The School that Cancelled Christmas
Governments shouldn’t deliberately do something that they know will make people poorer. Antisemitism is wrong, with no ifs, buts or excuses for people whose political opinions you otherwise share. Getting endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan should be the death knell for a US presidential bid. Democracy isn’t perfect, but it beats all the alternatives. The BBC may get it wrong sometimes, but it is not part of some sinister political conspiracy against the truth. A decade or so ago, none of these would have been controversial statements, and while there would always have been people who disagreed they would have been in a slightly embarrassed minority.
But that is no longer the case. Now those who disagree are vocal and angry, amplified by social media networks which allow them to connect with and reinforce each other, exposing what looked like a rock-solid consensus for the fragile thing it must always have been. Once that illusion of consensus is gone, we are learning that force of habit or custom is no longer enough to hold things together. Those truths long held to be self-evident can, paradoxically, be the hardest to articulate and defend – because for so long no one has had to bother and so we’re hopelessly out of practice. But as established arguments were growing rusty with disuse, it seems the other side were honing theirs.
For all the lying and cheating that marred the first referendum, the remain camp lost at least in part because it often campaigned as if it couldn’t quite believe we were even having this argument, or as if it was just a matter of spelling out the bleeding obvious. What David Cameron didn’t realise in time was how many people either didn’t accept that leaving the EU would make the country worse off or just didn’t care. Odd as it sounds, it can no longer be taken as read that making a country poorer and more chaotic is a bad thing, which means the case will have to be made next time from first principles.
Presumably, Lady Lumley’s RE teacher didn’t quite have all this in mind when she threatened to scrap Christmas, of course. Most families will take this story as nothing more than a reminder that the Santa arms race has got out of hand and that we could all do with toning it down a bit.
But there is a lesson here nonetheless, and it’s that the freedoms we cherish are not set in stone; they’re only as strong as the arguments we can muster for them. Never take anything so much for granted that you almost forget why it was worth having in the first place.