The little row of Georgian houses that connect, at the back, to Horse Guards Road, and connect St James’s Park to Whitehall, is going through the mill in terms of public debate. Downing Street, a modest and no-great-place of government splendour, is once again in the very centre of the political eye. But this time it’s not so much about the functions of the officers of state but the uses to which they have put expensive rolls of wallpaper. And who has commissioned such garish and costly products.
I thought I was not involved in the debate myself until, picking a thought from his mind, a man standing in the queue in our local pharmacy said to me “Six hundred bloody quid a roll? That’s madness.” I looked at the man, wondering why I had been chosen to enter this debate with him. Until I realised that this wallpaper scandal had actually brought many people into political debate who may not have been drawn in before. It was a ‘live’ discussion and the man wanted my opinion as I waited for my pills.
Alas I had nothing to say other than that I had not kept up with the wallpaper scandal. And I left the shop soon after. He must have been disappointed, but I was vacant of thought about what to think.
This often befalls me when there is very serious public interest about something like wallpaper, or this time last year Cummings’ Barnard Castle eye test. I can’t get excited, but can see that these events are often opportunities to enter the debate. As if they are metaphors for the whole performance of Her Majesty’s Government.
Forget about policies and their propagation and execution; wallpaper and eye tests, and sundry other faux pas littered through political life, are supposedly moments of political clarity. And offer a field day to all who are not of the government’s political persuasions. But I can’t think of a thing to say worthy of comment.
So when all the debate was going on about wallpaper, I was thinking of the actual physical terrace of modest Georgian houses I have known for most of my life. As part of my ritual as a truant child travelling on the 11 bus that passed Downing Street, on through to my visits there to meet with prime ministers to discuss big issues; and The Big Issue itself.