Last time I fully engaged with the benefits system, living and loving on the dole in Nottingham in the late 1980’s, Thatcher was in power. Oh yeah, I’ve claimed things since, housing benefit, working families tax credit…. but that was the last time the state held me in its gentle arms and fully supported me.
Okay, it chivvied me too… with a pokey stick; I danced the dance of understanding the benefits system and saying the right things and going on the right courses (setting up as self employed for an extra tenner a week I seem to remember was de rigeur). I wore workmans dungarees and tried not to listen to Chumbawumba if I could help it.
I had a ball…. I lived minimally, partied well, festivalled in the summers, knew where the free things were to be found and ate curry for breakfast almost every day from the ‘Joint Indian and Pakistani Centre’ for a couple of quid which wasn’t a bad staple diet. I was there for the poll tax demonstration in Trafalgar Square… I even swore at a policeman (his retort ‘I bet your mother doesn’t know you swear like that’ mine: ‘I bet your mother doesn’t know you’re a policeman’)…
For a single young person with zero responsibilities it was a fine time to be alive: any time is a fine time to be alive at that age. It was a time of deep austerity- but I can’t say I ‘really’ noticed. Hating the Tories was what one ‘did’… railing against a government who had been in power a decade.
And here I am today. I’m 46, I’m back on benefits, we’re in the depths of austerity and Thatcher is dead.
I think I’m a little more aware of the politics this time round and I’m certainly not responsibility free any more.
Some of the posturing of the left in these post Thatcher days is the anti-establishment posturing of youth. Some of it the echoing actions of my peers who over the last week have probably dug out some Billy Bragg to listen to and tried to decide if an organic vegetable box is something they should give up in the name of austerity. Rushes of support for articles by the political figures of our youth like Ken Livingstone…. the last ditch political stand by Glenda Jackson in defiance of the spineless faux respect of the House. Where’s the Beast of Bolsover? comes the cry… we want to know what each and every hero of our political youths has to say on this matter.
In a way this retrospective anti Thatcherism is a happy thing, reminding us of our halycon days wielding scaffold poles like its 1981.
But does it move us forward?
Next week when the black bunting comes down and the stale sausage rolls are tucked in Gordon Browns pockets on his way back North…. will we all go back to our glamping, our chichi nouveau austerity home crafts?
I hope not. (and I’ve never actually ‘been’ glamping).
The fire that moved us in our youth against the establishment needs to be stoked properly again, we’re all grown up now, with jobs and lives and kids but many things are as they were or worse. If we just let the youth take to the streets its just deja vu with different tunes and the same old SWP placards.
What can we achieve now we know the political ping pong of left to right and back is a pointless exercise?
Beyond the blind indignant anger of youth is a country who needs the seeds of a new way not another nu labour, third way but a real way, not just about economics but about people, about being ‘excellent to one another’… if someone can sow those seeds I suspect the grown ups would take to the streets to make it happen.
I guess thats the difference between youth and middle age…. I’ll be out on the streets fighting for a solution when someone shows me theres valid and realistic potential.
Breaking things with scaffold poles costs the tax payer money in the long term dontcha know?