David Cameron took the brave decision to cast judgement on the morality of Jimmy Carr this week. This is a tremendous first for British politics and we, as Labour supporters, should give credit where credit is due, and applaud the PM for his noble stance on the issue.
Consider that even Gillian Duffy, a woman who can bring down Governments with a single self-answering question, didn’t feel suitably placed to say even a single word about Carr’s tax arrangements when news outlets rushed to her for comment on Ed Miliband’s immigration speech this week. That a woman who speaks redundant enquiries to power will still not take on the titans of the stand up comedy speaks volumes about our society.
For too long now, comedians have held too much influence within the political system. They have been the shadowy, unaccountable arbiters of power; the puppet masters towering above, controlling our elected officials. In fact, when the creators of Spitting Image decided to use puppets to portray the politicians of the 1980s, it was a self-satisfied reminder to those depicted as to who was pulling the strings.
The omnipotence of the comics, then, is nothing new. Over the course of centuries, they have evolved from the court jesters of old, who would tell misguided monarchs what no one else would, safely protected by the guise of “jest” (a train of thought that has itself unfortunately mutated into the “banter theory”). From this unique position they became drunk with power, arrogant with ability, and moved silently into the backrooms of power. The jokers transmogrified into the saints. From Feste they became Malvolio.
Now, comedians decide elections, more so than any businessman, banker or media mogul. When Steve Coogan appeared at Leveson to give evidence on the unbridled power of the media, it is telling that he was not asked a single question about the power of the stand ups. They are still an untouchable force in society. The irony of Coogan claiming that anyone held too much sway over our system was not lost on the people who have lived in fear of his acidic tongue for twenty years.
Tom Watson’s assault on the Murdoch empire now pales in comparison to Cameron’s attack on Jimmy Carr. He has gone where Thatcher did not dare. When she stayed quiet on Ken Dodd’s tax evasion court case (and subsequent acquittal), she lost his support. Lady T, having won three elections on the bounce, did not last to fight a fourth.
This is not, however, a uniquely British phenomenon. When Bill Hicks attacked the Clinton administration over the authorities’ handling of the Waco siege, the Democrat lasted barely five more years in the Oval Office. When Charlie Sheen publicly outed himself as a 9/11 Truther, George W. Bush saw that his time was up, and decided to run for an unprecedented and unconstitutional third term.
In the modern day British political battleground, every time Miliband is seen to move to the right, it is part of a covert operation to woo Michael McIntyre from his steadfast support for David Cameron. Now the PM has attacked a comedian however, McIntyre may rethink his allegiance. The choice now for the Labour leader is between cynically capitalising on the situation and win over the UK’s most powerful man, or following Cameron’s lead and changing the way our system works for good.