The Many, Not the Few

In today's Guardian, I learned that “Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.”

What a relief. Cancel the banquets, stand down the riot police, put the placards away. Business as usual, as Theresa May might say. Though how much longer her words will have an audience wider than her nearest and dearest is a subject bookmakers are assessing as I write.

Having held an election she did she was not going to have, to get an endorsement for hard Brexit and to do things she has not deemed the electorate sufficiently grown up to be told, Mrs May finds herself with a reduced number of Tory MPs, yet bizarrely seems to think that she can go on being PM nod acting as though the country has not just given two fingers to her plans for continued austerity and a hostile relationship with the rest of the EU.

The Tories like to paint themselves as the fiscally responsible party. I don't know how much it costs to hold a General Election, but it's obviously more than a few quid. Now the rumours are we could have another before the end of the year. Couldn't we spend the money on something else, the NHS springs to mind, and just ditch the right wing, nationalist agenda and revert to being annoying members of the EU?

For all I know, that is exactly what is happening. I am at das Boot for few days, listening to birds, not the news, planning an early night with MasterB who has already commandeered the bed. I thought he wanted to go out a little while ago, so put on an old sweat shirt jacket and discovered the mice have used most of the right pocket for nest making. I wondered where the soft green stuff had come from. We spent about five minutes ashore before he headed back to das Boot. I am hoping this will not herald a disturbed night.

It's a beautiful evening. No one else is here. We have the skies, the water and the birdsong to ourselves. The cuckoo has just stopped calling; swifts and swallows skim the water eating insects. The bats are flying by the trees.

On Friday I met my cousin Russell for a walk in the countryside near his home in Hampshire. I have been meaning to post pictures ever since. We have both been voting Green for the last I don't know how long, and that discovery of shared beliefs has helped underpin our new relationship as older adults. It also helps that he is now vegetarian, as are his wife and their two children. We were both fairly glum about the election when we arranged to meet a few weeks back, but just as the mice have nibbled at my pocket, so Jeremy Corbyn has nibbled away at the expected Tory landslide, so now we have a hung parliament. It's a strange thing to celebrate, but we are. My liver is going to rebel at some point soon.

Our grins when we met on the station platform were wider than those of a wide mouthed toad. We hugged each other and decided that lunch would be a celebratory feast, even though we were in a part of the country where as Russell put it a bit too graphically, they'd vote for a turd if it was painted blue.

And feast we had. The chef may have been Tory, I don't know, but s/he made a mean lunch. A lunch we enjoyed after several miles of green and luscious countryside as we discussed the election and its result.

It was the youth wot done it say all the pundits and the papers. Please could we amend that to it was the youth wot helped do it. There seems a strange consensus that anyone aged over forty votes Tory. Ahem. No, that is not true, and I find it less than helpful to range the youth against the middle aged or elderly. Drinking champagne and toasting “the many, not the few” on Saturday night was Octavia's 94-year-old Labour voting mother.

Equally strange is the idea that baby boomers have had a gilded, protected life. I have only just discovered I am a baby boomer. It's all very well to say we had free education, but you have to look at how many of the generation born between 1946 and 1964 were able to avail themselves of a university education. It was the few, not the many. Until 1971 many children routinely left school at 15 with no qualifications, destined for unskilled jobs and little hope of advancement. When my parents, in conversation with the next door neighbours, said they hoped my sister would stay at school until she was18, the neighbours were appalled. They hadn't even allowed their youngest child to do an apprenticeship as a hairdresser because she could earn more in the short term as a shop assistant.

School books were antique. Most of the text books I used at secondary school, a grammar school, so the sort of establishment Theresa May would like to see return, were published before, during or shortly after the Second World War. The paper was thin, the type minuscule, Shalespeare was censored so as to make some of his plays almost meaningless. At primary school our early reading material was a graded series called Old Lob about a farmer, his faithful sheepdog and the various animals on his farm. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, but it belonged to a different era. I could go on about unheated homes and classrooms, school gabardines that got weighted down in the rain and were bought to grow into, chilblains, the exoticism of spaghetti, a make do and mend attitude that lasted all my childhood and still makes me guilty about throwing away worn socks.

We were luckier than the generation that came before; some of us had opportunities our predecessors could only have dreamt of, but I think we were the minority. My own parents' longing for an education from which they were denied for both economic reasons and the pigheadedness of my paternal grandfather, meant my sister and I benefitted from their thwarted ambition. But when I look at the wider opportunities, social, economic and educational of those who came after me, I can only say we were a step on the path to universal enfranchisement where one day everyone will have access to the education they want and need.

So raise your glasses again, because this hung parliament is the result of the many, not the few saying the one per cent are not the only ones entitled to the future. The slices of the cake may be smaller, but more will get to enjoy it.




17 thoughts on “The Many, Not the Few

  1. Well put, Isobel. This hung Parliament us definitely something to celebrate. Let’s hope it brings about a consensus of all parties on what to do about Brexit. The hard right, Eurosceptic Tories must be held at bay.

    • Theresa May’s business-as-usual response, saying the country needed certainty, is not a good omen. It suggests the political élite sees the voting in this election as a hiccough in the narrative it intends to pursue anyway. Our politics are increasingly presented as unnuanced, with over simple solutions suggested as ways of addressing complex issues. Corbyn is very good on the campaign trail, less convincing when the elections are over. If he and others in a fairly broad church of opposition are going to seize the day and change the narrative, he has to raise his game in parliament when it also matters.

  2. Isn’t it grand when democracy sort of works the way it was advertised to do? I did not and still don’t understand the May approach to negotiating Brexit. That so many of your fellow voters were concerned enough to throw a spanner in the works is most heartening for us “in the resistance” over here. Best wishes for that elusive “consensus”.

  3. I believe the election cost £130m of taxpayers money.
    Although I love your analogy of Jeremy Corbyn nibbling away at the electorate in the way that mice were nibbling away at your pocket, i’m not sure it should be taken to far. The mice caused damage to something that was whole. Whereas Jeremy Corbyn is changing quite a few entrenched beliefs and at least attempting to engender a more adult conversation. I am very tired of binary media coverage “Yes or no?”; “are you really saying…?”, the latter said in the tone of incredulity.
    But it will take an earthquake for the media to change their style.

    • To be fair, the jacket is more than twenty years old, has faded from a dark green to dullish olive, and the mice used the bits they nibbled to create a warm nest which was more useful to them than my pocket. The jacket is still wearable, though not perhaps in polite company. I absolutely agree with you re the binary style of interview. One of the reasons I like Jon Snow is that he often tries to dig deeper, and lets politicians speak, giving them the chance to condemn themselves out of their own mouths, or display a depth of thought not evident in sound bites or political slogans.

  4. Yes, I too was delighted to hear that Trump is staying away until we can promise him no demonstrations – hopefully means we won’t ever see him on these shores.
    How I agree about the postwar years too. The fifties was a time of dull austerity, as you say, and I’m always surprised when my generation waxes lyrical about it. Schools with classes of forty plus, and yes, all reading from the same page of those dog- eared textbooks.
    Much as needs to improve, it’s also true that much has.
    Meanwhile, enjoy the water and birdsong and green of that lovely marina in the Fens.

    • I suppose there are people here who would be pleased to see Trump, but as most regard him as an aberration, I don’t believe the love he wants is going to be forthcoming.
      Not only the fifties, but the sixties and seventies, were also austere by today’s standards. As a student in Manchester in 1979 I lived in a slum, as did many students. Punk would not have happened if the seventies had been the time of plenty it is painted as today. There was little or no protection for people with disability at work. You simply did not see people with physical or learning disabilities out and about. But I shall stop here, as MasterB wants and needs some shore leave; it’s a beautiful day, so tempting as it is to st ay online while the signal is good, I shall get on.

    • I wrote quite a long reply to this this morning when, I thought, the signal was good. However I see it has disappeared into the ether. So. It wasn’t just the 50s that were austere. I really only have the photograph evid nice of then. That austerity continued through the 69s, 70s and even the early 80s. The first flat I rented as a newly qualified teacher was not many notches able a slum, and the house I lived in in Manchester in 1979 as a student would be ranked as a slum by any standards, but still considered adequate for student accommodation. I think expectations are now much higher. What we accepted, what we expected would by today’s standards be considered woeful. As a female graduate I was encouraged to go into shop management, to train as a secretary or become a teacher. There were articles in the 70s and early 80s about the problem of the female graduate. We had grants but they were dependent on parental income. If your parents wouldn’t pay you were stuffed. Different authorities offered less or more generous grants. I grew up in Surrey, so less generous. My parents, struggling despite the fact that both of them worked, found it hard to accept that my sister spent money from her grant on clothes. But she was doing a teaching degree, she needed to look respectable in the classroom on teaching practice, and her college also encouraged social events where the students dressed up. My own experience a few years later I’d colouepred by the fact that I was (and am) vegetarian what ch means cheaper from of bills, and my wardrobe was comprised to f a couple of jumpers, a couple of pairs of jeans, including a bargain pair of then unfashionable Levi’s shrink to fits acquired at the local market, some cheese close th shirts and a duffel coat from my pre-teens. Even so, it was a struggle.
      So no, not a golden age of privilege. We had our own difficulties. They were just different from those faced by today’s undergraduates.

  5. Old Lob the farmer! That was the book I learned to read on! Gosh,you have taken me back to Parkway Infant School, just round the corner from Celia’s house. Well, it worked! It got us all reading and along with Milly Molly Mandy it got us to love the countryside!
    Glad you celebrated in vegetarian style. I was able to feel that my small vote by proxy helped the cause.xx

    • Oh gosh another commented I replied to that has disappeared into the ether, though I see my first reply to Celia has now turned up.
      You are the first person I know who also read Old Lob stories at primary school. It must have been an entire infant scheme, as i remember practising my numbers and simple addition counting his chicks, ducklings and sheep!
      I am very glad to have missed out on Janet and John which the pupils at the neighbouring (richer) primary school had. It all sounded very dull. Yes Milly Molly Mandy too, and Brer Anancy… 🙂

  6. I have fond memories of Parkway Infant School, and then of Applecroft Junior. The latter had been a secondary school first, so we had excellent facilities, including a pottery studio. I still have my creation of clay chess players, with oddly long legs. The freedom teachers had in those days – at ten we would be taken out for country walks on the spur of the moment if the weather was fine. No risk assessments or forms to be signed. So no complaints about my primary school days.
    Our career advice was similar to yours Isobel – for girls, nurse, teacher or secretary!

    • I hope careers advisers are better trained today. Really the advice we were given was so ill informed as to be practically useless. I remember seeing advertisements in the newspaper for jobs I’d never heard of, and I’d bet a few bob the careers adviser hadn’t either!

      I am jealous of your pottery, but I can raise the stakes perhaps by saying we had a school orchard, and the school was next to a sheep farm where horses and donkeys were regularly grazing alongside the sheep. We also watched lambs being born on the other side of the wall.

  7. A great read, and I love the line about your liver rebelling. We were at a gathering over the weekend in which I mentioned to an acquaintance that I’ve been stress drinking for the past six months. He replied that he has too and had put on “15 Trump pounds.” This madness is bad for more than our mental health; but perhaps we are turning the corner again.

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