Next Thursday, there is a General Election here in the UK. It has been hailed as the most important election since 1945, mainly because no party is expected to win. I don’t get the comparison at all. Labour swept to victory unexpectedly after the war, winning the 1945 election with an unheard of majority of 146 seats. They nationalised industries, inaugurated the National Health Service, and greatly improved the lot of the ordinary people across the UK.
Whatever happens next week, nothing momentous will happen as a result. If either of the main parties secure a working majority, it will be nothing short of a miracle. Whoever wins will be compelled to arrange shaky alliances with parties that they would normally never get into bed with, no doubt making promises that they will break, and doing deals that they will renege upon. The rise of UKIP was talked up a lot, but it is unlikely that they will get many seats. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, is so ineffective that even traditional party supporters are reluctant to vote for him. The Conservatives promise much, and may sneak ahead at the last minute, with the voters worrying about the economy, and embracing the politics of self-interest. But even if they win, getting enough seats to form a government seems unlikely, so the deals and back-door negotiations will begin on Friday.
Some will use their votes as a protest, or not vote at all. Turnout in many areas is expected to be low. New powers have emerged in Scotland, with the SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon getting much praise for her determination and fighting spirit. Her success could mean the end of the Labour Party as a national force, as it is far too dependent on its many seats in Scotland. The gloomy outlook is that we could see Conservative governments long into the future, further reducing the value of the working classes, and heralding a return to the bad old days before that 1945 election. They may need those shaky alliances to keep going, but as long as the opposition provides no alternative, the hung parliament, propped up by underhand deals, looks to become the norm in the UK.
Apologies to Robert Graves, for stealing his title.
After the election in 1945, the introduction of the Welfare State rightly made Britain the envy of the Developed World. Decent medical care, irrespective of income, in state owned and run hospitals, was then unknown over most of the planet. This included the newly-emerged Communist states at the time, who boasted as much, but failed to deliver. Add to this unemployment benefits at a realistic level, the birth of comprehensive education, improved working conditions and union recognition, and we should have witnessed the beginnings of Utopia.
It was a great thing though, easily overlooked in our modern consumer age, where so much is taken for granted. For the first time, the working people were offered hope, and a positive future. They were to be treated fairly, and their children would have the same chances in life, as those of the Aristocracy, and The Rich. In theory. This was an unrealistic expectation of course. Despite many children from poor backgrounds being able to attend university, become teachers, scientists, poets, and writers, they still had no power. With that lack of power was the attendant absence of influence, and the inability to change the status quo. It was impossible to escape their working-class backgrounds, and to make any real progress.
This came later, with the Closed Shop, and the power of the growing Trades Union movement. Government mandarins, faceless bureaucrats, and wealthy private businessmen and landowners, began to feel the sting of the organised masses. For the first time since the General Strike in 1926, ordinary, hard-working people, from coal miners, to those working on car production lines, could call the shots, and tell the bosses how things were going to happen. Power cuts were the response to refusal to negotiate. Uncollected rubbish was the weapon of the low paid dustmen, and no public transport was the unsheathed sword of the train drivers, and bus company employees.
The Establishment, and the newspapers and television companies that they owned, or ran, were outraged. Big business and the governments of the day, Labour, or Tory, didn’t know whether to call the workers’ bluff, or capitulate entirely. They did both in turn, and neither worked. The people, and their unions, continued their offensive against the middle classes, and the powerful businesses that still wanted to deny them equality. Once a dustman received a 10% increase in pay, a shorter working week, and an additional week of holiday entitlement, he was supposed to shut up, and go away. After all, he was only an uneducated manual worker, so why did he think he deserved to live on a par with the privileged, or for that matter, the Intelligentsia?
Personal attacks became the order of the day. Individual trade unionists were smeared, their private lives and finances spread all over the press. They were called ‘Red’ this or that, and there were increasingly desperate attempts to implicate them with imagined Russian plans to overthrow the West. If only. Later, with an increasingly frightened Right-Wing government in power, new laws were introduced, in an attempt to curb union rights. Flying pickets were outlawed, so no worker could show solidarity with another by supporting their strike. Trade Union funds were sequestered, robbing them of the ability to properly represent their members, while their leaders’ salaries were widely publicised, in the (successful) hope of alienating them further from the burgeoning, home-owning middle classes that were fast becoming the majority. When the salaries of London Underground drivers approached £30,000 a year, outraged commuters appeared on the evening news, declaring that these people who got them into work, at all times, in all weathers, in archaic conditions, on unsocial rotas, were not worth the same money as them.
Class rules in Britain; not fairness, equality, or even commonsense. Someone who has been to university, or works in a City financial institution, or owns their own business, simply cannot abide the fact, that a potentially poorly-educated train driver, or tradesman, could (or should) ever earn anywhere near the same salary as them. They were happy to see them dragged down, and for their unions to have their teeth pulled. Served them right, for getting ‘above their station’. Above these disgruntled Middle Classes, the Rich, and the Upper Classes were looking down themselves. They were equally disgusted at the uppity attitudes, not only of the workers, but of the bank clerks, office workers, and junior managers. They were owning their own houses, sending their children to private schools, and even buying private health insurance, so they could attend the same clinics as their ‘betters’. Who did they think they were?
By 2010, the plan was set. With the help of the weak and ineffectual Liberals, the Real Tories finally got power. These were not the Wets of the post Thatcher era, not even the Thatcherite hawks of the late 1970’s. These were the real power, the Old Power, that has always been here. It just went away for a while. Money, Land, Public School, Oxford and Cambridge, Eton, Harrow, and a few others; not forgetting the Military, the Civil Service, and the Aristocracy. They finally showed their hand, and it was a full house. The bluff was called, and this time by those with the clout to call it. We can weep, we can wail, and we can moan and gripe. They don’t care. We can mutter angrily, or murmur in disdain, even shout out furiously. They don’t care. They have snared the people, in a spiral of debt, lack of hope, and the Valium of trash TV and an outrageously biased press. The future has been pulled out from the workers’ feet, and that of their children, like the tablecloth in a magician’s trick.
Goodbye to benefits, goodbye to fairness, goodbye to hope for the disabled, to careers, education, and eventually, the NHS.
Goodbye to the Welfare State, equality, freedoms, employment rights. Goodbye to all that.