Top 10 Politicians' Christmas cards

The Staggers verdict on cards sent from seats of power around the world

It's that time of the year again, when politicians carry out their festive duty.

Politicians being politicians, few shy away from such a valuable message-sending opportunity. The cards range from the political to the progressive, from those that double up to benefit charity to others that remain ambiguously open to interpretation.

Scroll down for a New Statesman look at politicians' Christmas cards from Britain and abroad.

 

1. From the US president, Barack Obama, and the first lady, Michelle:

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Non-religious and stately. The message of the Obamas' first Christmas card -- "May your family have a joyous holiday season and a new year blessed with hope and happiness", signed by Barack and Michelle Obama -- was apparently important enough to be discussed in Congress. Well, at least now we know what they've really been doing with their time.

 

2. From the Canadian Liberal MP Scott Brison:

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From the sound of it, there really shouldn't be that much fuss about this card, which Brison sent to 5,000 of his friends and constituents. Gorgeous landscape, adorable golden retriever, happy good-looking couple -- but this is also known as the "Brokeback Brison" card because Brison is Canada's first gay MP in a same-sex marriage. Since a story about the card ran, it has had an overwhelmingly homophobic response. The Globe and Mail news website, for one, had to shut down its comments section for the story.

Calling foul against critics is Brison, who protests: "I'm not the first politician to have a family picture on a Christmas card."

Fair enough.

 

3. From the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd:

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Another one to stay away from religious references is Rudd's. This does it in "good leftist style", says a man who received the card, Jon Ray. Possibly the strangest of the lot, it makes no mention of Christmas but instead features one of Brisbane's CityCat ferries, and the names of the city's suburbs.

Psychologists and card scrutinisers, feel free to give your verdict on this one.

 

4. From Prime Minister Gordon Brown:

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From 10 Downing Street comes this ambiguous card from Gordon Brown, who chose to feature a photograph taken by 19-year-old Jordan Mary, winner of the Young Environmental Photographer of the Year.

It hasn't gone down that well with critics. David Breaker, who gave the card a 1/12 rating, writes:"Surely it's never wise in politics to be involved with anything greatly diminished and hanging by a thread in a cold, frosty environment, populated only by prickly and poisonous things, all of which will be gone in the New Year?"

5. From the former prime minister Tony Blair:

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He may now "do God", but Tony Blair chooses to steer clear of religion, going for the narcissist's fallback option of printing one's picture on the cover.

 

6. From the Commons Speaker, John Bercow:

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Another Godless card yet again, posted on Guido's blog. Sweet kids, boring card.

 

7. From Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond:

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The card's cover, featuring a painting by the artist Gerard Burns titled A New Journey, has riled critics with its independence innuendo.

Said the Tory whip David McLetchie: "Alex Salmond is trying to politicise Christmas, having already attempted to politicise the Saltire, Scotland's national days and our children's education. His obsession with independence is blinding him to reality."

But kudos to Salmond for managing to portray McLetchie and other critics as overworked grumps.

Replied a spokesperson for Salmond: "Messrs McLetchie and Rumbles should lighten up and get with the Christmas spirit -- they are obviously badly in need of a festive break."

At least proceeds from sales of the painting will be going to charity.

 

8. From the Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg:

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Smart move by Clegg to feature a innocently-sweet-and-all-things-nice drawing by his sons Antonio, eight, and Alberto, five.

"It is very sweet," mused the clinical psychologist Mr Bracey to the Times. "It's not conveying any political messages and is just simple and naive."

To criticise Clegg's card aesthetic quality would be Scrooge-like.

 

9. From the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson:

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Daredevil Johnson is the only one of the lot who has dared to say "Merry Christmas". London bus users may disagree.

 

10. From the Conservative leader, David Cameron:

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Sending a request to Santa here, Dave?

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Of course we could do more to stop terrorism – if we’re willing to live in a police state

 The only way to stop this sort of human monster completely is to become like them.

What are we prepared to sacrifice to keep children safe? On Monday night at Manchester arena, 22 people were senselessly slaughtered. Many of them were young girls, pouring out of a pop concert, giddy with excitement. Hours before the killer was identified or Islamic State had claimed responsibility for the attack, the political conversation had already turned to vengeance, and respected public thinkers were calling, in the name of those dead children, for further crackdowns on immigrants and perceived outsiders, for troops on the streets, for "internment camps'" with straight faces and the sincere implication that anyone who disagrees is weak-willed and possibly a terrorist sympathiser. A lot of little girls have been killed. What good are tolerance and human rights today?

Nobody can be expected to be instantly rational when dozens of kids have just been maimed and murdered. There are, however, individuals who seem more than prepared to exploit the occasion to further their own agendas. Yet again, we are told that the state is failing in its duty to protect "our" children, that pansy liberals won't let us raise the "obvious solutions" to this problem. Nobody can quite bring themselves to articulate exactly what those "obvious solutions" might be, hedging the issue instead with grave looks, raised eyebrows and stern allusions to the consequences of political correctness. The consensus is that we are living in a nation so paralysed by hand-flapping progressive talk-talkery that ordinary, right-thinking folks aren’t allowed to say what’s really on their minds. 

The truth is that nobody’s stopping anyone from saying what they think about any of this, and if you don’t believe me, take a brisk scroll through Twitter this afternoon, and keep some eyeball bleach on hand. In fact, the reason a lot of people are stopping short of saying what they think ought to be done is that they know full well that what they think ought to be done is unacceptable and shameful in any sane society. So shameful, indeed, that it takes a professional shit-stirrer to speak it aloud. 

Enter Katie Hopkins. It’s not just pro-trolls like her who have called for a "final solution" following the Manchester Arena bombing. Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson declared that we should start putting "thousands" of people in "internment camps" in the name of protecting children. Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill echoed the tone, blaming "multiculturalism" for mass murder, and implying that anyone advocating calm and tolerance in the face of terrorism does not feel sufficiently angry about the murder of 22 of their fellow citizens. “It is becoming clear,” insists O'Neill, “that the top-down promotion of a hollow ‘togetherness’ in response to terrorism is about cultivating passivity.”

In fact, Britain is far from passive in the face of extremist violence. Britain already has one of the most robust counter-terrorism programs on the planet. We are among the most surveilled societies in the Western world. We have a counter-extremism program, Prevent, that places a duty in schools, universities and other public bodies to report any suspected radical or "extremist" activity, and is so exacting that it has been condemned by experts and educators across the board as an infringement of the right to free speech and thought. The authorities responsible for heading off and hunting down these psychopaths and all who sail with them are hardly slacking on the job. The problem is that there's really no way to up the game from here without going full police state. The pundits condemning the relevant institutions as shirkers today know this full well, which is why a police state is exactly what they’re asking for, with the inference that anyone who disagrees is awfully relaxed about the violent death of young girls and their parents.

So let’s not mince words. Let's be absolutely clear what’s at stake here. Let us acknowledge that yes, we could do more to stop this, if we wanted. And then let's think about whether that's really, actually, what we want.

Yes, we could do more. We could allow the state to round up and lock away anyone even remotely suspected of violent, extremist tendencies; anyone who has ever accessed a suspicious website or attended a dubious lecture. We'd have to lock those people up for a very long time, of course, because if there's one thing that nudges people from a passing interest in anti-state violence into full on fanaticism, it's active state oppression. We could ban anyone who's ever been in any way associated with extremist ideology from entering the country, including those who are fleeing violence themselves. We could institute total surveillance of everyone’s online activity. We could build those internment camps. They’d be expensive, so it’s only fair that potential degenerates and their associates be obliged to work for their keep. Of course, you wouldn't want those internment camps spread out - you'd want the inmates concentrated in one place. What could we call such camps? I’m sure we’ll think of a name.

If we did all that, and more, then yes, there's a chance that we could stop atrocities like this from happening again. Even then, there's no guarantee. The most exacting neo-stasi infrastructure can’t always stop the rogue loner with a breadknife and a brain boiling with arcane violence. It would, however, significantly lower the odds.

The question is not whether it can be done. Of course it can be done. Paranoid, bloodless, hyper-vigilant police states have been instituted in European nations before, and if any country on earth has the infrastructure to make it work right now, it's Britain, a small island with an extensive surveillance architecture, a mostly urban population, a conservative government currently seeking re-election on a tough-love platform, and no pesky constitutional rights to free speech. We can do it if we want to. Sure we can. The question is whether we should. The question is whether it's worth it. Is it worth it, to prevent the loss of one more young life, the devastation of one more family?

Don’t answer that right now. Give it a few days, at least, because right now it makes a great deal of emotional sense to say yes, yes, it’s worth it. Anything to stop something like this happening again. To save one child. To keep hundreds more from being traumatised for life just because they went to a pop concert with their friends. I suspect that today, tucked away in the collective psyche of a great many otherwise tolerant and decent people, is a furious, frightened voice yelling - sure, let’s do it. Let’s shut the borders and build the camps. It might not be nice, it might not even be right, but these evil dickheads are killing kids, so frankly, fuck the Geneva convention.

That furious, frightened instinct needs to be named so we can deal with it like adults. The anger and the fear here are real and legitimate, even though a great many bad actors are exploiting them to further racist, xenophobic agendas. It’s alright to be frightened and furious. It’s not alright to let those emotions dictate public policy. Today, with the faces of murdered little girls all over the news, is not a day to ask anyone what they’re prepared to sacrifice to make sure this never happens again.

Because the truth is that the only way to stop this sort of human monster is to become like them. The only way to be sure that no swivel-eyed extremist who hates life, and liberty and raw youthful joy so much that he's prepared to blow up a pop concert full of teenagers can never do that again is to acquiesce to the sort of state apparatus that is anathema to joy and liberty and life, the sort of state apparatus that no child should grow up with.

This is why platitudes about 'unity', about 'not letting hate win', about keeping it together and trying not to let our worst instincts take over, are not, in fact, platitudes at all. They are not banal. They are not hollow. It takes enormous strength of character, at a time like this,  not to give in to fear and rage and the rationale of revenge. The people of Manchester are showing that strength in the wake of one of the most horrific mass murders this tense and divided nation has ever seen. We owe it to them, to the victims of this attack, and to their families not to sully their memories by surrendering to the logic of intolerance.

It is at moments like this when a community proves its character.  It is at times like this that it is more, not less essential to refuse racist and fascist ideas. Tolerance is not passivity. Kindness is not weakness. It is not cowardly to stay with our anger and our grief and refuse to let those emotions sway our commitment to human dignity, or to look dreadful vengeance in the face and refuse it. It is strength. It is strength more profound and more human than fundamentalists of any faction can comprehend, and if we hang on to that strength, they will never, ever win. 

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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