Panem et Circenses, Strictly Come Dancing and BREXIT
What a strange combination! What on earth is going to come out of that, you may be asking? Well I am sitting here on a Saturday Evening watching Strictly Come Dancing. Or rather my wife is watching it and it is passing me by, because I don’t like it. I don’t have a problem with dancing, so it is not about that. But I am not here to critique the show.
But I should probably explain “Panem et Circenses” – Bread and circuses. It actually comes from the Roman writer Juvenal in about AD100. I should stress that this isn’t just something I have picked up from someone else’s writing, because I’ll have you know I gained an A-Level in Latin in 1971, and part of that included studying two of the satires of Juvenal, one of which (no X, or ten to you), included this. So I could almost enter Alf Garnett mode (remember him?) and say “Listen, I’m trying to learn you something!”
Wikipedia indicates it is about the people of Rome not caring about their Civic Duties or responsibilities as long as they have enough to eat, and are entertained. My memory of it (and I’m afraid I do not still have my notes to check – it was 45 years ago!) was interpreting it also as the authorities cynically making sure that the people were adequately catered for in this respect so that they would not feel the need to interfere in matters of government.
So what has that got to do with “Strictly” or BREXIT. You might already have worked out that it’s the other way around – that “Strictly” equates to the Circuses bit, while BREXIT is about Bread. I’ve already said I don’t like Strictly, avoid it or ignore it as much as possible, but just about everyone else loves it. But there are about 9 million other television channels, things streamed on the internet, things you can re-watch on i-player or Youtube, bars, restaurants, Football ad nauseam (and I say that as a football fan and a season-ticket holder at a certain football club in Sussex.) And what else – gambling, other sports, reading, music, concerts, opera, theatre – there’s not really any excuse ever to be bored. As one 1960’s Prime Minister once said: “You’ve never had it so good!” The Circuses bit is well catered for.
What about the Bread. You could expand that a bit, perhaps, and talk about the necessities of life. I have just scanned through the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. But apart from the things like Freedom from Slavery and straightforward equality and the like, it also includes the right to shelter, to education, to rest and leisure, to an adequate standard of living – just try reading the last half dozen articles – very challenging, and all things about which there is some sort of controversy or problem in our country at the moment.
So is the Bread bit not right? Our Prime Minister is interpreting the BREXIT vote as a massive protest vote from those who are left behind. I don’t think it is just that. Firstly the margin of victory wasn’t that big – more than 48% of people voted to stay in. And for those who voted to leave, plenty of people were doing it for their own good reasons and concerns about Europe, about immigration (rightly or wrongly), about a perceived lack of democracy – European Union reasons rather than protest.
BUT it must be acknowledged there was protest in there. But why. The Circuses are there. Maybe the bread isn’t – the basic necessities. There are more food-banks than ever before, and they are busier than ever before. We have a housing crisis, and those who are suffering most are at the bottom of the housing ladder, who previously might have been better catered for by Council Houses – remember them. Then there are benefit caps and all sorts of other things which have gone on to reduce money paid out by the government – and according to Nick Clegg this was the poor deliberately being targeted by our former chancellor for reasons of electoral popularity.
So should one really be surprised at the protest vote? Probably not. At the time of writing – October 2016 – there are indications of expected price rises. Who will be most affected by them? Those with the least flexibility in their budgets, the very people who might have done the protest voting. Can you blame them? Probably not. Panem et Circenses – if the people don’t have the bread, they will protest in the politics.
If only they would get more involved. Maybe that’s the Corbyn rôle? If it is, he’s got a lot of convincing to do.