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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Letter of the Week: John Robertson

We're a couple of weeks behind with this feature due to Easter, so I'll be posting another very shortly.

From the week before last, this brilliant letter from the New Statesman caught my eye:

Summers of love

Both Dominic Sandbrook’s essay on football in the Seventies (30 March) and the Red Riding series recently on TV paint a bleak and frankly inaccurate picture of life for most of us in that glorious decade.

With higher wages for the working classes, access to affordable housing, free health care, free higher education and low levels of crime, all in a much less unequal society, life then was superior to life as experienced by most of us today.

In 1976, I was a fully funded sociology undergraduate on a new parkland campus. I had a lovely girlfriend, a motorbike, hair down to my armpits, Neil Young on the stereo. And it was a glorious summer. Bleak? It was bloody marvellous!

John Robertson
Ayr, Ayrshire

I've written before of the way neoliberal ideologues have tried to rewrite history in regards to life in Britain in the 1970s- and Dominic Sandbrook is a prime culprit.

Sandbrook was the man who wrote:
"When he (Harold Wilson) retired in 1976, Britain was a dingy, miserable place"

Age of Dominic Sandbrook in 1976: Two. Wilson's Britain must have looked very 'dingy and miserable' from his pram.

He also famously wrote:

"Without Thatcher's controversial reforms, Britain might look a lot more like France today "

In other words it would look like a country which had a world class, affordable and publicly-owned public transport system, and which still maintained a manufacturing base.

What a terrible place Britain would be without 'Thatcher's reforms'!


Robin Carmody said...

The significant thing here is where the correspondent writes from.

Scotland has to a certain extent restored some of the things the writer mentions, and is itching to go further. Some time not so long after the next (and, I think, last) UK general election, it probably will. It will be fantastic for the Scots, but it will be the worst thing that could ever possibly happen, even worse than Thatcherism itself, for those of us in England who oppose neoliberalism.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Just back from two weeks in Paris.

Stayed in the 11th in an area that was full of small woodworking and furniture workshops operating out of small premises on the ground floor of 6-7 story appartment buildings.

Parks, play grounds and sports facilities everywhere.

Marvellous transport system. Incredible sense of community and great social outlets for all.

Plenty of schools, social housing and sheltered accomodation for the elderly, all within 5 km of the centre of Paris.

jock mctrousers said...

That's how I remember the 70s - a time when proles could have dreams. That lifestyle is still available, but pretty much only if you've got wealthy parents, which is how the elites like it. When some degree of material security could be taken for granted, there was a great flowering of spontaneous creativity from below, especially in music. Remember the blues boom? Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac? A blues band with a singer who looked like a rabbi were selling more than the Beatles or Stones. Teenage girls who go out to dance round their handbags would also go to progressive rock or blues gigs. Now music has the feel of a MacDonald's hamburger: a poor substitute that's squeezed out the real thing, a fake imposed from above. Compare the quality of the spontaneously generated prole culture of the 60s and early seventies to the dreams our rulers have designed for us now- porn rock and gangsta rap, fake 'urban' music, thugs shouting over someone else's music. I sound like a boring old fart, don't I? Why are these the dreams the elites prefer us to have? Well, they're dreams of a dog-eat-dog world, without social solidarity. That's more like it chaps! " Imagine all the people living from day to day.."? Can't have that!

Neil Clark said...

Hi Robin: good point.

anonymous: yes, isn't it terrible that France didn't go through Thatcherism!

jock: great post. I'm sure our good friend olching would concur with what you say about music.
the problem for the neoliberal and neocons with the 60s and 70s was, as you say, that the 'proles could have dreams'. That would never do. What we've witnessed over the past thirty years in Britain- and elsewhere too, is a counter-revolution, with the elites overturning an economic system that worked in the interests of the majority. It's a similar story in eastern europe- in Hungary the golden period of the working class was under the liberal communism of Kadar in the 70s and 80s, now though the rich have reasserted themselves at the detriment of the majority.

The propaganda war continues: in the same way that it's necessary for the neoliberal 'reformers' to constantly trash Kadar and Kadarism in Hungary, their counterparts in Britain have to constantly trash and denigrate the achievements of Harold Wilson and his governments.

Robin Carmody said...

The "urban" music is just about the only current British music I like - the most commercially prominent bands these days are mostly ex-public-school (the precise root cause of this is one particular element of Thatcherism, namely Martin Wiener's influence on it) and, if they're not, they are so post-*post*-Oasis and lairily depoliticised, not to mention musically dependant on the faux-outrage of several decades ago, as to be too depressing for words. I listen to British "urban" music because it *does* reflect a prole culture that is progressive to the extent of being racially integrated and thus a threat to both the BNP and Islamic fundamentalism in the UK, and because I think that, rightly or wrongly, it has to be listened to, even in its most extreme forms, to get a sense of where we are at right here, right now.

But Jock's right to the extent that it's completely devoid of any sense of collective endeavour or unity - it takes aggressive individualism way beyond even metal, and is in that sense a dispiriting reflection of its society. Even when I find the tracks genuinely thrilling, seeing YouTube commenters *organising their safe tribal wars* (thanks, Manics) is unbearably depressing - the more of that kind of thing goes on, the easier it will be for the elites to divide and conquer, and thus ruin the lives of the underclass, of whichever ethnic background and wherever they are in the UK. The British underclass consistently makes the best pop music in the UK, but the last 30 years have rendered them the epitome of what was originally meant by the term lumpenproletariat - they don't even know *when* they're being exploited, much of the time, and thus are doomed to further failure and ghettoisation (the latter, in pop terms, represented by the dominance of Coldplay, Lily Allen etc).

neil craig said...

The British media produce a cartoon version of France to be rude about.

They may have more socialism & strikes than us but they also have more nuclear plants, the ability to build beautiful roads & bridges rather than spending decades doing the paperwork & a planning system that actually allows houses to be built & thus makes them much cheaper than here. Also they blow up Greenpeace boats. I suspect that on much of that Thatcher would have liked to make Britain more like France too & most British "leftists" wouldn't.

Robin Carmody said...

You're certainly right that, unlike many/most Tory party members, the most hardline Thatcherites were dissatisfied with the planning laws, and would have gone substantially further on that front had it been politically possible in the context of the "heritage" boom of the 1980s.

However, one area in which Thatcher and her acolytes would certainly not have wanted us to become more like France is the lavish funding there of high-speed railways.