This is a sad day for Britain. We weren’t expecting – or even asking for – a revolution, but a lot of people I know were looking for some kind of change to a system with which millions feel extreme disaffection.
If you type ‘kafkaesque’ into Google you’ll find it’s a word which very aptly describes the situation we’re waking up to today.
“Having a nightmarish, complex, bizarre or illogical quality – often marked by a sense of impending danger.”
Nine hundred thousand people last year, cap in hand, turned to food banks to survive.
Of those living in poverty today, more people than not are in work – something that’s never happened before.
The average Briton’s living standards have fallen for the longest uninterrupted period since the 1870s.
The gap in life expectancy between the most and least well-off yawns as large in this country as it does in Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
And the social safety net on which millions rely on is being eroded in the middle of a period of great depravation.
For one of the richest countries in the world to fail huge swathes of its populace so abjectly is a crying shame at best, and at worst a sinister ploy against the working class.
So what’s the answer? How have the British people decided to resolve this crisis?
More austerity, a shrinking of the state, and a pursuit of policy designed to further the ends of the rich at the expense of society’s most vulnerable.
By what mental acrobatics have we arrived here as a solution?
Manchester is – in many senses – a microcosm of the national issue. In places where people used to vote Labour or Liberal Democrat, parties with at least a vague intention to re-distribute wealth in accordance with social justice, they now vote for the party of the few.
It betrays a true breakdown of society. Rather than pulling together in times of difficulty, modern Britain is about individualism and the accumulation of personal material wealth.
When asked what her greatest achievement was, Margaret Thatcher once famously replied ‘New Labour’.
But rather it must be the transformation of Britain into a country where ordinary, decent people would rather have a big TV than ensure their fellow man has enough food in his bowl.
In primitive, tribal societies, if one member of the tribe insisted on having a great deal more resources than he needed, he would be treated with extreme suspicion and fear.
We know millions feel alienated and isolated by our current particular brand of consumer capitalism – why else would people vote, out of desperation, for far-right parties?
Across Greater Manchester last night, Ukip candidates spoke of hordes of dissenting voters being drawn to them like a moth to a jingoistic flame.
Masud Mohammed, who ran in Rochdale, claimed his party was ‘the listening party, the one that stands up for working people’.
If Ukip’s the party of compassion, that says a lot about the state of British democracy.
The fact that the Left can’t muster up a credible option for working people, one which they feel listens and responds to their concerns, is as big a failure of them as that of the establishment.
Rochdale’s Labour MP-elect, Simon Danczuk – a known backbench critic of the hierarchy of his party – hit the nail on the head last night when he recognised his party had lost its way in the recent past, to the point now where it struggles to connect with the very people the party was founded to help.
We live in scary, uncertain times. Our country is so divided that on one side of Hadrian’s Wall people vote overwhelmingly in favour of unfettered market fundamentalism, and on the other a socialist party have won all but three seats.
There are a lot of short-term reasons why the Tories have gotten in again. The balance of resources – accumulated due to the massive vested interests they protect – is very much in their favour.
Elections, funnily enough, tend to be influenced by how much money is pumped into campaigning. On top of that, right-wing publications owned by multi-millionaires has strayed dangerously at times during the last month into what is – frankly – flagrant propaganda.
But these factors are cosmetic – and their influence waxes and wanes over the years.
No, the common thread is a pervasive attitude of callousness fostered by the modern Conservative party since the late 1970s. They’ve accomplished this remarkably effectively, and this empathy deficit is the main reason they’ve found themselves in office for 23 of the last 36 years, and hence why they’ve enjoyed an unprecedented degree of influence in shaping a liberal western society.
So what’s the answer?
Well, clearly there needs to be a shift in the way we view our places in society, and in relation to our fellow citizens. No man is an island. There is such a thing as society and we need to start acting in accordance.
But also there will be a breaking point. Such deep-rooted inequalities and tensions in a people isn’t only bad for those at the bottom. It’s not good for people to live with the stress and fear that comes when we construct notional divisions between us.
It’s only when people have had enough will things change. The worry is that the damage inflicted by our total disregard for human suffering may be irreversible by this time.
Image courtesy BBC, with thanks.