Enough of this carry on

Is "Keep Calm And Carry On" an appropriate mantra for modern Britain?

Created to allay the nation's fears following the outbreak of the Second World War, the Ministry of Information's famous "Keep Calm And Carry On" posters never saw the light of day at the time. But since their rediscovery in 2000 they've become an ever-present in offices up and down the country, spawning numerous imitations and spin-offs. The motif's reinvention, from wartime propaganda piece to 21st-century motivational poster, is often explained by a resonance between today's current economic turmoil and yesterday's threat of Nazi invasion. And although the resemblance is loose, perhaps this was what the Prime Minister had in mind when he ill-advisedly aped the slogan with his “We’re all in this together” line.  

But while the public has largely ridiculed Cameron’s phrase, “Keep Calm And Carry On” seems to have won their hearts and minds. Its endurance stems from a collective nostalgia and kitsch fascination for a time, probably imagined, where old-fashioned British stoicism and resilience proved more than a match for even the greatest adversity. 

Nowadays, as with all surviving Second World War phraseology, it's trotted out repeatedly in response to the most innocuous of incidents. Queues at the petrol station? “Keep Calm And Carry On” implores the Daily Mirror. Concerned about swine flu? “Keep Calm And Carry On” advises the Health Secretary. Worried about the economy? “Keep Calm And Carry On” is the message from the Chancellor. And on and on, ad infinitum. 

And it's going to get worse. This summer looks as if it will test the patience of even the most diligent of flag wavers, as a trio of high profile events add fuel to a patriotic fire. You can almost anticipate the headlines. “Keep Calm And Carry Ma’am” commemorating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. “Keep Calm And Cawwy On” (in the Sun), cautioning a shaky start for Roy Hodgson’s England in the European Championships. “Keep Calm and Marathon” ahead of Paula Radcliffe’s big race at London 2012. So common and profitable has the slogan become in fact, that last year a bitter legal dispute ended with a merchandiser successfully registering it as a trademark.

But while there's no arguing with the phrase's popularity, isn't there reason to question its suitability? It's easy to see how a call to arms for unwavering resolve and unquestionable loyalty fits in wartime, but when the current zeitgeist involves acknowledging the mess we’re in, carrying on regardless would seem an unwise thing to do. Those, like the Occupy protesters, who feel this way, are often dismissed as boat rockers and ridiculed for having the decidedly un-British temerity to point out that continuing along a failed path is an unlikely route to success. 

Of course the elephant in the room is that much as we like the merchandise, we're not really sold on the message. More often than not, the line is used in reaction to precisely the type of widespread panic it is supposed to caution against; and with precious little irony, as we continue to boast about our reserve and make a show of our stoicism. Indeed if being calm is like being ladylike or powerful, in that those who insist they are - aren't, then Briton's must be the most panicked people on the planet. 

Whilst I’m all for British pluck, it feels like we’re laying it on a bit thick with the “Keep Calm And Carry On” mantra. When people are constantly affirming everything is OK, it’s usually a good indicator that something is up. And so far this business as usual ideology is proving an unsuccessful solution to people’s problems. Besides, with the spirit of the Blitz, the Dunkirk spirit and the bulldog spirit, I’d suggest we’re already accommodating more ghosts of world wars past than is healthy. Maybe it’s time for something new.

Cushioning the blow: a slogan for our times? (Photo: Getty Images)
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Recess confidential: Labour's liquid party

Sniffing out the best stories from Westminster, including Showsec, soames, and Smith-side splits.

If you are celebrating in a brewery, don’t ask Labour to provide the drinks. Because of the party’s continuing failure to secure a security contractor for its Liverpool conference, it is still uncertain whether the gathering will take place at all. Since boycotting G4S, the usual supplier, over its links with Israeli prisons, Labour has struggled to find an alternative. Of the five firms approached, only one – Showsec – offered its services. But the company’s non-union-recognition policy is inhibiting an agreement. The GMB, the firm’s antagonist, has threatened to picket the conference if Showsec is awarded the contract. In lieu of a breakthrough, sources suggest two alternatives: the police (at a cost of £59.65 per constable per hour), or the suspension of the G4S boycott. “We’ll soon find out which the Corbynites dislike the least,” an MP jested. Another feared that the Tories’ attack lines will write themselves: “How can Labour be trusted with national security if it can’t organise its own?”

Farewell, then, to Respect. The left-wing party founded in 2004 and joined by George Galloway after his expulsion from Labour has officially deregistered itself.

“We support Corbyn’s Labour Party,” the former MP explained, urging his 522,000 Facebook followers to sign up. “The Labour Party does not belong to one man,” replied Jess Phillips MP, who also pointed out in the same tweet that Respect had “massively failed”. Galloway, who won 1.4 per cent of the vote in this year’s London mayoral election, insists that he is not seeking to return to Labour. But he would surely be welcomed by Jeremy Corbyn’s director of communications, Seumas Milne, whom he once described as his “closest friend”. “We have spoken almost daily for 30 years,” Galloway boasted.

After Young Labour’s national committee voted to endorse Corbyn, its members were aggrieved to learn that they would not be permitted to promote his candidacy unless Owen Smith was given equal treatment. The leader’s supporters curse more “dirty tricks” from the Smith-sympathetic party machine.

Word reaches your mole of a Smith-side split between the ex-shadow cabinet ministers Lisa Nandy and Lucy Powell. The former is said to be encouraging the challenger’s left-wing platform, while the latter believes that he should make a more centrist pitch. If, as expected, Smith is beaten by Corbyn, it’s not only the divisions between the leader and his opponents that will be worth watching.

Nicholas Soames, the Tory grandee, has been slimming down – so much so, that he was congratulated by Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, on his weight loss. “Soon I’ll be able to give you my old suits!” Soames told the similarly rotund Watson. 

Kevin Maguire is away

I'm a mole, innit.

This article first appeared in the 25 August 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Cameron: the legacy of a loser