I found this unpublished piece in my writing folder. It’s pretty depressing that things haven’t changed much since then. Three years on, and it’s a fairly accurate representation of how I feel right now.
Where to start? I have been awake since about half-past seven this morning, April 1st 2013, listening to the radio, to news and interviews about today’s changes to Welfare and the NHS, and I have been in turmoil. Later I bought newspapers and I checked the TV news stations in case they were offering any further illumination, but seeing the facts and figures reiterated didn’t really improve matters.
For me this rabid schedule for “finding savings in public services” – terrible in its human consequences as it is – goes beyond specific cruelties to the heart of who we choose to be as a society, and as a people.
I am not blind to the way successive governments rationalise immoral acts as necessary pragmatism in the name of national security and stability. And I am fully aware of the level of public complicity – willing blindness – in this in order to maintain a reality in which we can continue to function in the conviction that we are essentially decent folk. These elements, political and psychological, are (unfortunately, and to a greater or lesser extent issue by issue) a given. What happened today, however, was – is – not.
The details of the new schedule being rolled out starting today, and continuing as if as innocuous as lunch dates in a diary, are not secrets, not the product of our communal denial, they are openly published results of a process that has been in progress at least since the election of our current government. Though if we are honest they have been brewing for upwards of twenty years.
Cut any heavyweight dyed-in-the-wool Tory politician and they will bleed Margaret Thatcher, no matter how ‘caring face of Conservatism’ they may appear on the outside. And even without the plain documentary evidence (recently released into the public domain) showing that dismantling the welfare system and the NHS was on Thatcher’s agenda, we knew it in our bones didn’t we? So – given all the warning time with which we have been blessed – how has this been allowed to come to pass?
Even whilst carping on incessantly about the corruption and arrogance of the political class – the Westminster bubble in which they live, the cosy relationship they enjoy with media barons and corporate interests – we have done little to protect against all of this what we claim to value as a society. We have continued to pin our hopes on mainstream political parties, often basing our decisions on assumptions we have held for years, unable or unwilling to realise that some things have changed quite radically – like the ebbing away of honest heartfelt radicalism in the mainstream left – and others not at all (see preceding paragraph).
We have seen the Occupy movement offer a valiant standard around which to gather against the iniquities of the Banking Sector, and let it fade too fast. We are still watching, seemingly impotent, as our government refuses to adequately address the billions of pounds leaking from our country by ‘legal tax avoidance’, and refusing to implement the Robin Hood Tax initiative, which other EU countries are seriously considering as a means of raising reasonable amounts from inconceivably huge global banking transactions.
We have watched as pernicious Tory spin has poisoned hearts and minds against the most poor and vulnerable, with large numbers of the populace accepting and propounding this venom if surveys and polls are to be believed…
And today we have the real and material results of our indolence: Thatcher’s dream realised, and the dreams of a fairer and safer society in post-war Britain unpicked.
Of course there has been heroic work done by activist groups and citizen and professional journalists. But as a society we have been guilty of a huge, fat sin of omission. We trusted the system to be reasonable because we wanted it to be, because we believed that we lived in a basically decent, civilised society, and we trusted that ‘other people’ had it all in hand. Even if we can be forgiven for believing that things actually used to be that way, back in the day, things have changed. Being part of a free and fair society demands attention and effort. We have to be careful with our trust. And we have to measure what we see happening in our society against what we would hope for ourselves and our children, not accept what might be dished out to other people because it’s okay as long as it isn’t happening to us and ours.
And if we lose resolve, all we have to do now is to bear to think back to today.