The Persian Empire the Tories and a piece of leather: reverting to type

Leather that has not been properly treated will, with wear, revert to the shape it originally had on the animal. It’s a minor feature of entropy. I once had a leather jacket that developed a long fold right down the front. So it is with people who rarely have the energy to maintain disguise or inauthentic behaviour or, simply, an unusual way of life. It’s hard to sustain the effort. We all revert to type.

The Persian Empire is a case in point. Starting out as a collection of nomadic tribes, military conquest and collaborations eventually grew into one of the world’s earliest and most sophisticated imperial powers – the Archaemenids. Their palaces, notably at Persepolis, Babylon and Pasargadae, were extensive and lavish. They lived in stable splendour throughout their conquered regions, from Egypt up to the Caucasus and across to modern-day Afghanistan. Persian rulers would have cause to visit the regions from time to time for political reasons, and each time they travelled they did so with the whole court and an attendant military guard. This could number in the thousands of people. Their travelling tents themselves were palatial with columns and draperies, furniture and fittings. But, above all, they travelled because they could not stay put. They were nomads. In the Iranian summer they moved north to the mountains of Ecbatana; the winter months were spent in Babylon and Susa; and for the freshness of spring they travelled to Persepolis and Pasargadae. They always reverted to their nomadic selves.

Nadhim Zahawi and his tax affairs stand for more than just the man. His avarice and insistence on avoiding his social responsibilities reveal a cultural tendency. He stands for a class of politician whose core values speak of acquisitiveness, of the rapid accumulation and jealous guarding of personal wealth. In Zahawi and the Prime Minister Sunak, himself, we see the Conservative party reverting to type. 13 years is too long to sustain the pretence of moral obligation – the effort and the dissimulation required is simply too much to bear. All the tropes – “we are all in this together”, “we have the welfare of the nation at heart”, “public services are safe with us” – and all the masquerading action required to instantiate them, these require emotional and physical energy. We see entropy afflicting the Tory Party, and its first symptom is the falling away of the curtain of deception. The flesh dissolves away, and the bare bones of greed and self-interest are laid open. Why would we think that successive Conservative cabinets of wealthy people – numerous millionaires – would hold, as their highest personal value, the public good? And who do we really think benefits from public austerity and private tax breaks? Since George Osborne and his wealth-friendly programme of fiscal austerity personal greed has been hiding in plain sight of the media, a neat case of ‘the emperor’s clothes’. As I wrote in the first of this series of blogs on the upcoming General Election, the conundrum is why so many voters find it hard to make a choice between Conservative and Labour. Zahawi makes the difference clear and stark and the emperor finally stands naked. How hard can it be to make a choice?

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