At a state banquet for the new Lord Mayor on Monday, David Cameron gave a speech about his commitment to the cause of permanent austerity. He stood up to speak from a golden chair, and read his notes from a golden lectern.
As it happens, I was at the banquet too and heard the news about permanent spending cutbacks for myself. Sadly I was not there as a dignitary, a foreign diplomat, a captain of industry or the director of a big City firm. I was there as a waitress. The contrast between what he was saying and where he was saying it seemed initially almost too laughable to get worked up about. But actually, it reflected something chilling in Cameron’s attitude towards the people he purports to be working for…
The guests enjoyed a champagne reception, and then were served a starter (“a celebration of British mushrooms”), a fish course and main course of fillet of beef, all served with wine of course. In the break before dessert, coffee, dessert wine, port, brandy and whisky were served, Cameron gave his speech. We retreated downstairs to a steam-filled kitchen, where we polished the cutlery. Most of us were exhausted by this point. Dinner service is physically demanding, and I am by no means the only person who combines two or three jobs. The contrast of the two worlds was striking; someone said it was like a scene from Downton Abbey.
Maybe Cameron didn’t see the irony; perhaps he forgot about the army of waiting staff, cleaners, chefs and porters who were also present at the banquet. Perhaps he thought he was in a room of similarly rich people, who understood the necessity for austerity. Perhaps it didn’t occur to him that this message might not be as easily comprehended by those who hadn’t just enjoyed a four-course meal. Perhaps he forgot about those of us, disabled or unemployed or on the minimum wage, for whom austerity has had a catastrophic and wounding effect.
In his speech, Cameron talked about a “leaner, more efficient, more affordable state.” He argued that austerity could be a permanent government policy; a way of trimming down the administrative excesses of some public services. He framed it in the context of the current tough living conditions — a minimising of state spending, as it “comes out of the pockets of the same taxpayers whose living standards we want to see improve.”…
I wonder how Cameron and his government can do these things. Aside from the idiocy of calling for cuts while wearing a white tie — has the man never heard of Twitter — does he not see what welfare cuts are doing to the vulnerable in society? He enjoys a banquet, while the number of people using food banks has tripled in the past year. As someone on the shift with me said, “It gets annoying that we always serve free food to the people who really don’t need free food.”
The political content of what Cameron is saying is obviously more important than where he was saying it, but I don’t think the latter is irrelevant. I have a fundamental problem with a man who sits on a golden throne and lectures us about spending less, like a modern-day, white-tie clad sheriff of Nottingham. And all around him, the insidious stain of austerity creeps across the country, manifesting in the bedroom tax, rising tuition fees and the closure of public services that vulnerable people depend on.