The Bravery of Being Out of Range
“Eye watering” decisions are easy if they don’t affect you at all.
Back in 1992, before he went a bit “rogue”, Roger Waters released the album “Amused to Death”, which is probably the most complete and coherent piece of work in his solo répertoire as far as I’m concerned¹. Amongst the righteously angry, sparkling gems on that album, is this song, “The Bravery of Being Out of Range”. It’s a song that has planted itself in my mind over the last week or so, particularly as both Hunt and Sunak stood in front of the cameras. It’s fair to say that neither of them has any affinity for the camera. In fact, it’s probably fairer to say that a leisure centre vending machine has more warmth than either of them. A lack of media chumminess is not great sin, however. Gordon Brown didn’t exactly exude an affable, easy bonhomie, and often looked ill-at-ease in the media glare in a way that his predecessor didn’t. But, awkward as he was, he did still look faintly human, at least. Hunt and Sunak are the triumph of a particular brand of air-brushed media coaching, creating a bland, dead-eyed slickness that has blighted modern political discourse for a generation.
Sunak has been lauded as the first “Asian” Prime Minister, but this is frankly a bit of a red herring as far as I can see. I’m not convinced that Asian families across the country will be looking and seeing all the things they have in common with him, in much the same way I wouldn’t say I particularly identify with Jacob Rees-Mogg, who is within a few months of my own age, purely because he’s a fellow white, middle-aged man. I think Nish Kumar probably nailed Sunak best when he said that he looked like “exactly the kind of kid at school your parents said you should be like, even though you knew he was an utter cunt”.
In fact, looking between Johnson, Kwarteng, Sunak, Hunt and Rees-Mogg, the only real differences are the schools they went to. Hunt was at Charterhouse, Rees-Mogg, Kwarteng and Johnson at Eton, and Sunak at Winchester. Perhaps the biggest difference between Sunak and Johnson is that Johnson’s teachers at Eton rightly pegged him as a bit of a wrong ‘un fairly early on, though unfortunately no one really stepped in to do anything about it. Sunak, however, was head boy, and the epitome of the public school ethos. Or, as Johnson would put it, “a total girly swot”.
All of the above have significant reserves of independent income and personal wealth, often accumulated over several generations. One supposes you have a few pennies to hand when the school fees alone are around one and a half times what the average person earns in a year.
So when Hunt promised “eye watering” decisions, and Sunak has been a cheerleader for austerity in the past, and is now promising “difficult decisions” too, you have to wonder just how much pain they are ready (and willing) to inflict. And this is where we come back to the start. It’s much easier to inflict that kind of pain on others when you are completely insulated from its effects. You will not know what that pain feels like. Indeed, you have only the most notional idea of the existence of the pain at all. It feels odd to think that the economic welfare of millions is now in the hands of a man who spent quite a lot of time playing games with other people’s money in the financial markets, and who barely seems able to do the most quotidian of things, such as use a debit card, without someone needing to draw him a diagram. That is even more of a worry when you think that this is a man who won’t be working out how often to turn the heating on. He won’t be making the calculations on how long to use the oven (if you’re lucky enough to even have one), or what the mortgage payments will be looking like by the New Year. His presence may not spook the markets as much as the (eventually empty) threat of the return of Johnson seemed to, but there’s still a huge hole in the public finances, interest rates are still going to rise, inflation is still high, and Brexit is still very much not done². This winter is going to be extremely painful, and the first instinct of Sunak and his allies will be to impose cuts on public services that are on their knees already. There’s no fat to trim, and that is going to make the Government an ongoing focus of anger and resentment, and the opposition parties, who now have much more control of the political narrative will continue to drive these points home.
In the end, these decisions are being made by people who will not be affected by them. They are just another part of the ongoing game played by a bunch of overgrown children. Behind Sunak is a party he knows in his bones doesn’t want him, but who will keep quiet for now to preserve their own skins. They will play their games, and do so knowing they are safely hidden away from the very real pain they will rain down on the rest of us. To quote the song, “you play the game with the bravery of being out of range”.
We are just collateral damage.
¹ No, really, go and buy it. Right now. Or stream it: it’s really, really good.
² “Oven Ready Brexit” is looking more and more like the turkey many of us feared it would be. A huge rotten, stinking one. You can’t really deny it any longer, Well, not if you have eyes, or critical faculites.