4th pillar swings to party beats

Posted on May 3, 2010 | Author: Sudeshna Sen | View 394

artical Picture I really should be writing about the Greek sovereign crisis and the risk of contagion for Europe, but that subject has been boring me to tears for weeks.

Especially since we’re going into the last stretch of what has turned out to be a totally paisa-vasool election here, when we were expecting more of the same (yawn) rhetoric we’ve been hearing for a while from politicians.
First, let’s get Greece out of the way. In case you aren’t one of those who depend on global markets’ daily ditherings for a living, you can be forgiven for glazing over. Frankly, it won’t affect anyone in India.
If every worst-case scenario happened, and Europe collapses, you might want to pay some attention. I don’t see Europe collapsing any time soon though. It’s not exactly a Lehman Brothers.
Still, I’d say, expect more of the same: the total quantum of ‘bad’ risk in the world that blew banks up have since been passed to governments and this kind of thing was — or should — have been expected.

It happened in some degree to Iceland, to Hungary, yadda yadda. Today it’s the euro, yesterday it was dollar, the week before it was sterling. Did anybody think that the after-effects of that huge meltdown is going to fade away into next quarter’s sunset?
Whatever happens, it won’t be end of the world, since the world as we knew it has changed forever, and it’s time all those bigwigs start to realise that and do something.
To more interesting things, this UK election will go down in history for its first-ever public TV debates, and how that catapulted a Nick Clegg and his Lib Dems from a marginal presence to centrestage.
Why the debates wield so much power is, while still a matter of wonder for Brits, obvious to outsiders. It’s the first time the electorate gets to see unfiltered, uncensored views from the main parties.

Unlike in the US or India, British newspapers and media channels have always openly backed political parties, and don’t believe that news should be impartial or objective.
So you can’t really believe anything you read or see. We read usually authoritative columnists writing like campaign managers, wildly different and selective versions of the results, polls and reportage of what we saw on TV last night and elsewhere — you’d think they were all talking about completely different events.
This time, the Murdoch machinery, led by The Sun, is backing the Tories. While the locals take it all for granted, it’s confusing to keep track of who’s supporting whom — The Guardian website used to have a guide for the unwary.
To people like the Americans and us, it seems strange how they can reconcile ‘a free and fair’ democratic press, an individual’s right to political choice, and running editorially-dictated election coverage, but then who am I to question the fourth estate of people who invented the concept? It seems to work for them.
Oh well, the longer I stay here, the less I feel I understand the Brits. Take Britain’s peculiar anti-snob snobbery. If you happen to be educated, or qualified, as a candidate, you need to hide it.

Candidates apparently all have to claim to be under-educated yobs, and not be seen as ‘posh’. Posh, as in rich or privileged, I can understand, but what’s wrong with a good education? These Brits are tap-tap-tap.
One of the high notes, for me, in the last TV debate was how all three leaders spent a chunk of precious talk time extolling the ‘virtues’ of work — and why and how Britons who want to work must be given support and help, how it’s so necessary for self-esteem, et al.

I was expecting them to break into a chorus of Japanese-style work-is-worship songs any moment. We’re not even talking entrepreneurship, or hard work — just, well, working for a living.
It’s not as weird as it sounds. I’ve just had a conversation with an average hard-working British woman this morning.

She thinks London is too materialistic, what with all these bankers around, and her chief dream is to be able to ‘work less’ (than five days), so she can spend more time in her garden.

Asking people to retire a year later — something most Indians would kill to get a chance to do — is considered a ‘harsh’ political decision.
And then take savings. It’s considered completely batty right-wing spin that people should be allowed to leave their life’s earnings and houses to their children, and not the taxman. Saving, like work, is a new-found virtue. Till even last Christmas, people were being encouraged to borrow and spend to bankruptcy as their patriotic duty.
And then they wonder why their economy grows at zero-point something. They even ask people like me, at times. Now where do I start, if you have to begin from the basis that working is a vaguely virtuous, but not a necessary or desirable, objective in life? I wish we could be so lucky.

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