There’s an important demographic found in Britain, one that transcends politics, generation and class. Because it’s such a diverse demographic, representing a minority in whatever party, class or organisation each individual is in, its voices are not often heard.
I’m definitely in this demographic, and I suspect there’s more of us than even I suspect.
The members of this demographic hold certain things in common, even if they disagree on literally everything else. Our common roots lie in our knowledge of history, usually the 20th century, and our fear of tyranny (of any kind). We aren’t all history experts by any means – many of us just “paid attention in school” or enjoy watching documentaries – but many of us are actual historians or armchair experts.
We might not know it, but the thing distressing us is the final betrayal of the post war consensus, best advertised by the wilful ruination of the National Health Service.
The post war consensus of course wasn’t just about the National Health Service – its the reason why we had so much post-war housing, education reform, nationalised vital industries, British Rail and useful trade unions and so much more. It was supported by the Right and the Left alike, and that’s probably why it lasted. The post war consensus hit its peak in the 1960s, and then declined.
There’s a case to be made that the Left hastened the decline of the consensus by not being able to manage the economic woes of the 1970s. It’s also true that the Right went far too far in dismantling the institutions of the consensus in the 1980s and 90s, and that New Labour did not do enough to reverse what they did.
Those of us who like to pick over history can work out the details over a pint in the Winchester, but the important thing is that right now, the last (and most important) vestiges of the consensus are seriously under threat. If you want to know how bad it’s going to get, look at social care. It was basically privatised years ago and is now completely failing. The Social Care Crisis now is nothing compared to what will happen if the NHS is allowed to die and be replaced with any kind of private enterprise, even if it’s run by a beardy billionaire we for some reason seem to trust implicitly (unless it’s with balloons).
There’s a European aspect to this, as well. The need for European unity of some sort was well established in the efforts to rebuild after the war. The Cold War made this ideal a necessity. Even those of us who disapprove of the current EU know that the nations of Europe must remain friends of some sort, even without benefits.
It’s not just the external forms of the consensus that are under threat. The freedom of conscience, personal behaviour, social mobility and self-expression we have enjoyed are also under threat – how we choose to use that freedom is really not important, but is the root of why, as a crucial demographic, we are split. We have all wandered off in many directions since our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents came together after the horrors of the Second World War. Imagine the history the people alive in the late 1945 would have lived in, with living memory going back to the mid 19th century. The voters – 72% of the electorate turned out – gave Labour a landslide victory because they knew Labour would be the trustworthy party to deliver what the British people knew was needed at that point, which came to be known as the post war consensus.
Since then of course the push and pull of politics from left to right has changed the way things are done and there have been triumphs and failures and we’re capable of applying hindsight. We can confidently say things like “the railways shouldn’t have been privatised”, “the current shower of politicians are a bunch of eejits” and “people shouldn’t be crippled by student debt” without feeling controversial in mixed company.
I’m not quite sure where I’m going with this, just that I think that there’s way more of us sensible people than there seem to be, and we need to find a way to transcend our varied political affiliations and defend the pillars of the post war consensus that hold us all up. In 1945, it was easy, vote Labour, vote safe hands to do this properly. These days it doesn’t seem as easy. Politics has degenerated into fearmongering and hate-baiting and doesn’t feel representative, all that “first past the post” and politicians only playing to whiff-whaffing constituencies.
My own feelings as a cardigan wearing, card-carrying loony lefty are that I wish Jeremy Corbyn got a bit more support from his own party. They could easily promote him as safe hands, his dullness an asset – like a sort of lefty John Major. I find it bizarre that the Labour party won’t embrace the upswell of general Millennial and Gen X leftiness that has been triggered by all the recent unpleasantness.
I have observed that many people in the post war consensus-cherishing demographic who lean more towards the right also feel a bit adrift – finding yourself in the same boat as Nigel Farage is always an unpleasant experience, especially if you thought it was the NHS-saving boat and it turned out to be a load of bollocks and not even a boat at all.
There is nothing we can rally round together, it seems.
We need to come together to defend the things that the post war generations came together to make for us – but how?