When I was younger, my grandad gave me a piece of sage advice (not the only piece - he was a pretty sharp cookie). He said that many fights in pubs are started by talking about politics, or religion, so never discuss them if you want to keep friends and stay out of trouble. On the whole, I've tried to obey that advice. You get a feel for what friends' politics are, but have never really asked them outright. I have friends with many political views from left to right, red to blue, with the occasional green and orange thrown in. What has struck me over the past maybe three or so years is the increasing disillusionment by all, in what passes as politics these days. There are common themes amongst the comments made though.
My friends are mostly educated, middle class (although many consider themselves to be working class because they earn a living), have jobs, kids, mortgages. elderly parents/relatives. They fear more for the future than they ever have. This to a person, seems to be caused by the incompetance of politicians of all parties to deal with the real problems of society, rather than come up with their madcap Islington (Notting Hill etc.) dinner party politics.
The first thing that people resent is the number of skivers our society supports through the benefits system. Yes there are genuine cases, but there is a sgnificant number - £2.6m people too ill to work - I'm sorry I don't believe that level of disability in a modern society, too idle to work. There are many ways of motivation - read any management book - most agree, in simplistic terms that carrot and stick is the best way of getting the best out of people. here's an idea - cut benefits, and to help people get back into work, give them the 'missing' benefits as a wage for delivering a service. Its easier to get a job from a job. Many of the people I know with disabilites are proud of the jobs they have, and some have made the most of their disability - I know two lovely women who are both profoundly deaf, who have made their lip reading and signing a business, selling it to conference and media markets. A disability isn't a barrier. Idleness and attitude is.
The mass under-achievement of kids. It is no co-incidence that educational standards are lower than 30 years ago, and probably lower again than 50 years ago. There was a system called grammer and technical schools then. Bright working class children were educated with middle class children and picked up their mores. Social mobility was at its highest. If a child shows sporting prowess, they are quickly given every sort of coaching to achieve their potential and yet we throw our kids regardless of ability into the biggest schools possible at 11 - remember when secondary schools had 500 pupils not two thousand? - in the name of equality and efficiency. With a geographical rather than ability split, working class children (if their parents work) don't see another side, another's aspirations and only have their parents' distorted views on the world.
Pride - my grandparents on both sides were working class, my parents had little, but my granparents instilled their aspirations to make a better life for themselves through an education or a trade. They didn't have much, but they had one thing that money can't buy - self-respect. There was always a meal on the table - home prepared. Food wasn't wasted and eating out was limited to fish and chips on an occasional night out. They dressed up for this night out, and saved for what they needed. Pride cannot be bought or indeed taxed. I don't buy into this view that the working class can't afford to cook a healthy meal. I don't buy into the view that they have no aspirations - if you are hungry, you find work. You become enterprising. Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet) in the paper at the weekend talked about the cleanliness of everything they had, even though they lived in rented accommodation in Camden.
The globalisation of our town and city centres botheres me. Starbucks and Costa coffee are often picked on. When I was growing up, as teenagers we went into cafes that were owned by small businesses. The Chef was one, and if you had a bit more money, we met in Birds cafe. Happily Birds still survives - the quality of its bakery was enough to meet the challenge of Starbucks and supermarkets. In New Zealand, which many consider to be the equivalent of Britain in the 60's, on my visit in 2005, there were still small businesses and shops to support. I wonder if that still is the case in 2011. I walked through the area of Burton yesterday, where there is a significant immigrant population, mostly Pakistani origin. They had barbers, grocers, garages. Somehow they have managed to avoid globalisation by trading amongst themselves. It is possible, or are the rest of us too lazy to support local businesses?
That is part of the problem. Wanting everything now is another. My grandparents replaced, and didn't chase the latest gizmo for the sake of it. It wasn't necessarily always saved for, I remember the 'Friday man' calling, but generally on 'big ticket' items, they went without until they could afford it. The looked for quality and value, to ensure it lasted. Now Governments in the name of growth have encouraged us to replace everything before it is broken. They have encouraged banks to lend cheaply and beyond the means of the people paying back. Remember the days of mortages being 2.5 times the mans's salary? perhaps inflated house prices are due to being able to lend 5 times joint salaries. The banks don't mind - more interest for them. The sellers don't mind, they can inflate prices. (As an aside, where are all the boasters at the moment - you know the ones that tell you how much they've made on their house since last year?) We bought British, because that way we were supporting our businesses and peoples' jobs.
If I formed my party, I would repeal the Human Rights Act. Well intentioned I'm sure, but with rights come responsibilities. If you break a law, you take the consequences. If you live beyond the mores of society (footballers take note) then you take the consequences of your actions. You do not have the right to live off the taxes of hard working people, you take responsibility for your own life. If you trip over a broken paving stone, do it as it was in the past, look where you are going, don't sue. The ambulence chasers are making us all risk averse, and lacking in reponsibility.
Capitalism as a model is broken. Socialism has never really worked - people are motivated by money and sadly greed. Supporting the weakest creates more weak. Chasing profit for money's sake only, doesn't work either. The clever management at Northern Rock, RBS, Southern Cross have proved that. Punch Taverns had a fantastic estate of property, but mortgaged it to raise capital - they over geared and then when people could no longer afford to go out, Punch could've sat tight, or sold a few off, instead they have huge loan repayments. Investment bankers have forced Boards to chase short term profits and this has led to off-shoring, job losses etc. In Victorian times Burton had several breweries that were the equivalent of Google. They put back into their local communities, building a Town Hall, Sports and Socila facilities for their members but also for the wider community. Where possible, they bought and used local suppliers. They became rich, but they gave back to those less fortunate than themselves. The nearest we have now to that business model I think is the Co-Op. Profits given back to their members via a dividend. British farmers and suppliers supported, and where possibly Fair Trade suppliers from abroad. Profit is not the dirty word. It's what is done with those profits, and how it affects people around them is.
We waste money on illegal wars to protect our oil supplies, and yet our elderly are left without proper care. (Funny how Blair's kids didn't join up, and the Royal family's son's did - and saw active service in Blair's illegal war.)
So, we grew up wanting a different world, even hoping to change the world ourselves. Instead we have politicians who don't have the balls to make the sweeping changes needed. many aren't qualified. 40 years ago, Labour politicians came from the public sector or unions. They were time served, and understood the world they lived in and wanted to change it. Conservative politicians came from the world of business, and sometimes agriculture. They too wanted a better world to their model. Now politicians come from politicians, they have no real life experiences to work with. Politics is not a career, its a vocation and a way of giving back. As a consequence the lack of real world experience has led to opportunism, such as lawyers and ambulence chasers with the Human Rights Act.
There must be another way of managing the world. A new world model. Perhaps its chaisng votes that stops inaction. Personally I think that the party that sorts the benefit cheats out will gain rather than lose votes. The party that supports decent business practices, and rewards those that do the right thing in their walk of life. (that goes for nurses as well - you can get off your backsides and talk to patients you know and check they are OK, rather than sit beyhind a desk talking about sex lik eyou did when my gradnmother and aunt were seriously ill.) I hope one day to see signs of it. sadly I don't think I will.
The title is a Heaven 17 song - disco song with a hint of conscience.