London diary--article in Asian Age ( last saturday)
The New Four Letter Word—Cuts
With elections around the corner , allegations and counter allegations between different political parties are flying fast and furious.Conservatives scored a hit when business houses attacked a new tax increase announced in the Budget. Riled by the attack, Labour has trashed the business leaders as ignorant of basic accounting. Yet these same business leaders sat on Gordon Brown’s Business Advisory Council. They were good then but bad now. But all this is humdrum stuff. Essentially everyone is saying the same thing—worrying about rebalancing the economy, reducing the deficit and looking around desperately for the magic formula of ‘efficiency savings’ or ‘what to cut’ in simple English.. The first-ever, US-style, pre-election TV debate between the three aspiring chancellors, Alistair Darling ( Labour), Vince Cable ( Liberal Democrats) and George Osborne ( Conservatives)was excruciatingly dull, because there was very little difference between what they said. Ultimately all they could do was taunt each other that they were being dishonest about their ‘cuts’.
There is so much focus on cuts, that the Liberal Democrat Leader has taken it very personally and has had a (rather bad) hair cut. Now with Easter upon us, there is little time for touchy-feely campaigning, raising the alarming prospect that the TV debate between the three main party leaders will be the real vote clincher.
So the truth is that more serious discussions now occur over ‘cuts’ –but of clothes, who wore what and how the various ‘wives’ square up against each other . These are, after all, the real issues/cuts which are going make a difference to the consumer, er…, voter, as the packaging will reflect the kind of government a particular party may provide. Now choosing a political party is less about ideology and more and more as though one is in a super market. Any fashion gaffe at this stage—especially as we head towards a hung parliament –may just be the reason why a voter may turn from Labour to Conservative. And it is here that the wives are also coming under severe scrutiny.
Whilst I completely agree that if husbands and wives must share certain core values in order to stick together—I am not very certain that this applies to their wardrobe… In fact the Prime Ministerial hopeful, David Cameron, recently confessed that essentially he is locked into a room and his wife ( the extremely elegant Samantha Cameron) shoves the clothes he has to wear under the door. Like all law abiding husbands he does not question her choice. But recently many pages of newsprint were spent discussing his ‘Terminator’ type leather jacket casual attire when he addressed an election meet. It was lambasted by most newspapers as a real voter turnoff. What a colossal blunder SamCam had committed!—this was not what was expected from David Cameron! The kindest explanation was that those shoes/trousers/jackets/shirts shoved under the door must have been done so in an extreme moment of morning sickness. Yes, we have also recently learnt that SamCam is going to have a BabyCam –as many newspapers put it.
Whatever we may feel about Michelle Obama –she has completely changed the role that
‘first wives’ can play for hopeful ‘first husbands’. So now confessions about how their husbands throw smelly socks about and are terrible ‘channel flippers’ are also obvious vote getters. These things apparently ‘humanise’ their husbands ( who are actually aliens, as no red-blooded real human would want to inherit a sinking economy) and makes them more electable. Or delectable.
Not only are wardrobes being discussed, there are also helpful press notes sent out from party offices of who is wearing what from the high street, and how much it cost.. Meanwhile, the jury is still out on whether wives should be used as secret weapons by their husbands brought out to annihilate the opposition. But it has been agreed that if she is a pregnant ‘secret weapon’ –it is alright. We all love babies at Downing Street! Gordon Brown has still to announce the elections but almost all important topics from wives to clothes to babies have been already exhausted …..and so we are waiting for the media response to manifesto pledges on high heels or hair. I simply cannot think of anything more important than that….
Going to the Oxford Literary Festival to read from my book, Witness the Night, which has just been published here –was a wonderful, if rainsoaked experience. But why must the elements conspire against literary festivals? At Jaipur I had to battle my way through dense fog—and here it was a very, very wet morning. But bravely clutching a coffee and a croissant I settled down on a train which was squeaky clean and ran like clockwork between Paddington and Oxford. The 8:51 a.m. actually left precisely on time.
Christ Church where the reading was held is wonderfully atmospheric with large drafty rooms —and the thought that somewhere close by were other attending authors, which this year have included John le Carre, Jung Chang, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, A S Byatt…. was a thrilling moment . Now perhaps I can claim ‘I have read at Oxford’.
Despite the icy blizzards and election winds blowing though the UK, it continues to be season of theatre and cinema. Personally I am looking forward to seeing Behud –written by the intrepid Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti –whose last play, Behzti (2004) was shut down by an irate Sikh community. It is still an incident which most liberals in the UK regard as a blow against freedom of speech. In Bezhti, Bhatti had portrayed a rape which takes place inside a Gurudwara, and raised some troubling issues about the Sikh community. This led to near riots as the community wanted her to remove the reference to the Gurudwara altogether. Bhatti refused and ultimately, amidst a volatile situation, the play was pulled off.
But she hasn’t given up . Now she has—with great chutzpah--written a theatrical production about that entire incident. She has placed herself on stage as Tarlochan, a playwright pushed to the limits, as she recreates on stage, the writing of her play and the circumstances under which it was shut down. Initially, ( in her version) all the actors/characters in the play are supportive of her efforts—but slowly questions arise and Tarlochan/Bhatti is finally forced to reassess her own situation, as erstwhile supporters desert her. So far the play has been well-received –with some reservations. However, the real accolades for Bhatti have arisen from the fact that she has been able to return to the stage , even after a frightening and unnerving situation which would not have won her many friends among the Sikh community. Bravo!