As the Brexit shambles rumbles on with no leadership in sight,
the country as divided as ever, and the war of words, long on rhetoric and
short on truth, sincerity and substance, I came across a documentary film
called My Generation on Netflix one night and thought this could be
interesting, a look at 1960’s Britain (pre EU) narrated by none other than
‘Alfie’ himself, Michael Caine.
It told the story of Britain in the 1960's, and how the
teenagers of that era, were the first generation to enjoy freedom and money in
a way previous generations never had. These were the children of the working-classes
who had fought and sacrificed so much in the First and Second World Wars, who
demanded the social changes that put the Labour Party into power in 1945,
and which led to the creation of the Welfare State that gave us free
healthcare, education and decent housing.
As a result of
these changes, there was an explosion of working-class talent in art, film,
music, fashion and politics that led to London becoming the centre of the
'Swinging 60's'. The class barriers were torn down as they stormed into
places previously denied them and they did so through sheer force of
talent. They were educated and confident, and not afraid to challenge the
class barriers that previous generations deferred to, and instead of remaining
'in their place’, they questioned, challenged and created new places.
They marched against war and discrimination, demanding peace and equality for
all, and were a beacon of inspiration and hope for others. The baby-boomer generation; advantaged by the
political consciousness, of their parent’s.
A new generation of working-class hero, as recognised in song, by John
Looking back, I must
ask, where did it all go wrong? What
happened to all that working-class energy, why did it not grow and expand to
encompass future generations? What
happened to all the potential and idealism that since the 60’s, has seen the
working-classes reduced to an object of sneering disdain, and led to the social
and political stagnation we have now?
There are several
factors to consider which together created a perfect storm which has
insidiously diminished the gains made by those previous generations. One of those was in education. While those on the liberal left despised
grammar schools, they did give many the opportunity of a college education
which had been denied previous generations and helped to fuel the explosion of
talent in the 60’s. We have the grammar
school system to thank for educating people like John Hume and Seamus
Heaney. But even if you weren’t
academically inclined, you had the option of leaving at the end of 3rd year and
going to a technical college where you could learn a trade and become a
plumber, electrician, joiner or brickie; there was also the option of
secretarial courses with shorthand and typing.
The 1970’s saw the
demise of grammar schools as the liberal left, in pursuit of equality for all,
created the comprehensive system (which seemed like a good idea at the
time). The decision to try and create an equal playing field has
unfortunately, over time, led to the dumbing down of the education on
offer. Some comprehensives still maintained a grammar stream in their schools
but the chance to leave and get a ‘technical’ education at the end of 3rd year was
taken away and there is now an academic requirement for GCSE’s in order to get
on a plumbing or electrical course (at least that's what happened here).
Also, in the 1970’s,
Unions that were set up to protect and fight for worker’s rights became more
and more demanding, leading to strikes and, eventually, to the winter of
discontent when they over-played their hand and lost the support of the public,
leading to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and almost 40 years of
Tory rule since. (I include Tony Blair's New Labour in that) It was the
working-classes who helped elect Margaret Thatcher, she promised to give them
the right to buy their council houses, brought in legislation to curb the power
of the unions and promised to create a nation of shareholders in the great
sell-off of public utilities; selling off to the few, what belonged to the
As the public
housing stock was sold off (and not replaced) those who had been in council
properties for a long time, received large discounts and with the economic boom
in the 1980's, many of those home-owners saw the chance to make a profit and so
sold their houses, many of which have now ended up in the hands of private landlords.
This happened to most of the public utility stock too, and the race for a quick
profit meant that most of those nationally-owned companies and industries are
now in private hands and/or foreign corporations, and the profits for the many
have ended up in the pockets of the few.
On top of this,
Globalisation and Free-Market economics saw many working-class jobs either
disappear abroad or disappear altogether. The job losses, the
Miner's Strike and the legislation to curb union power also had another effect,
which was to close the door to a political career. Factories and trade
unions used to be where the working-classes learned, or were introduced to,
politics. They received an education in how to negotiate and fight for
their rights and many started on the road to a career in politics and into the
Labour Party through their union. Since the 1980’s, the Labour Party lost
its working-class edge and under Tony Blair became a middle-class party. But, with the election of Jeremy Corbyn,
there is a move back to the Labour grass roots, and the working-class are
making their presence felt again and trying to wrest control back from the
Blairites who, realistically, should be on the Lib-Dem or Tory benches.
These changes are
some of the main reasons for the disaffection that is driving the Leave voters
here in the UK today. At its heart, are the working-classes, ignored for
years by the political establishment, and punitively targeted by that same
political establishment with 'austerity', and made to pay disproportionately, for
the reckless gambling of the private/corporate banking sector. And now sneered at disdainfully by the middle
and upper-classes over Brexit and dismissed as a bunch of ignorant racists.
Looking at the My
Generation documentary, I was struck by how many of those 'working class
heroes' from the 60's turned their backs on the class they came from and are
now firmly part of the establishment, including 'Sir' Michael Caine
himself. One of the most recent to accept the bauble from the Crown and
tug the forelock, and one of the greatest disappointments, is 'Sir' Billy
Connolly. Like his fellow countrymen, 'Sir' Sean Connery, that great
supporter of Scottish independence (ironic or what??) and 'Sir' Rod Stewart
who, on a recent show, tried to excuse it by saying it's from the British
people, not the Crown! Then, we also have people like Dame Judy Dench,
crying crocodile tears about the lack of opportunities for working-class actors
while helping to support and maintain the very system that keeps the
working-classes down and out.
So, if anyone is
worried about Britain after Brexit, it would do no harm to check out this documentary
and get a look at Britain before the EU, when it was the centre of everything
with a strong manufacturing base, and thriving home-grown industries: when
working-class was something to be and something to be proud of.
When Britain joined
what was the Common Market back in the 70's, it was with the intention of
making trade easier among the countries of Europe, which seemed like a good
idea at the time. It has now grown from
a ‘common market’ into a bloated, bureaucratic monolith, expanding and growing
beyond the remit of easy trade into a superstate, now with plans for its own
army (under whose control, and to what or whose purpose?).
Generation, has consolidated my belief in Leave. Britain has the potential to do well as an
independent nation but only if everyone in that nation is considered worthy and
given the chance, starting with a decent education for all, so their talent and
ability has the chance to evolve. Those
working-class who achieved so much in the 1960’s need to be reminded where they
came from and instead of rushing to join the establishment, they should try
extending a hand downwards to their fellow countrymen instead of pulling up the
ladder after them.
believe they have found a hero in Jeremy Corbyn and all the sniping and
sneering by Blairites and their supporters will not change that view. (Take
note, JK Rowling! Another working-class, gone snob!)
among the working-classes here, is now visible on the streets of France with
the Yellow Vests, and is spreading to other European countries with many taking
to the streets in solidarity. The silent majority who have been pushed to
their limits, finally making their voices heard.
I sincerely hope
the Yellow Vest protesters find a leader or spokesperson, if this movement is
to become more than just a 'street riot', to be put down by the forces of the
state. I sincerely hope Jeremy Corbyn lives up to the expectations
of those who have supported him and helped him become leader of the Labour
Party. He carries the hopes and dreams of the working-classes on his
shoulders, something they haven't had for a very long time. I sincerely
hope he becomes the hero they think he has the potential to be, because if ever
the working-classes needed a hero, that time is now.