The British are traditionally avid followers of politics which is not necessarily the same as political participants. As a child it was normal to adopt the politics of ones parents….politics was still in the blood in those days.
I’ve always been proud to accept that my family has working class roots. My ancestors came from different parts of England, Scotland and Ireland and all descended on Northampton in the last quarter of the 19th century which was the latest industrial boom town. At the close of the industrial revolution famous already as the boot and shoe place it was a magnet for people wanting to better themselves because the factories were new and mechanised, the work clean, but more importantly there were jobs a plenty for both husband and wife and overtime in the good times. So take home pay could be more than double that on offer in other places.
Of course they had to really put in the hours, at one time all four of my grandparents were working for the shoe factories, my father had no real family life as a child due to the demands on his parents from the long working week and he was bought up by his auntie along with the other kids. But despite the ups and downs of the 20th century those who worked hard could get to see some improvement in their life. One grandfather, although for all his fifty working years a pressman stamping out pieces of shoe from leather hides, through sheer graft and ambition was able to afford to buy his own house. It was highly unusual at the time for an unskilled factory worker to buy a house so of course they were justly very proud.
But it wasn’t all mindless conformance to the system just for the pay packet; another uncle from that generation was a founder member of the British Communist Party in the town which in the 1920s, did a lot of the ground work to improve working conditions and pay grades before the unions even existed. In those early days membership had some cache among the intelligentsia and was seen mainly as a route to self betterment through learning rather than a means of the militant objectives later adopted by the unions. Whatever the motive, in those days political participation of any sort must have been quite adventurous and have taken real personal commitment especially when compared to today’s keyboard campaigning.
Our politicians have traditionally come from those with the time and financial backing to enable a political career, this ensured that many were able to offer industry experience in addition to a purely academic career. In recent years entry to politics has become much more easy to attain and given that there is apparently no specific qualification for industry experience, almost none of our present day politicians have the obvious benefit of practical industry or business experience in order that they can better apply their purely academic qualification. As a result, the level of knowledge, business acumen and general capability to manage has deteriorated and it has become clear that many of those in senior government roles have clearly garnered their experience only from within the government and political establishment. This is a significant change and a major contributor to the obvious estrangement between politicians and their electors. More importantly it affects the long term development of governance and leads to stagnation because politics is now being learned from a closed academic, historical and empirical perspective rather than being organically learned in a more practical, open and dynamic environment.
For my own part, there was never any obligation to follow in the footsteps of my forefathers either politically or socially, priorities growing up in 1970s UK were more hedonistic, like cars, bikes, girls and having a nice time. If parents don’t approve, I must be doing something right. Anyway politics was something viewed from a distance. Entering the jobs market in the volatile early 1980s, was not as scary as in retrospect it should have been. Economic trauma, three day weeks, stagflation, a general strike almost. And then Mrs Thatcher; the iron fist, a lot of division and hatred but ultimately the unions defeated. No one can say that lady did not have a big impact. At some point I realised that long term investment and commitment was the way to get where I wanted to go and eventually, as much by luck as endeavour I ended up as a business owner.
That’s a conservative ideal right there but I’ve never really classified myself as such politically. I’ve never wanted to pigeon hole my views on the same spectrum as everyone else basically. Although I’ve voted for both parties at different times, I never had much confidence in either big party, never had the urge, or time or patience to become involved in politics. Although I find politics always interesting and entertaining any hilarity stems from ridicule rather than celebration.
Theres an inherent problem affecting UK and many other places, too many people, and have to include myself in the group, are happy just to complain about government rather than to take direct action, by getting involved in politics to do it themselves. The irony is that the complainers are usually infinitely more capable than the career politicians.
Politics has changed? No, politics is just the same, it’s the people that have changed.