It keeps happening! I’m not imagining it! I’m not alone in believing that the Forces of Darkness are taking over!
I’m of that generation, the baby boomers. Intensely proud of my heritage. But feeling very angry now. Feeling betrayed. Angry not for myself, I’m very comfortable indeed, thanks to Mr Beveridge and all the life-enhancing opportunities I enjoyed as a result of my brilliant comprehensive school education. Just very angry about what’s being done to British kids and to our kids’ kids.
And when you find yourself so angry, so much of the time, you do begin to doubt your sanity. Wonder if it’s something like early dementia setting in or a consequence of consuming too many venison pies. It’s very uncomfortable, feeling you’re in an angry minority of one.
Then, by chance, you speak on the phone to an old friend, or bump into a colleague from work you haven’t spoken to for years and years. Find yourself sitting next to your ex husband at a concert. And all these people are angry too. Very angry indeed. And so is your cousin and an old college chum and someone you went to primary school with.
Chancers, crooks and cheats
And that’s both reassuring and even more anger-making. Because we all feel our kids’ kids generation are now, today, being wantonly, brutally, deliberately betrayed by a gang of chancers, crooks and cheats. And that right now things are reaching a cliff edge, as they did when the same gang pushed us out of Europe, telling lies about the benefits.
And everything boils down to the NHS and what it symbolises and what it tells us about the kind of country we now want to become.
The war was about defeating fascism. Even people like me, who are pacifists, would have signed up to fight Hitler. My Dad did that. He was a pacifist but he had no doubt that Hitler made pacifism a moral crime. If there was ever a just war, it was the one which rid the world of Japanese and German and Italian and even British fascism. Apparently. Fascism is like very poisonous weed. It has to be cut down repeatedly. It’s unkillable.
We must never forget how some of the Establishment, the Royal Family and the Daily Mail were enamoured of Adolf Hitler. Flirted with Eugenics. How fashionable nationalist racism was in Britain in the 1930s. Hitler was convinced that if he started a war, Britain would be on his side, or at least wouldn’t make a fuss. And Chamberlain did his very best to oblige. It was a close run thing, us standing up to Fascism. It could easily have gone the other way. Just imagine where we’d be now if Attlee hadn’t backed Churchill in taking us to war against the fascists.
The War brought lots of young men together in that noble, common cause. And when they weren’t fighting Hitler, they talked endlessly, the squaddies about what kind of Britain they were making their huge sacrifices for. What sort of country they wanted their kids’ kids to grow up in. Why, at the first opportunity, they would vote out Winston Churchill.
Because although he was great at winning wars, standing up to monsters, Churchill’s social theories left a lot to be desired. He couldn’t help it. He was an aristocrat. What would you expect? Yes, my Dad and his chums were agreed on that. When they’d got rid of Hitler, they would certainly get rid of Winston Churchill and everything he represented. The ruling class. The grotesque inequality which meant that a privileged few enjoyed decent medical care whilst most people couldn’t afford to visit the dentist or the doctor or get their eyes tested or have an operation to remove their gallstones or their cataracts or their cancers. Where most people were terrified of having to pay the doctor.
And what about the schools, and housing and working conditions? Why should the very rich, a very powerful but tiny minority enjoy the power of dictating who was worth sending to university, training to be an engineer or a doctor or a lawyer or an MP? Did we really believe that only the privileged posh deserved to sit in the cabinet? Were clever enough to find solutions to the world’s problems such as TB and malaria? Should be role models? The ruling class? Supermenschen.
So thanks to those squaddies, we were the baby boomers. Working class kids given a bit of help by the commonwealth so the commonwealth could reap the benefits of our success. Free university education, no more worrying about how much the doctor or the dentist or the optician or the chemist would charge us when we got ill.
One Nation Toryism and Socialism united, providing our council houses: roomy, clean and with large gardens because gardens are very important for families’ mental health.
No matter that Britain was broke in 1948, crippled with post war debt; the rich were still amazingly rich. And social spending was investment in the country’s future. It was self-interest to generate lots of doctors and teachers and lawyers and scientists and artists and social workers and inventors from the most unlikely backgrounds, not just from the ranks of the few who went to Eton or Cheltenham Ladies.
Nobody complained that superstars like the Beatles were paying nineteen shillings in the pound on their earnings. They could afford it. They were still millionaires! It was only fair. Decent. What you’d expect in any humane society. Everybody thought it was only fair to redistribute wealth and privilege. We didn’t want to be like the Victorians, the privileged few preening themselves, having people to wipe their bottoms whilst the struggling many lived in houses not fit for human habitation. Brutalised by rapacious landlords. Families cold and starving no matter how hard they worked. Living on handouts. We thought such a system was unjust, barbaric. The sort of thing you’d find in a third world country or in America.
It was a European thing, after the nationalist dog fights, nationalist dog war which almost destroyed the continent, social democracy. Reining in the power and influence of the wealthy, giving everyone a decent start in life, equal rights, opportunities. None of that pre-war British caste system. Bosses in one canteen, the oiks in another. Two nations, unable to communicate. Officers and other ranks. Selective schools and secondary moderns. Everyone’s fate decided by money, by which family you happened to be born into. The Have a Lot and the Have Nots.
So we baby boomers were all very happy and productive and had enormous faith in the future. We’re never had it so good. My parents weren’t angry as I am now. They were so pleased to see my generation enjoying freedoms they’d only dreamed of. Free healthcare and university education for everyone. A human right. No more Educational Apartheid. A level playing field.
So now, having sold off Harold MacMillan’s family silver – all those council houses we’ve just realised our grandchildren so desperately need – 350,000 a year Harold Macmillan was building so nobody in Britain would be homeless. Now somebody is selling off all our other national assets.
The NHS is being sold off as I write. Newspapers are beginning to suggest people should pay to get off the waiting lists which are being systematically, deliberately made so long that many will die in pain. Pay to see the doctor, pay for having your ears syringed, pay more for your social care, pay for your ambulance trips, hospital accommodation, pay for visiting A&E.
Back to the Future. Back to feudalism. A Britain where a tiny, all powerful, very wealthy minority enjoys enormous privileges, thinks nothing of spending a thousand pounds on a roll of wallpaper and controls the lives of everybody else. Runs the country for the benefit of their cronies, their class, their caste. Whilst that thousand pounds is docked from the annual incomes of the destitute.
But what makes my generation particularly angry is the passivity, the feebleness, the cowardly lack of any vision or faith or determination in young people to challenge and fight and change things before it’s too late and we are back to the Poor Law world of 1832. Living in a Britain where poverty is caricatured as fecklessness. Human decency, social justice, common sense and compassion are painted by the Daily Mail as a Scroungers’ Charter, the Nanny State. You see, I’m not sure the Daily Mail has ever been much in favour of social democracy.