Wednesday 27th October 2010
I've just been to a student meeting about the parlous state of things in general and the ConDem lunacy in particular. One of the questions that came up was "last time the state attacked they won — what's different this time"?
It seems to me that there are several significant differences between the Thatcherite assault on working people and the poor that we saw in the 1980s and the new round of muggings and austerity measures. The upshot is that Cameron and his Libdem apologists will probably not be able to replicate the success of his predecessors in his mission to make the majority pay for the banking crisis. Why not?
First, Thatcher had one luxury that the ConDems cannot afford: the ability to take on her opposition piecemeal. The dockers, then the public sector piece by piece, then the miners — the whole process took almost a decade. Today the schedule is perforce much shorter.
Second, and on a longer timescale, the last time young people got angry enough to really challenge the dominant ideas in society (roughly speaking, the period between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s) the middle aged had just been through a period of unusual prosperity and expansion (the long boom of the 50s and 60s — during which time the majority of economists confidently predicted the end of crisis, of course and as usual, until the oil shocks of the early 1970s precipitated a return to widespread chaos, unemployment and social strife in the normal manner). So, while the flower power generation discovered free love and strong weed in the late 1960s, their parents were, on the average, more content with the existing order than many generations before them. The concessions won by working people at the end of the second world war also contributed to this contentment: the NHS and the welfare state were massive advances over the lives of their parents' parents. When the young started to resist being sent off to Vietnam to slaughter and to be slaughtered, for example, and all the other movements of 1968 and after span into motion, their elders were not very likely to jump onto the same bandwagon as their children.
Contrast the situation today, at the end of 30 years of frequent crisis, unemployment and stagnation, and in latter years the foundation of a permanent war against a shadowy and ill-defined enemy and whoever is wearing a thick enough jacket on the London tube this morning to warrant destruction a hail of speculative police bullets.
We, speaking now from the grand height of my 45 years, are not content.
Of course we're also not conspicuously ripping up our social contracts and heaping our sofas into makeshift barricades... We have, after all, just come through a period of massive defeat. But I strongly suspect that on average we're an awful lot angrier than the 40- and 50-year-olds were in 1968, and perhaps all we need to bring us out of our shells is one victory, one breakthrough, one signal that we don't have to take it any more, and there'll be hordes of wrinklies scrambling over the youngsters in our rush to get to the picket lines. At the very least, our imagery is going to be a whole hill of beans better than those young upstarts :-)