”
So in cash-strapped modern Britain a wealthy Tory party chairman, who is also a member of the coalition cabinet and Privy Council member, thinks we can be bought off with cheap beer and bingo. Perhaps he thinks George should have thrown in a subsidy for pigeon–fancying, and a VAT holiday on ferret food while he was at it.
Shapps has certainly given the lie to George Osborne’s claim that, “We are all in this together”.
Peasants of Cambodunum – Britain Can Be Better Than This
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