I can’t help (over) thinking about Cameron’s quip to Corbyn at PMQs, about how his mother would advise the Labour leader to “put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem”.
Lines like this are gifts to cultural studies-bods like me. I can extrapolate a whole thesis based on that one line. It evokes a national stereotype, combining class prejudice and the “stiff upper lip” (proper suits and ties); imperial pretensions and postcolonial melancholia (sing the national anthem).
The reference to what mother would advise is fascinating because we all know that when Cameron mentions “mother” he can’t help but recall his spiritual mother, Margaret Thatcher, a gargantuan, posthumous version of whom he no doubt imagines standing in judgement over him, and whose approval he desperately seeks; like the 250 ft iron statue proposed by the Conservative students at Kent. He probably finds himself momentarily caught between a frenzy of Oedipal excitement and castration anxiety at the mere thought of “mother”.
I’d even reference Basil Fawlty, the personification of a particularly neurotic version of Englishness. After all I can just hear the Torquay hotel owner berating the ‘riff raff’ and “rubbish” that pollute his establishment with the line, “put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem”.
Poor “call me Dave”: when he takes his tie off and roles up his sleeves in an attempt to look casual and ready to muck in, he resembles no one so much as David Brent. Put him in a suit and tie, stand him at the despatch box surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of Westminster and he becomes Alan Partridge…
Yes, yes, I can see it now. There’s a whole chapter on sit-com… Comedy gold, Dave and the traditions of British situation-comedy… there’s even a TV channel dedicated to comedy called Dave. That can’t be a coincidence! It’s all coming together now…
One other thing: There’s something routine about the way in which Conservatives and their lickspittles in the media use hidebound national signifiers to deflect from important social and economic questions. Cameron’s retort was in response to a question from the Leader of the Opposition about the NHS. As I argued previously “Defending neoliberalism is easier if it is conflated with national identity and pride.” Likewise, nationalism is a good way of avoiding hard questions about the consequences of austerity.