Christmas is a time for telling old stories and legends. Eric Pickles has started early with an annual favourite - Winterval. The Conservative Party’s web-site reports:
As the lights are turned on for Christmas all over the country, Mr Pickles urged councils to take pride in Britain’s Christian heritage; celebrating the nativity and all the traditions that have sprung up around it from tinsel and tree lights to turkey.
“We should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas, and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ.
“The War on Christmas is over, and likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be in the dustbin of history.
Winterval is like a tough garden weed. Every year you think it’s been killed only for it to reappear at the same time the following year. Oliver Burkeman dealt with Winterval, Luminos and other similar PC Christmas scares in this piece four years ago. Birmingham City Council did not re-brand Christmas as Winterval, Luton did not change the name to Luminos and no council anywhere has ever banned Christmas lights or nativity displays.
As for the more recent Winter Lights, one glance at last year’s photos from Dundee’s switch-on ceremony shows just how far Christmas had been completely erased from the proceedings. The baubles and tinsel give a clue, as do the fat bloke dressed as Santa and the sodding great big Christmas tree.
Exhorting councils to celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas is the probably the most ridiculous part of an already ridiculous press release. I have seen four decades worth of Christmas lights in towns and cities around the country. If Jesus, Mary and Joseph appear at all they are very much in supporting roles. They have long since been edged out by Santa. Why? Because Christmas lights are about encouraging people to shop and Santa is all about presents. If anything has driven the religion out of Christmas it is commercialism, not the ‘PC brigade’. Perhaps there was a time when Jesus was the centrepiece of municipal Christmas displays but it was well before anything I can remember.
Until now, Eric Pickles has come across as an intelligent reformer. You might not agree with his plans for local government but there is a rationale behind them. It remains to be seen whether the Coalition’s proposals for local government will lead to more cost-effective services. I don’t think they will but I’m prepared to consider the possibility that they might, and have a rational discussion about it.
But then Mr Pickles goes and ruins it all by coming out with crap like this. Why has he decided to resurrect the imaginary enemy of the ‘Politically Correct War on Christmas’ and all the myths, distortions and downright lies that went with it? Could it be that this is a control strategy? Having reduced the restrictions on local authorities, perhaps this is the way the government means to ensure that they conform to its ideal of what councils should do. For these statements contain a veiled threat: We might have cut your budgets by 25 percent but don’t even think of trying to save money on Christmas lights, or we will accuse you of pandering to political correctness and set the Daily Mail onto you.
A government committed to localism should say that it’s up to local authorities whether or not they want to put up Christmas lights. If local people vote in liberals who want inclusive multi-cultural festivals, scrooges who refuse to spend money on lights, or pagans who decide to revive the festival of Yule, surely that is none of the government’s business. But the Coalition, like all British governments, finds it hard to do localism properly. It just has to keep sticking its oar in.
Perhaps this is a sign of what is to come. The government hands control over ever-diminishing budgets to local authorities, then stands on the sidelines hectoring them about what they should and should not do.
Eric Pickles has raised the Ghost of Christmas Bullshit. Feeding the prejudices of the ignorant and playing to the tabloid gallery, he has revived myths and prejudices that were debunked long ago. In doing so, he has demeaned himself. The War on Christmas is just utter rubbish. Whatever the political reasons for rolling out these long-discredited stories, they are an insult to our intelligence. It might have worked ten years ago but it is now 2010 and people are wise to this sort of drivel.
Today, Eric Pickles sounds less like the intelligent man we thought he was and more like one of those red-faced, blustering cretins you see propping up bars all over the country.
And, given that he is so against ‘political correctness’, he surely won’t mind me saying so.
Update: We Love Local Government posts in a similar vein.
For the record Luminous took place (in November) as part of a light show in Luton in the early 2000s. Winterval was a 3 month long publicity campaign to bring people into Birmingham city centre in the 1990s and included celebrations of (in order): Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, Diwali, Ramadan, Eid, Hannukah, Advent, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year.
Eric Pickles MUST know this; he’s a Cabinet Minister and used to lead Bradford Council. He is also an intelligent man with an entire Civil Service and at least one Special Advisor behind him. It is therefore inconceivable to me that he can actually believe these myths he is spouting. This makes his outburst even more indefensible.