The evidence is laid bare in clinical detail that Britain's is indeed a broken society, as David Cameron never ceases telling us. But his own creed of putting faith in marriage, and of localised “bottom up” solutions to the nation's social ills, also smacks of massaging. Plus, as the National Equality Panel makes clear, the seeds for much of the inequality we're experiencing now were laid between the late Seventies and early Nineties, much of it during the years of Tory rule.
What changed in that period? It's when Britain underwent a profound shift. Grammar schools were abolished and the lowest-common denominator was made to prevail. I went to a grammar school and recall how we were taught, how the teachers struggled and succeeded, even on limited resources, to provide us (many of whom came from poor backgrounds) with the same education as a fee-paying school.
The pursuit of academic excellence was one of the nation's pillars. Others were community and mutuality. And industry. The language of the City came to the fore. We had privatisations, the share-owning democracy, the disappearance of building societies, council house sales and 1986's Big Bang in the City. New Labour picked up the baton so that every school and hospital must be given a place in a league table, civil servants receive bonuses, and private companies are encouraged to operate public services.
We're now stuck with a nation that is little more than a collection of retail parks, industrial heritage sites and housing estates. I get the same feeling going to parts of Britain that I got on holiday in Greece last year: I don't know what the locals do.
We've handed out welfare like never before, encouraged more pupils go to university (when in the past many of them would have begun apprentice schemes, now being hastily restarted), squandered the profits of North Sea oil, borrowed like mad and relied on a booming — and as is now obvious, deeply flawed — financial sector.
The result is a society that has stalled, that continues to produce inequalities which the panel that compiled the report find “shocking”. Things can only get better, we were promised. They did, but only for a few.
As frequently repeated on this blog, 1979 marked the start of the carcinoma-like growth of the Central State and the start of the destruction of local institutions. The year also saw the start of a boom in bastardy and a loss of moral standards that has continued unabated. It saw the start of a process under which parties ceased to be mass membership organisations and became national consumer brands; the Conservative Party lost well over a million members between 1979 and 1997. 1979 was the birth-year of the modern Leviathan State, started under Thatcher and built to fruition by Blair and Brown.
Does it not occur to anyone else that a mass devolution of power, the reform of our cesspit of politics and corrupt parties, the restitution of the authority of local institutions and a radical diminution of the presence of the State in our lives might do something to reverse the sick nation we've become? Just me, then?