Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Politics of the Heel Turn: or, Nasty Nick and the Kayfabe Coalition

2010 has been a strange year for British politics. Perhaps the biggest shock of all is the speed with which Nick Clegg went from being the British Obama to being, essentially, a stooge for a government which, as we learned from the Spending Review this week, wants to cut housing benefit for the under-35s, throw people off disability benefit left, right and centre, make life harder for women and old people, condemn young trans people to even more years in the closet than they put up with at the moment, deprive people in care homes of mobility aids, kick thousands of public sector workers out of their jobs and generally reduce Britain to a condition of neo-Dickensian misery (I suppose we should be thankful that Henry Mayhew's guide to the kind of world in which we'll all soon live has been reissued).

Many people were shocked by this change in Clegg's persona - none more so, I imagine, than the quartet of bright, breezy, cheerful young Lib Dem girls who I saw perform an impromptu 'I agree with Nick!' song and dance routine at Newcastle's Greys Monument in the week after the first televised election debate. I have to admit that I was less shocked than many people were by the speed with which Clegg dropped his principles at the promise of a ministerial limo, largely because, growing up in the 1990s, I had a ready-made model which I could apply to the situation. I've written before about my affection for the garish pesudosport that is professional wrestling. And in wrestling, the transformation in Clegg's character would be what's referred to as a heel-turn.

Profesional wrestling is a narrative form with a very odd attitude to continuity. Week-to-week continuity is important, but continuity in the longer term is subject to near-Stalinist levels of revision. The longer a character has been a heel or a face, the less chance there is that their previous status will be referred to. It is simply the case that they have always been 'one of the bad guys'. Through constant repetition, a narrative is generated that the fans buy into, and booing the dastardly villain becomes as easy as it was to cheer for them six months ago, when they were the crowd-pleasing hero.

Interestingly enough, the way the coalition have approached the economy has pretty much followed the same process by which professional wrestling creates its alternate reality. In much the same way as the WWE pretends that it was never called anything else, that Madusa Miceli wasn't the same person as Alundra Blayze, or that there exists a specific place called 'Parts Unknown' (whose inhabitants have an unusual fondness for face-paint and heavy metal; if it did exist, it sounds like it would actually be kind of cool), so we've been spoon-fed a series of egregious lies by the Coalition (whose name actually even sounds like a heel wrestling stable, albeit a slightly crap one; I'd have more respect for our new overlords if they took a leaf straight out of the WWE's book and started calling themselves the Corporate Ministry).

We've been told Labour left the country with an unbelievable deficit - in fact, before the recession, we had the 2nd lowest level of debt of any of the G7 countries.

We've been told that George Osborne's savage cuts to the benefits system are needed to wipe out '£5bn of benefit fraud'. In fact, benefit fraud costs only £1bn.

We've been told that desperate measures of the kind announced by Osborne are needed to save the economy. In fact, economists all over the world believe the Coalition is on the wrong course, and statistics show that these measures will plunge us ever deeper into recession.

There are more - many more - myths about the deficit, the cuts and the economy which the Coalition want us to swallow as uncritically as the marks at a wrestling match who will chant 'U-S-A!' during a match between a Candian face and a Mexican heel, but fortunately there are sites like Liberal Conspiracy, who have posted a handy myth-busting guide to the economic arguments here, and there are a host of blogs regularly deconstructing the lies told by the Tories' friends in the media. The point I want to make is that, while I enjoy suspending my disbelief if all it involves is a bunch of people jumping around in silly spandex outfits, when it comes to politics I would rather see a little more focus on what one of George Bush's aides (disparagingly) referred to as the 'reality-based community.'

Alternatively, if we are going to live in a world where our politicians treat us like a bunch of marks, then I demand that, during the next Prime Minister's Question Time, someone runs in and hits a hurricanrana on David Cameron. We may as well get some entertainment out of this bullshit.

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