Today, the March For The Alternative takes place in London. Lots of people I know are taking part and I generally agree with the sentiment behind it. But I’m not going. There’s something about it that doesn’t sit well with me and it’s taken a bit of quiet reflection today to really work out what that is.
On the surface, I find a lot of what surrounds it somewhat undignified. Twitter and Facebook are full of people looking forward to it, excited about it and thinking up humorous slogans for their placards. Maybe undignified is the wrong word. Inappropriate, perhaps. Am I wrong to think that marches and protests should be more angry and sombre affairs? So much of this smacks of a fun day out mascarading as ‘doing something positive’. Of course, I’m talking about my social demographic in this way, there will be many public service workers literally marching for their lives out there and maybe I shouldn’t be so scornful of those who have given up their day to show support and add human mass to a crowd designed to visibly show the nation’s disgust with the cuts.
I’m not exactly sure where my distaste is aimed and i’m writing this blog to see if I can pinpoint it. I do think I know generally where my problems with it all lie. I can trace it back to the recent student demonstrations. I’m deeply against tuition fees. I think the introduction and gradual increase of them is the biggest step backwards this country has ever taken and will be felt in the next decade or so. I also think the failing, cutting and privatization of the NHS is one of the saddest things that could happen here.
As a species, we are very fucking young. We like to point at our ipads and giggle about how fucking advanced we are but technology is a mere spike – a spike fuelled entirely by capitalism which, in turn, is fuelled entirely by greed which is a categorically bad thing. To make every plasma screen TV that makes us marvel at how far we’ve come, foreign workers have been exploited, natural resources wasted and environments polluted. We’re pretty stupid. most of the world is still at a fairly primal stage of development and war, poverty and corruption are status quo. I feel hugely privileged to have been born in the UK and I consider it one of the most progressive countries in the world. We have and respect democracy. We have a free market. We have social care, arts funding and a lot of free education. We overcame the institutionalized barbarity of slavery and the death penalty. We don’t even have military-based national service. It really is quite incredible. I say ‘quite’ incredible. Because it was incredible, a while ago, and we maybe didn’t realise.
I think the greatest thing we ever did in this country was to establish the NHS and to offer not just free University education to EVERYONE but, for a while there, free maintenance grants to attend. I genuinely think that that is the secret to how, as a species, we take a giant leap forwards. When your country offers you free healthcare and free education, you have no excuse. That gives you the chance to do anything with your life. The fact that we have such a vast programme of social housing and a huge welfare benefits system to are, or were, the icing on the cake. I think that is a HUGE achievement for a country – to be able to house, protect, care for and educate much of its population.
I think the problem started with the post-baby boom generation who were born into such good fortune. We see these things not as the incredible gift that they are, but rather as entitlement. We have never been entitled to free benefits, housing, libraries, healthcare or education. We’ve been HUGELY fortunate to have received them. Equally, none of us is entitled to a job or job security or affordable petrol or a good interest rate. We think we’re entitled to them because they have become a political currency used by politicians to curry our favour.
The basic fact of the matter is that we have those things thanks to political idealists, philanthropists and the historical might of socialism.
Although I really supported the student protests because I believe that free or heavily subsidised education is the key to our problems in the future, when you watch the footage back now, there is something unpleasantly petulant and spoiled about it. Perfectly able middle class teenagers smashing shit up and behaving like arses because they feel they have an entitlement to three years spent smoking dope and shagging in the pursuit of a degree in ‘hospitality’.
I guess I feel that way about this march too. There are a lot of people marching for a lot of those reasons but there doesn’t seem to be a cohesive political idealism behind it, rather a lot of people out there saying ‘don’t do this to my comfortable standard of life.’
When you march against pay freezes and job cuts and taxes, you miss the wider picture. It’s a depoliticized generation lashing out impotently.
Tories have their agenda, they always have and they always will. I’d love to call them evil, but I don’t think they strictly are. I think we’ve all become Tory, really. New Labour was pretty Tory. If you were to think about what most of us in comfortable old Britain really want, the answer is ‘to keep what we have and get more’ I think that is a basic Tory principle and won’t deny that I feel that way. I’m incredibly lucky to have the life and the lifestyle that I have and don’t consider myself self-made. I was lucky to be born into a supportive family, lucky to be born in a country where I could get a free education for a career I love and lucky to get just enough work to scrape by. I’m not morally entitled to my house, lifestyle or selection of Marks and Spencer products that make up part of my fridge right now.
Our problem is that we’ve lost any real notion of socialism. We spend our energy fighting for ourselves and the things we feel entitled to, but if we fought for the greater good, looked at the much bigger picture, so much more could be solved. I’d wager that many of the people on the student protests and this march for the alternative are people who either didn’t bother to vote or didn’t because ‘what’s the point?’
These fights should be happening in parliament, not in a lacklustre fasion on the streets. I know a lot of interesting people, I meet a lot of people but I don’t know ANY politicians. I only know two people of my entire generation who have even run for local council. It’s as if we’ve just left politicians to it. We’re disillusioned with them but nobody is really engaging with them. Wouldn’t it be great to see those who feel there is an ‘alternative’ to form an honest, alternative party? Wouldn’t it be amazing to see people ram the Big Society right down David Cameron’s stupid throat by not only stepping up to the plate to volunteer in libraries but to run against him on a platform of building better libraries?
We voted this government in. And we did it on selfish grounds. And we can march against them all we like but until we run against them with a coherent ideal for a functioning society, we’re pissing in the wind.