I shouldn’t be surprised, but I’m still shocked at what they’ve done to this country. It’s as if we’ve learnt nothing, even now, almost a quarter of the way into the 21st century.
Of course we new it could happen. After their election in 2015 the Tory government went on a rampage. Their first 100 days saw them put into place the powers needed to control the electorate and marginalise any opposition. First it was their snoopers charter, enabling electronic surveillance on a scale never before envisaged. Fear of terrorist attacks made it a popular move, and dissenting voices were ridiculed as soft, wishy washy, left-wing and unpatriotic. Of course this extra surveillance gave the government early warning of proposed campaigns and any unfavourable media reports against their agenda; enabling them to pre-empt and counter with tremendous effect.
Next came the anti-union legislation, coupled with new measures to speed up the privatisation of our NHS, social services, prisons, schools and colleges. Legal strikes proved almost impossible to organise; and new laws were brought in making it a criminal offence to organise unofficial action. Selling off the BBC was hailed as a golden moment by the Government and the media, all but wiping out any serious analysis of the government’s programme by the broadcast media.
Then we had further restrictions on what charities could say despite their rapidly growing role providing services that were once the job of the public sector; and in filling the gaps left by a series of severe welfare cuts.
The referendum that took us out of Europe the following year proved pivotal. Laws from Europe protecting workers and the environment were soon repealed, while a new British Rights Act was brought in based on so-called British values. This was big on rights to create wealth and own property; but proved totally ineffective at protecting civil liberty. Indeed, the right to protest was curtailed with limits on, among other things, the number of people that constituted a legal demonstration. Immigration was effectively halted; and many recent migrants chose to leave due to a climate of discrimination and hate that flourished in the post European era.
Alarmingly, the expected popular backlash against the government never really materialised. A sympathetic media were very quick to undermine opposition leaders. labelling them as anti-British, against progress, and of course, left-wing. Their private lives were disrupted and some even criminalised for daring to organise protests. This soon become the establishment response; and sadly it gained traction in our increasingly divided society.
Most of us had pinned our hopes on the election of 2020, but the disappointment that night proved worse than in 2015. Despite securing an even smaller share of the popular vote than before, the Tories held on to power with a majority of two. Once again the first-past-the-post electoral system proved their saviour. The rebranded right-wing Labour party failed to make any headway, losing seats to the Lib Dems and to a confident Green party that secured over 7 million votes.
For many of us the prospect of another five years of conservative policy was too much. By summer 2021 the Labour party had imploded. Three of its MPs joined the Tories, and a sizeable group refused the party whip. Many activists simply resigned from the party. The only real opposition inside parliament was coming from a rump of whip-less Labour traditionalists, and an alliance of Green, SNP, Liberal Democrat and Paid Cymru MPs. Outside of parliament there were sporadic and sometimes violent protests, unofficial strikes and occupations at a number of universities.
But despite this period of unrest, the division between the haves and the have-nots meant that for the better-off half of the population, the country was a happy place. It was perhaps this fact, plus the relentless media messages and police harassment, that led eventually to the end of the unrest. People had grown weary and despondent. No doubt just what the government wanted.
Home owners, who by now were almost all aged over 40, were enjoying a surge in house prices; and landlords were exploiting their wealthier tenants like never before. Gated communities were proving popular; and a whole new service sector was springing up to cater just for their needs. Indeed the haves rarely needed to go far, with almost everything they needed being delivered to their secure and nicely painted doors.
But for those who could not afford to buy or rent anything decent, daily life was far from happy. Before the 2020 election there had been a growth in the number families sharing with others, pooling resources in order to get by. Housing co-operatives were now common, as was squatting. And in some cities whole areas were rapidly being dubbed the new shanty towns as homeless people improvised their own housing with boxes, tents, sheds, and caravans. Unsurprisingly with this hardship came poorer health, and reduced participation in education and civil society.
So with a year until the next election, Britain is a grossly unequal country. Social mobility is for much of the country, a thing of the past. But while the poor and vulnerable suffer and die, the better-off thrive and the wealthy propser. If you have money and property in 2024, you are well looked after.
Personally I’ve been lucky. A reasonable occupational pension and a job with a charity means I don’t struggle. But I have no health insurance so the threat of serious illness always haunts me. Today I am joining some fellow activists. I expect we’ll be turned back a good mile from the fracking rig. But this ritual is being repeated by environmental campaigners all over the country on an almost weekly basis. If we are lucky the police will be expecting the protest at another fracking site, so we may get through. If we succeed, the plan is to stay until we are arrested.