Life under the Tories: don't say you weren't warned
We're living in some nightmarish Harry Potter spinoff featuring Slytherin overlords and magical Lib Dem owls. And some of us saw it coming – but it doesn't have to be this way
The anxiety of living under a Tory government is that you're only ever a few days from the next national bad luck lottery draw. You know something spectacularly horrible will be announced next week. You just don't know whose unlucky balls they'll be holding.
Don't say you weren't warned. We told you what the Tories were like, we of the wilted generation, two years ago. We'd seen it all before. We were struggling young parents ourselves in the 80s when Thatcher's deregulation of the market led to class war, video nasties and Bananarama. We told you. You wouldn't listen.
Come on, you simpered, the Tories can't be any worse than that other crate of soft fruit, with the Britpop on their iPods and their impenetrable jargon. And, OK, I too froze in horror when I heard Labour's schools minister Jim Knight announce through his trimmed facial ladygarden that the challenge was "not simply how to divide the cake, but how to grow the cake". They've made him a Lord now, by the way. Presumably for services to advanced metaphor.
However. You see what you did, young people. Yeah, you shunted out the cake growers and ushered in some nightmarish Harry Potter spinoff featuring Slytherin overlords and magical Lib Dem owls. But … but it's not our fault, you blubber, nagging old husks like you kept urging us to remember the 80s and we did and to be honest they seemed pretty cool. That, we say, is because for you the 80s are a grainy VHS mixtape of fish fingers, Thundercats and dicking about in paddling pools. They are not about the disposal of nationalised industry and the systematic destruction of the trade union movement.
This is why we warned you about the Tories. We knew it would be easier for them to deconstruct the welfare state this time round as they spent much of their last time in office loosening the bolts. The print unions and the miners were defeated early on. The rest of the Tory era was spent dismantling a working class power base it had taken a century and a half to build. They had plenty of time. My son was born in 1979, the year Thatcher became prime minister. He was 18 before the Tories were turfed out again.
Local authorities were humiliated, their stock of affordable housing sold in a right-to-buy fire sale, their powers gradually whittled down to bins and dog waste. The Public Finance Initiative, greatly expanded under the auspices of Blair, was originally introduced as a buccaneering Tory programme, an innovative way of "synergising" public and private sectors. In much the same way that partnerships are forged between a desperately broke family and a loan shark.
Look, the reason this government's moving so quickly to divide the NHS into privatised contractual fiefdoms for its mates, and to divert education budgets into "free" schools for its mates' children, is because it can. Resistance has been atomised. Working-class rage, once articulated by powerful unions representing people doing proper jobs, has dissipated. Yet even in the glory days of unions there were dead industries whose dwindling memberships were amalgamated with new waves of collective bargainers. Wheeltappers and shunters bunked in with car assembly line workers.
Of course the health unions, the teaching unions, the public sector unions are doing great work. Alas, the wider "economy" these days is awash with such "silly" jobs isn't it? IT support. Vajazzling. Blogging. There's no hope of reunionising the country is there? You might as well try to unionise comedy writing, and … oh, wait.
I'm a member of two writers unions. One here, and one in the US I had to join for an American gig last year. I had to join. It's a closed shop. If you're not a member of the union, you can't write TV comedy over there. The union takes a cut of your earnings in return for protecting your interests and bumping your fee up to a decent minimum. Every time I get an email from them it's like a message from some 1970s socialist utopia. In Los Angeles.
If you can unionise joke-writing you can unionise anything. People who do "silly" jobs of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains. The nail technicians united will never be depedicured. Don't forget the closed shop is precisely how the bosses operate: you're either one of us and abide by the rules or you're out. From each accordingly to their tolerance of unpaid overtime; to each according to their shareholding.
It would be interesting to see how long Westminster could function if the Amalgamated Union of Baristas and Sandwich Fillers called a strike. And the civil servants came out in sympathy. And the drivers and the cleaners and the couriers and the receptionists and the child-minders and, now I come to think of it, the grandparents.
All this guff the government's spinning about choice and the individual: that's what they want. The last thing they want is collective action. They're always sneering about "Guardian readers". Well, we pay our daily sub of £1.20, let's call ourselves a union. Comrades, to the barricades! Or if you're a Times reader, the paywall!
Ian Martin (@ianmartin) is a writer for The Thick Of It. Charlie Brooker is away