Crossing the line

From the cradle to the grave

Crossing the line

Some time before the Covid pandemic I went to see Ken Loach’s film The Spirit of ‘45. It's an interesting film, it uses archive material from the postwar period in the UK to tell the oral history looking at the optimism and desire for change that came out of the War, with the eventual founding of the NHS and then contrasts with what happened later. Similar things happened for similar reasons in the USA under the New Deal, at least if you were white.

For a modern audience you don’t see any Black or South Asian faces, or mention of the Empire that was still there. It’s more telling the story of the post war government and what they did, and the film makers of that period didn’t capture any of those voices because it would never have occurred to them.

One thing that made me really uneasy about the film was the constant repetition of the phrase:

From the cradle to the grave.

As in, we will look after you between those events and you don’t need to worry about anything. The other thing you notice (at least if you’re me and pay attention to this stuff) is that the accents of the Labour politicians were generally upper middle class English, I didn’t hear parliamentarians with Northern English accents. To be fair, Aneurin Bevan was a working class ex-miner from Wales and he was in charge of the creation of the NHS, but generally the voices were plummy middle England. Bevan is, rightly in my opinion, treated as a hero of the working class. He also hated tories and said you couldn’t trust them, and he was definitely right about that.

It may be that I have been infected with a little of the post-Thatcher individualism from the 80’s that Ken Loach decries in the latter parts of the film but I don’t want some upper middle-class individual looking after me, I really don’t. I certainly don’t want them deciding what’s best for me. In fact, Labour have this culture of claiming to do the thinking for working class people. It was one of the more revolting things you used to see when Blair’s crew came to power, constantly trying to police the minutiae of people’s lives - it seems to be part of their DNA. I discuss this tangentially in my book Empire Socialism - the people who founded the party were a combination of middle-class christians and what Marxists would call the labour aristocracy.

To me this is actually the real political correctness - middle-class hand wringing over the unwashed masses thinking for themselves and not wanting to carry on with systems that don’t work for them but keep the middle class comfortable and happy. For example, a friend applied for a grant from a Labour controlled organisation and it said in the supporting materials that asking for black coffee could be a disciplinary offence and the preferred term was coffee without milk. This does not, and did not, address the daily reality of living in an empire-stained imperialist country and having the wrong skin colour, but it made the white bureaucrats feel better. A more detailed discussion of this is for another day.

So we have a generation who came out of an ugly war, who could remember both the disgusting starvation and vile excesses of the 1930s and wanted something better. We see here the birth of the Spectacle, where we are hypnotised by the shiny surface of consumer capitalism and become unable to question its world-destroying goals as long as we ignore the underlying realities that our daily experience may show us. That generation needed to be kept quiet, and have their anger channelled somewhere safe.

Eighty years later our minds are trapped like a fly in amber by the spectacle, the baby-boomer generation (and their parents) were completely disarmed by from the cradle to the grave. You don’t need to think too much, you don’t need to be clear about your needs and what you want out of life. You don’t need to work with others to make sure everybody is looked after in the way they want to be, with autonomy and dignity. Instead some agent of a socialist Jesus will pull what’s best for your wellbeing out of a magic hat and all will be well, even if you hate what happens to you it will be for the best. Your agency, your humanity, don’t count. You are only a commodity like everyone else, after all. The underlying, capitalist, reality is never challenged. The control is never workers control, but that of well-established hierarchies and people that have faces that fit.

To add insult to injury, when the social contract becomes too expensive, you’re f*cked. Suddenly there are no shiny pennies in the tin that Grandma kept on the mantle and hard luck. A process that began in the 1980s has now almost run its course, with the last vestiges of the NHS being sold off to vultures.

The boomers still stand in serried ranks complaining and crying, not having grasped the spectacle is a sick illusion and the ecocide it hides is coming, ready or not.

We need to be brave, we need to pierce the bubble and get past having everything given to us by people who are not our friends to keep us quiet. One of the most dishonest slogans of the Brexit campaign was taking back control. We do indeed need to take back control, but from the people who have hypnotised us, who gas lit us into believing rubbish like there is no alternative and all the other neoliberal nonsense that doesn’t stand up to even the slightest bit of scrutiny. It has led us to the edge of the precipice.

The old ways don’t work, we need to find new ways that work for us. We don’t need anyone watching over us. Those days are gone. We are adults.