Whenever George Osborne decided to play the politics of division over welfare, he adopts the same clunky vision seperating the “shirkers” and the “strivers”. The shirkers apparently, are those people whose windows remain stubbornly covered by curtains or blinds as the hard-working strivers head off in the morning.
As the wife of a shift worker whose bedroom curtains are never opened and whose living room curtains never drawn, this formula doesn’t work for me. Few work harder than my husband who does 10 and 12 hours shifts regularly, but frequently sleeps during the day, during the week. Our closed curtains expose nothing more than the fact that modern work is frequently not something that only takes place between 9 and 5.
But the curtains are important in Osborne’s formulation. They fulfil a role greater than simply the shielding of the sleeping from the light of the sun. This implaction of day-sleep, which he is equating with laziness, is an important part of his narrative, but the curtains to more than that, they are also act as a barrier. They literally stop you seeing the lives of others as they are lived.
Osborne is implying not just laziness, but also – slyly – that those behind the curtains have something to hide. He wants you to imagine what a life of luxury is lived by those being funded by the state. He’a seen the polling, he knows that there is a strong (wrong) tendency among the British public to believe that those on benefits are living the life of Riley. That behind those curtains, Jeremy Kyle is blasting away on a 40 inch plasma screen as another can is drunk, another joint skinned up another take away consumed.
We have enough popular culture reference points to populate the space behind the Curtains. From Kyle himself to Shameless on Channel 4 via the pages or every newspaper every day, we know the picture being built up for us of the lives lived by those on benefits. With those curtains in place, wwe are free to let our imaginations run wild. the insinuation of the sins occuring behind the curtain extend well beyond Sloth deep into gluttony and greed. We ourselves are expected to be envyous of their cushy lives – that envy is Osborne’s political strategy.
But perhaps those curtains are there for reasons of another sin, that of pride. Becuase being on benefits can feel pretty bloody awful. Especially as the government keep telling you how awful you are, how much to blame you are for the ills of society and how little they can afford the pittance they deign to give you. If it were again me being told that all my neighbours resented me by those at the top of society, I might just want to hide away too.
So George’s metaphorical curtains are useful to him, as they block our view of the truth.