Saturday, April 03, 2010
Why Gene Hunt became a national hero - and why Labour doesn't get it
Labour has released a new poster attacking David Cameron. It shows him as Gene Hunt from Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes, with the slogan "Don't let him take Britain back to the 1980s."
But you can see that for yourself
It is a very bad poster for two reasons.
The first is that David Cameron is nothing like Gene Hunt. These sort of parallels work only if the two figures have something in common and you are drawing attention to that quality. If a politician is a bit of a spiv, then likening him to Arthur Daley is a good tactic. If he is universally regarded as an upright citizen, then it is just silly.
And this is a silly parallel because Cameron is nothing like Gene Hunt in appearance or character. I suspect the public will just be puzzled by the poster.
Labour had better hope they are, because the second reason this is a seriously bad poster is that Gene Hunt is a hero. The fact that Labour are using him in this way suggests, as they might put it themselves, that they just don't get it.
You can imagine Labour workers around a table saying how terrible Hunt and his world are. The inappropriate language! The poor attention to health and safety! The lack of an Independent Safeguarding Agency!
If any of those workers took a different view, I doubt they would have the courage to say so in public.
So they imagine that the rest of us are horrified by Hunt too. And if any people are not, well they must be racist or sexist or be infected with some other ism.
The truth is that Hunt became a national hero because he operates in a world where he can speak his mind unencumbered by the codes and boards that hem us in today. In an earlier generation, Pop Larkin enjoyed his family and the good things of life while maintaining a healthy disregard for officialdom.
Many on the left take the complaint about "Political Correctness gone mad" as a simple wish to be racist. But why not take it at face value? Yes, it soon gets tedious. Yes, it is often ill informed. But isn't a dislike of being told what to do and say by the government one of the foundations of Liberalism?
The left fears that if people are not nagged or policed then social progress will never be made. But look around you at the most public signs that we have become a less racist society - the mixed-race couples, the white children with the names of black footballers on the back of their shirts - and it is not at all clear that they are principally the result of government action.
So Labour should not be using Gene Hunt to attack David Cameron. And Liberals should be aware of what Hunt's popularity signifies.