As I write, a flaming effigy of David Cameron is heading down Lewes high street. He is stark naked and under his left arm is a dead pig's head. A few police are gathered round - most simply laughing - and men, women and children are writing their names in sparklers as the Prime Minister potters passed, burning. Welcome to Britain.
The bonfire parade in Lewes is a very British manifestation of free expression: witty, cynical and bizarre. It's a perfect example of the kind of humorous exercise in free speech that Britons rightfully cherish. I mean, could you imagine the reaction if a dummy of a rainbow-coloured Putin toured the streets of St. Petersburg? Could you envisage an effigy of Kim Jong-un with an American flag draped across his chest travelling through Pyongyang? The folks of Lewes, perhaps in solidarity with the repressed, burned these leaders' effigies too. For in those countries, and many others, such a parade is incomprehensible.
Britain's brand of political mockery is a symptom of our freedom of expression. And it has become our speciality. Our history of political lampooning assumedly began in the streets - where it was rightfully restored this bonfire night - but it soon moved into other, more widely distributed realms. It took form in literature, with notable satirists like Jonathan Swift paving the way. Then the radio ensured a sort of shared cultural experience of political mockery. For my generations, however, political piss taking reached its zenith through our television screens.
There have been countless examples of political mockery on TV. In the eighties, Spitting Image perpetuated the royal family as aristocratic, clueless weirdos and took Margaret Thatcher apart on a weekly basis. In the nineties, Harry Enfield's memorable character, Tory Boy, became a staple of Thursday night television. Tory Boy's travails included his mum driving him to the job centre so he could tell unemployed folks they only had themselves to blame. Feeling victorious, and revelling in his civic Conservative duty of bashing the poor, Tory Boy declared: 'I shall have my Milky Bar now, Mother.' These shows abused the stereotype of privileged political figures and did so every week for the enjoyment of the entire family.
In the last decade or two, folks like Ali G emerged with a more direct approach - taking all sorts of powerful people to account. The principal member of the West Staines Massif asked politicians ridiculous questions to their general befuddlement. He once asked Tony Benn, for example, whether it was 'called the welfare state because it was well fair?' Programmes like The Thick of It - following on from a long line of political sitcoms such as Yes Minister and Citizen Smith - ingeniously ridiculed the ostensible self-importance of the political elite - and not so elite.
Our history of political mockery continues in literature, radio, television and, this bonfire night, on the streets of Lewes. British people are wonderfully cynical and we are at our cynical best when mocking the political elite. Sometimes we opt for subtlety and nuance. At other times we take a more direct approach. Sometimes we attempt to flex our intellectual muscles. At other times we are brutally crass. Whatever tactic we employ, our unique brand of political mockery always holds powerful figures to account.
The bonfire night in Lewes is just another example of Britain's innate ability to mock our leaders - and other leaders - with utter abandon. It is a crucial part of British culture. It reminds us that we live in a country where we cherish our ability to exercise freedom of expression and we are creative in the forms we exercise. Sometimes we take free expression for granted. Luckily, a stark naked David Cameron holding a dead pig's head burning on a crowded high street in Lewes reminds us of how fortunate we are to have the right to exercise free speech.Suggest a correction