No Change to Punch and Judy?


The rosy glow of summer sun conjures up a feeling that anchors us back in childhood. It’s a call of the beach that features sandcastles, ice-creams and fun. Once experienced, it is always remembered – an anchor point of safety and escape in an ever crazy world.

Into this mix we throw a show. This show comes to us, at the beach. It’s loud and colourful and before long we are pushing forward to see it. Adults stand at the back and children are pushed forward in ranks, the very youngest sitting at the front.

This is a game of puppets in which smart one-liners matter – the well timed blow just has to land. If it doesn’t quite convince, there is always the Machiavellian stick behind it. We are all laughing because we, as the audience, feel safe. Ice-cream in hand, we are satiated. Our little ones, pulled in by the Top Gear action, are transfixed.

No-one is going to speak out at this moment. No-one is going to say what they really see. No-one dares. It is part of the furniture of the place.

What we are really watching is a scared man beating up his scared wife. This is a woman with whom he has fathered a child. The baby is a product of an abusive marriage. For part of the show he will abuse the child in front of us, before disposing of the body. A policeman will be sent but he too will be ridiculed and then dispatched. Before long sausages will be stolen, burnt, fought over and finally lost.

Nevermind that. As an entranced audience we will not only push the children forward, we can also be relied on to pay for the show.

As the characters in the drama retire into their homes whistling their happy tunes, the audience too can be relied upon to depart back into their everyday lives also.

In doing that what we walk away from is a perfect mirror. Punch and Judy is a show without script that exists only because it reflects us and thus amuses us. It amuses because it parodies the very worst of what we are. All the bits that we don’t like about ourselves are up there to be walked away from, to be paid away in our ticket to the show, as entertainment.

It is these flawed bits of us that quietly undermine us, even in our moments of determined good intent. Yes, we are positive. Yes, we are focussed. Yes, we work. Why then do we fail to deliver on the promises we make? Staying and looking deeply into the mirror would tell us all we need to know; yet that is the one thing we tend not to do.

In December 2005 when David Cameron was elected leader of the Conservative Party he made a simple promise to get rid of “Punch and Judy politics”. We liked that headline and we bought it.

These few weeks, in June and July 2016, show just how badly he has failed. He has failed because he is part of the cast; a cast that can continue to play a show they know and love to an audience that paradoxically loves it too.

The show is very simple really. It is project fear writ large. It is old style Empire based dominant power that cleverly now uses economic power in place of good old fashioned fighting with the law paid to prop it up. Ethics? Principles? What fun are they? When swords stopped being entirely fashionable, Flashman choose to employ his Father’s wallet.

In the show, the governing narrative is about fighting. It is about building a tribe, a band of brothers. To do that one needs first an enemy and secondly the power, economic or military, to fight that foe. The House of Commons, with its lines holding the opposing forces the minimum distance of two sword widths apart, takes that model and places it in a civil format.

We, as the audience take the model into our own lives too. As “hard-working families” we fight our own foes in our daily battles, as we wage economic warfare in the world.

The model is broken however. It is broken because the internet post 2001 has made us realise that fighting is no longer a model that serves a connected world. It may make good drama but if we allow it to rule our lives we have to, at very best, always choose sides. Sides then fail us. A model that doesn’t genuinely serve all, fails even the victors.

We exit from situations all the time. Exit can work but only if in that walking away we are in the process of walking towards something far better – creating something that is more creative, more connected, more embracing. 

If this was the leaving of a battlefield to do that healing, then the doctors who understand the wounds and the process of change and healing would be all around us urgently doing their work.
As one leader departs and another one takes over, are we, the paying audience, in danger of just walking away from one show, clutching our remaining pennies, whilst already quietly readying ourselves for the next?

Or has this happened because we took a good look in the mirror and really understood the problem?

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