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Bleedin’ Elgin

02 Dec 2023 5 minute read
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Simon Walker / No10 Downing Street; Sir Keir Starmer, Leon Neal/PA Wire; Parthenon Marbles, Matthew Fearn/PA Images

Ben Wildsmith

My job requires me to drive round and round Cardiff day after day like a wasp in a bottle and I use the time to sharpen my satirical rage by listening to radio phone-ins. My God people are awful, aren’t they?

Actually, I’ll qualify that: people who ring in to radio programmes are awful. I never seem to be able to get through…

On Wednesdays, though, the usual ‘legitimate concerns about immigration’, and ‘why-oh-why’ rants about the advance of wokery are briefly interrupted by Prime Minister’s Questions live from the Commons.

When this weekly pantomime was first televised, it quickly gained an audience in America, where viewers watched in disbelief that anybody with a responsible job could behave like that.

Scatological aside

We, of course, know nothing else. Democracy, for us, just ain’t democratic unless a few hundred hyper-privileged louts are braying abuse at each other for no apparent purpose beyond being named the winner by lobby journalists.

This week, Sir Keir Starmer was unanimously judged to have emerged as King Bants.

All the analysts agreed that by alluding to a scatological aside attributed to the Home Secretary, Starmer had finally mastered the peculiar comic style required at PMQs: ie. the sort of stuff Year Nine kids shout at supply teachers when their backs are turned.

So, until next Wednesday at least, Sir Keir is Top Cat. He’s the boss, he’s a VIP, he’s a championship. He’s the most tip-top…

Repossession order

The two subjects under discussion were the Prime Minister refusing to meet his Greek counterpart in case he was bearing a gift that turned out to be a repossession order on the Elgin marbles, and, inevitably, dispiritingly, unendingly: immigration.

Beyond the sub-Mock the Week one-liners, these two matters revealed the clear shortcomings of both despatch box contenders.

Say what you like about Boris Johnson, really, go ahead, there’s a comment section below for you to do just that, but he knows how to fight a culture war. The skill of any successful con artist is to understand the prejudices of his marks. What do they want to believe?

Rishi Sunak is so painfully and obviously remote from the electorate that he’s begun to dream up voters who can be persuaded on board by a bullish defence of Classical antiquities.

‘Ere Fred, ‘ave you ‘ad your ‘ip operation yet?’

‘I don’t give a monkey’s about me ‘ip, it’s the reputation for monumental restoration enjoyed by the British Museum’s Greco-Roman curators that I’m bothered about. Chim-chim che-ree.’

Union flag

It’s actually even worse than that, though, when you think about it. Sunak & Co seem to believe that their Brexit-voting base are out-and-proud bigots who have no interest in the rights and wrongs of issues as long as one side of the argument has a Union flag painted on it.

I was in an Uber shortly after the referendum and the driver, as is the creed of his avocation, treated me to an explanation of his political orientation.

He’d lived in several European countries, had relatives around the world, and was left-of-centre on economic matters. He’d voted for Brexit out of a sense of belonging to a place. He felt that Britain was losing its distinctness in a globalised world and hoped that leaving the EU might allow for a reversal in that direction.

This is the authentic, explicable reasoning for people allowing themselves to get caught up in defending statues and Fawlty Towers and Christmas traditions etc. These things are part of a landscape to which people feel they belong.


The Parthenon marbles, on the other hand, very clearly, cut-in-halfly, sold-and-shipped-across-the-worldly, are not of these islands. Sunak seems to imagine there is a contingent of voters who, beyond wanting to cling on to Britain’s past, believe no other country is entitled to one.

Are there people like that? Yes, they become unhinged if exposed to Cymraeg or the concept of accountability. Are there enough of them to win an election in the face of demonstrably catastrophic governance? Nope.

Which is why Keir Starmer’s Josh Widdecombe with a cold act was not the triumph he assumes it was this afternoon. Between the gags, he turned the screw on Sunak regarding immigration figures that are tearing the Tory Party apart.

The problem here is that within 12 months he is going to be Prime Minister and the uncomfortable truth that the UK economy cannot function without immigration will become his problem.

When he was fashioning Greek-themed jokes, he missed a reference with which he’ll soon be familiar: Pyrrrhic victory.

Flags & Bones by Ben Wildsmith is available to order from Cambria Books

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Richard Davies
Richard Davies
7 months ago

Boris johnson is a charlatan, a fraud, a lazy liar. He wanted the role but not the job. There was no-one less fit to be prime minister than he. He was, and will forever be, a national embarrassment!

The Parthenon sculptures belong in Greece and that is where they should be, we should swap them for the replicas Greece produced. (They shouldn’t be referred to as elgin marbles, that “bigs up” the thief who stole them – he also caused damage in doing so)!

7 months ago

Having a life long affinity for history, I think it’s about time we stop letting them sully the British name and demand they drop its use. British in an historical context was and has always meant the Britons! Who are the Britons? It’s the people they call “Welsh”. The first part of this is refusing to call the their union flag British, it isn’t as it doesn’t hold any reference to the Britons. Er go, not British! The only British flag is this 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿

Last edited 7 months ago by Riki
Sarah Good
Sarah Good
7 months ago
Reply to  Riki

That’s the royal standard of Henry VIII king of England, derived from the standard of Henry VII when he got the Cymry (as we were known by then) to fight for him, then betrayed us.
It has never been the flag of the British. If any flag could be considered British, it would be when a pseudo-unified British identity could be first identified, after the departure of Macsen Wledig surely. Perhaps the Arthurian Golden Dragon?

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 months ago

The British museum have a moral duty to repatriate these stolen marbles back to their rightful owners Greece. There is a precedent. Items looted by the Nazis are returned to the surviving families. And more recently, the Benin bronzes were returned to their rightful owners. We in Wales has suffered similar looting. The 4500 year old Gold Cape of Mold. Discovered by workmen at Bryn yr Ellyllon and currently withheld by the British Museum. Litchfield Cathedral holds hostage the 8th century “Litchfield Gospels” original name “The Gospels of Saint Chad” taken from Wales in the 10th century after a Saxon… Read more »

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