The politics thread

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miriam
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The politics thread

Post by miriam » Thu Apr 11, 2013 1:16 pm

I thought it would be nice to spark some debate about current affairs and political issues on here. I'm an unashamed left-winger when it comes to my views on social justice, but its good to hear a variety of voices - provided as always that posts are within the forum guidance and in particular that any response is to the issue and not a personal attack on the person that holds that view.

So lets start with views on the death of Margaret Thatcher. I hate Thatcherism and its impact on the people and society of the UK but I feel that the current government policies are worse than those Thatcher instigated. Because of that despair at the current state of play I feel no glee that she is gone because we haven't learnt from our mistakes. In the end she was just an old lady with dementia and so the world is no better off for her being dead.

I think Glenda Jackson (and the speaker) and Russell Brand sum it up. And this animation, although not brand new and aimed at the USA sums up where we are in the UK at the moment.
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Re: The politics thread

Post by CupcakeFairy » Thu Apr 11, 2013 2:03 pm

You also pretty much summed it up for me. I'm very left wing, because of my upbringing I take the assault on the poor quite personally. Its like when people talk about 'council estate scum' and you mention you were raised on one and they're all 'obviously you're not like that though'. Like what? What else could you mean by that?

I also have the same views on Thatcher. I'm not old enough to remember her politics, though I know she did a lot of disservice. I dont feel her being alive had any effect on me, and neither does her death.

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Re: The politics thread

Post by michael2806 » Sun Apr 14, 2013 1:38 pm

The animation was brilliant Miriam, thank you for posting it. I have very similar political views to you both, views which I suppose were borne out of a working class upbringing. I consider myself centre-left, as on some issues I suppose you could say I was more conservative e.g. law and order.

With regards to Thatcher, it's difficult to give my opinion because I'm wary I wasn't alive for the vast majority of her time in office, and so my views are largely shaped by the views of my parents. However, having watched the coverage from the past few days, my opinion is that she seemed to promote a very individualistic society, with very little consideration of the impact on the working class, and little foresight about how her policies could drastically alter the lives of future generations. It seems a lot of the problems my generation is confronting now e.g. massive and growing gaps between the rich and poor, a lack of affordable housing, a rampant and uncontrolled financial sector which the country is overly-dependent on, all began with her policies (albeit recent governments have done little to reverse these trends).

As for the current political and socio-economic climate, I despair at the current situation and the narratives which seem to have been adopted. I'm genuinely shocked and saddened by the attack of the welfare state, the ideological hatred this governtment has for the public sector and the lack of humanity the government and economic climate seems to have instilled in a large proportion of the population.

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Re: The politics thread

Post by miriam » Sun Apr 14, 2013 9:12 pm

Its incredibly depressing that the media have been able to equate "receiving benefits" with "scroungers" over the last few years (even before the atrocious attempt to link it with "murderer"). Benefits are primarily there to support people past retirement (of the welfare budget pensions make up 46%, plus 2% winter fuel payment and 5% pension credit), and to pay private landlords for use of their property (14% housing benefit). Very little is given to job seekers (3%) and those unable to work (incapacity, 4%) and amongst this the rates of fraudulent claims are minimal. Evidence shows that the majority of people whose benefits are cut regain them on appeal because there is genuine need.

Image
Reminds me of the joke about the biscuits:

A banker, a Tory MP, a benefits claimant and a Daily Mail reader are sat at a table. A plate of 10 biscuits has been provided. The Tory MP gives 9 of them to the banker who scoffs some and puts the rest in his pockets. Then the MP whispers to the Daily Mail reader "watch out, that benefits claimant is after your biscuit"... (this metaphor played out further here.
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Re: The politics thread

Post by JCBird » Sun Apr 14, 2013 10:56 pm

In terms of Thatcher, as a 23 year old I have limited knowledge of her, but politics aside I have voiced strongly since her death that the public's reaction is disgusting. I think it is completely fair to discuss and critique her time in power, her policies, her approaches etc, but her dying does not have any implications for society. I would understand if her death meant freedom for the people or if she had committed horrendous crimes, but she was just an old lady who may have made some bad policies years ago and has had no influence over politics for years. Therefore, to celebrate her death in such a cold, defamatory fashion is pretty sick, and I particularly feel for her family and friends.

I had some interesting discussions with people at work about Thatcher following from this and we were musing about her impact in society in terms of a women challenging the gender roles, rocking the boat to show that a women can take on a very male role and display "male" qualities such as ruthlessness, power and arrogance. This then led to the question that, if Thatcher was a man, who did everything exactly the same in terms of policies and approaches and actions - would he have had the same level of hatred from the public? Would they have really cared about his death?

I'm not so sure, as it seems that, particularly at the time (but also now!) for a women to display these male attributes and a lack of the caring, gentle characteristics is often unsettling for people and seen as wrong, e.g. Myra Hindley who always seems to be the most hated compared to Ian Brady as people think "how could a women do that??"

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Re: The politics thread

Post by BenJMan » Sun Apr 14, 2013 11:28 pm

JCBird wrote:politics aside I have voiced strongly since her death that the public's reaction is disgusting. I think it is completely fair to discuss and critique her time in power, her policies, her approaches etc, but her dying does not have any implications for society.

Whilst I have no particular opinion either way on the individual choices people have made around Thatcher's death I would like to play a little bit of devils advocate with this.

You may not feel that her death has any impact on you, but by the mere fact that there is even a discussion to be had about her death, we can say it has an impact on society. She was a hugely controversial and divisive figure and her life and death will continue to impact society for a long time to come.

A less existential way of looking at whether her death impacts people (who may or may not feel emotional about it, positively or negatively) might be to examine something like the friends and family of the Hillsborough disaster. Some of the emotion being expressed at the moment is rather akin to a feeling of 'justice' or 'relief' at the idea that someone who was allegedly so intricately involved with a terrible miscarriage of justice has been removed from their lives. I should say again this isn't my opinion of the matter, i'm just trying to present another possible side of it :)

Personally I was far too young to claim experience of her time in power, but I will claim self education around her life, policies and practices and my opinion of her is not high. I feel sadness that in the end despite whoever she was she died a frail woman suffering from dementia, a fate I would not bestow on anyone. That said I wouldn't want to place myself in the position of anyone who did directly experience what I would today consider to be appalling abuses and the denigration of my society and thus I will not judge them for their choice of celebrating either.
I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people ~ Maya Angelou.

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Re: The politics thread

Post by miriam » Mon Apr 15, 2013 12:30 am

JCBird wrote:...I have voiced strongly since her death that the public's reaction is disgusting.... but she was just an old lady who may have made some bad policies years ago and has had no influence over politics for years.
I'd agree that celebrating an old lady dying is in bad taste, but I think it is perfectly appropriate to feel sickened by the level of sycophantic adoration being spewed forth from the media and the endless tributes which gloss over the immense harm she was responsible for, and to want to provide a more balanced perspective by the open airing of negative views about her political impact. She's dead now, she can't be offended, and those who knew her as a person have already come to terms with the fact that she was a politically divisive figure, and have chosen to pursue a very public glorification that they know would not (and should not) stand unchallenged. If you saw someone who had bullied you for many years had died, you might feel sad for their family but it would not feel like a loss to you, and you wouldn't (and shouldn't) have to only say positive things about them because they were dead. Similarly, if an evil dictator or a mass murderer dies, they are still a human being, but I think we are sophisticated enough to understand that not everyone would mourn their passing and more importantly we wouldn't attempt to censor genuinely held negative feelings about them just because they had died.

I think it is hard to judge the impact of someone when you have only known the world subsequent to their impact on it. Its like taking mobile phone and colour TV and the internet for granted - its hard not to if you are under 30, but if you are now 100 you'd have been alive before the recording or transmission of a voice was possible, and you'd see the impact on society with a very different perspective. I don't mean to target you particularly, but there are a lot of young people who say they can't see the big deal about Thatcher. To me that's like saying "I'm 25 and mobile phones didn't make much difference to my life". It would be an announcement of ignorance of the bigger picture and a symptom of the problem that person fails to identify - that they have known nothing different and see how things are as an acceptable norm.

I'd argue that to reduce Thatcher's impact to being "just an old lady who may have made some bad policies years ago and has had no influence over politics for years" misses huge amounts of the story. She was the person who set British society on its current course. Her policies changed the political currency and the way people live their lives in fundamental ways, far beyond the impact of most politicians and Prime Ministers. She sold off the utility companies, railways and housing stock. She destroyed the last of British industry and encouraged dependence on the financial sector (which led to reckless lending and ultimately the financial crisis). She fostered the idea of each individual competing to meet their own selfish needs and destroyed the sense of us being responsible for each other as a community and society. She put us on a path which allowed reduced investment in the public sector, PFI, the breaking up of the NHS into individual companies and the introduction of competition from private providers. She made the rich richer and the poor poorer. She declared war on a country thousands of miles away because one of their islands made a convenient military base for us. And here we are, 23 years later with the press and her millionnaire political colleagues convincing us that social ills are the fault of scroungers and immigrants, and that we shouldn't care about other people's wellbeing because it might have a cost implication to the richest few people in the country. Her influence is everywhere, so pervasive its invisible. And the fact that people voted for her, and still idolise her makes me despair for humanity.
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Re: The politics thread

Post by JCBird » Mon Apr 15, 2013 7:56 am

I completely agree that it is fair and appropriate to be discussing her objectively, challenging that glorified view to say actually she did things that were bad for society and have had lasting implications, and I also think it is appropriate to express dislike for her as a result of this, particularly when you felt the impact of her time in power. I think these discussions are important and need to be had.

What is more driving my opinion is people, a lot of whom are young and were not alive during her time, saying they are getting the champagne out to celebrate thatcher dying, posting videos or making jokes about the witch being dead and organising street parties. I've felt these things are just bad taste and inappropriate.

In terms of my comment about no impact, I suppose I was referring to no direct impact that would justify these types of celebration (such as freedom or change). I do however understand that there is an impact for people in terms of 'relief' or 'justice' and that a lot of people aren't going to be sad, and I wouldn't expect them to.

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Re: The politics thread

Post by astra » Mon Apr 15, 2013 8:43 am

miriam wrote: I'd argue that to reduce Thatcher's impact to being "just an old lady who may have made some bad policies years ago and has had no influence over politics for years" misses huge amounts of the story. She was the person who set British society on its current course. Her policies changed the political currency and the way people live their lives in fundamental ways, far beyond the impact of most politicians and Prime Ministers. She sold off the utility companies, railways and housing stock. She destroyed the last of British industry and encouraged dependence on the financial sector (which led to reckless lending and ultimately the financial crisis). She fostered the idea of each individual competing to meet their own selfish needs and destroyed the sense of us being responsible for each other as a community and society. She put us on a path which allowed reduced investment in the public sector, PFI, the breaking up of the NHS into individual companies and the introduction of competition from private providers. She made the rich richer and the poor poorer. She declared war on a country thousands of miles away because one of their islands made a convenient military base for us. And here we are, 23 years later with the press and her millionnaire political colleagues convincing us that social ills are the fault of scroungers and immigrants, and that we shouldn't care about other people's wellbeing because it might have a cost implication to the richest few people in the country. Her influence is everywhere, so pervasive its invisible. And the fact that people voted for her, and still idolise her makes me despair for humanity.
^^ this absolutely.

(Miriam where do you find the time as a working mum and businesswoman to think so much and write so eloquently about the wider issues? I'm in awe of you sometimes!!)
From the point of view of mindfulness, as long as you're breathing there's more right with you than wrong with you. Jon Kabat-Zinn

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Re: The politics thread

Post by Spatch » Mon Apr 15, 2013 11:05 am

As a context to this, I would probably classify myself as centre-right politically.

Firstly, I would prefer to separate the public reaction to Thatcher's death from the policies of the conservative government of 1979-1990. I reckon they would make two fascinating separate threads.

My response to the policies that were lead by her, but ultimately supported and carried out by a democratically elected party, civil service and electorate, were a necessary evil at the time. Britain in the 1970s was suffering from a long standing malaise industrially, politically and economically. Under the previous Callaghan government inflation had skyrocketed to 25%, trade unions constantly acted out of self interest (against often its own members, as well as the general public) and this had culminated in the Winter of Discontent in 1979, which was probably the lowest point in British history since the 1903s depression.
She was the person who set British society on its current course. Her policies changed the political currency and the way people live their lives in fundamental ways, far beyond the impact of most politicians and Prime Ministers.
I disagree with this view of history. I don't view one person as having so much power that they can unilaterally decide and force that kind of action (well maybe it can happen here in ClinPsy, but not so much in the world at large). My view of history is that there have to be prevailing conditions, a demand from the people, in addition to to the actions of key individuals (be that Lincoln, Hitler, Thatcher, Gandhi).

My view is that she offered and sold a vision of a country (actually pioneered by peopled like Milton Freidman and JM Keynes) a significant proportion of the electorate wanted after the mismanagement and ineptitude of the previous governments. A vision that people bought into three times because life for a significant proportion of the population became better under those policies. Home ownership was a real possiblity for many that could never have afforded it previously, Britain wasn't held hostage at a strike being declared every other day and there was genuine innovation and growth in the modern sectors of the economy (IT, finance, business). Even minor things like having shops open after 5pm and on Sundays to having better cusine in restaurants can be indirectly chased back to government policies at the time.

Yes, coal mining and manufacturing declined, but increased globalisation would have meant this would have happened anyway (like it did in Detroit with the auto industry). If we can blame Thatcher for anything it would be for taking pre-emptive action rather than waiting until we could only react as global events overtook us. There were things that were detrimental no doubt. There was no real planning on the effect on peoples lives as factories, mines and plants were shut down. The Falklands war was political grandstanding.
She fostered the idea of each individual competing to meet their own selfish needs and destroyed the sense of us being responsible for each other as a community and society.
I think that we were always acting in our self interest be that across class lines, social status or what have you (if the way the unions and the establishment at the time were not selfish I don't know what is). True, we were 'encouraged' to become a nation of consumers rather than citizens, although I would argue we bought into this and still do. To counter that I also think that opportunites opened up for many. More people from working class backgrounds went to university. People from ethnic minorities were able to aspire to better jobs, because a consequence of a hyper-capitalist society is that money talked, not the colour of your skin.
She made the rich richer and the poor poorer.
This is a huge oversimplification. A range of things including US global economic and foreign policy, advances in technology and issues around access to cheap energy from the middle east were far more influential. Agreed Thatcher may have had a facilitative role, but if you look across the globe, most of whom didn't have a Thatcher, inequality has generally increased because of those factors.
She put us on a path which allowed reduced investment in the public sector, PFI, the breaking up of the NHS into individual companies and the introduction of competition from private providers.
True. And not one that I would have personally endorsed.

Yet, I cannot help but note the irony in who is pointing this out. Your decision to strike out independently and call the shots on your own terms would have been impossible in 1975. The idea that a woman could establish her own company, drive to do things better outside the auspices of a bureaucratic hierarchical system is probably the apotheosis of what Mrs Thatcher would have wanted. Like it or not, I can't think of a better poster child of the positive aspects of those policies than you.

[Awaits banning]

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Re: The politics thread

Post by miriam » Mon Apr 15, 2013 12:49 pm

Astra - I blame having no life outside of work and the internet!

Spatch - You are absolutely right that Thatcher was a figurehead for a movement that enraptured a large proportion of the electorate, and was echoed elsewhere around the world. To me that makes it more scary, not less. Less extreme, but with significant similarities to the way that Hitler built up a following for Nazism amongst ordinary people by making scapegoats for social problems.

You are also right that in terms of personal gain I should be thankful for Conservative politics which favour the well off and those who set up in business. However, I don't vote for the party that provides the most personal gain for me, neither do I believe that being able to evolve to meet a changing political and business climate means that I wanted those changes. I'd much rather be in a unified NHS which cares about the quality of service provided. Now that this doesn't exist I've had to make the best of things. I've chosen a path which feels morally acceptable rather than the one with maximum personal profit. I might be a woman in business, but I've done it with a social conscience; founding a social enterprise and employing a team, whilst I am earning minimum wage until the invoices for last year's court work are paid.

Plus, jokes aside, I should point out that I've never run this place as a dictatorship or banned anyone for their opinions. I have a team of mods and admins I consult with about all decisions, and we genuinely do respond to comments from members about what they want from the site. We reluctantly interfere with 'free speech' only when it is defamatory, discriminatory or threatening, or when it discloses confidential information about others. And of course this site was another example of my altruism in the sense that I funded it from my own pocket to the tune of several thousand pounds and have given at least an hour of my time per day for free since its inception. It is only in the financial year which just ended that the site broke even for the first time, and hopefully with the carefully selected advertising banners it will begin to trickle back my investment at some point in the future. That's not a very Conservative way of running things!
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Re: The politics thread

Post by Spatch » Mon Apr 15, 2013 3:22 pm

You are absolutely right that Thatcher was a figurehead for a movement that enraptured a large proportion of the electorate, and was echoed elsewhere around the world. To me that makes it more scary, not less. Less extreme, but with significant similarities to the way that Hitler built up a following for Nazism amongst ordinary people by making scapegoats for social problems.
In a way this mirrors most social movements, many which have figureheads and identify common social problems that unite the people. Scapegoating can happen, but is not always necessary (and I would argue that Nazism is more than hating gypsies and jews, and that was just one tactic among many they used). Bringing it back to the topic in question, Thatcherism is more than "let's hate poor people and blame them for all our problems" and if it was only about that they would never have been elected.
I'd much rather be in a unified NHS which cares about the quality of service provided.
I would too, but I think that while a unified equitable cradle to the grave system of unlimited care is an awesome idea, its one of those things that works better on paper than reality and no one has ever been able to make it happen in the way it was originally intended. Not in 1947, nor today.
Now that this doesn't exist I've had to make the best of things. I've chosen a path which feels morally acceptable rather than the one with maximum personal profit.
I don't think this is opposed to the Conservativism/ Thatcherism either, which often strongly stresses morality, family values and decency far more than their left wing counterparts. 'Making maximum profit' is a misunderstanding of Conservatism and is more equated to classical liberalism, and even then no political movement would actively encourage greed. I would argue that "maximising gain" is independent of a political system and are more about the actions of individuals who know how to exploit weaknesses and play the game, and can happens in capitalism, communism, feudalism, clinical psychology training, or any other system.
And of course this site was another example of my altruism in the sense that I funded it from my own pocket to the tune of several thousand pounds and have given at least an hour of my time per day for free since its inception. It is only in the financial year which just ended that the site broke even for the first time, and hopefully with the carefully selected advertising banners it will begin to trickle back my investment at some point in the future. That's not a very Conservative way of running things!
Except it is. One of the pillars of traditional conservativism is the idea of noblesse oblige, that the wealthy/strong are supposed to protect and provide for the weaker/poorer. Whether that is an aristocrat providing alms or patronage, or Benjamin Disraeli passing acts to create better housing for artisans there is clearly something inherent in the conservative culture about paternalism and individuals (rather than the state) being entreated to provide care for those with lesser means.

Mrs Thatcher had great stock in this too. In her famous there is no such thing as society speech she mentions...
"I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand “I have a problem, it is the Government's job to cope with it!” or “I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!” “I am homeless, the Government must house me!” and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then also to help look after our neighbour and life is a reciprocal business."
...which does make the case that we look after ourselves primarily in order to have a positive impact on those around us.
Sort of like how you provided and devised Clinpsy rather than, say, the BPS.

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Re: The politics thread

Post by miriam » Mon Apr 15, 2013 4:57 pm

The difference being that (both in business/NHS and clinpsy/BPS) I'd prefer the organisations to do it, rather than a reliance on individuals with their own skews (and where the burden disproportionately falls on those with a sense of responsibility from others, and absolves the selfish for their inaction). And, like Caitlin Moran eloquently explains1, I'm in the minority having been blessed with the resources to do what I've done.

1. Source is http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/life/article3738268.ece but its behind a paywall, so here is the text (highlight with mouse):
As a child in the Eighties, she hid from rioting men. As an adult, she was snubbed by David Cameron at a garden party. Caitlin Moran on outliving the past

It’s an odd thing — being told to mourn. Being told to feel sad. Being chided into reverence.
When the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death broke, Twitter became as always the village well: the place of announcement and discussion. At first, everyone stuck to a very simple “Margaret Thatcher has died”, or “Baroness Thatcher, RIP”, or “It has finally happened”. The first communications were the simple reporting of news.
After half an hour or so, people started to talk about their emotional reactions to the news. And whenever someone from the Left said anything non-reverent — or even joyous — about her passing, several thousand people from the Right would be on hand to scold: “Show some respect!”, or “An 87-year-old woman has died!” or “Can you not feel some compassion? Can you not act with kindness? Can you not bow you head, just for today?”
And this was interesting, because those who supported Margaret Thatcher appeared not to believe that otherwise reasonable, considerate people could legitimately feel like this. The Right could not understand why, even for a day, some on the Left could not bow their heads and make a civilised attempt at deference.
But as someone who comes from a council estate, in a town that rioted in the 1980s (Wolverhampton. The McDonald’s was left intact. Even as we rioted, we protected the chips), but now mingles with the elite (I’ve been snubbed by David Cameron at a garden party: my echelons are “upper”), I know why those feelings exist. How it is perfectly possible for kind people not to be capable of mourning the death of an old lady. Why your bones can boil against someone who should, ostensibly, be assessed as a hard-working public servant. And I also know that that is wrong.
As a class-jumper, I would say — as a sweeping generalisation — that politics can never mean as much to the professional classes as it does to the working class or the underclass.
What is the worst — the very worst — that government policy can do to you if you have a job in an industry with a strong future, live in a pleasant and well-equipped part of the country and have enough money to have always thought of shoes as a necessity rather than a luxury?
Push the highest rate of tax for a few thousand people to 90 per cent and let the bin-men go on strike. Annoying but not fatal. If you are generally secure, a government can inconvenience you, make you poorer or make you angrier — it can, let’s be frank, be a massive, incompetent, depressing, maybe even immoral, pain in the arse — but you, and your family, and your social circle, will survive it. It is unlikely that the course of your life will be much different under one government than the next, however diverse their ideas.
By way of contrast, what’s the worst — the very worst — that a government policy can do to you if you’re poor? Food Bank poor? Dependant-on-the- government poor? Well, everything. It can suddenly freeze, drop, or cancel your benefits — leaving you in the panic of unpayable bills and deciding which meals to skip. It can underfund your schools and hospitals — death in a corridor; no exams passed; no escape route into private hospitals or tutors, when your purse is full only of buttons and old bus tickets. It can let your entire industry die — every skill learned and piece of knowledge earned left useless. It can leave your whole city to “managed decline”, as Geoffrey Howe’s recently published suggestion for Liverpool revealed.
You know when middle-class people feel “absolutely devastated” by the government’s policy on the EU? They aren’t not devastated. They’re annoyed.
You know when poor people are “absolutely devastated” by the government’s policy on housing benefit? They are absolutely devastated. They’re in a hostel, with their children. It’s not just words to them. It’s the reporting of a fact. It’s their future. It’s their ruin.
Because if you are in the wrong town, in the wrong job, in the wrong class, the policies of a government make you disintegrate. And all those around you, too — so that you are all in fear. I don’t know if you ever went to a former manufacturing town in the 1980s — somewhere Northern and working-class — but that’s how they felt. The sadness and fear was everywhere. It saturated estates like greasy fog. It saturated the people like greasy fog.
Even now, I can catch the faint smell of it on the coats of those who left those towns decades ago. Even when the coats are new, and we are standing in a grand room, escaped. But for those who cannot remember this, because they weren’t in towns like this, here’s what it was like to have lived there: whenever people reminisce about the 80s, they always mention how the prospect of nuclear annihilation was a palpable thing. We were thoroughly and repeatedly talked through what it would be like to live in a post-nuclear wasteland: the lack of resources, the lack of hope, the panic. We were all conversant with what would happen when the wind blows. We knew what waited for us if diplomacy failed.
As a nine-year-old when Threads — with its bomb-blast, and melting St Paul’s and evaporating citizens — was broadcast, I had that hazy, childish thing of half believing, half not believing that the dropping of the bomb had already happened.
In Wolverhampton, it looked like diplomacy had failed. So much of what was promised for the apocalypse appeared to have come to us, bar the radiation burns.
We would drive into town, and my father would start the same, rattled monologue: “When I was a kid, at this time of the day, all you’d hear was the tramp, tramp, tramp of people’s feet as they walked to the factories. Every bus would be full, the streets would be seething. This town had something to do, and money in its pocket. People used to come here for work, and get it, the same day.
“Look at it now,” he’d say, as we went right through the centre: boarded up buildings, buddelia growing out of windows. “A ghost-town. Where have they gone? Where have they all gone?”
We were here to shop, at the cheapest place in town — the big, empty supermarket by the retail market where someone had thrown up shelves inside what used to be a factory and piled goods high and sold them cheap.
Mice would run from the sacks of rice. Ghosts seemed to live up in the roof, in the tangle of industrial pipes they’d simply painted over, in a sickly, unlikely turquoise.
It was only driving back home that you’d see where everyone was — queuing outside the Job Centre, heads down. The old fellas, like my dad, who’d always thought they’d work jobs wet with sweat, who could only sign their names with an X, and who knew they were, in the re-settling of the economy, f***ed eternally. The younger men, who looked pole-axed by knowing that 2,999,999 people had signed on before them — although part of their discombobulation could have been their jeans, which were still, at the time, worn very tight and without the mercy of a Lycra mix.
I was, accidentally, in the town centre when the riots happened — when it seemed like every man in the city ran down the main road, screaming. The police vans boxed us in and our Dad pulled us into a doorway and pushed us to his chest; and the shrill, sour smell of his sweat as he panicked and tried to hide us from screaming men under his padded, Burton’s anorak, in the town he’d spent his whole life in.
And then, in times of calm, the attempts at pleasure. We went to West Park — Wolverhampton’s green space — once. We were the first people in the park that day. As we walked through the gates, the muddy banks of the lake animated and the water began to churn, and there was a chittering sound that made you want to wipe your hands clean over and over and over again. Hundreds and hundreds of rats were fleeing at our approach. They were swimming out to their nests on the island in the middle of the lake while emitting odd rat-screams. That summer, the council had run out of money to control them and they had over-run the entire park: it had turned into a city of vermin. In 1902, West Park had hosted an Art and Industrial Exhibition, with a concert hall, two bandstands, a restaurant and a funfair with a waterchute. Now, the ornate Victorian bandstand looked like it had fallen from a different planet.
So that’s where I grew up. The riots and rats and ghosts and sad, silent queues. It seemed as if diplomacy had failed in Wolverhampton. Like some kind of bomb had dropped.
And when an entire city falls — when you live somewhere that feels like the ruins of a civilisation that was, once, much more pleasant; when your elders tell you, with a look of shock, that is still new, that it did not used to be like this: that things were better, that things were pleasant, but not in your lifetime; and you see that they mourn the childhood you are having; are ashamed of the childhood you are having, and want to cover it up with their big, hard hands — you look, as all ruined, bombed cities must, to your leaders, to see what their reaction is to your unhappiness. You look to see if they know how bad it is. You look to see what their solution is.
And the Government of the 80s did not come and help. I sound as pathetic as a child when I say this now, but that’s how we all felt. It was made clear that governments do not help in these matters — that the spores of private enterprise blow as they may, and that everything else was down to the individual. That if your city was ruined, it was because not enough citizens were being dynamic, and opening wine bars, or starting up tech firms, or trading on the Stock Exchange. If a city was inferior, it was simply because its people were inferior. We were the problem. We — in Liverpool and Sunderland and Glasgow and in the Welsh Valleys — were just ... wrong. We should have turned into something else, and we hadn’t. And, as a consequence, we were disliked by our own Government.
I grew up knowing that Margaret Thatcher would have hated me: a family of eight children in a council house, union-leader dad, home-educated, bohemian, scared of arguments, immersed in gay culture, with Welsh mining relatives sitting in the front room, talking about picket lines. We were the kind of people holding Britain back.
In recent years, I’ve been frequently told that my childhood dislike and fear of Mrs Thatcher was deeply ironic — as I am, in actual fact, a classic child of Thatcher. “Look at you! Self-made! Working since you were 13, from a council estate in Wolverhampton! Pulled up by your bootstraps! You are the absolute proof of everything she was saying! Mrs Thatcher made you!”
To which I always reply, very quietly: “Yes. But look around. How many others like me made it out? How many ascended into a world of boys from Eton and Cambridge and the Home Counties, at ease with walking into big rooms and making things happen?” By and large, you will find the power in exactly the same places it was in 1979.
So this is where all that anger started — the anger that confused so many, on the announcement of Baroness Thatcher’s death. All those people childishly downloading Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead or throwing parties, “celebrating” her passing. Among many commentators, there was bewilderment over the fireworks that were set off and the champagne — put away in cupboards for so many years for this day — being drunk. Why would you celebrate a death? The death of someone hard-working, old and confused? It is, surely, unnecessarily crude. It is just not classy.
But for all those who were left behind, to mourn their own towns, the sadness and the fear had turned to anger, as it always does — all anger is just fear, brought to the boil. And that is when so many impotent but determined entries were made in diaries. Entries made when a factory closed, or Section 28 brought in, or a relative came back from a protest, bleeding. Entries made when politics seemed to get very, very personal. Entries when politics became dangerous and destructive.
And they will all have been written differently, on different days, in different pens in a thousand different ways, but what they all boiled down to was this: “I can’t do anything else, now, but outlive this. Outlive you. All I can do is outrun you.”
And that is what all the cheap, unworthy, yet ultimately heartfelt jubilation was on April 8. It was the simple astonishment and relief of people — in the Valleys, on the estates, in the hostels and on failed marches — who felt they had, against all their own predictions, survived something.
Miriam

See my blog at http://clinpsyeye.wordpress.com

jadeywadey
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Re: The politics thread

Post by jadeywadey » Mon Apr 15, 2013 6:21 pm

As a country we tend to favour state responsibility over individualism, which I am really glad about and thankfully distinguishes us from residents of the US.


http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/ ... CMP=twt_fd

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miriam
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Re: The politics thread

Post by miriam » Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:02 am

When explaining this discussion with someone I found a better way to express my position as a business woman: don't be fooled by seeing me at the helm; I thought I was going for a cruise but now find myself in a lifeboat.
Miriam

See my blog at http://clinpsyeye.wordpress.com

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