The symbolism of the PM’s address rang out: this is Britain, welcome to the shamblesby Jay Elwes / October 6, 2017 / Leave a comment
Some things in British public life have got “metaphor” written all over them. Take for example the time when Jim Callaghan ordered himself two new prime ministerial cars, which he decided would be made by British Leyland. In buying British, he thought he was doing his bit for the country—if a set of British wheels was good enough for the prime minister, then it was good enough for anyone.
Then the cars arrived. Neither of them worked. Callaghan had them sent back to the factory. When they returned the PM went out for an inaugural ride. He tried to open one of the windows. It fell out into his lap.
As a metaphor for Britain’s 1970s decline it’s perfect, and captures the miasma of failure that had settled across Britain at the time. Inflation was at 16 per cent. Unemployment was rising. The unions were gearing up for the brutal fight with the government which would result in the Winter of Discontent. Like Neil Kinnock falling in the drink on Brighton beach, George W Bush inspecting the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina from 30,000 feet, or Ed Miliband posing with his henge, Callaghan’s terrible new cars showed not only the haplessness of the man, but his detachment, absurdity and his loss of control.
The glaring political metaphor is so damaging because it commits the cardinal sin of revealing too much. Not only that, but the image that the metaphor creates gives a flash of insight which, once seen, is impossible to un-see. Worse still, once it’s out there, it can’t be counter-acted or debated or shut down because, well, how can you argue with an image? It’s a category error. Impossible. You can’t. It’s too late.