A picture redolent of past brutalities has appeared in some newspapers. A middle-aged man, looking shamefaced and frightened, is being escorted by another man down a street. His hands are tied behind his back and around his neck is a large placard, bearing the hand-written words, “THIEF. I stole £845. Am on my way to Police Station.”
The scene took place in Witham in Essex. The alleged thief was a man called Mark Gilbert who, according to his boss Simon Cremer, the other man in the picture, had made a business cheque out to himself and cashed it. Cremer and three other colleagues tied Gilbert’s hands, made him read and repeat out loud the words they had written on the placard, and then bundled him into van. In the middle of the town, he was taken out and walked to the police station. Gilbert was relieved to get there, he said later. He had thought he was about to be killed.
Suddenly the echoes of more barbaric times are all around us. They are not just in scenes of mob brutality, the public suicides, but are evident in smaller incidents of vigilantism like that which befell Mark Gilbert.
Violence of opinion flares up in the most unlikely places. Commenting on recent developments in the City, Sir Max Hastings, the respectable historian and former editor of The Daily Telegraph, wrote this week: “Delicious as it would be to see some bankers swinging gently in the autumn breeze from lampposts outside their offices, we cannot afford that indulgence.”
It is a joke, presumably, but, like the “THIEF” placard, it speaks of a new kind of spiritual ugliness – a rage that, as the grip of financial anxiety tightens, may well become part of everyday life, rather as it did in the post-Crash 1930s.
One reason for the trend is to be found between the lines of Sir Max’s fantasy about stringing up bankers. Here is a man of the right, or at least a one-nation Tory, attacking the dashing outriders of the free market with all the bitter rage of an old Trot. Resentful that bankers and hedge fund managers are not required to face up to their misjudgements, he – and indeed the whole Conservative Party – are playing the same game themselves. Absurdly, the very people who would normally be the most ardent champions of enterprise now go all pale and serious as they make pious speeches about public responsibility. They praise Thatcher’s economic revolution and then, at the same conference, express prim disapproval of those trying to live the Thatcherite dream today.
But no one apparently is to blame for what is happening – not the Tories, nor our business-loving government. City spivs may have to endure a bit of finger-wagging but the idea that any senior director might actually take responsibility, apologise and resign in shame is a joke in poor taste.
On the radio and on TV, economic journalists, led by the increasingly self-excited Robert Peston, reveal that these problems have been within the system for years. Strangely none of these people were quite so wise during the days of quick-buck profit-making but that, again, is hardly worth mentioning. It was not their fault either.
Forget that old cliché, the “blame culture”. We are witnessing, in public life, in business and in the media, the arrival of the no-blame culture. However badly things go wrong, whatever the pain they cause to the poor or vulnerable, they are simply the way things are. No wonder there is that whiff of dangerous rage in the air.
What is it about Astley that makes folk so ghastly?
There are not many contemporary stars who, within the same month, appear at the Northampton Balloon Festival and are then short-listed for the Best Act Ever category at MTV’s Europe Music Awards. This achievement, by the great 1980s star Rick “Never Gonna Give You Up” Astley, has been widely presented as a joke perpetrated by pop pranksters who have over-dosed on irony pills.
Quite why it has been decided that Astley deserves to be mocked is a mystery. Earlier this year, he was the focus of an internet craze known as “rickrolling”. Then there were incidents of “flashmobbing” – hundreds of people turning out in Rick Astley masks – at Liverpool Station during the rush hour. A song by Nick Lowe once actually rhymed “Astley” with “ghastly”.
But in fact, given the level of the opposition at the MTV awards – the other nominees are Britney Spears, Green Day, Christina Aguilera, Tokio Hotel and the veteran rockers U2 – Astley deserves to win. Pop music has a habit of turning its clowns into heroes – think of Abba and The Carpenters. If enough of us vote for him on the MTV Europe Music Awards website, Rick’s balloon festival days could soon be over.
Not tonight, dear, I’ve got a headache…
That august body, the Italian Society for the Study of Migraines, has announced serious news for adulterers. Cheating on your partner can lead to psychological stress which, for some migraine sufferers, could well bring on a fatal cerebral aneurysm.
Fifteen per cent of Britons, many of whom will surely have played away from home on occasion, suffer from migraines. This is black propaganda of the most irresponsible kind.
For thousands of people, it is precisely to escape from the pressures of marriage that they have a glorious stress-busting affair. The Italian busybodies should now study how many people the psychological pressures of marriage are likely to kill.
Three cheers for this stylish scam artist
Harsh words have been used to describe the recent activities of Shahra Marsh – or Shahra Christina Sylvia March de Sevigny, as she preferred to be called. While living on benefits, she passed herself off as a high-living toff, deploying her fluent French, knowledge of the market and acting skills to relieve auction houses of £2m worth of merchandise.
She did not, as has been claimed, betray their trust but merely exploited their in-built snobbery. The adventures of this stylish and clever woman deserve to be celebrated in an amusing, forgiving TV documentary.