Calm as Hindu cows

Jonathan Calder and I have a different take on the “Keep Calm and Carry On” phenomenon. I have to admit that until I had read the Guardian article yesterday, this whole thing had passed me by. Now that I am aware, I don’t find it as charming and comforting as some of the commentators do in the piece by Jon Henley.

“Carrying on” is a much overrated concept. The fact is we can’t carry on as we have done for the past twenty, thirty years. The economic collapse was caused by people spending far too much time “keeping calm and carrying on” instead of questioning what they were doing. Climate change is a similar tragedy waiting to happen. In whose interest is all this “calm” supposed to serve?

Jonathan draws a link with the Metropolitian Police’s new anti-terror poster campaign, something which I found myself commenting on as an “expert” on LBC on Monday (I’d put a recording up here, but they’d probably sue me). Where Jonathan sees a change, I see a clear continuity – it’s just that the Met are now being rather less classically understated.

Given that we have not, as far as I’m aware, in a more vulnerable situation than we were six months ago, one has to ask why the police have suddenly come up with this campaign now. Could it, perchance, be related to this “summer of rage” stuff the Met are also pushing at the moment, or the apparent “guerilla” raids anti-globalisation protestors will be deploying during the G20 summit? Is it really about preventing terrorism or ratcheting up the sense of fear on the streets? Are the police really focusing on collecting intelligence about terrorists at the moment, or protestors?

I was shocked to learn the other day that my intern was stopped and questioned by the police under anti-terror legislation on Tuesday because she was waiting on a tube platform and, realising she was early for an appointment, decided not to get on the next train to arrive. She was left intimidated and scared. What was the point of that? Is not getting on a train really potential terrorist activity? Does it help their statistics to arbitrarily pick on white females (as opposed to the black and brown males they usually profile – as another of my colleagues can attest)? Does word getting around of a bit of arbitrary bullying like that help the Met create a heightened sense?

This sort of sneering bullying from the state seems to extend in other areas to. Even the latest Home Office campaign on the new “Policing Pledge” – which is supposed to be about how the public have a right to expect a certain level of service from the police – is being conducted in a vaguely sinister manner. On the back page of the Guardian yesterday was an advert bearing the legend “You have the right not to remain silent” (you may recall that we had the right to silence taken away from us 15 years ago by those great civil libertarians, the Conservative Party last time they were in power). Other slogans used include “We’d like to give you a good talking to” and “Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence”. Subtext: you are all suspects, fuckers. The most striking thing about this advert was the design they used, which is an explicit homage to “Keep Calm and Carry On.” And so we have come full circle.


  1. Absolutely. I’d not heard of that poster til now, but God that’s scary. Has something of the ring of “Big Brother is watching you” about it (or, to be fair, given the time Orwell was writing, vice versa). “Keep Calm And Carry On” is sensible advice when your country is under attack, but *not* when your behaviour is directly contributing to the problem. It’s the difference between telling people not to hide in their houses in fear of infection, and telling them not to bother stopping smoking just because they’ve got cancer…

  2. The police came to my university, ostensibly to promote good relations with ordinary students. 16 (!) came, declared themselves to be various high-ranking officers of three London police forces and proceeded to be absolutely intolerant of any implied criticism for 2 hours. They shouted at a member of a human rights organisation that it was people like him who caused 7/7, told us that it was a good thing they had spies in our environmental and human rights societies, and that a Muslim student tired of being picked on had a “bad attitude”.

    I have no idea what they hoped to achieve but for the first time I suddenly realised that at least if these people were going to be allowed to decide it, my human rights and civil liberties are effectively null. Scary.

  3. Dear author of this blog,
    You are misusing the title “calm as hindu cows” in this “article”. The hindus regard cows as thier second mother and a means of blessings please do not missuse subjects you know nothing about…Anuj

  4. I’m trying to work out what your, ahem, beef is here. I’m not being in any way offensive about Hinduism here. But fundamentally, it is a quote from the film Fight Club, and chosen very deliberately because of this context.

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