If you are old enough, the depiction of John Sullivan’s pre-Del Boy, misguided, but loveable wannabe revolutionary, played by Robert Lindsay,is a fond memory; particularly if, like me at the time, you shared that utopian view of how a post-revolutionary Britain might look. It is such a shame that my children’s knowledge of Mr Lindsay is confined to his portrayal of a middle class dentist.
If you don’t know, Wolfie’s catchphrase was “freedom for Tooting”, somewhat ironic given that, with an average house price of over £500,000, many residents of that borough have found their financial freedom as winners of the Great British Postcode Lottery- now there’s a BBC series to follow the Bake Off and all the other nauseating “Great British” clones.
Not much chance of a revolution in Tooting these days, the annual skinny latte spend in itself would probably fund several hospitals and schools though; but, like an increasing number of London Boroughs, it has become gentrified to a level the rest of the country can only dream about. In fact, not much chance of anything revolutionary happening any time soon in these islands.
I was thinking about Wolfie this morning as the all too predictable Scottish Referendum vote came through. Credit to the Yes campaign, they gave it a right good go. With the margin of victory for the No campaign (383,000) being almost identical to the Conservative vote in 2010 (412,855), you could be forgiven for thinking that the Tories have managed to screw Scotland one more time.
I wanted Scotland to vote Yes; not for some of the pathetic, parochial reasons that I heard on both sides, alongside the sensible debate, during the campaign; but for the simple reason that they are a separate country. People in England just do not seem to grasp this; their opinion clouded by the fact that we have all got on very well for 300 years, since being artificially welded together. I really wanted a Yes vote though to try and galvanise some sort of movement for change in England. Instead, I hear ” its not fair that Scotland gets no tuition fees and free prescriptions, and we don’t…bah!”. No we don’t, because “we” don’t demand them- and the politicians know this. I felt as deflated as the Yes campaigners themselves this morning.
I don’t know exactly when the “small c” conservatism of the English started, but I do know that Margaret Thatcher turned it inexorably into upper case. When she said “there is no such thing as Society…” what she really knew was that there is such a thing, but she would make sure that more and more of us were not prepared to pay to support and grow it. She captured the mood brilliantly, so much so that successive governments have continued to kneel at her neoliberal altar.
My first ever published letter to The Independent was my favourite. Tony Blair had just accused Michael Howard, the then Conservative leader, of being “…the High Priest of Thatcherism…”. This prompted me to write “What a choice the electorate has, the High Priest of Thatcherism- or the Altar Boy? I ain’t got religion”.
Plus ça change…as mainstream English policy continues to dance to Thatcher’s tune. Yes, I know there are some good people in the Labour Party, the Lib Dems and, dare I suggest, even one or two Tories for that matter, but you won’t see much radicalism. Why? Because they all know where their English electoral bread is buttered; in rising house prices, lower taxes, two car families, and rampant consumerism. Yes, they will continue to talk about saving the NHS, like they did in the Scottish campaign, but will continue to support back-door privatisation at the same time. I was quite interested in all the promises that “the NHS will never be privatised in Scotland.” So, just in England then Gordon?
It isn’t their fault though, its ours; we get the politicians we deserve, and while the haves exceed the have-nots in England, we will continue to trundle along, pushed and prodded by the mainstream media into thinking that we are all paying for an epidemic of benefit claimants, asylum seekers- and soon, “Devo Max”. ( Don’t you think Devo Max should, like Mad Max, be played by Mel Gibson- all slightly deranged fictional characters after all?) I am not advocating tyre-burning, barricading, violent revolution of the type that I have witnessed in Latin America. I don’t want this lovely country to ever have to face that prospect- I just want people to realise that things can change, if you want them to badly enough- plenty of people in Scotland did.
We still need Wolfie Smith, but I fear he has gone forever, just like the Tooting he lived in. Power to the People? Well, just a select few of them still.