Caitlin Moran has written a fantastically powerful piece in The Times today (which builds on her piece on Saturday). I really do recommend reading both of them – worth the Times‘ subscription cost alone, let alone all the other great stuff in there – but the gist of the Saturday piece is the value of a dignified safety net, and that of today’s is that those who had to rely on it in the 1980s felt abandoned and disliked and disdained.
I think she’s onto something in both cases. We have a welfare state because it’s there to help people who need it. And one of the great failings of the 1980s, and indeed beyond, was that we as a society and governments of both sides failed to engage properly with what future communities which had seen their traditional jobs go could have.
There is something else though that I think is really important, and it comes back to the great debate over language used in politics. I really really really dislike the way that politicos (and I probably do this too) talk about ‘them’. Who need the welfare state. Who are gay. Who want to migrate. Who are, on the outside, a bit different to ‘us’. When we talk about ‘them’, we’re saying that we think we’re better than them. And because we say it, so we start to think it. And thinking about ourselves as a divided nation in that way leads to – well, division.
I do a lot of work in developing democracies. One of the important things that we work on is the idea that practice makes something the norm. The more you practice democracy, the easier it gets, and the more normal it becomes. The more we set ourselves up as divided, the less united we become. We are one nation, and we shouldn’t fall into the temptation of ignoring what that means.
If we disdain ‘them’, what happens when we become them?