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In defence of the day of rest

Two things happened for the first time in 1986: (a) the government of Margaret Thatcher was defeated in the Commons (in fact it was the only time Thatcher’s government was defeated) and (b) a major piece of legislation had been defeated in the Commons at Second Reading. The issue: Sunday trading.

Matthew 6:24 observes: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

When Thatcher decided to try and love both on a Sunday, she first realized that the iron fist with which she ruled, was in fact inclined to bend on occasions after all.

In her letter of public statement about Sunday trading she wanted to “reassure you that the government is not trying to alter the traditional nature of Sunday in this country” but “Eight million people already work on Sundays, about half of them regularly”.

In many ways this makes sense, but I wonder if this was intentional of Thatcher. What is true of the above quote, but probably not true of her sentiment, is that Sunday’s are already blind to the observation of Sunday as a day of rest. In her mind that begged the question of why we are denying shopkeepers of their potential surpluses?

In short, she wanted the same dire Sundays – but more so.

Is this not the rupture of neo-liberalism and traditional Toryism made flesh? Is what divides these two factions most in the Conservative party not what to worship more, God or mammon?

A retired British Army officer in a French work of fiction from the 1950s once said: “If England has not been invaded since 1066, it is because foreigners dread having to spend a Sunday there.” This should give us pause. As a nation have we come to loathe rest?

I’m not sure what kind of debates they have in Spain around longer trading hours and curbs on siestas, but I’m sure the anti-rest lobby are just as willing to ruin shut-eye as clearly some are over here.

It took 26 attempts before Sunday trading laws were relaxed in 1994 as a compromise with Thatcher’s idea to get rid of all restrictions. Now George Osborne wants the UK Parliament to suspend restrictions during the 2012 Olympics.

As one blogger put it:

Local people won’t have any more money to spend; there will be no extra Olympic visitors contributing to the legal economy … Yet the burden of extended opening hours will be felt by those on small wages and low status.

Relaxed restrictions: cui bono? Those anti-relaxation types in the shopkeeper world. Who suffers? Everyone else.

As the architect Le Corbusier rightly pointed out: “commuting time is a surplus labor which correspondingly reduces the amount of “free” time.” George Osborne is trying to make of a Sunday more surplus labour time, to no benefit of the majority. Let’s stick up for rest.

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