I was standing at a bus stop in pouring rain on Saturday afternoon at the spot seen in the photograph above but on a much gloomier day.
Temporarily car-less, I timed my bus journey at a time when England has been under black clouds of unforgivingly unceasing rainfall. My wait here on saturday was a long one.
The stop is in front of one of the nation’s most well-known buildings, Brighton’s Royal Pavilion built for Prince George (1762-1830), the hopelessly profligate son of King George III who is best remembered as the Prince Regent after he took temporary charge of the throne when his father suffered bouts of insanity. At George III’s death, the Prince Regent became George IV. Prince George was a self-centred spend-thrift who was a drain on national wealth and whose father thought that money paid by the government to ease his debts was “a shameful squandering of public money to gratify the passions of an ill-advised young man.”
All these mentions of the name George reminded me of another George, our British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr George Osborne who is currently trying to devise ways of cutting the nation’s gigantic deficit which was incurred, in case we forget, by those profligate bankers who gambled the nation’s prosperity for their own short-term gains even though our modern George is trying to convince us that it is all about the excesses of the welfare state.
I am sure that it is unfair of me to remember Mr Osborne when thinking about the ghastly King George IV – maybe it is something about that sneer that they both have in common. Or is it their well-known weakness for champagne parties with the stinky rich?
The bloated king went unmourned to his grave and Mr Osborne, as quoted in the press today, is showing some signs of fear that he too is about to become a much hated figure. By concentrating his deficit cutting on the welfare state, he knows that he will anger a lot of people including those middle class families on over £44,000 a year who will no longer be eligible for child benefit. This seemingly odd way of rewarding the well-off with welfare benefits was introduced in the spirit of avoiding the means test and its consequent indignities and inequalities. Other spending “savings” concern the bottom strata of our society – all those people whose lives are financed by the state through unemployment, disability or other payments. This area of public spending is, of course, enormous and open, like all other schemes that involve money, including taxes, off-shore or on, company dividends and banker’s rewards, with abuse.
An ambitious new re-working of these systems of payment is about to be launched and Mr Osborne has expressed the rather optimistic hope that he can “keep the British people together as we go through this.”
Let’s go back to my bus stop in the rain outside the Prince Regent’s scandalous palace. The rain had caused “severe traffic disruption” according to the information board that notified us of all the bus cancellations. I could have caught the train back to my home town of Lewes, a fifteen minute journey, but something about this chaos drew me in. It took me three hours to get home and most of the time was spent under my umbrella with a group of aggressive people huddled together in misery.
It was midday when I arrived there and already there was an incident developing between a group of jeering teenagers with tattooed necks and spots and an angry red-faced man who was draining the remains of a beer can that he had found in the litter bin. Not far away, an over-weight girl who could have been no older than, say, twelve, but who was dressed as a prostitute in the modern style of girl’s childhood fashions. She was shouting into her mobile phone: “What? bottom of what? bottom of what? I can’t f****ing hear you.” This continued as she boarded a bus that signalled it was going to the “Universities.” I don’t really care about swear words but it was distressing to pick up the intense aggression from this child.
Another bus arrived and a middle aged woman on crutches with a shopping bag and a bus pass ran to get on – she too muttered obscenities in her panic to get on the bus.
Then a thin young woman with an extensively pierced face, came and stood next to me. she too was on her mobile phone and she was shouting. “When I get home, I am going to f***ing turn the place upside f***ing down until I find out who f***ing took my cigarettes this morning. If I find out who did it, I will f***ing kill them.”
The mood of angry aggression was unrelenting and I thought of those people again this morning when I read George Osborne’s words. He needs to know that there is real anger out there. Being poor, without hope and depressed is nothing to smirk about.
The new coalition government will need all of Nick Clegg’s liberalising skills and, I guess, David Cameron’s old-fashioned patrician kindliness, to temper George Osborne’s single-minded, no alternative policies of social reorganization in the guise of deficit cutting.
Maybe one of the Milliband brothers, I forget which, was right at last week’s Labour Party conference, when he said that Labour needed to end the class war not fight it. If this government can’t appeal to the most deprived, depressed and angered sections of our society, there will soon be a lot of people who will be shouting into their mobile phones? “I want to f***ing kill them!”
I was very happy, like those middle class characters in Dickens who retreat from grimy London to live happily ever after in the suburbs, when I finally got back to the gentile liberal environment of Lewes – I felt guilty about it too.
In that picture Osbourne looks like he is auditioning for pantomime dame; although, in truth, he's somewhere between farce and tragedy.
He's in the farce, we're in the tragedy.