Tuesday, 27 May 2014
22nd May, 2014: a second reverse, or is it?
In my adult lifetime the first significant politic reverse occurred on 3rd May 1979 with the election of Margaret Thatcher. Until then we in Britain had shuffled, sometimes hesitantly, sometimes taking one or two steps backwards, but generally progressed, towards a more mature, tolerant, and caring democracy. Under both Conservative and Labour governments, as we became richer our health services improved, educational opportunities expanded, areas of personal freedom were enlarged, rights were protected and care for the less fortunate maintained. Life wasn't perfect, of course. Some flourished more than others and some still slipped through the net. But the sense of being "all in this together" endured as we worked gradually towards a freer and more civilised society.
In the name of releasing the energies and enterprise of individuals from the allegedly stifling arms of the state Mrs Thatcher put this process into reverse. There was "no such thing of socity" and "devil take the hindmost" lest too much cosseting impaired individual initiative. Conservative governments since then have followed this path and Labour has been too frightened to reverse it. Effectively our society has been and is being handed over to the covetous worldlings against whom Cranmer prayed or protection as far back as 1553.
The European election of 22nd May 2014 may mark a similar reverse. An organisation established in 1957 to promote peace and international co-operation has gradually, and sometimes ineptly, expanded the areas of freedom and human dignity. We can travel and work, buy and sell, where we like; students can study where they want and receive support; we share health facilities: our environment is better protected and our rivers and beaches are cleaner;, our food is safer; our health, safety and rights at work are better protected.
Now, with the surge in support for the anti union, nationalist, xenophobic, potentially racist parties, are we to return to the restricted visions of the past?
Happily we need not. The stodgy centre left and centre right parties still hold 70% of the seats, though sadly with less Liberal input to stiffen their sinews. But if they hold their nerve and stick to the vision of Monet, Schumann and the other founding fathers, rather than compromise with the populists, where is still hope that the EU can continue to progress towards a more civilised life for all its citizens.
That does not, of course, mean that there is no need for change. Less ostentation (a cut in salaries and expenses for a start), less pettiness, more generosity from the "have" nations to the "have less", more urgent action to solve the crisis of youth unemployment, better communications, more concern for the lives of its citizens over the demands of business, are all needed. In a wider context Larry Elliot (Guardian 26th May) expresses it well:
"...make capitalism meet the needs of the people, rather than. . . make make the people meet the needs of capitalism."
Since it's now more difficult to have socialism (or even Keynesian-ism) in one country, here's a worthy task for a supranational organisation. But the wider founding vision of the UE should not be lost.