Tuesday 2 February 2021

The Uses of Captain Tom

Why Captain Tom Moore became the face of Britain in the age of Covid says a lot. I'm reminded of what old Plekhanov wrote about the role of personality in history. Figures of historic import rise from the multitude because they cohere and personify the blur of social forces that make them. Ordinarily, this fate is reserved for political figures and we've had reason to write on Jeremy Corbyn in this regard as well as other, um, well known personalities. But Captain Tom? Not a politician by any stretch, but someone whose role has proven indespensible for managing the politics of this crisis.

Capt Tom's celebrity was an accident. His journey into the nation's hearts began with the sponsored walk for NHS Together. One hundred strolls back and forth in his (massive) garden before his 100th birthday to raise them a grand. Desperate for some good news stories, BBC Breakfast got wind and featured him regularly on the show throughout April. This captured the public imagination and the donations flowed in. Nearly £40m poured into the coffers for supporting NHS workers, so not a bad job by any means. Then came the inevitable charity single, which went to number one, a parade of visiting celebrities, and a heap of honours. These included a Pride of Britain award (previous winners: the inventors of Viagra, JK Rowling, and the entirety of the RAF), a gold Blue Peter badge, two honorary doctorates, the Freedom of the City of London and, inevitably, a knighthood. No word for now on a state funeral and interment in Westminster Abbey.

What was it about Captain Tom? He embodied the best of British. Here was one of the few surviving combat veterans of World War II who returned to duty to pull the country through. He was the living link between two existential crises and acquitted himself with the unshowy and modest fortitude one might expect of a wartime officer and gentleman. He put himself out so NHS workers could carry on putting themselves out. It was as if Britannia put her arm around Tom as he waddled backwards and forwards with his frame, and striking out from her trident was the admonishment of younger generations of Britons for failing to live up to his example. Undoubtedly, some of the 1.5 million people who ponied up the cash did so with a sense shame.

Traipsing up and down the garden, Capt Tom was the craving for national unity made flesh, of never giving up and certainly never surrendering. As such he played his part in depoliticising the crisis. While the old boy was winning plaudits and raising cash, no one thought to ask - least of all Keir Starmer, the nominal leader of HM Opposition - why we have NHS charities in the first place. As the media cooed and flattered and splashed his face everywhere, the column inches and the broadcast minutes couldn't be found for Boris Johnson's corrupt funnelling of procurement contracts to Tory donors. And while politicians clapped their hands to Capt Tom's messages of positivity and hope, they buddied up to force children back to schools and people back to work. A certain level of community transmission was a-okay with them, and their negligence has helped along the Kent variant. Capt Tom's efforts made it rude and inappropriate to talk about politics. Now was not the time to carp and criticise, but to get stuck in and do our bit to beat the unseen nemesis.

Capt Tom came across as a lovely old granddad who wanted to help. Both mascot and national treasure, we cannot escape the uses to which his example was put. His example did help some people during the pandemic. Unbeknownst to himself, that list includes a government frantically wriggling out of any responsibility for the catastrophe that, in the end, claimed his life as well.

Image Credit


SimonB said...

I think you mean “interment” in Westminster Abbey.

Phil said...

There is definitely a correlation between late night blogging and typos.

Dipper said...

'government frantically wriggling out of any responsibility for the catastrophe that, in the end, claimed his life as well.

I've been shocked, absolutely shocked, to find out that over half a million people die every year. Half a million! This is scandalous! What kind of country is it where people over 100 years old get ill and die? When are we going to finally get a government that enables us all to live forever.

Jeremy Corbyn would have abolished death. But the bastards never gave him a chance!

Phil said...

"the inventors of Viagra, JK Rowling, and the entirety of the RAF"

The Oxford comma's not all that. The comma after Rowling certainly eliminates the possibility that she and the RAF invented Viagra, but it does nothing to remove the possibility that the prize honoured the inventors of Rowling and the RAF. Syntax is hard.

Jenny said...

Thank you for this. I was furious at the sentimental coverage of his death on the evening news, but not sure why. Good to have an explanation!

Anonymous said...


Is that the official government/Tory Party position? Everyone dies so they might as well do it now?

As for Corbyn, a left-wing Labour government would have been crucified for handling the pandemic even a fraction as badly as Johnson and the Tories have in reality.

BCFG said...

To come at it from a different point to dipper:

I am shocked, absolutely shocked that the majority of businesses go bust within 3 years. This is scandalous! What kind of country is it that allows businesses producing useless shit we absolutely do not need but their lying adverts pretend we do to go bust! When can we finally get a government that enables every business to survive forever no matter how shit they are or how useless what they sell is?

Interesting that dipper used human life rather than businesses for his satire, speaks volumes about the Tory/fascist mindset.

"I've been shocked, absolutely shocked, to find out that over half a million people die every year."

This is just the we all have to die argument repackaged right.

Of course we do all have to die but if that is your attitude in that case stop moaning about ISIS and make murder legal.

Incidentally lay off Captain Tom, your leadser, Starmer, wants utmost respect for the military and wants everyone to dress smart. Get saluting tory lite boy!

Lidl_Janus said...

@ pictureless Phil:

Viagra was released to the public around the same time as Harry Potter, which is surely not a coincidence. But what does it all mean?

David said...

Thank God, I was starting to feel rather sick with the never ending schmaltz. Why does everyone sadlydie now?