Tomorrow we go to the polls. Until we have voted, any election is wide open. The result is in our hands. As we stand in the polling booth, pencil poised to mark a cross in a box, ours are the hands that hold the crown. We decide who wins.
This election is the most important vote since 1979. It is so, because never has it been so starkly clear that we are at a threshold. We can continue as we have been since 1979. Or we can say, “Enough!” We can choose another way.
1979 is a long time ago. A voter has to be in his or her late thirties even to have been alive then. The world created after 1979 is the only one many of us have known. But post-1979-world was a deliberate act, a conscious creation, crafted to an ideological template of the neoliberal right. And, love it or loathe it in theory, in practice it has failed. Boy, has it failed.
In 1979 we had a state. A welfare state, a mixed economy. Neither of those were then contentious phrases. The state was a thing of beauty; pragmatic, British beauty, built upon centuries of law, custom, and practice, and consolidated into what some called ‘a Rolls Royce machine’ through the growth of a meritocratic and impartial Civil Service to underpin good governance. That state, and the local state, ensured that the British could do things, whether questionable things, like running an Empire, or good things, like fighting a war of national survival, or pensions, schools, and health. As for the mixed economy, that was simply the pragmatic view that most things are best left to the private sector, but other, key things, natural monopolies, could only be done fairly and securely by the state.
All this was anathema to the Blue revolutionaries who stormed No 10 in 1979 (I once heard Peter Lilley boast, “We were the Leninists of the New Right.”). Since then we have heard nothing but ‘private sector = good’ and ‘public sector = bad’. Our heroes are ‘entrepreneurs’, our role models are people who were contestants on a game show like The Apprentice. In this moral universe a nail bar owner is more laudable than a firefighter, ‘white van man’ morally superior to an ambulance driver. It’s a world where Donald Trump can be president.
And so we are here. We voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union. Even assuming that to be a good idea (it isn’t), we can’t do it.
You read that right. We can’t do it. We can’t do anything. We can’t procure a functioning IT system for the NHS. We can’t build a school without paying over the odds for everything from the land to the building firm (and parents, you’ll have to supply the glue sticks, and put your hands in your pockets to cover the cost of not sacking the Maths teacher). Things are falling apart. The state has been hacked back in the name of ideology to such an extent that we don’t have the people in numbers, or the brains, or the institutional memory to negotiate anything as complex as Brexit.
Our state has been hollowed out, it is a shell, and the grand buildings of Whitehall are a facade behind which teams of young, well-paid people from a narrow range of social backgrounds amass money for their employers – Capita, KPMG, PWC, and all the rest – regardless of the hash they make of any job they are given by credulous, amateur ministers.
And it is all so inefficient and wasteful. Taxpayers – that’s everyone who has ever bought anything – are having their, our, money wasted on this four decade long experiment.
So that’s, above all, what the election tomorrow is about. Rebuilding a functioning British state. Restoring our pride in our ability to runs things well. Re-setting our national moral compass to value things which can’t be bought with vulgar cash. Getting our country back, if you like. Taking back control.
Anyone who knows me, or has read this blog, knows that I am no Corbynista. I am clear-eyed about the man and his limitations, and highly critical of many of the things he and his friends have done, or not done. But there is something Labour under Corbyn offers explicitly that no other party in this election comes close to offering – the promise to restore the state, so that governments can again do what they promise.
Reversing rail privatisation, reversing the privatisation process which is selling off the NHS, taking the private sector (and God, I hope) out of schools, taking the debt out of higher education, making night school a thing again. Giving kids the right to a hot meal and a chance to learn to play a musical instrument, even if they are poor, for heaven’s sake. That the right wing press call this a communist wish-list, when it’s only what we used to take for granted, shows just how extreme the right has become.
Young, old, or in-between, black or white, whatever our gender, or income, or region of domicile, we can’t be a contented, united country until we rebuild the power of a benign and active state.
That means getting rid of the Tories tomorrow.