Opinion

If the Tories really are toast, the new Labour government must be bold

We are in the era of absurdity in public life. If Labour are given a chance to break this cycle, they mustn’t waste the opportunity

Sir Keir Starmer MP, Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition, at the Labour Party conference. Labour Party conference 2023, Arena and Convention Centre Liverpool, Liverpool, UK - 11 Oct 2023. Image: James McCauley/Shutterstock

I am big fan of Toast of London. At present, I watch, then rewatch, old episodes. It is completely absurd. Things happen without reason, actions have no real consequence, regardless of how outlandish, and reality and time are fluid concepts.

In case you are yet to land on Toast, it is, at heart, based around the life of a failed, or at best failing, Soho-haunting actor and voice-over artiste called Steven Toast. He’s much more convinced of his talent than anybody else. He has no real sense of humour or self-awareness. He messes up every job. His nemesis is Ray ‘bloody’ Purchase. There are characters with names like Clancy Moped, Duncan Clench, Cliff Promise, Jane Plough (pronounced pluff), his chain-smoking agent, and Clem Fandango. Toast really hates Clem Fandango, the sound engineer for his voice-overs.

In Toast’s world Bob Monkhouse is hosting the Royal Variety show (he’s not dead), Toast becomes besotted with the charismatic Jon Hamm, leading to Toast’s father invertedly leaving Hamm everything in his will, and Toast burns down the Globe Theatre to avoid a critical mauling. This barely begins to take us into Toast’s world.

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Co-written by Arthur Mathews, who co-created Father Ted, and Matt Berry, (Toast himself), it does what Father Ted frequently managed – shows up the vacuity, vanity and self-importance of many people and the ludicrousness of things we accept as reality. Some of the episodes are over 10 years old, but they feel increasingly apposite.

We are in the era of absurdity in public life. Take the government’s plan to criminalise rough sleepers. Part of that involved fining rough sleepers £2,500 for being a rough sleeper. That sounds like a Toast subplot. At what point does somebody in the meeting when such an idea is conceived say, hold on there lads, just had a thought – if they had £2,500 maybe they wouldn’t be rough sleeping.

The government is lucky they still have a few good people among them, like Bob Blackman, with the sense and backbone to call out such plans. Asking for deep thinking to get to the heart of why there is rough sleeping in the first place – well that game’s a bogey.

There is also the teetering collapse of Thames Water, a company that passed so much money to shareholders it didn’t reinvest enough in its network, flowed waste with merry abandon into ever more polluted rivers and then said, hold on, if you want us to fix this mess, you, the public, will have to pay almost half as much again on your bill. Cheers! Even Toast might baulk at that particular storyline.

I quite liked this week’s new absurdist wrinkle where keen atheist Richard Dawkins, whose most celebrated work is called The God Delusion, said he was culturally Christian and actually into loads of Christian stuff. Holy smoke!

Every time Rishi Sunak says, I know what the public want, which is the opposite of what every single opinion poll says, I hear it now in Toast’s booming voice, wrong but with so much conviction. Though Toast has better trousers.

The thing about absurdity is that there is rarely a moral, things are nonsensical, outcomes are not helpful and history repeats. The world is a mess, we’re either pushing the stone back up the hill or smacked around the chops by an unwelcome non sequitur.

If Labour are given a chance to break this cycle with a crushing majority at the next general election, they mustn’t waste the opportunity. Such will be their mandate that they’ll have a chance, for a while at least, of rolling the stone over the hill, and fundamentally making change for the better.

A lot of commentators are warning the post-election honeymoon will be brief because public finances will be so bust. But the NHS and the welfare state were birthed during a period when the country was broke. Imagine if a new government went bold rather than meek.

That is not such an absurd thought.

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy!

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