The Norwegian-American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen clearly anticipated the behaviour of those at the top of the modern-day Conservative Party when he coined the term “Conspicuous Consumption”, this describing people who are able to spend more than they need on any kind of goods or services. We might call it the flaunting of wealth, the Loadsamoney tendency, the excess of the nouveau riche.
And Conspicuous Consumption was in full flow last night at London’s Natural History Museum, as Tories gathered for their annual Black And White Ball. Here, they could flash the cash to their heart’s content, paying £15,000 for a table, and bidding for some truly bizarre rewards, such as dinner with Michael “Oiky” Gove and his appalling wife Sarah “Vain” Vine. Perhaps the second prize was two dinners with them.
While most of the population, including those swing voters who are “just about managing” to keep their heads above water, had to prepare their own evening meals, make do with burger, pizza or curry takeaways, or limit their eating out ambitions to the nearest Brewer’s Fayre or Spoons, the Tory faithful showed they are above that sort of thing. For them, the world was truly excellent, and the English wine (pricey, y’know) flowed freely.
A modern-day primer on Conspicuous Consumption spells out the basics for a typical Conservative audience
Some of the reports of this gross-out were like stepping back in time and hearing the event relayed by the voice of Bob Danvers Walker on Pathé News. The Mail proclaimed “Made in Chelsea star Georgia 'Toff' Toffolo stole the show as she brushed shoulders with Tory MPs at the Conservatives' glamorous black and white ball … ministers were on their best behaviour as they joined party donors at London's Natural History Museum”.
The tone deafness continued at the Spectator, which announced “Toff takeover at Tories’ ‘black-and-white’ ball”, putting it all behind a paywall to keep out the hoi polloi. But into each life a little rain must fall, and although the Mail tried to spin events outside in the real world with the photo caption “Black cab taxi drivers gather and sound their horns outside as guests leave the Conservative party Black and White Ball”, the reality was less cheery.
It was left to the Guardian to tell the world “Departing guests were reportedly greeted by a flashmob of taxi drivers honking horns in protest at May’s speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos last month in which she said Uber had got things wrong but should not be shut down”. And the Taxi Leaks blog confirmed that emphatically.
It explained “The idea was to get there just as they were all leaving around 11, and stop the Uber users from getting picked up. The Uber cars already there, would also be blocked in. The demo was very noisy but well behaved, with drivers outside circling the exits and beeping their horns … Guests requiring Taxis as they left the £15,000 a table (10 settings) fundraiser, were politely shown to cabs by impromptu marshals but phone gazers were left to roast”. The (over-stretched and underpaid) Police stood back and did not intervene.
This jolt of reality reminded those exercising their right to Conspicuous Consumption that they have lost the support of the taxi trade all over the country. Their flaunting of excess will not go down with other public sector workers who are not getting a pay rise (again). And it will only serve to remind everyone else that the Tories are out of touch with reality.
Another political suicide note goes up in lights, to be shot down in flames. Sad, really.