Enough Said – Letter from London:
In national Lockdown 2 we have recently been reminded of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to protect the alter of freedom and defend humanity against such forces that sought to remove compassion, understanding, empathy, diversity and love from our very souls.
At this time when the world is not only battling against an insidious virus that does not discriminate against its hosts, we are also in a fight, once again, to protect the very foundation of our humanity. I believe the two are linked; as they were when we as a free people last faced this existential but very real threat.
To understand how we have arrived at this most crucial of stages in our evolution we have to look to our recent history when, ten years ago, the electorate had a decision to make. The choice was clear…. Option one was to make drastic cuts in all essential services as an extreme measure to combat the awful mess the downfall of the banks had left us in. And option two was to borrow against the ever-increasing deficit and try to kick start the economy that way. Option two allowed us to also exponentially finance the need of our public services such as the NHS, educational system, social services, police so that meant the poorest in our society wouldn’t get left behind.
The only way to have executed this was to increase borrowing and make sure that the economy took an upturn sooner rather than later. The rise in GDP would then be able to repay the debt incurred as well as our public services. The caveat on the public’s behalf might be to suffer an incremental tax rise for those who could afford it… Aye and there’s the rub!
During the Thatcher years a culture had emerged of isolationism, selfishness and a lack of empathy; traits that had always been inherent in the upper classes but had now infiltrated the middle class by coupling it with a sense of aspirational desire. If you wanted success you had to be tough. “Greed is good”. The ideology was bought into “hook, line and Mr Sinker,” certainly by the middle classes and more often than not it seduced the working classes too.
This diminishing face of care, understanding, love and empathy with one’s fellow citizen was, I believe, the beginning of the end; leading to where we find ourselves now. Year by year, Government by Government, both Labour and Tory oversaw this betrayal of the sacrifice the greatest nation fought and died for. They allowed the doctrine of ‘self’ to slowly seep in and infect our DNA…ironically like a newfound virus.
And so the die was cast. The working class inherently believe the upper classes must be right and doff their cap to them where financials are concerned; and thus the middle class (who already knew that their monthly income would be enough to survive any bite that was coming) were happy to again bow to the focus of their ambition – to move up the class ladder. This skewed combination of therapeutics meant that we were powerless to fight back against the disease of the selfish gene and a vote for ‘option one’ and austerity was secured.
The slow decline in our belief in equality, inclusion and leadership on a world stage culminated in the Brexit vote of 2016. I often marvelled at the various excuses as to the reasons why so many of the generation who lived through the war and a fair few of the subsequent generations voted to leave the EU and set ourselves adrift on a Titanic-esque lifebelt in the quagmire that is the International Trade Deal! It certainly wasn’t the choice of the younger generation.
“We don’t want to be ruled by Brussels and all their laws” – Of course when asked to name even just three laws that affected them directly, they couldn’t name one.
“We want to take back power to make our own decisions” – We always could and if we had embraced Europe from the out-set we could have led Europe to agree with and enhance our own decisions too.
And maybe the biggest delusion of all, “There’s too many foreigners coming over here taking our jobs” – Anyone under the age of sixty knew what they were saying and it wasn’t that there were ‘too many foreigners’ per se… it was the wrong kind of foreigner! I am sure that if we have had an influx of migration from the Scandinavian region, white, Christian and ‘English speaking’ they wouldn’t have had a problem. But they weren’t and they did.
And so the very core of what our amazing generation did in 1939-1945, which was to stop a maniacal tyrant whose totalitarianism was built on the belief that not all peoples were equal, that isolationism and not integration was a necessity and that self and self alone was the mandate for generations to come, was turned on its face.
The slow decline was further enforced in 2019 when Boris Johnson was voted in by even the staunchest of Labour voters just to ‘get Brexit done’, such was the desire to stop the alleged ‘en masse’ foreign migration to our country. But they didn’t take the time to realise that to vote the Johnson Govt in also meant that it was a green light to continue the policies that had decimated our country’s poor and struggling over the last ten years. The selfish gene was now dominant.
When would they realise that due to the extreme cuts of the last ten years the NHS was on its knees? That the public education system was at bursting point and social services had almost ceased to exist, leaving more of our fellow citizens homeless and socially and financially segregated? When would they open their eyes and face up to the fact that they had allowed foodbanks to even exist in 21st Century Britain, let alone be on the rise month by month? When was it made acceptable to look the other way from the stark reality that poverty was also increasing and mental illness was at epidemic levels, highlighting the fact that suicide for young males was now statistically their demographic’s biggest killer… I could go on.
I truly believe the final realisation for the many that have idly gone along with the idea that austerity was the way forward and Brexit was the solution to their desire to relive a past, that in reality there never was, can be found in the last six months, i.e. the onset of this vicious virus that is now killing up to 500 people a day and has already claimed over 50,000 lives may just have highlighted the true cost of what a decade of austerity actually means….
….An NHS system that was ill prepared. A social services system that was without funds and therefore became cruel and harsh to appease the Govt’s spending restrictions. A mental illness catastrophe that has gone unchecked, unsupported, and uncared for. Poverty on a scale that hasn’t been seen since Dickins and a homeless situation that goes far deeper that just ignoring the increasing rise of those sleeping on our streets. Those sleeping on our and THEIR streets are only the tip of the iceberg. Homelessness is also sleeping in B&B’s, motels, family’s houses, squats, hostels etc etc. The impact from any part of the spectrum, as I can bear witness to, is massive both financially and more importantly, emotionally.
But like every country in its darkest hour there is always optimism.
When asked how we managed to get through the many ups and downs my family and I have suffered over the last decade I had always said that I am ‘a Prisoner of Optimism’ – a quote from the iconic Bishop Desmond Tutu who used that phrase to describe himself during his lowest days when combating the man-made disease that was Apartheid. I have since, following my experiences over the last few years, re-adjusted my manta as to the asking of whether I am an optimist or pessimist and now declare myself to be ‘an Optimist… that worries a lot’! But optimistic I have been and always will be that things will change for the better. Even when things are at their lowest, humanity throws us hope in the shape of people who can no longer stay silent and have the courage to speak out.
As Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction, courage is a decision.”
This hope, this belief in “doing the right thing” and caring for our fellow citizens and not just ignoring and closing our doors to them was epitomised by the words and actions of Marcus Rashford MBE.
A fantastic footballer and an incredible citizen and spokesperson for what had been a silent majority, Rashford embodied the courage that is so needed to bring a ray of optimistic light to a very pessimistic world. Marcus managed to convey – via his courageous rhetoric and practical actions -what the rest of the country were thinking but hadn’t the guts to maybe vocalise. In doing so he also exposed the leadership of this country for what they really are in terms of the empathy, care and love for those less well off.
Marcus Rashford will feature heavily when historians write their well-articulated summary of the events in the early 21st Century, that’s for sure. The longevity of his influence as to the direction of this country is still a story to be told and maybe this is just the beginning of his journey to evoke real change. My optimistic side says I very much hope so.
For me, his courage to also take on the Govt’s distancing with regards to the necessity of providing free meals to those children in need over the school holidays deserves a nation’s grateful thanks. It served as a reminder to the responsibilities of Govt and to reinforce the demand that the Govt has to finance a situation that humanity should have told them they should have done from the outset.
Maybe with the sacking of Cummings and other cronies, the ether of compassion and hue of empathy might start to fill the corridors and passageways of Downing Street once more.
It should not be the responsibility of charities and wonderful well-meaning people to cope with the humanitarian crisis that has slowly enveloped the poorest of our society. It is down to us the people collectively and the Govt who we have voted for to carry out this mandate. We all have to pay more to stop this crisis and start to rescind the lack of empathy, love and support that has spread through us over the last years.
It is now on us to accept that we might all have to pay a few more pence in tax every year to stop this tragedy that has occurred on our watch. It is down to us to stop the belief that we can do it better on our own and embrace the genie that is out of the bottle and the younger generation won’t allow to be put back in. A genie that is determined to grant their wish for total inclusion, diversity, understanding, empathy, world citizenship and the humanity to defend our fellow peoples across the world and not to take the isolationist route and close our door to the atrocities that are happening elsewhere.
Isn’t that what men, women, children and animals died for in 1939-45? Isn’t that the future they envisaged when they were breathing their last breath in the ultimate sacrifice. Isn’t that what we were supposed to learn from the years that followed, that togetherness and not alienation, diversity and not singularity, inclusion and not exclusion and finally love and not hate was what so many had laid down their lives for?
I wonder what the bravest of the brave who fought and died protecting our country and the world from the dictators of the 30s would have made of the generations they saved; what they would have thought of this dramatic desire to forget the lessons of the past by agreeing to a mandate to stop integration, inclusion, care, respect and helping one’s fellow citizens?
I am comforted that they would have been optimistic to see that free speech and democracy was alive and well in 2016 and 2019 whatever the outcome was and however much I may disagree with it. Perhaps they may have been a little disappointed and alarmed with the concept and ultimate execution of Brexit which again will divide Europe. But I am convinced they would have been outraged at the disintegration of our society whereby 4.1 million children are now living in poverty in 2020 and would see it as a betrayal of what they gave their lives for.
But as an “Optimist who worries a lot” I am equally convinced they would have not only been optimistic but extremely proud that a member of today’s generation like Marcus Rashford – who encapsulates the wonderful, diverse, inclusive and optimistic future of this and every country – can freely express his thoughts, be listened to and ultimately affect change, not just for the good of one, but for the good of all.
“THE TRUE MEASURE OF ANY SOCIETY CAN BE FOUND IN HOW IT TREATS ITS MOST VULUNRABLE MEMBERS” – Mahatma Gandhi,
November 16th 2020