Chair of Council, Warden, hononary guests, members of faculty, fellow
graduands, Professor Downie - thank you for admitting me, albeit without
much effort on my part, to the Goldsmith’s fellowship. I salute you and,
moreover, congratulate you on your bravery and recklessness in bestowing
such an honour on a satirist.
Because, as a satirist, it is unfortunately my professional duty as well my
personal instinct not only to say things best left unsaid in polite society, but
also, always, to lower the tone.
Which means that, while I can’t stop myself, I’m hideously aware that I really
shouldn’t say that while all you graduates have my sincere respect and
congratulations on receiving your proper degrees, you also have my deepest
I shouldn’t, today of all days, remind you that, thanks to a government none of
us elected, you are now embarking on a life of debt-peonage.
I shouldn’t remember out loud how, four and a half years ago, the man who is
still - miraculously - the deputy Prime Minister, promised - nay more, pledged
- that he would abolish tuition fees to get people like you to vote for him - a lie
he presumably thought didn’t really matter.
And I shouldn’t remind us all that when he reneged on that pledge & agreed to
the tripling of tuition fees, he instantly proved to the children he’d lied to that
voting was a complete and utter waste of time.
And when those same children - some of you may have been among them -
got the point and so took to the streets instead, they ended up, in front of the
Mother of Parliaments, kettled, and subjected to cavalry charges, and in the
case of Alfie Meadowes damn nearly murdered by the Metropolitan Police.
And I really shouldn’t remember that only a few months later the Met were
revealed to be more or less a wholly owned subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s
News International newspaper group.
Nor should I say how the best police force money can buy systematically
brutalised and beat up children merely in order to save Nick Clegg’s face,
described so eloquently by my friend and fellow cartoonist Steve Bell as
looking like a balloon full of sick.
I know. I shouldn’t have said any of that, so I won’t.
Nor, for that matter, should I recall that this idea of exchanging higher
education for lifelong debt - in order, remember, to cut that flimsiest of paper
tigers, The Deficit - was initially commissioned by a Labour Government
from a man, Lord Browne, whose cost-cutting in pursuit of profits at bp led
directly to the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the ecological catastrophe
wrought upon the Gulf of Mexico.
Nor should I say that the same Lord Browne is now chairman of Cuadrilla, the
fracking company that sounds like a Japanese movie monster but without the
charm. And I definitely shouldn’t reflect that, having wrecked the gulf of
Mexico and tertiary education, he’s now bent on quite literally blasting what’s
left of Britain to dust. Though the reason I shouldn’t say that is because, as so
often, it exposes my profession’s serious shortcomings, as satire once more
doesn’t come within spitting distance of what reality regularly serves up.
And I really really shouldn’t say that, thanks to the system introduced by
Vince Cable and David "Two Brains" Willetts, which has already collapsed
under the weight of its own contradictions, your best bets, to live happy lives
unencumbered by anxiety, is simply to ensure you never earn enough money
to pay the bastards back.
That instead, as you embark on the rest of your lives in a world still mostly
run by and for avaricious psychopaths, you stand as living testimony to the
vision of this Coalition Government by being the world’s best educated,
cleverest and, for that matter, beautiful... well, whatever you want to do. Just
make sure you do it on a tight budget until this country comes back to its
senses and remembers that education is something which enhances the whole
society and isn’t just another commodity to be marketed.
I shouldn’t say that because it’s mean. It sours the whole day.
Like it would be mean to speculate precisely where David Willetts keeps his
Like it would be nasty to imagine the scene, in about nine months time, when
our current Prime Minister, the world’s first genuine gap year premier, has his
interview for the non- executive directorship at Goldman Sachs that is his birthright
and the head of inhuman resources peers at his CV and says... "Aaaah,
Mr...er...Cameron, according to your resume you, um, ‘Lost Scotland’ and couldn’t win
majorities against Gordon Brown OR Ed Miliband? So how do you think
you’re qualified for this job? Or any job? In your own time..."
I shouldn’t have said any of that, and I apologise if I’ve lowered the tone. But
that, actually, is the real thing about satire.
It’s about jokes. It’s about releasing that inbuilt evolutionary survival
mechanism that helps us navigate our way through our lives without us all
going mad with existentialist terror. So instead we laugh and release all those
lovely endorphins that quite simply make us feel better. And that’s why we
laugh at death, and sex and failure and farting and our best friends falling off a
But it’s also why George Orwell said that every joke is a tiny revolution.
"They" - the shills and lackeys for the avaricious psychopaths - will tell you
the world is a serious place where everything has a price, usually wholly
divorced from its real value. They’re wrong. The world is a frivolous,
hilarious, joyous playground. "Reality" isn’t a hideous burden, it’s a laugh. All
you need to do is to remember to lower the tone.
So, standing here in my pomp, I implore you to laugh at my pomposity.
Because I should really be lurking in the wings, sneering and sniggering at the
twat in the hat droning on in his puss-in-boots get up after all that sub-
Masonic hoo-haa and fol-de-rol
I should be laughing myself stupid at the presumption and vanity of the same
twat in the hat grandstanding away courtesy of an academic qualification he’s
done absolutely no work at all to earn, unlike all of you.
And I should be laughing fit to bust at the so-called satirist snuggling up inside
congratulatory establishment of all those good, great, no-good and ingrate
recipients of honorary degrees & fellowships that many of them have done so
little to deserve.
After all, we are in New Cross - dirty, delightful, deliciously diverse New
Cross - where laughter is always the best option.
Which finally gets me to what I really wanted to say. One of the more
gruesome shills and lackeys of the avaricious psychopaths in charge wrote a
book after he was driven from office by his own party for his serial
misjudgements. Tony Blair called that book "A Journey", and though
personally I’m waiting for the sequel "A Journey to a Dungeon in The
Hague", it’s a good title.
We’re all on journeys, after all. Me, I’ve mooched around this part of London
for nearly 30 years, part of it in New Cross, but also in Brockley and
Ladywell, where I walked from to get here this lunchtime.
And this gets to the heart of it. For years unhappier people in allegedly smarter
parts of town have asked me why I live down here. I’m sure Goldsmiths gets
asked the same thing. And yet, and yet. Remember the journey - the point of
departure, the journey itself, the ultimate destination. And just think - Oxford
and Cambridge, those training grounds for the shills and lackeys of the
avaricious psychopaths - where do they lead? To power, wealth, the elite?
Possibly. But also, don’t forget, Oxford is on the way to Swindon, and
Cambridge is on the way to Norwich.
New Cross, meanwhile, is - and always will be - on the way to Paris.
Remember that, and please enjoy the rest of your trip.