Liam Farrell: Autumn reflections on the death of the czar

The onset of autumn is a time for reflection (and the new football season).

The swallows are leaving, the hawthorn bushes are red-hued with crimson berries, Tiger Woods has a new lady-friend, the leaves are turning brown and golden, an abundance of metaphors for the transience of our lives. Life is precious, fleeting and ephemeral, the difference between the living and the dead only a matter of time.

And many of the things that once seemed part of the very fabric of our lives have passed away. Sometimes their downfall happens in the full glare of publicity, like the Celtic Tiger, Colonel Gaddafi, Osama Bin Laden, or Manchester United's aspiration to be a great football team (vs Barcelona, remember?).

But more often they just slip softly into the long dark night, their farewells too soft and understated to be noticed, until we wake up one morning and realise they are no longer with us, and we didn't even have a chance to say goodbye.

So, to paraphrase the 1960s protest song, Where have all the czars gone? I can recall when there seemed to be czars for everything; AIDS, primary care, cancer, diabetes, stroke. The name promised so much; a new beginning, change, muscle, dynamism, real leadership. Cynics might suggest it was nothing more than another New Labour re-labelling, spin-doctoring, con-job, like foundation hospitals and polyclinics and health trajectories, just another clumsy ruse to cast a flimsy veneer over their incompetence and ineffectiveness.

But we wanted to believe, and gullible people, as any trickster will tell you, actually want to be fooled. The czars would be men of action, we hoped, they'd sweep away the old committee-led inertia and bureaucratic intransigence, they'd actually get things done, they'd slaughter the kulaks and send their families to gulags in Siberia, they'd put a human face on the NHS, though come to think of it, I'm buggered if I can remember any of their names or faces or anything about them except that they used to wear sharp New Labour suits and sport a constipated expression. They were announced with such fanfare it seems a shame they were despatched so quietly to the dustbin of history.

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings/Look on my czars, ye mighty, and get depressed.


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