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Life with Lavendar in London town

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A Different S(Tory)?

Friends of mine are members of the National Trust, a brilliant UK charity which works to preserve and protect historic properties and surrounding natural areas such as forests, beaches, farmland; the list goes on. Being members means they can escape London periodically and go to lots of lovely places in the UK which are steeped in history and natural beauty.

Last weekend, we joined them on one of these outings to Hughenden Manor in Buckinghamshire which is where Benjamin Disraeli, ex-prime minister of Great Britain in the 1800’s used to live when he wasn’t frequenting the halls of Westminster or based in London.

It was a lovely day out. We perused the grounds in leisurely fashion, taking in the walled garden with all its rampant vegetable growth and abundant apples trees. We embarked on a nature walk which took in (so I’m told – I was too busy talking) a German Forest and a monument to Disraeli himself (although I thought the best monuments were the wonderful woods he planted). We lunched in the old stables complex,then snooped inside Disraeli’s old country pad where he dwelled in connubial bliss with his wife Mary Anne. Finally we rested our butts on the back steps of the property which overlooked the prettily, pruned gardens. Sitting in the backyard of an ex-Conservative British prime minister turned my thoughts towards politics.

So do you think the Tories will get in next term?, I asked.

The response was a unanimous Yes.

I can’t believe it, I moaned. I’ll have to leave.

Everyone laughed including my husband whose laugh had a hopeful quality about it.

I’m serious, I continued, ignoring him. One of the reasons I left Australia was because of Howard.

I lived in Australia under the Howard government from 1996 to 2007. In the eleven years he was in power, Howard gave Australia relative economic stability and prosperity and you can’t knock that. But he also took Australia back to a 1950’s social conservatism and utterly horrified me as a citizen with his foreign policy and immigration stance. By the time I left Oz, I felt completely stultified by the stuffiness.

Jimmy who calls himself a right-wing marxist was more hopeful than I, remaining optimistic about the impending power switch.

Cameron will be the most liberal Tory to take the seat, he said, And it’s important for both parties to balance each other out. It’s not good for one party to be in power for too long.

I agree with the latter point but the current media saturation of Cameron’s face makes me feel like the walls are closing in. I lived in the UK between 1996-1998 where I experienced the dying ebbs of Thatcherism just before Blair and Labour took the reins. I remember the slight grimness in the air that lingered on from Tory rule and in the faces of the generation that lived through it. I remember paying to get into all the galleries. I remember a lot less cultural activity. Social class seemed a much bigger deal back then.

When I returned to live in London in 2005, it had changed. It was cleaner for one and far more dynamic and diverse. People seemed to have woken up from a long sleep. I’m fearful that this will change under a Tory government. I’m fearful that the whole idea of social responsibility that Cameron is so big on, actually will translate to a pay or get out of the way approach to social services, not to speak of free access to cultural activities.

In his recent conference speech, Cameron said:

So no, we are not going to solve our problems with bigger government. We are going to solve our problems with a stronger society. Stronger families. Stronger communities. A stronger country. All by rebuilding responsibility.

The idea that all the ills of society can be fixed if we are more responsible bothers me. I look around me and I don’t see many people who are irresponsible. I see people who are trying to make it through the day; keeping their heads up through the daily grind. I find it reprehensible that a government who intends to wield massive cuts within the public sector can turn around and say that it will all improve if we sort ourselves out. What does that mean? Should we doctor ourselves? Get rid of refuse by burning it in piles on the street?

In the self same speech, he proclaims:

We've got to stop treating children like adults and adults like children, which seems a bit rich since he’s been lecturing us about responsibility. But then, how can we take his sweeping statements at all seriously when he goes on to say:

It’s your character, your temperament and your judgement that in the end count so much more than the policies in your manifesto.

Did my ears deceive me? Ever heard of the word accountability David? It has the same number of syllables as responsibility.

I also hope that George Osborne’s plan to implement a wage freeze that will affect 4 million public sector workers who earn more than £18K, also includes him and his cabinet. Osborne’s slash and burn mentality will hit our society where it hurts. Being a nurse, teacher, prison officer or a social worker are tough enough jobs as it is. I much prefer Labour’s intention of pay freezing the wages of 40,000 of the top public service tier and only 750,000 of the mid wage earning sector (or a 1% increase). The cherry on Osborne’s cake is that he wants us to work for longer to help pay for each other’s pensions and old-age benefits. Maybe if the Tories are lucky, we’ll all start dying earlier from exhaustion and not even claim our bloody pensions.

Maybe my outlook is unwarranted but in addition to Howard, I have come of an age in a time where I witnessed how a modern government can completely undermine and shred the social fabric of a country so that it is brought to its knees. Two words.

George Bush

Remember him?

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