Discover more from Now and Next
Don't smash the system, rebuild it
The tragedy of our country is that its problems are soluble. All the pieces are there in the Lego box for us to build a free, stable and prosperous society. What we are lacking is the will of our leadership, or their competence; or any sort of integrated plan.
Take the so-called Windsor Agreement. ‘Has Rishi done the impossible?’ said the Daily Mail last week; as we know, when a headline is phrased as a question the answer is always no. Why else would Ursula von der Leyen look so cheerful as she met the King? These are the twisters who fooled Edward Heath into giving away our fishing rights, leaving him with no option but to lie to us that he hadn’t. If there had been European lawyers at Waterloo we would have come away with the surrender document only to discover that we’d signed in the wrong place and put Napoleon on the English throne.
What our government is good at is picking on the common people. Coercion is fun, as we see from Matt Hancock’s leaked WhatsApp correspondence. Yet to Big Pharma, carte blanche. Fundamentally, the governing class is aggressive to us yet servile to corporations. Some would say that is a definition of fascism.
Take for another example the proposals for 15-minute urban zones. French revolutionaries barricaded the streets two centuries ago; today, it’s the authorities! And for what? To purify the air, apparently; there is always a vaporous justification for oppression.
Fifteen minutes? When I bought my house in the Eighties it took only half that - walking - to satisfy my daily shopping needs. The local parade boasted two greengrocers and three butchers; all gone now. Successive political administrations (local and national) gave supermarkets their head and so our cities became peppered with far-off barn-like emporia with playing-field-sized parking lots. If you’ve been there, Cornwall’s St Austell has a ring road full of supermarkets and trading estates and the centre is dying like a kitten bled white by monster fleas.
‘Let Pitt then boast of his victory to his nation of shopkeepers!’ sneered de Vieuzac in July 1794; if only it were still so today, for I could stroll to my butcher’s instead of lugging a ton of metal with me on the raceway to the big store.
It goes deeper than that. Corporate enterprises boast of creating jobs - but not net jobs; so much of their prosperity depends on destroying the small business owners’ patient work of decades.
That work also contributed significantly to social cohesion. The proprietor often looked to pass the business on to a child, who might spend Saturdays learning the trade and the habits and skills that went with it: being polite and reliable, able to talk, reckon and reason. I remember our butcher’s little boy in his kid-size striped apron; the greengrocer’s son chatting up customers as he weighed produce, while his sister made up bouquets of flowers.
Modern big shops offer a wider range of goods, and lower prices (if they have to); but shelf-stackers cannot earn enough to buy a house and support a family. The corporations get bigger, the people smaller.
This isn’t what we wanted, or want now, as YouGov tells us:
We return to the issue of systematic solutions. I can’t sell my car and expect everything to re-site itself closer to me, any more than I can make houses affordable for young people, or give them permanent jobs at good rates of pay.
But the government, if it lost its taste for bullying and devised a plan based on curbing big biz, re-constructing and subsidising a comprehensive public transport network, negotiating hard on international trade and desisting from using immigration to prop up labour needs… yes, the government could.
Thanks for reading Now and Next! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.