We’ve all known them. The school bully and their entourage who ruthlessly persecute anyone they perceive as different or worse, superior to them. They have to do it to sustain themselves because they lack the self-confidence and self-love to be able to get by without constantly reinforcing to themselves their worth at the expense of the easiest target. Invariably this is not the path to happiness and success for the bullies, though it is one which can be reversed with the right support and time. It is incredibly sad to see the mentality of the playground bully writ large across our society today.
50 years ago, it would be fair to say, things seemed different. England had won the World Cup, the generation which had won the war had begun to see the benefit of the post-war reconstruction, industries were expanding and Wilson’s government was talking about a new future forged in the white heat of technology. Employment was high, wages were rising ahead of inflation, home ownership increasing and the middle and working classes would have been stunned had anyone suggested to them that Britain was not rightfully regarded as one of the top 3 or 4 influential world leading countries.
People had on the whole a sense of community and individual pride. Working class neighbourhoods were full of skilled tradespeople in major industries who were seen as aspirational by younger members of the community who saw a clear route for themselves to succeed too – work hard and prosper through effort, skill and hard work.
50 years on it feels very different. Many communities now have multi-generational unemployment after traditional industries were decimated as the Thatcher government refocused the country’s economy onto services and particularly the financial sector without planning transitional alternatives for those areas which used to produce things. Even the communities which prospered during the boom years of the 80’s found their expectations harder to meet especially since the 2008 crash and crushing austerity which followed in 2010-2016. How fragile was Britain’s economic and social base that so quickly so much could come undone.
The response of many people in the hardest hit communities has been to follow the direction of the popular press and Eurosceptics and blame it all on the EU as an institution and immigrants or foreigners in general. The seeds of this blame culture had always been there: the Daily Mail was writing anti-immigrant articles in the 1900’s which could, but for a few details changing, be reprinted today and taken for current in the Mail or the Express. The same sectors of society who were led to support the Blackshirts are similar to those led to see today’s immigrants as to blame for everything that’s wrong with their lives and all the effects of austerity policies. Similarly, the facts rarely cut through and don’t get a look-in when in competition with an aggressive peer-influencing culture which equates patriotism and masculinity with the personification of root cause in someone born overseas or with different religion, skin, dress or accent. The added bonus that today’s chief terrorism focus stems from Islamist cult membership only makes the task for the media barons of making the necessary links that much easier than it was in the 60’s.
It doesn’t have to be this way. More than that, we simply must ensure it can never be this way again. The stakes are now too high, as has been proven by the Brexit referendum. As Canning put it in the 1860’s referring to the extension of adult male suffrage, we must educate our masters, but more than that, we must ensure that we invest in them, in all of them, and build a stakeholder society…a society in which everyone has a stake and an ability to realise an aspiration to be successful and reasonably prosperous.
There are many policies across the political party agendas, obviously more on the Labour/Liberal wing than on the right, which can be taken as a start point to address the task ahead. I wont discuss them but investment on a massive scale and a rebalancing of the economy will clearly be critical elements. The point I want to end on, though, is that now is a very good moment to focus all our attention on this issue and carpe diem. I believe that the events of this year have provided the political equivalent of the ghost of Christmas yet-to-come: many people are seeing the sort of future that we face as a country if we continue on our current path: not so much economically poorer and isolationist in attitude post-Brexit, though those are enormously damaging issues, but rather a society filled with ever-increasing fear, bullying and jealousy, coupled with ignorance, and driven by simple media-messaging untroubled by fact. A society in which might is right and the loudest mouth wins the stage. A society in which we exist rather than live, and in which we collapse ever inwards until nothing remains but a terrified crowd of blind people screaming hatred at anything they hear moving.
I believe many people are realising that unless we return our society to one built on pride rather than prejudice, we won’t want to live in it and we may find that in time, we won’t even be given the choice of whether to do so.