The Xmas party that wasn’t, is just the latest in a long line of lies, but it is also the logical conclusion of an ideology that said, ‘There is no such thing as society.’
Margaret Thatcher the hero of the Conservative Party said this in 1987, but the principle was evident in her attitude from the first days of power. Let the following quote sink in, to understand how they can feel it’s ok to ‘party’ while other people suffer.
“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”
Thatcher, Margaret. 1987. ‘Interview for “Woman’s Own” (“No Such Thing as Society”).’ in Margaret Thatcher Foundation: Speeches, Interviews and Other Statements. London.
Look after yourself and f**k everyone else is how we got to where we are.
Kids go hungry – not my problem
Homeless die of cold- not my problem
Old people choose between heating and food- not my problem
Migrants die in the channel- not my problem
The celebration of individual success at the expense of community, or the ‘I’m alright Jack’ attitude.
The first public example of this for me was Dunlops.
Dunlops was a place we passed on the way to Speke Hall Woods, across the farmer’s field and behind the mountains of old tyres. Dunlops, Dista, Standard Triumph, Plessey, Evans, Mothaks, the familiar names of the places family and neighbours worked. What seemed like once a year thick smoke would turn the sky black, as the old tyres at Dunlops were on fire again. ‘Dunnies’ social club outlived most of the other company social clubs and lasted much longer than the factory itself. The club was trying to keep together a community long since seen as disposable by the employer.
Tony Benn MP filled and puffed away on his pipe throughout the meeting. It was 1979 I was in a packed Damwood Hall, the long first-floor room spanned the two sides of the shopping precinct known as The Parade, in Speke, Liverpool. Tony Benn, local trade union leaders, and Eddie Loyden the Labour MP sat at a table on a raised platform at the front. Voices and billowing smoke filled the hall, This was my first large public meeting and it was exciting to see the hundreds of people from the estate listen with rapt attention as Tony Benn explained that society was organised in the interests of the rich, and what we needed was a radical movement among working people to take power back.
The meeting was prompted by the campaign to keep the local Dunlops factory open, as Eddie Loyden explained in Parliament;
“The estate in which Dunlop is sited (Speke) was built during the post-war years and has housed such famous names as Metal Box. Dista Products, British Leyland and, right on the borderline with the next constituency, Ford at Halewood. In the past two years, we have seen about 8,000 jobs go from my constituency. Speke has a total population of 20,000, so if one accepts that in all probability most of the 8,000 workers who have been made redundant live in or about the Speke area … one can readily see the high concentration of unemployment in that area.
The numbers given by the MP were just the tip of the iceberg, every time a major employer like British Leyland or Dunlop shut down, many smaller suppliers in the area also lost jobs. The press often blamed the closure of these factories on ‘militant scousers’ or union strength, the fact is these were boardroom decisions taken hundreds of miles away in the interest of national and multinational companies whose only care was their own bottom line, not the communities they were destroying. Every job lost, was one less wage going into the house, to pay the rent and put food on the table.
Of course, there are always workers who take the side of the employers, to repeat the lies of Murdoch’s media, you know the type, blame the immigrant, not the government that drops bombs on them, blames the unemployed, not the employers who close factories, blame the homeless, not the government who sells off council houses. Those people were around then and they are still with us today. The fights in the 1970s are a direct through-line to today.
Why are there zero-hour contracts? Why are there fewer and fewer permanent jobs? Why is everything temporary? Why are gig workers self-employed? How can British Gas and other companies Fire and Re-hire workers on worse contracts with more hours and less pay?
In short, because Thatcher won, and the unions lost. Of course, this is a simplification, but one that remains true. Dunlops was one small battle in a much larger war to shift the balance of power, in favour of the rich. Many of the social problems and drug abuse from the 1980s were worse because of the breakdown of social solidarity another consequence of the defeat not just of the unions but of the spirit of community and culture of solidarity that was connected to it- the community and social clubs, football teams, and Xmas parties.
Many community and voluntary groups struggled to provide support for the weak and vulnerable cast aside in the long years of austerity under the Cameron government.
Whether Johnson stays or goes nothing will change unless and until we recognise that society does exist and we are all responsible for everyone in it.
My book Under The Bridge is set in and a product of Speke, Garston and working class communities throughout the city and the country.
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