(Spear’s) -- Here was a wonderful ‘Bah Humbug’ headline on the cover of City AM this morning: Miles Celic, CEO of top financial PR firm TheCityUK, referred to the EU chief negotiator as Michel ‘Ebenezer’ Barnier and the paper dressed him up in a nightcap and Victorian pyjamas.
‘It might be Christmas, but Michel Barnier doesn’t need to play Scrooge,’ Celic said, referring to the critical issue of passporting rights which under current EU rules allow financial services workers to operate freely across the EU region.
Celic was making the point that it is uncharitable of the EU to negotiate without any spirit of ‘good will’ when many argue that the EU needs to agree a deal that serves the best interests of all – from German car makers to British wine producers.
Well, like Scrooge, don’t expect any magical transformation in Ebenezer Barnier’s position, at least until the bitter end. Eventually I suspect he’ll realise that any attempts to diminish London’s financial position in favour of Paris or Frankfurt by dropping passporting rights would almost certainly backfire: the only beneficiaries would be English-speaking New York, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Interestingly, people often forget that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol – published in 1843 – was very much set in the heart of the old City of London: Scrooge and Marley is a money-lending private merchant bank near St Paul’s. After the disappointment of Barnaby Rudge, Dickens himself had major financial worries, when he sat down to write the book. His bankers at Coutts were pressing down hard on him.
Christmas is a time when all those in the banking and wealth management world need gentle reminding that Dickens had the City’s financial sector in mind – especially bankers – when he wrote the nation’s most loved Christmas story; and it hardly needs stating that he didn’t take a charitable view of the day’s ‘wealth managers’ – and that went particularly for his own.
The whole point of A Christmas Carol is that it was a Christmas novella that forced Dickens to look back at his life, and the mistakes he had made using Scrooge – the ossified City man – as a metaphor for the evils of devoting one’s life to money rather than good deeds (or ‘mankind’ as Dickens puts it).
It is the great story of Christian transformation, and salvation. EU negotiators take note. Scrooge is initially stubborn, but he finally capitulates and joins in the revelry, spreading goodwill: in today’s politics, goodwill is what the vast majority of Christian Italians, French, Germans and Spanish (the vast majority Catholic, of course) want.
At a Christmas charity lunch at the Savoy the other day, I sat next to an old friend – a successful hedgie, who I have known for 45 years. When I asked him if he ever thought he might rather have been a soldier (like his father), or something else altogether – a doctor or a QC perhaps – he said: ‘William, every day I think what I might have done differently’. It clearly haunted him.
Thus it is in A Christmas Carol. It is a story about priorities – about choosing mankind over mammon. The EU was built on a foundation of optimistic faith; not even Barnier will want to try and kill that ghost.
What has been depressing me more than Ebenezer Barnier has been the BBC’s unnecessarily politically correct ‘Christmas Together’ ad that it has been running, costing at least £1 million.
It seems to be a poor cultural attempt to evoke not the Christian spirit but the old Lord of Misrule who was appointed as the Master of Revelries over Christmas in the pre-Puritan Tudor and Jacobean courts. During these Christmas festivities dancing actors and jugglers performed on the stage as symbols of the old pre-Christian festival that ran alongside the Christian feast of Christmas.
The BBC ad turns out to be an anti-Christian and anti-Christmas message evoking the pagan rites of dancing and acrobatics. Philip Stubbes in his Anatomie of Abuses (1585) writes about how the old Lord of Misrule tradition has poor children dress up colourfully, tie bells onto their legs and ‘go to the churche (though the minister be at praier or preachyng) dauncying and swingyng their handercheefes’.
This new ad is a dubious nod to the pagan – as opposed to Christian – Christmas: the child-dancers firmly belonged to the old Roman festival of Saturnalia that turned the world of rich and poor upside down and created a bridge between the lordlings and groundlings. The BBC seems to be trying to make an essentially PC point about bringing all citizens ‘Together’ – but they don’t make any reference to Christmas or to Christianity.
This is a shame. The Master of Christmas Revelries was phased out at Christmas in the new Puritan era that followed the Civil War. We seem to be entering a new Puritan age when Christmas is reduced to both a consumer retail fest and one which, if the BBC has anything to do with it, shall evidently be stripped of any Christian significance.
We have been here before, of course. With the rise of the Church of England in the 17th and 18th centuries, the role of the Lord of Misrule was banned – not unlike how kissing people under the mistletoe at Christmas office parties is doubtless banned in our new PC sexual harassment hysteria age. Then came the Oxford Movement of the Anglican Church in the 19th Century which helped instigate the worship of the idea of ‘family’ – helped, of course, by Biblical references to the nativity. And it was around that time also that Dickens did so much to reinvent Christmas in his great fable.
I suspect Dickens would have hated the BBC ad: it lacks his sparkling humour and celebration of the universal human condition. Don’t forget that the innocence of childhood, and the importance of family, community, church and prayer used to be a true bridge between rich and poor at Christmas.
Of course, there is a place for the Lord of Misrule presiding over Christmas celebrations. Perhaps it really belongs in political or royal courts to remind those in power how rapidly our fortunes can change – or EU negotiations can be walked out of. But political correct BBC-preaching tells us nothing about Christmas, and it singularly fails to teach us that most Dickensian of morals: our lives teach us who we are.
*William Cash is editor-in-chief of Spear’s