Friday, 8 May 2015
VE Day + 70
Seventy years ago today Britain celebrated the end of the Second World War in Europe. Easter must have been late that year because, aged seven, I was with my parents on our Whitsuntide holiday in Scarborough and can remember wandering with them and family friends through the streets singing a pop song, the opening words of which were: "Let him go, let him tarry let him sink or let him swim" and ending with the declaration that somebody or other was going to ". . .marry a far nicer boy."
There was outside the station a mini-obelisk which was illuminated by blue lighting, celebrating the end of the war-time blackout. That was the first time I can remember seeing any neon lights.
Two moths later the UK electorate rejected the party of the celebrated war leader Winston Churchill and installed a Labour government with a majority of 146.
That government set out to defeat the "five giants" William Beverage had identified: idleness, illness, ignorance, squalor and want. It promised a new society in which there was full employment, a health service free at the point of use, free education from primary to tertiary level, affordable housing, and a social security network for those who "fell by the wayside."
There was a vision of a "New Jerusalem." We had indeed been "all in it together" during the war and there was a sense that we could be all in it together during the peace. Justice, fairness and consideration for others would prevail.
Seventy years on, what on earth has happened to us?
We are now four or five times richer in real terms than we were then, and the government's public debt is minuscule by comparison. Yet, in spite of our universally educated electorate, we have believed a party that uses the excuse of an allegedly serious deficit to reduce the social security network; demonises the poor and disadvantaged; in health, education and housing, not to mention transport, public utilities (water, electricity and gas supplies), gives primacy of the profit motive over the needs of people, and will continue to organise our society so that the very rich will prosper at the expense of the rest.
Already the "media circus" has moved on and from seven o'clock this morning the chattering classes have switched to discuss the futures of Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, and presumably by this afternoon the talk will be of whom Cameron will chose for his new cabinet.
We need to pause and consider how our highly educated electorate could be deceived by such a squalid election campaign dominated by lies, distortions and bribes, which failed to offer any alternative economic policy to continued austerity, and barely mentioned, vital issues such as climate change, prosperity without growth, taxation reform, banking reform, the unhealthy dominance of the City (George Monbiot has a good article on these), the distortions of our press largely owned by non-doms and tax exiles, and why the broad left put put up such a dismal counter-case.
These issues need attention while we batten down to endure another five years of our society in which "wealth accumulates and men* decay."
*Yes I know, women as well but it's a quotation from Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" written before we were properly sensitive about these things.