Thursday, July 12, 2007

And the public wants what the public gets

It's a long time since the Tories did anything to annoy me and when they do, it's pure rhetoric. They have started issuing fairly silly tax policies, claiming the desire to “mend our broken society”.

Which raises the question; if it is now broken, when was it ever pristine? I say pristine which implies perfection and that might be to overstate the position from which we supposedly have fallen. I guess intact is a more commonplace opposite to broken. Yet last time I looked, society was intact, is intact, as in, we're living in peace with one another, we enjoy a great deal of both freedom and security. Anyone who thinks this is a broken society, needs to get out more. Or at least, read a few history books, or I don't know, the news. Iraq; now that's a society which might be described as broken. Rwanda in the spring of 1994; that's an example of what happens when society well and truly snaps.

Not that this society is great. Not that our freedoms or security, or the degree to which we are at peace with one another are perfect – far from. Goodness knows, I see enough wrong here and I'm always going on about it. And I'm not objecting to this just because it's the Conservatives, who are unlikely to do much which would appeal to me in any case. It is because I genuinely believe exaggeration on this matter to be deeply, deeply harmful.

A broken society is a pretty hopeless society, one that very few people are going to wish to engage with. What's more, it had to have been broken by someone (society being man-made, it can only be destroyed by man). The trouble with truly broken societies is that there are usually two or more groups of people who blame one another for the breakage. In this case, not really being broken at all, anyone with the slightest prejudice can apportion the blame accordingly; it's them immigrants, working-mothers, benefit-scroungers, Muslims, lesbians, Thatcher, Blair or Yoko Ono. Or perhaps everybody else. And so people retreat. People act with cynicism and mistrust toward the people they meet because nobody can be trusted; this is a broken society. And as a result society really does a little more creaky.

I don't need to go into the rather daft but ancient idea, this kind of moral nostalgia that people were better in the past. This can be particularly bewildering coming from some generations, who pick the most inappropriate history periods as their ideal. My maternal grandmother has the nineteen-thirties, of all periods. That she may have had a happy childhood, I cannot dispute. That the rise of fascism in Europe, The Road To Wigan Pier and everything else we know about that time suggests it was a better world, I can. And indeed, talking to my Granny, who also had a happy childhood but can still tell you about hardships, injustices and abuses she was aware of which thank goodness seem unlikely to occur today.

But this moral nostalgia seems to strike members of every generation; you see it in books written all through the ages. Of course, the direction of social progress is not fixed; things go wrong, new problems arise - and sometimes new problems arise as a side effect to the solution for an old problem. However, the direction of history is fixed. We can never ever step back; any solution to a problem must be a step forward. The past might inform what that step should be, but we cannot go back there.

Fortunately, perhaps, the Tories haven't accompanied this positively destructive rhetoric with anything which would constitute a dynamic change in society; 7p extra tax on a pint of beer to tackle binge-drinking and a £20 a week tax-break for married couples to persuade unhappy couples to stay together (happy couples presumably don't need a cash incentive). 70p on ten pints is unlikely to make any difference to anyone's Saturday night and the loss of £20 a week is little compared to the existing expense of single living as weighed up against cohabitation.


Maddy said...

Not THIS generation dearie - I'd sell my soul to have socialist medicine out here - but things always look rosier from afar.

S. said...

Cold War brinksmanship, a mayor and a city on crack cocaine, backlash against feminism...ah, my nostalgia for the DC of the 1980's waxes fat.

The Goldfish said...

I get the impression there's a lot of people having to sell pretty much everything but their soul for the medicines they need, stateside, alas.

But yes, I do wonder whether I could ever been nostalgic for the 1980s.

Some people pick a time before their birth - some of our neo-Nationalist far right types in their thirties and forties cite the early 1950s, a time they never lived through, as the time when Britain was truly Great - presumably because this was just before the first wave of mass immigration from the West Indies. So in other words, a time where you could still be a outspoken racist and nobody would cause too much of a fuss...

Mary said...

I agree with you except for the perspective on the £20 a week for married couples with kids.

I have known too many families where one parent works and the other stays at home to look after the kid(s), who have discovered that in real, financial terms, the stay-at-home parent and the child(ren) would be better off if the working parent moved out and the rest of the family went onto benefits.

My friend Pip is a case in point. The Littlun's mother left, he gave up his low-waged job to look after the Littlun - and suddenly found that as a family, him and Littlun had more money, as well as one less mouth to feed.

So I'm looking at that one as less of a "£20 bribe to stay married" and more of a "making sure that low-earning families aren't penalised for being a couple or having a job".

S. said...

Yes, I get you on racist nostalgia. The code words for race are different here, but there is still that hollow ring to "broken" isn't there? Pristine would be something like lily white, I guess.