Have We The Right To Call Britain Great Any Longer?
Not so long ago I wrote about homelessness in Britain.....note that I missed out Great before Britain, because for some time I have been questioning just how Great this country is.
As a young boy I grew up with the army, spending spending more than half my childhood in Germany. I remember my first school in Hohne, very close to the Belsen Concentration Camp where Jews and undesirables were murdered or starved and worked to death - and the one thing that stood out was the importance of Britain's compassion and our loving Queen.
The imperialistic pride was foremost, and hammered home around the age of 5 when we had a visit by the Queen Mother to the Roundhouse NAAFI at the end of our school sports ground.
The whole school lined the six foot wire fence waving our little Union Jacks as she arrived and our cheers grew louder when to my delight the Queen Mum gave us a dignified wave.
I bounced around for days after singing that terrible dirge we call the National Anthem and telling everyone who would listen that I saw the Queens mummy. The regimental family open days where we could get rides in military vehicles, and as we got older the chance to fire guns, the military bands and parades filled me with a national pride, that I came from a tiny country that once ruled the greatest and most successful empire in history.
I later enlisted as a bandsman with the 4th/7th Royal Dragoon Guards and served for eight years. My sense of flying the flag for my country was foremost in my mind and fed my pride and sense of nationalism.
Those huge Military pageants and tournaments I was part of in my shining brass helmet and red tunic filled me with pride and awe, and seeing audiences rise to their feet often made my chest feel like it would explode. Even being a small 5'6" inches, there were times I felt taller than anyone else around me.
So yes I was very much a nationalist and a proud Englander. When I left the army, Thatcher had been in power for over three years. I realised an ambition that I was always told was beyond me, by winning a place at Durham University. Up to that time I hadn't a clue about politics - red, blue, conservative, labour it was all just beyond my comprehension, the only thing I was sure of was we had a conservative government and all seemed well......what was the problem, was there even a problem.
Politically, I was an airhead!! Then came the miners strikes and Thatchers war with men and their families who were just fighting for their livelihoods. The first inkling I had that something was very wrong was when I saw a poster on my common room notice board asking for volunteers to help the families of the striking miners because Thatcher had cut off any assistance for them.
She quite happily allowed these families to starve when miners refused to work or leave. I became angry and my hatred of the Conservatives was born - how could they abandon children to break the strikes? This is when my nationalism and pride in being British began to wane.
It was then I started noticing things, and the main thing was a growth in beggars and homeless people in Sunderland, Middlesborough and Newcastle where I worked placements and carried out studies.
I saw poverty growing, and being a working class lad I could go into pubs in run down areas and talk to locals about what was happening on their estates. By the end of the Tory reign the things we are seeing in the NHS now, we were seeing then. Closed down and underfunded hospitals, patients being treated and sleeping in corridors etc etc.
It was homelessness that most stuck in my mind, and here we are again seeing the same mess - but there is something much more sinister about what we are seeing today compared to the last years of the Thatcher/Major era.
We had the best part of eighteen years of Thatcher/Major before Blair came rolling into power in 1997 and the mopping up of austerity could be tackled but after just six years of Tory rule, it feels like there was nothing in between 1997 and today.
In six years the Tories have brought us back to and beyond the poverty levels they left us with when they were knocked off their perch. So the obvious question is.... Is this current conservative government crueler and less caring about what the electorate think of them than the 79-97 one - or is it that something has fundamentally changed in British society? Something that has robbed us of anything remotely Great about our country that makes a crueler conservative government more palatable?
Well here's my take on the question I pose....... Divide and rule is nothing new especially for the Tories. "Greed is good" Margaret Thatcher famously said and it began the rise of the yuppie - where any wide eyed boy with the right patter could pretend he was on the way up or even move up the wealth ladder. Even a working class boy from the roughest council estate could beg borrow or steal himself an Yves Saint Laurent suit and grab a job in sales.
I had a bash at it through estate agencies, we saw building societies snatch up independent agencies and form chains of estate agents in an attempt to control property prices and maximise profits. I lived in Bournemouth and I was seeing properties rising at around £8k a month, and I jumped in on the game.
Filofax and mobile brick in hand I made some serious bucks before Thatcher and her chancellor decided on a thing called MIRAS (Mortgage Relief At Source) which played a part in a massive recession, we saw property prices slump, and people who had been able to borrow more than they should were suddenly in bother.
What the government did was abolish a thing called Joint MIRAS (where an unmarried couple got two lots of MIRAS but a married couple only got MIRAS in single form, largely and rightly seen as unfair) and that destroyed chains and sales fell through. Property prices dropped, interest rates on borrowing went up and mortgage payers struggled to meet monthly payments.
But for the wide eyed yuppie I was then, this meant greater opportunity to make more money. I stopped selling houses and started refinancing in Financial Services and I made some serious money. My record month was £80k. What I did was find fixed mortgages, and remortgaged people to make their monthly outgoings a whole lot less stressful. I actually helped people avoid losing their homes whilst making a killing.
So good at this was I that the company I worked for made me a manager and team leader, so I got a commission from each team members sales. In money terms I had it all - a great home, a supercar and tailored suits, and whilst I still voted labour I lost sight for a few years of the poverty surrounding me, even in affluent Bournemouth. I was part of the greed culture Thatcher had opened the way for...
The balloon however burst for me and I fell badly...not my fault, but like a house built on dodgy foundations my foray into the high life collapsed. I lost it all, almost going bankrupt, and for awhile there was every possibility that as a senior manager of the company I worked for I might have ended up in prison. Only because I was kept out of the loop of criminality going on in the company, and had been totally blind to the CEO and her tight knit collaborators, was I exonerated of any wrong doing.
It was clear to the authorities that I saw myself saving people from financial ruin, whilst those above me were trying to defraud very wealthy people, a type of clients I was not interested in. Even then I wasn't out to feed an addiction for greed like some of my colleagues, and they knew it, and it made them so suspicious of me they kept me out of their get richer faster plan.
At the time it felt like my world had crumbled, but pretty soon I knew it was the best thing that could have happened to me because I got back to reality. I started seeing the devastation Thatcher and her Government were creating again, and I saw what this "Greed is Good" world was doing to those who weren't young and flashy and could talk a good line.
After Blair swept to power I tried my hand at many things and was able to survive, but I had nothing and I kind of liked it that way. I had identified myself as a socialist, and though I disliked Blair and what he did with Labour, things seemed better all round. The NHS was helped off its knees, hospitals replaced or repaired, new schools and upgrades started happening, and the introduction of the minimum wage was a vast improvement - but Blair happily let divide and rule continue, although to be fair he didn't seem to push it.
However what he did do was allow the gap between the highest earners and the lowest earners grow. He peddled the line that we needed to pay to have the best managers and CEO's and if we didn't we would lose them. The deregulation of the Banks allowed the banks to not just get greedy, but take part in criminal activity which eventually brought about the global financial crisis - and gave the Tories an in.
The Iraq war brought about an opportunity for more division with tales of Muslim evils permeating our media. Migration allowed further division and diversion from government failures. A deliberate policy of reduced social house building and rising rents in the private sector, while demand for these rose with migration, allowed even labour to blame foreigners, whilst still making out the wealthy were our saviours.
The lie of trickle down economics was swallowed hook line and sinker and though those at the bottom saw no benefit to the bloating of bosses wages, somehow they felt it, the spin gave them the placebo effect.
The banking crisis was the undoing of Blairs Labour, even though Brown was now in charge, and the Tories went into the full blame game....it wasn't just Labour they attacked, it was the poor - and as they did so they turned sections of the poor against those no better off. The poorly paid versus the benefit scroungers was a triumph, but more successful was fooling people into believing all benefit claimants were lazy, workshy and a drain on Britain, and that they, like migrants, were to blame for the financial crash.
They gave the belief to millions that whilst those at the bottom were a drain, the sick, the disabled, the workshy, the pensioners and so on, those hoarding wealth were the creators of a more stable economy - and whilst there is truth in Blairs Labour abandoning the working man, the Tories ramped it up spectacularly.
'Austerity was needed and necessary' they said 'we need to bring down borrowing cut public spending because Labour were out of control.' And boy did we fall for it as a nation, and boy did we learn to hate each other.
UKIP under Farage was perfect for this spin with their 'anti EU' and 'uncontrolled borders' and 'stealing British jobs and council houses'. And still those at the top, stashing money offshore to avoid paying their taxes and bankers given bonuses, justified to keep the real crooks in clover, were hailed as heroes.
It was they, not the low paid workers doing all the graft for a pittance, that kept Britain Great. Even now, with the conservatives having borrowed more in six years than all labour governments combined, too many still believe Labour cannot be trusted with the economy. No matter how many times we shout it out that the national debt has not been reduced but instead been more than doubled, the message is not getting though.......people still believe the Tories have it all under control.
A look at social media today will quickly reveal the hatred and division in Britain today. The support for the Right of politics is strong, whether it's for the Tories or for UKIP and there is no surprise that so many of the supporters have racist and religious hatred agendas. Britain First lies are thrown at us by their supporters at every opportunity. Sadly when you challenge these beliefs the people espousing them cannot offer any facts to support them.
So in a Britain that is so full of hate and division, where Brexit has empowered the racists and xenophobes to spew out the hate they have been gagged from doing for so long, is it a wonder that in just six years we see homelessness has grown by an estimated 131%, and poverty in general is rising sharply. Too many of us don't care either, and the Conservative government know it.
Society has allowed this government carte blanche to bring misery to millions, because we are too busy hating our neighbours. Until we address this hate and get voters focused on what is right and who it really to blame, I do not believe we deserve the title of Great anymore