10 Jan

Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow

Listening to the news this morning, I was reminded of an interview given some years ago by the composer Peter Maxell Davies. He was asked what he had on the stocks, what was his work in progress. He replied, “I was writing an opera about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ but, when I got to the bit where Christ descends from the clouds, I found myself saying out loud, ‘Oh no – you’re only an advert!’”

What brought this back to mind was the announcement by David Cameron, which has received saturation coverage, in which he said he is going to to regenerate a hundred rundown estates described as “brutal high-rise towers and dark alleyways which are a gift to criminals.”

A new £140m fund will be set up to transform dilapidated council homes – some of which will be knocked down and replaced.

Mr Cameron added: “Decades of neglect have led to gangs and anti-social behaviour. And poverty has become entrenched, because those who could afford to move have understandably done so. The mission here is nothing short of social turnaround, and with massive estate regeneration, tenants protected, and land unlocked for new housing all over Britain,  I believe we can tear down anything that stands in our way.”

So that’s that then. Job done. The concrete and glass high rise slums and the Soviet style apartment blocks turned into model suburbs.

And all done for £140million!

Look, £140million won’t even pay for the blueprints, won’t even pay for the paper on which the blueprints will never get to be printed.

What we have here is government by advert. Make a speech dripping with extravagant promises and get it splashed all over the mass media. Then do nothing. But won’t people remember and hold Cameron to account when the project never happens?

Of course not – for their recollection of his promise will be erased by a new and different promise next week. And another the week after. And so on forever. This is how government works – or rather doesn’t work.

Other promises have come and gone unfulfilled. Cameron promised, for instance, that he would “reduce immigration to tens of thousands.” Last year the number of immigrants was 600,000.

He promised a decision on a new airport “by Christmas.” There was no decision.

Earlier he promised massive investment in new rail links across the north of England. “Northern powerhouse” sounds good eh?  We didn’t get that investment.

Peter Maxwell Davies was right: the world today – the whole lot of it – is fashioned after the model of the advert. Nothing happens.

Soren Kierkegaard produced a parable which describes our times exactly: “If you see a sign in the shop window saying TROUSERS PRESSED HERE, don’t take your trousers in for pressing. Only the sign is for sale.”