Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Profit-motive zealots enjoying the dividend of democracy

After 10 unbroken years in the Ipswich Star, my column was cancelled - to be resurrected after a gap of just a few weeks in the Eastern Daily Press. Here is my first piece for the pages of the EDP:
The most depressing thing about the headline was that it probably surprised no one.
“Gove plans to let firms run schools for profit.” Well of course he does.
Just as the government he represents wants to let private firms cash in on the wreckage of what was once the National Health Service.
Just as they want private firms to run prisons for profit – as if incarcerating other human beings for money was in no way morally dubious.
Just as they want the judicial system itself to be run for private profit – as if depriving other human beings of their rights and liberty etc.
In a society less apathetic than ours, any one of the above would have the populace up in arms. Out on the streets protesting as vehemently as those in Istanbul, Athens, Cairo, Rio.
Here, however, a government of extreme reactionaries enjoys one of the prime dividends of a democracy. A compliant population lulled into shoulder-shrugging, do-nothing mode by the comfortable illusion that they have a “say” in what their rulers get up to.
Of course we have nothing of the sort. A minute share in a “choice” once every five years or so between one group or another is all we have. Then trust them to do what they say they will (which they don’t) and take decisions we like (which they won’t).
The bunch we’re currently three years into putting up with weren’t my choice – or the choice of anything like a majority.
In fact, given the unlikely nature of the coalition – it would certainly have seemed unlikely at any time before May 2010 – you could argue that they weren’t anyone’s choice.
Nevertheless they – or at least some of them, Michael Gove included – continue to rule with the zeal of a party of popular acclaim.
Those zealots, and the coalition partners who let them do as they like, make up the most ideologically driven government Britain has had in my lifetime.
And yes, I am including the Thatcher administration in that assessment. In hindsight, hers looks like a government driven more by ego than principle.
It is, I suppose, a matter of opinion whether or not the present government’s eagerness to dismantle the state is a good thing.
In my opinion, the government that came into power at war’s end in 1945, let by Clement Attlee, was by a long, long way the best we have ever had.
Among innumerable other benefits, it brought us the NHS, the welfare state, huge improvements in education and the biggest boom in social housing the country has seen.
All good things that the current government is intent upon destroying the last remnants of. Good things created, let’s not forget, in an era of genuine austerity.
If you share my high opinion of the Attlee government, you should surely also share my dim view of the present incumbents.
Or, I suppose, vice versa.
That I could almost understand – though of course you’d be wrong. It’s the quiet acceptance of iniquity that I find hardest to accept.


Those who, like me, ride the rails regularly on the Norwich-to-London line have over the past few years had the entertainment of watching the Olympic site at Stratford gradually growing. And then gradually being partly dismantled.
But the slight melancholy that brings on is nothing compared with the shock and disgust I’ve felt when passing through Chelmsford lately.
I happened a while ago to be sitting next to a former Marconi engineer who was bemoaning the derelict state of the factory where he used to work.
The factory, just by the station in the heart of Essex’s county town, was a place of real history. Not just of local, but of national – and international – significance.
The world’s first “wireless” factory, it was the place that gave Chelmsford its claim to be “the birthplace of radio”.
It was here, in June 1920, that Dame Nellie Melba sang two arias that were heard all across Europe and as far away as Newfoundland. The first “light entertainment” radio broadcast.
The start – before TV or the internet – of real-time mass communication.
The buildings, including the white 1930s Marconi House and the art-deco factory, were architecturally splendid too. Classics of their era.
I took my camera on the train last week to capture Marconi House for this page. I was too late. The building was half down, a wrecking-ball embedded in its upper storeys. Nothing now remains but a sad pile of rubble.
And all to make way for a housing estate to be built by a national developer in the same drab style spreading across every town in the land.
Not perhaps quite such a calamity as the levelling last week of a 4,000-year-old pyramid by developers in Peru. But bad enough.

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