‘ONCE again there is no milk today,’ says Colonel Stok in the 1960s Michael Caine masterpiece Funeral in Berlin. ‘And so Russian tea was invented,’ quips Caine’s character, the British spy Harry Palmer.
I wonder what the equivalent is for Russian diesel, given that once again today the petrol station where I live was out of it at 6.30 in the morning. Gas, presumably, given that Russia has oodles of the stuff but is now cynically restricting supplies to Western Europe to jack up prices. How times change: during the age of Harry Palmer and his silver screen rival James Bond, it was the Eastern Bloc that was associated with shortages and queues for basic supplies.
Both Palmer and Bond of course were men’s men: lethal, ruthless, successful with the ladies while not exactly politically correct in their pursuit of them; masculine characters in a still masculine age. Sadly, Harry Palmer (incidentally by far the more interesting and complex character of the two) didn’t stay the course beyond three movies. He was due to become what would now be called a ‘franchise’ similar to James Bond but that fell away after the turkey Billion Dollar Brain. Although Bond has stayed around, he seems now to have met his nemesis – a woke makeover to make him ‘relevant’ to the modern age.
‘Relevant’ being an alias for ‘not masculine’, and that, I think, gets to the root of so many of the current travails of Western society of which the HGV driver shortage is but a tiny symptom. Much has been rightly been made of the many problems facing HGV drivers, masterfully recounted in these very pages by Chris Lamb a few days ago, but something deeper is going on.
This woke Tory government, of course, was instantly on the case. Displaying his towering intellect and ever-reliable grasp of the situation, transport supremo Grant Shapps wailed that more women and ethnic minorities should train to be lorry drivers, as ‘ninety-nine per cent of lorry drivers in this country are white, male and an average age of 55’. https://www.standard.co.uk/news/uk/lorry-driver-shortage-hgv-women-transport-secretary-grant-shapps-fuel-crisis-b957065.html. The horror. The horror.
Now, it should go without saying that equality of opportunity should be taken very seriously and if there are barriers for women and ethnic minorities they should be ameliorated. That said, the response of any normal person to the fact that few women want to go into the occupation would be ‘No sh*t, Sherlock’. It is hard to think of many occupations that would be less appealing to women: dangerous, lonely, long and variable hours away from family, appalling working conditions. Although female HGV drivers have long existed (in fact in the 1980s I knew a woman who dropped out of studying medicine at Cambridge and spent a few years driving lorries around Europe) it is highly likely that even if terms and conditions significantly improve the job will only ever appeal to a small minority of women.
The real question is why it does it not appeal to more young British men, white or otherwise. Of course, again the poor pay and conditions explain a great deal, but is it not also the case that we have for so long belittled the masculine values of stoicism and toughness that drove men to take up such jobs, at considerable sacrifice to themselves, in order to provide for their families? Why should young men bother, when society mocks them and belittles those very values at every turn, Shapps’s inane remarks being a case in point? The fact is that a great many men are now so alienated from the idea of marriage and family responsibility that even if there is big money to be made, the historic masculine role as a provider for women and their children no longer appeals as it once did. Why not instead sit at home with the Playstation, OLED TV and Pornhub?
The kind of culture that pumps out the message that traditional masculinity is toxic and old-fashioned, whether it is reinventing James Bond or demonising and belittling men in general, is reaping what it has long sowed in the panic-driven, stagnant and dysfunctional society we have today.
If you want to solve the HGV driver crisis or so many others in our society, start by making masculinity great again.