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For some reason there has always been a debate about whether Margret ever said “there is no such thing as society” I have always wondered why. I’m told I have to look at the full quote to get a proper meaning of what she actually said and meant so let’s do just that, I’m all in favour of evidence.
And, you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and then, also to look after our neighbour.
Anyone who maintains that Thatcher didn’t mean quite literally there is no such thing as society needs to quickly learn some basic anthropology and the history of humankind as tribal. Putting individuals before society is literally to put the cart in front of the horse, things have never worked like that. This is not a matter of opinion it’s a matter of fact, an entirely new paradigm to fit a perverted branch of economics called Neo-liberalism. This cleared the way for the de-industrialisation of the North and the UK as a whole and the destruction of entire societies, communities, towns and villages. Nothing was ever put in place to help, there was no plan, just a vague hope that everyone would wear a suit and start listening to The Archers. Somehow everywhere would become like London built on individual enterprise.
Then an unholy and unintended alliance was built between left and right that smashed what once held us together and bound us, Family, Church and Unions. The foundations for all this were laid well before Thatcher and some of the changes are, I know, for the better. The UK system is adversarial so the unions were smashed not reformed. The baby was thrown out with the bath water and the balance of power between employers and employees tilted to this day. The church increasingly caters for the three sprinkles (birth, marriage and death) rather than the community hub it used to be and all the youth organisations it used to host. The family has atomised as London sucks all the talent out, it has dispersed and both parents, where both are still present, need to work through necessity. yes of course I know that women finding new purpose and fulfilment is a truly great thing, but I can’t help feeling we left something behind we haven’t rediscovered yet.
Nowhere can this disconnection be better seen than with the dreadful events at Grenfell Tower, we see the burnt out shell of the building, our imaginations fail us trying to comprehend what the victims must have endured yet we all instinctively know why those people died. In an age where the average house “earns” the same amount as a minimum wage worker those people’s lives simply were not worth considering. Return on investment was a far more important goal than the provision of safety because people have ceased to matter. The London property market has become a magnet for wealthy individuals to park their money with little to no checks on how it was acquired, a housing system to enrich individuals rather than the community it is supposed to serve. The poorest are the most disconnected of all.
I had no idea at all it was even legal to build a tower block without a sprinkler system, how can this even be a question? In my work life I’ve been in many multi- storey buildings they all had sprinklers and rigid H&S protocols. The fire alarms and emergency lights were frequently and regularly checked, the fire drills and protocols always explained. Clearly some lives matter more than others. The BBC has a story up featuring two tower blocks and the stark differences between them so the luxury outrageously priced block has things like “Surrounded by restaurants and bars, workers and residents can lounge on deckchairs on a newly built floating park. Lunchtime yoga sessions are held and there’s a luxury fitness club. There’s an enormous fountain and a bridge created by renowned designer Thomas Heatherwick, a nursery and winter garden”. So what? The point is that Grenfell did not have adequate safety and I doubt anyone cares about bloody yoga lessons right now, FFS.
We have tried to rebuild our lost society and what an abject failure it’s been. On the left we have Identity Politics where everyone is herded into groups and the word community added to just about every group you can imagine. Each of these communities tries to scream loudest that their concerns have to be adressed before all else and that everyone who disagrees with their concerns is an “ist” or phobic of some sort. The right inhabit loose groupings such as Bitcoiners, gold bugs, hellfire, brimstone and extremes of freedom. now I’m not claiming to be an expert but this sound exactly how you’d go about rebuilding society to me, just a Tower of Babble. Everybody is talking over each other and listening is clean out of fashion.
How did we get this disconnected and how can can we re-connect? Why are we so divided it takes tragedy to reunite us? I don’t believe this is about politics, it’s about economics, a failure to price correctly between need and greed. The left seems convinced that we don’t need the innovators and disrupters, those that think big and are prepared to take enormous risks for wealth. The right fail to grasp to importance of the state and what can be achieved by co-operation and the collective. The present danger to democracy isn’t from the left making “unaffordable” promises it’s from the right and the insidious creep of corporate power.
Good economics starts with zero involuntary unemployment, that’s why I support the Job Guarantee, a job for everyone where they need it. This will help reconnect communities that feel forgotten. The state should stand as the guarantor of the minimum standards acceptable to an advanced economy and for everything else a thriving private sector driven by high wages and invention.
The bill40 nuclear family will be back next time grappling with economic frauds you probably believe, the number 7 will be familiar to some.