Perhaps, whatever Ed Miliband says, Britain likes the idea of being dominated by a successful businessman with a dark side. With the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey in cinemas from tonight, DIY stores are stocking up on rope and cable ties, anticipating a surge of curious customers inspired by the big screen action.
If so, we’ll be returning to what the French have long called le vice anglais. And anyone wanting proof of this abiding national predilection need look no further than the current election campaign. Labour offers voters the chance to watch as they tie the Christian Greys of the world up in knots and give them a thrashing, as a warm-up for encouraging us all to explore how good it can feel to get hit in the wallet. The Tories for their part have plenty to say about the stimulating effect of enduring a few more years of stern discipline.
It would be nice to think, with Valentine’s day approaching, that either side could find something a little more tender to offer. At the heart of a commercial society are the win-win transactions of trade, by which we enrich one another’s lives through free exchange. When politicians scrap the inspiring, productive dialogue of commercial love for the zero-sum terms of dominance and submission, whoever has the whip hand, we all lose.
Without a positive message to break through, with voters so evenly split between who should be beaten up by whom, it seems the best we can hope for is an election that ends with the whole country’s affairs chained down, even as crises demand action at home and abroad. Whatever your tastes, that’s a dangerous game.
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