“There is no such thing as society” Margaret Thatcher
In a week that saw Veritas’s Robert Kilroy-Silk denounce the “liberal fascism” of multi-culturalism, and Conservative leader Michael Howard continue to press his shamelessly populist agenda on immigration, it is perhaps as good a time as any to try and analyse this ages-old phenomenon. Mr Howard’s decision to employ this approach can be put down to political expediency – Labour and Tory are ideologically almost indistinguishable in 2005, and it is because Labour have themselves moved so far to the right that the Tories must plumb new depths to make themselves appeal.
This explanation does not, however, account for the immense popularity of this sort of rhetoric, which has received a disturbingly warm reception in most quarters. I would submit that this popularity is the result of a grand swindle carried out, consciously and unconsciously, by right-wing populists in our media and political institutions, and the terms of the swindle are as follows: in England, we used to have a society in which people talked to each other, said hello; where people were friendly, and there was very little suspicion or hate in the air. A girl could walk home late at night without fear of being attacked. There was a togetherness – a sense, for want of a better word, of community which no longer exists today, and the clearest cause of this disintegration is immigration.
I would submit that there has indeed been a disintegration of society in the past twenty-five years, but its true causes are ones which the right-wing media would not dare consider. Town & City planning is one example; the Tories’ cost-cutting Housing Subsidies Act of 1954 first paved the way for Council Housing to move away from dignified, good-quality housing to the crumbling, alienating tower blocks we see today; while the best council housing has since been sold off and now leads the “housing boom”, the rest is left behind to create urban ghettos whose only relevance to the lives of middle-class commentators comes in the form of the occasional late-night television documentaries about crime. Their passion for “integration” and “one nation” is alive and well when it comes to talking about immigration, but they are perfectly happy to segregate current citizens – to confine the poor and unemployed to live among themselves, with all the despair and misery this breeds.
In a society that values free market individualism ahead of its children’s physical and mental well-being, it naturally follows that playing fields are sold off to be replaced by supermarket car parks. The seed for this re-alignment of social priorities was sown before Thatcher, during the IMF Crisis of 1976 (see ISD, 02/01/05). The current spawn of so-called “Chavs” (a horrible term employed by middle-class young people, to describe and, essentially, to deride certain working-class children), almost completely consumed by a passive-aggressive individualism and an expensively-instilled faith in multinational corporations (bus stops are good targets for graffiti, but McDonald’s or Allsports rarely get a trashing), are the offspring of Thatcherism. A dignified housing and schooling system might help reverse the disintegration of British society, but the issue is seldom addressed with any real impetus by right-wing populists, be they Labour or Tory.
And there’s a very good reason for this. Within the very strict limits set on public expenditure by the IMF and the City, it is all that Labour and the Tories can do to bicker over public spending budgets which provide at best only a small percentage of the amounts required to really give us the kind of country we can be proud of. Labour tried in 1976, and the City put a stop to it, and the result was the Winter of Discontent, which in turn handed the country to the Tories.
Divisiveness is indeed rife, and it is most successful where it is most subtly disseminated. The distasteful culture of “work do’s”, first conceived of by the Nazis, has meant that people in different lines of work, who nevertheless share common interests, spend even less time together. Children, meanwhile, are the every day targeted by high-intensity marketing campaigns that distort their value system and engrain a sense of American individualism, of quasi-militarist aggressiveness, that sets children against each other from an early age – it would not be an exaggeration to conclude that children today are being fascised more than they are being socialised. Perhaps the least subtle factor is simply the inequality of incomes; the gap between the rich and the poor is greater than it ever was, and this makes a nonsense of all this talk of “one nation” or “one culture”. This sort of talk sounds even cheaper when it comes from the mouths of people who swear by the free market and would never dare take the bold steps necessarily to radically change society in respect of the factors that bring about disintegration and alienation.
So there is the swindle – there are two explanations for why society is in the state it’s in. One explanation is very easy to adopt, and won’t require too much thought. You might even feel a little better about yourself in the process. The other will be more complex, and require more intellectual input on your part; it will take a realisation that a massive, progressive change is needed in our political culture, to take back society. In this situation, the journalists and the broadcasters have an opportunity to make sure both sides are heard, and their intellectual dishonesty in continuing to ignore the true causes of disintegration constitutes a gross dereliction of duty on their part, for which we may all yet pay the price.