Anyone remember the Big Society? In conjunction with David Cameron’s grand scheme to get us all collective (bit Socialist-sounding, really) there was a survey carried out intended to establish a ‘happiness scale’; there had been precedents, though. Previous surveys along similar lines had come to unexpected conclusions. According to records, the happiest the British populace has ever been recorded as being was in 1976. That’s right – the year when Labour Chancellor Denis Healey went cap-in-hand to the IMF for a loan to prevent Britain’s bankruptcy and Punk emerged as youth culture’s reaction to the perilous state of the nation. Lest we forget, however (if we’re old enough, of course), it was also the year of the Long Hot Summer; whether or not the survey was undertaken when the country was basking in the sunshine history doesn’t record, though it might explain the surprising results.
All of which leads us nicely into the shock-horror headlines on the front of today’s Mail and Telegraph, announcing Jezza’s apparent intentions to take us back to that much-maligned decade; aside from me wondering whether or not a journalist from those esteemed organs had stumbled upon the video I attached to a post on here a couple of days ago, my first thought was that their opposition to the prospect was understandable from a Tory perspective. Bar three-and-a-half years between June 1970 and February 1974 as well as the last seven months of 1979, the Conservative Party was out of office; and its 1970-74 government was led by the perennially-discredited Edward Heath. Mrs T came into office too late to make a real mark on the 70s. To regard a return to the 70s as the worst nightmare of the said papers and their readership is something of an understatement.
The claim of Corbyn’s intent derives from the leaked Labour manifesto for the upcoming General Election that hardly contained much in the way of surprises. Renationalising the railways has been a stated policy ever since Jezza became Labour leader and one that many old Tories – Peter Hitchens included – have no ideological argument with; privatisation of the railways was not one of the most successful or celebrated privatisations, after all. Reversing part-privatisation of the NHS is another policy few would dispute; Blair’s public-private partnership project is one whose disastrous legacy is all-too evident. And then there’s the abolition of tuition fees; when a generation of journos and politicos who enjoyed the luxury of state student grants oppose the revival of the system they benefitted from, one cannot but question their opposition.
The right and the left’s negative narrative of the 1970s has merged in recent years so that the decade has been rebranded as an era when bolshie commie unions held the country to ransom whilst the establishment allowed them to get away with it because it was too preoccupied with molesting children on an industrial scale; the people, on the other hand, turned a blind eye because their attention was distracted by the desire to acquire the latest must-have household appliances and dressing like the Diddy Men, preventing them from sitting up and taking notice. Operations Yewtree, Midland and Conifer have all played their pernicious parts in this historical revisionism, along with endless ‘wise-after-the-event’ clips programmes on crap channels fronted by talking heads who weren’t even around at the time. Like any negative narrative, however, there is an alternative viewpoint.
One could cite the democratisation of popular culture, when the 60s revolution enjoyed by an elite few finally filtered down to the masses and Joe Public experienced a brief liberation from both sartorial and moral straitjackets, as a plus; ditto the increased significance of that popular culture in daily life, where it had an importance above and beyond the leisure industry it now represents. New releases by David Bowie or Pink Floyd were artistic events rather than coffee-table merchandise; ditto small-screen landmarks such as ‘The Naked Civil Servant’ or ‘Roots’, giving a voice and opening eyes to those who had previously been denied a wider spotlight, reflecting the genuine and valid rise in political awareness of women, gays and ethnic minorities.
The police force may have been inherently bent and guilty of persecuting said minorities, but no more than they are in the twenty-first century. A female head of the Met means bugger all beyond politically-correct tokenism, particularly when Cressida Dick’s role in the disgraceful Jean Charles de Menezes affair is taken into account.
For the Mail and the Telegraph, a return to the values and ethos of the most revised and reviled decade of recent history being the ultimate horror story makes logical sense from their perspective, though no politician can turn back the clock in the way their headlines imply. If that was literally possible, then I’d have to head back to my primary school in the autumn, even though it closed about ten years ago. Whilst getting ready for school, I’d be able to switch on the radio and be faced with a choice of Noel Edmonds or Terry Wogan, and the only telly I’d see before the late afternoon would either be a solitary schools programme in the library or (if I decided to go home for dinner) ‘Pipkins’ and ‘Farmhouse Kitchen’. I’d also not have to concern myself with bills and rent, though 50p-a-week pocket-money might just cover them, anyway.
Yes, that’s how silly this storm-in-a-teacup really is; and if this is the best the right-wing press can come up with to combat a threat from Labour that they’re simultaneously telling us isn’t a threat at all when Theresa May’s coronation is a nailed-on certainty, one has to wonder what all the fuss is about. It couldn’t be that they actually believe the unthinkable is possible, could it?
© The Editor