If his Omni-shambles of a government is good at anything it is the sound bite – reducing complex political and social issues to binary opposites, to black and white, good and bad. I the parlance of this Government my Mum would have been a striver and my Dad a skiver. Mum worked as ‘Buffer’ in one of the Cutlery firms in Sheffield, my Dad latterly unemployed. The fact that the reason my Dad was unemployed was that he had broken his back down a Coal Mine would have escaped notice, We would also be more socially suspect that it was broken marriage, so I guess ‘The Sun’ would have weighed with ‘stay away Dad’.
Making ends meet was a problem, and I know Mum struggled to pay the rent and keep putting food on the table, but she did. Of course we must have been on ‘State Benefit’ so Mum was probably a ‘scrounger’ as well, and was in a Council House – the list of our social crimes must be endless as imagined by this Government.
Mum was proud, fiercely proud, and tenacious with it, she fought the Sheffield Council, the fifth largest in the UK, for a house for us to live in, she wasn’t seeing her kids in ‘Care’ – she held the family together with a rod of iron, normally used for battering anyone who cared to ‘have a go’. My paternal Grandmother who took over the looking after me and my brother after Mum and Dad died was no pushover either. They came from a time when you had to survive somehow, and after 1947 and Labour Government victory, the State stepped and helped. It helped by providing social support, a health service and Welfare assistance – it was there to help ‘from the cradle to the grave’.
I was in Sheffield yesterday, and impromptu visit, and couldn’t help wonder what had gone wrong. I looked around at the decaying city centre where once there had been thriving businesses there were just ‘For Lease’ signs, or grubby little second-hand shops (I have no problem with ‘second hand’ by the way, in fact I love the idea); the Cocktail Bar where we used to decamp from the Theatre is now looking very tired and has become a ‘boozer’ and ‘Redgates’ – the emporium of literally everything in the universe that you could buy (I was seven at the time) now lies empty and forlorn.
More than anything else I looked at the people, the life blood that courses through any city, the same old familiar faces, but more and more I saw families barely old enough to have children, more than likely jobless, pushing Pram. I know it’s a cliché but rather than castigate the Chavs I could not help but wonder that Socialism had failed them. They were given everything the State could offer, education, health care, and housing and they did not use it. Yes I know we are in a recession, but I have to agree with the Tories, like I did in the late 70’s for a few weeks, that people should be entrepreneurs and seek advancement.
Surely the aim of socialism is not necessarily to provide, but to enable? Socialism should be about providing people who do not have equal chances to education and health care access to the means of bettering their lives and in the process bettering the life of society? Socialism is not about hand outs, it about enabling and providing a safety net that capitalism cannot, or will not.
I read recently in an article that the reason why people who receive a State Education fair less better than those who go to Eton is not so much the education, or the social connections, it is that people are told incessantly how inferior they are, and that the constant erosion of self-confidence leads to under achievement, yes I can run with that one. What socialism in the UK has totally failed to provide is a sense of confidence in people, a sense of aspiration and a sense of possibility.
Of course we cannot have a sensible political debate, and the binary opposition of skivers and strivers will have to suffice, not only is it binary opposition (you cannot have a skiver without reference to its opposite) they sound similar but mean the opposite, it is clever, and it’s definitely catchy, but it’s not helpful, it does not discriminate and yet on the other hand it does discriminate.
I not sure where we go next, but labelling people ‘skivers’ – or labelling people at all – is not the way forward, it creates for more divisions and a society that finds it easier to alienate those who are a burden, mainly through no fault of their own. It is designed to divide.