There’s an image towards the end of the latest James Bond film, No Time To Die, that simply would not have appeared in any previous iteration.
Daniel Craig stands in the ruins of the villain’s secret lair – so far, so Bond. (It doesn’t count as a spoiler to tell you that 007 saves the world again, just like in each of the previous 24 titles.)
However, this Bond has a child’s soft toy tucked into his belt. And that’s new. Sean Connery would’ve stamped on it; Roger Moore would’ve despatched a baddie with it along with a quip; Pierce Brosnan would’ve somehow used it to woo a beauty into his bed before casting the toy and the woman aside.
Daniel Craig’s Bond in No Time To Die is a little bit different.
For a start, there’s no casual sex in this one. Females are his equals. The film acknowledges that the character’s most enduring relationship is with a man – his friendship with CIA colleague, Felix Leiter, that began back in 1962 in the first film, Dr No.
And in amongst the apparently incessant violence, some clear but unexpected themes emerge. This is a movie about love, family, humility and service. Doing the right thing by your country and by the people that matter most to you. Fundamentally, all the principles that ought to motivate our real life politicians. And, yet.
The Tories press on with their decision to reduce universal credit. That will hit many families, and particularly the nation’s poorest, in their pockets.
Conservative Party is wedded to a more misogynistic Bond
There was little humility on show in the bars of Manchester this week as governing MPs took part in a cocktail making contest and the supplies of champagne and canapés got through while supermarkets struggle to stock rice and pasta – exactly the cheap and filling staples that we mortals rely on and that are needed most by those whose helping hand from the welfare state is to be less firm.
And while it’s right to acknowledge the service of all our politicians, it’s also OK to ask whether some of them might be better focusing their good intentions elsewhere when the nation runs out of petrol and the government response barely runs past a shrug of the shoulders.
It feels like the current administration is wedded to an older, outdated model of James Bond. You may prefer your spies the old way – cold, hard-hearted, independent. But these are not values for politicians to aspire to.
And, of course, for most of James Bond’s screen history, he is deeply chauvinistic and often misogynist.
When the new chairman of the Conservative Party kicked things off in Manchester by telling a radio interview that it’s “crass” to suggest there’s such a thing as male privilege, he showed there’s still some way to go before the government can really be believed when it talks of changing processes and challenging attitudes in light of the south London murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.
Does anyone truly believe that the likes of Alok Sharma, Grant Shapps and indeed Boris Johnson himself are uniquely able and talented?
Co-chairman Oliver Dowden said that “an unemployed man on a council estate outside Newcastle” is unlikely to feel privileged. That may be true, not least because the government is about to convey on him the privilege of having his benefits cut. But it doesn’t mean that man doesn’t enjoy privilege. Particularly over an unemployed woman on a council estate outside Newcastle, for example.
Boris is more Bond than you might think
For evidence of male privilege Dowden is in the right place. A string of men took the stage at the Conservative conference. Does anyone truly believe that the likes of Alok Sharma, Grant Shapps and indeed Boris Johnson himself are uniquely able and talented?
And this is where the prime minister does have something in common with 007.
Attitudes in the Bond franchise may have moved on. In No Time To Die, Ben Whishaw’s gadget-providing quartermaster puts the Q firmly in LGBTQ. The MI6 agent who buddies up with Bond and vies for his 007 title is a black woman. These characters nod to diversity. But, fundamentally, right at the centre of the action is a white man who went to Eton.
For all this UK Government’s not unjustified pride that its cabinet is the most diverse in history, it is presided over by a white man who went to Eton.
No Time To Die feels like the first Bond film in a long time that has achieved that key quality in any piece of art – it’s relevant. Its updated values are to be welcomed. And this government ought to pay attention and learn from that.
But the fact that, both on cinema screens and in politics, it’s a white man bringing box office success shows we’ve all got a long way to go when it comes to interrogating our own attitudes and successfully targeting privilege and inequality.
James Millar is a political commentator and author and a former Westminster correspondent for The Sunday Post