Remember the Eighties? Back when it was all big hair, big shoulder pads and big ideas on how to improve society by giving money to the rich and letting it trickle down to the poor? Thatcher and Reagan, sticking it to the lower classes with colourful imagery. Nancy Reagan, in an attempt to look useful, confronting the US’ rising drug problem with her slogan “Just Say No.” It was facile, overly simplistic and ignored the larger societal problems associated with drug use, but it was easy to say, could be incorporated into a song, and made a good bumper sticker or t-shirt. So they ran with it.
“Just Say No” has become the driving ethos of the conservative right. Their approach to sex education is abstinence only (Just say no!). Of course, teenagers are basically hormone bombs dealing with a whole new set of urges and emotions, and if the schools can’t teach it they’ll learn it from Netflix. ‘Just Say No’ does not stop teens from having sex. If you tell them not to do something and don’t explain why, they’ll do it just to find out why you told them not to.
That is both the beauty and the great flaw in ‘Just Say No.’ It doesn’t require complicated explanations, just mindless obedience. It scares me how much mindless obedience they can command.
And they apply it to everything; A woman’s right to choose… No. Your right to vote… No. Your right to a living wage…No. Reducing carbon output, fossil fuels and combating climate change… No. LGBTQ+ rights to marry, adopt children, claim spousal benefits, go to the bathroom of their gender identity…No. In all these issues, they are on the wrong side of history, and the wrong side of public opinion, but they have money and power and saying yes would require them to think about new ideas, and consider the world from someone else’s perspective so…. NO.
Lately though, it’s more than just social policy. When Donald Trump was asked to release his tax returns, he said no, and left everyone standing around wondering “What do we do now?” After the insurrection on January 6th, many lawmakers took the same attitude to surrendering their phone records, even in the face of Congressional Subpoena and court order. That should have gotten them arrested. It did not.
It’s not limited to the US, either. The British government is entirely comfortable with a simple ‘No’. They have been repeatedly asked to return the Elgin Marbles to Greece. The answer has always been a polite but definitive No, without explanation or justification. I always interpreted that as a lingering vestige of the British Empire days, but it’s creeping back into use lately.
When asked to postpone the National Insurance rise, due to start in April, to lesson the burden of the cost-of-living crisis, they answered No. When asked to cap the rise in energy prices… No. When asked about the possibility of a windfall tax on energy companies like BP, who reported record profits last year… No. Wealth tax? No. Pay rise for Frontline healthcare workers who spent the last two years saving the country? No.
It gets worse. This Tory Government has been wracked by repeated scandals at the top. Should an MP proven to be lobbying on behalf of companies he works for be sacked from parliament? BoJo says No. (Although the MP did resign, officially due to the stress the scandal put on his family; Might be because his greed ruined the cash grab for everyone else.)
The Chancellor referred himself to the ethics committee because his millionaire wife payed NO taxes while living in Downing St. He also continued to trade with Russia for a Month after the invasion of Ukraine, despite official government policy condemning the invasion. He also attended some Lockdown parties. In light of these revelations, would he resign? No.
Were the parties at No 10 during lockdown illegal? No. (The police disagree). Did BoJo organise or attend the parties? No. (Video and photo evidence says otherwise). The PM was fined for the parties (which he said didn’t happen and if they did, he wasn’t there and if he was there, he didn’t know it was illegal), meaning he has broken the law. Would he resign? No.
They have power, influence and money. They think themselves to far above, so removed from the real world that they need not offer explanation for their actions and inactions. They simply don’t care about anyone without power or money or influence. They don’t need us. They don’t need to say yes to anything that will improve our lives.
At least until May 2024, the next general election. When they come looking for your vote, Just Say No.