“I think congratulations are in order”, we say, on all sorts of occasions. We thrive on approval and positive reinforcement. Parenting guides affirm the importance of acknowledging and applauding one’s offspring’s ‘good’ behaviour, and studiously ignoring the ‘bad.’
It’s a tough leap from there to the moment when you encounter your first bit of real criticism, whether it’s from one of your peers in the playground, or in my case, the moment when a visiting aunt took a long hard look at me aged seven and announced loudly: “Well Barbara’s put on weight, hasn’t she?” To paraphrase Mark Twain, let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of that scene.
This week I can see three excellent reasons for congratulations, one because it is Damesnet’s 2nd birthday, and two of the dames also have birthdays.. No debate there, well done gals.
But what about rewarding people for not having achieved something? An old friend of mine was not a great academic success at school, and was never awarded a prize (do schools still give prizes, I wonder)? There was, however, a prize usually given to boys leaving the school who had never previously won one. Sadly, he didn’t even manage to get that one either, something which, apparently, still rankles.
So technically speaking this would have been a prize for failure, although out of kindness – unlike my outspoken aunt – I have never expressed it quite like this to my friend. The furore surrounding David Cameron’s outgoing honours list seems to be an excellent example of this.
I have not studied the list in any detail, but I do know that a number of key people who worked on the Remain campaign for the EU referendum are being honoured for their work in this capacity. Has it escaped Dave’s notice that he and his Remain team lost, conspicuously? To quote Martin Loughlin, Professor of Public Law at the LSE, “through a failure of statecraft on a scale unmatched since Lord North lost the American colonies, David Cameron has managed to convert a problem of party management into a constitutional crisis”.
To return to the black and white morality of childhood, people who told lies and were found out were not usually rewarded; they might even be, dare I say it, punished. Our new Foreign Secretary is known for his mendacity, which came to the fore during the Referendum campaign, but he has received a very nice prize for it, whatever might be the ulterior motive of our new Prime Minister.
There are two songs, both called Congratulations, which come to mind here. The first is good old Cliff Richard’s version – jolly, positive and full of jubilation. This is the version I’ll be singing for Dame Tara and Damesnet, and you can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=us3dQ0nnlHY&list=RDus3dQ0nnlHY
The other song is by the Traveling Wilburys – a very different set of lyrics, and one I feel most appropriate for the people who led the Brexit campaign and lied their way to success: