Are We a Nation Divided By Austerity? Or Are We Now Two Parallel Worlds?

After last year’s referendum and the recent election result, there has been plenty of speculation about a ‘nation divided’. Local resident and S&C contributor Rosy Bremer fears we may be far beyond division, and already in something far worse.

It has become a big thing since the referendum – itself quite a big thing – to talk about a divided Britain.  Until the recent interview on BBC’s Today with Grant Shapps discussing why the Conservatives didn’t quite win the election, I have willingly participated in this talk of a Britain divided.

Last year I went to a meeting hosted by Common Ground, in the silver tube spanning Winston Churchill Avenue to discuss:

  1.  Is Portsmouth divided?
  2. What do we do about the divisions in Portsmouth?*

* Not to be confused with Portsmouth in the divisions; that would be more of a sporting discussion and they tend to take place in the Guildhall in the presence of squillionaires.

It has now, thanks to the assistance of Mr Shapps-Tory chap, dawned on me that we are looking to the wrong mathematico-political model to explain our somewhat sad and sorry situation.  Geometry, I believe, gives a better representation of our economic, sociological, cultural and political plight.

Mr Shapps was asked by the kindly Nick Robinson to reflect on the fortunes of the Conservative party, post-election. There’s nothing I like better when I’m getting my daughter ready for school than a dollop of musings on ratings going down like a sinking bubble in a glass of Dahlian frobscottle, so I knew I would enjoy this interview.  I had no idea though it would lead me to a whole new understanding of the way we live today.

Grumpy Grant (well, who wouldn’t be miffed to be so near yet so far from achieving a dream of nationwide domination?) explained that it was simply all down to a duff and punitive manifesto.

He said not enough lessons from the past had been learned. Perhaps he meant the lessons that had been thoroughly learned were lessons like the ones about not bullying young activists so much that they kill themselves; or not bussing people all over the country to assist in local campaigning then claiming for national campaigning.

It all seems to be a bit of a muddle sloshing around in the Shapps’ head. Never mind, a man sacked from the Cabinet after a series of allegations that he did some dodgy Wikipedia editing is clearly in the perfect position to speak to the nation about disastrous PR in an election campaign.

Nobody likes austerity, Mr Shapps explained, it’s just that we have to do it.  Still, people not liking austerity was in no way connected to people not wholeheartedly voting for it he said, when Mr Robinson asked whether he thought the two things might, in fact, be related.

I am definitely with him on the appallingness of the manifesto and I think it’s possible it might be why not many activists were willing to come out and sing its praises. Traipsing the streets of Portsmouth, extolling the virtues of bringing back fox-hunting, scrapping meals for kids and ending the winter fuel allowance would be just like offering random passers-by mouldy carrots and weevil biscuits, I would imagine.

On Polling Day, I was a teller at Cosham Polling Station. If I may tell a teller’s tale, I heard several people exclaim at the sight of Tory tellers, “It’s the first time I’ve seen a Conservative in this campaign”. No wonder activists stayed at home. Only the man who told anyone who’d listen that he bought his girlfriend a picture of Margaret Thatcher for her birthday could greet the manifesto with any degree of unbounded enthusiasm.

Poor old Mr Shapps said he’d heard a lot of bizarre explanations about why the trumpeted thumping majority didn’t quite occur. These may include:

  • the bizarre people who connected a manifesto being appalling with the policies being appalling, and possibly the Party itself being fairly appalling
  • the weird people expecting their kids to be educated in classes of fewer than forty
  • the outlandish sick people hoping to be looked after in an adequately-funded NHS
  • the freaky folks worried about whether they could stay warm in winter
  • the far out kids favouring a state-funded higher education
  • the inconsistent individuals who believe it might not be a good thing to blow up the ground under our feet with poisonous gasses
  • the peculiar people who feel patronised when someone says there’s no magic money tree
  • the quirky types who feel furious when the magic money tree appears from the shadows and has fruit only for the gaping mouths of the DUP

From the outside, it certainly seems likely these are the ones who would say, ‘We voted against austerity because we don’t like it and think it’s the wrong policy.’

I don’t think we are a nation divided; I think it is worse than that. We are a country of parallel universes that do not intersect.

In one universe, Marie Antoinettes lounge around with powder-puff faces, but this is not the world I live in.  I live in the one where I haven’t had a pay rise of more than 1.1% for all of my daughter’s life; where I am one of the lucky ones, I even have a permanent contract.

One of these universes has to come crashing down; my bet is that it is the world constructed on a profound and unjust inequality that will crumble under the weight of its own ambitious cruelty.

I have my knitting needles at the ready.