It felt as though the lead-up to Christmas started earlier this year.
The first decorations went up near us on 26 November - a self-conscious Santa in flashing fairy lights adorning the front of a house screaming to passers by: “Enough with the austerity, we’re opening the ginger wine.” They also had a plastic reindeer at the front of their house… it looked a bit embarrassed.
When you see Christmas decorations up in November it doesn’t look joyous or anticipatory does it? It looks just a tiny bit desperate. As if people are stumbling toward something that promises relief, a distraction from what, for many, has been a hard year.
And there were hints too that the government was mimicking a Christmas spirit by lavishing money on a deprived country. First came an announcement of £2bn for the NHS front line. Not all “new money” of course; about a third of that will come from somewhere else in the NHS - the back line presumably, or probably a side line. I’ve never understood how that constitutes an announcement personally. In our house we rarely issue a press release when one of us moves money from the kitchen to the living room but, hey, it’s nearly Christmas, let’s not be negative.
The next day the government announced it was going to spend £2.3bn on flood defences, which is nice. I’d have started that in late spring myself but what do I know about rainfall, it is certainly long overdue. And the next day it announced a £15bn road building plan including a tunnel passing Stonehenge to stop people looking at it.
It’s quite Christmassy really, isn’t it? I mean I know you can’t wrap a tunnel and there are certainly lots of people in the country who, when presented with a widening motorway or brand new A-road, would probably ask if we kept the receipt or have preferred a Boots voucher but still, it’s the thought that counts.
As I said before, we are in the build-up to the election and governments try to buy votes in the last few months of a parliament. Everyone knows it but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point at it and say: “Hang on, if you know the NHS needs crisis funding - and it needs crisis funding because of your ridiculous reorganisation, accompanying austerity plans and your general overriding disinvestment - why wait until now to throw some money at it? Especially when some of the money is already theirs?”
In fact, investing £20bn now in the nation’s infrastructure and calling it the result of great economic management is a bit like buying that doll’s house for your daughter that she wanted since she was three and giving it to her for her 32nd birthday.
Are people tricked into thinking that sort of political manoeuvring is honest? I would think not but then I was quite surprised to see thousands of people wrestling with each other for the opportunity to buy a new TV on Black Friday. Mostly because I didn’t realise so many people didn’t have a TV. On the one hand, we all seem cynical of politicians and politics and yet, on the other, we seem to believe in what they do?
Personally I think Osborne is just doing politics, trying to buy votes, but it may accidentally reflect a nation’s tiredness with austerity. If people are rushing towards Christmas, maybe it’s because they need it? The conviviality, the generosity, the shopping? It may end in tears and hangovers but, hell, I hope you have a good time. You have certainly earned it.
Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe