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.