>Guns ‘n Ponies: Christmas shopping sees sun set on liberal values

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Newly minted Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg may think we’re a nation of untapped liberal and progressive sentiment, but when Christmas shopping in Brighton I mugged by reality. It’s not unpleasant and is less hellish than I imagined and all the toyshops are conveniently clustered in the mall that is slowly swallowing up the town centre. But, alas instead of looking for Pinkie Pie pony, I find myself drawn to the array of toy weaponry in Gamleys, which includes not only swords and ray guns, but also a life-sized orange-and-yellow plastic double barrelled shotgun for the aspirant bank robber. Most other toyshops, it’s true, are far too politically correct to have such things – or perhaps it doesn’t sell well in Brighton, where a Green councillor has just romped home with a huge vote in a by-election .

Coming from redneck (or should that be blue-neck?) mid-Sussex, however I feel an involuntary twinge of envy for whichever gun toting eight year old is going to lay his hands on this mini-arsenal. My own parents in the 1970s ,very responsibly, made Santa leave all firearms hanging in his grotto, but as George Orwell says ‘toy pacifists just won’t do’. My job in Gamleys, however, is buy up a selection of princesses and ponies – what have we done to encourage such gender stereotyping? – and I efficiently do before heading out onto the freezing seafront just in time to catch the sun going down.

Julian Baggini speaking on Radio 4’s Start the Week – and in a forthcoming article in Prospect – claims to detect less the liberal England Nick Clegg hopes to tap into, than robustly (if reasonably) communitarian society with a tinge of moderate nationalism. Czech-style national liberalism, if you will. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of the conservative communitarianism Prospect seems to push – especially when (as very often) it is incongruously packaged as part of some a progressive, modernizing agenda, rather than just the extended political holding operation that British politics seems to consist of these days, but Baggini’s argument seems reasonable. Certainly, there are a few shotgun wielding lecturers, who may need watching…
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