X Up Britain

Did you know that intermittently brilliant comic Lenny Henry won New Faces? We’ll come back to this.
The paper I like to call tehgrauniad explains: Brown outlines his vision for an ‘X Factor’ Britain. No, really, I’m glad that Gordon has such up-to-the-minute advisors; otherwise he’d be telling us how he was ‘down with the kids’ and listening to that cool skiffle, Daddy-O.

What is the X-Factor other than a talent contest? And what is a talent contest than a last refuge for losers looking for a short cut? (OK there are exceptions, see above.) Actually, the X-Factor is more than that: people watch it for Simon Cowell. (Well, it can’t be the acts.) It isn’t aspiration they watch: it’s hubris cut down. Ditto Dragon’s Den (so I’m told; never seen it) and The Apprentice. Note of the latter that neither Donald Trump or Alan Sugar ever went looking for anyone’s approval: whatever the shows may produce, it isn’t another one of them.
Curiously, I was thinking of writing a post considering why Alan Sugar and Simon Cowell are considered honest when politicians aren’t. (They don’t answer questions so they’re not evasive. They also ‘tell it like it is’ which means a) they’re mean, and b) they’re plausible. Cowell uses a formula: ‘You were [great|crap]… and I’ll tell you why: …’ logicians may quibble that the reason given is adequate for his conclusion, but it sounds right; he gives reasons, which is more than politicos do.)

In what one aide described as an effort to ‘show what a Brown premiership will look like’, the Chancellor told The Observer yesterday of his vision for an ‘ X-Factor’ Britain. He said the reality TV music programme, as well as shows like Dragons’ Den and The Apprentice, promoted ‘aspiration, how anyone can achieve things’ – key to the agenda he hoped to bring to Number 10.

You know and I know, reader, that these shows don’t promote aspiration – instead we like to see craven, cupidinous, idiot yuppies cut down. In the last series of The Apprentice, Paul didn’t know the difference between pounds and kilos; Jo got up everyone’s nose (which may have been cruel editing), and the arrogant Asian guy whose name I’ve managed to forget once ordered 100 chickens for 100 chicken pizzas. If Gordon Brown really thinks these prats are aspirational rather than merely over-reaching and greedy, you can see why his whelk stall empire never got off the ground.
I won’t deny that we need entrepreneurs – but as part of the social mix. Personally, I think the Saatchi Brothers are admirable and clever; but their best work was done in the grey 1970s; I look up to Alan Sugar – but whatever they say, the lesson from people like that is that government encouragement does nothing for them; their skills can’t be formally taught. Alan Sugar has a personal fortune in the 100s of millions if not billions. That’s more than he and his kids can spend in their lifetimes; honestly, I’m not fussed if he loses some of that to extra income tax, he works for sport and he more or less says so.
Most people don’t achieve very much in Brown’s sense. The big things are getting married and having kids for the most part, not discovering Penicillin. Society works, as Alan Sugar knows, through everyone doing a small bit. But if discovering boy bands is what New New Labour thinks we should all do more of, I’ll take a pass. The thing about talent shows is – heh – talent shows, it just takes work. I was remined in the Saturday Torygraph that even Take That spend years on the circuit, playing under 18 discos and gay clubs, learning what moved audiences. The Beatles toured Germany as unknowns before they became the chart-topping band they were. An awful lot of big acts started at school like Elton John, who played piano where he could, or met at school – REM, Radiohead, the Stones, the Who, U2. After they broke up, Take That didn’t do much, which is where manufactured bands differ from the real thing. After the Beatles, John Lennon recorded unlistenable arty albums, George Harrison recorded unlistenable spiritual touchy-feely albums, and Paul McCartney recorded unlistenable commercial stuff. Ringo Starr mainly got drunk, so good for him.
The great Sam Leith pretty much agrees with me here. But Brown is worse than that. (And I used to be a member of the People’s Party; I even voted for Brown/Beckett once.) Chris Dillow (also great, and recommended) calls Blair a philistine. Brown, in some game of their own devising, tops him.

On Thursday, Brown will launch an educational scheme called ‘Great Britons Learning’, designed to ensure that children are taught about leading figures in UK history.

Isn’t ‘to learn’ a transitive verb? So, the Carlyle (will he be taught?) ‘Great Man theory of history’ prevails over Marxism and (my personal prefence) ‘one damn thing after another with some people stealing the limelight’. I don’t know about GB, but I was taught a mostly Marx-inspired history of my country. The short version: “We invented everything, from philosophy (Hume), economics (Smith) to television (Logie Baird). The English bastards stole everything.” So, Gordon, imagine you’re Prime Minister. You’re doing the Tony thing, meeting young future voters in their schools. Your aides have arranged a trip to Northern Ireland (peace at last, thanks to New Labour!), and they’ve even got a class learning history your way. Today’s great man: Oliver Cromwell. Over to you, son.

  1. Sim-O said:

    I cannot think of anything worse to mistake aspirational with. All the trying to be what somebody else wants you to be, false emotion of cameraderie and wanting a quick path to success.

  2. Katherine said:

    “Great Britons Learning”? What does this mean? That some Great Britons will be learning stuff? This makes no sense! It reminds me of parents in my home town shouting “I’ll learn you not to do that!” before clocking their unruly kids around the ears. Gah!

  3. jimjay said:

    For me the reason that people might trust Simon Cowell more the New Labour is that he says what he believes to be true – even when it acts against his own interests.

    He has the power to make people cry with a kind word because people know it’s a real achievement to get one out of him – if he says you’re good, well, that means you might actually *be good*. If Sharon Osbourne tells you you’ve got talent it’s almost meaningless.

    However, when a New Labour clone says the “NHS is having it’s best year ever” everyone knows that she didn’t say it because the NHS had tried really hard and made lots of improvements but because it was in her political interests to make people think that, regardless of the truth.

    If politicians started saying “well, i think i cocked this policy up frankly” it might not be in their short term interests but we’d certainly believe them when they said it!

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