I’ve seen this used as an explanation by the right wing media for the anger that is currently being expressed, both inside and outside parliament. Wealthy people know in their hearts that the poor want everything the rich have got, and they will never be satisfied until the rich have been stripped of all their assets and beggars get to ride upon horses. To paraphrase Alan Duncan, a Tory backbencher, anyone who isn’t a millionaire has only themselves to blame. We could all be rich, if we really tried.
I’m writing this to try and explain to the wealthy people currently running our country why their beliefs are wrong, why their actions have aroused such anger, and why our anger is light years removed from envy.
I was born in 1947, along with the NHS. My early life was peppered nights of pain from ear abcesses, horrendous earaches, frequent visits to our GP, Doctor Shanahan, and visits from district nurses who gave me penicillin injections. I was four when I had my first experience of hospital, to have my tonsils and adenoids removed. [ I don’t know if that hospital still exists as I can’t remember the name of it. Searching for it, I found this website. Look at what we have lost -and this is only in London. Lost hospitals in London. Somehow, we could afford to run all these, at a time of post-war hardship. The reason, I hazard, is because those in charge of our finances were able to think in terms of fairness, and of values other than money]. The children’s ward was full, so I was alone in an empty adult ward. In those days, parents could only come at visiting hours, and when my mother arrived with books for me to read [from the library], I could not tell her what an ordeal I was going through. Enemas. Examinations. Baths – one day I was given three, because I was too frightened to tell the nurses I’d already had one. The NHS was primitive then, but all the medicines and treatment I had, until I got big and healthy, would have been an impossible expense for our family. We lived in a rented basement flat off the Portobello Road, in a crumbling Victorian house with holes in the floors and mice and mould everywhere. That house is worth millions today. I showed promise at school. I passed the 11+ with the 90% marks required for me to have an interview for Godolphin and Latymer, in those days a state maintained girls’ grammar school for high achievers. It is now a private school. Many of the girls went to university and went on to careers. I was lucky; there were full student grants in those days. I was the first child in my family to get a degree.
During this time I was forging out my own values. What would be my guiding principles through life? How would I see success? What would make me happy? The fact that I chose to work in the arts is an indicator that wealth was never a factor. I never, ever expected to be rich, and I didn’t see that as a goal. I am not good with figures – like George Osborne, I only managed ‘O’ level maths – and buying and selling did not appeal to me as a way of life. Acquiring money was of no interest to me – and I was ambitious, and I have succeeded in making a living in the arts – writing plays for children, working on community drama projects, travelling the North East to bring theatre to people who had never seen it – all my working life. If I failed to achieve my childhood ambition of fame, my more mature self is heartily relieved to have escaped the merciless spotlight that is our media.
So what would I like to pass on to my children?
A love of the countryside. Nature has always been inspirational to me. To be able to walk all day along footpaths, across hills and mountains, unspoilt since the Romans were here, to enjoy the public national parks and lands that were all that remained after the illegal Enclosures took much of our common land away. To know that this would be here for ever, for my children and their children, gave me that all-important thing, the thing Cameron is at pains to stress he wishes to give all of us – security. Now the Land registry has been privatised, our public lands are up for grabs. For the sake of profit, our ancient rights to walk and be inspired by the rare beauties of our country will be taken away from us. It’s perfectly legal – it’s an Act of Parliament. But is it fair?
Fairness is something that all parents try to teach their children. Sharing with siblings if you have more than they do. Not ganging up on others, not bullying, or lying to help yourself do better. A sense of what George Orwell called decency. To behave in such a way that your conscience does not torment you at night. I can’t answer for the current cabinet, but I wonder if their expensive schools taught them rigorously enough about fairness and decency? If not, here is a fact for them: the present capitalist system is a triangle. At the top, a tiny number of the very rich, in the larger middle section, the middle classes, and the poor, the most numerous, at the bottom. Unfairness is built into the system, because it is only by keeping most people down below them that the rich can thrive. So to attack people for being part of that necessary structure is deeply unfair. It is bullying.
No one wants to be ill or disabled. I happen to be both, and I bless the NHS and its doctors and nurses every day of my life. They saved my life on a Saturday, by the way, when I had bilateral pulmonary embolisms and didn’t realise until I turned blue and passed out. That’s how close I was. So when Jeremy Hunt says that we don’t have a seven day service, he is not being honest. Honesty would be another quality I cherish. I have brought my children up to be considerate and kind, but also honest. I passionately wish that our rich policiticans, who clearly were raised with so many material advantages, had been taught the importance of these three qualities. Because in the policies they have chosen to carry out, there has been an absence of these vital things.
I would like to bequeath to my kids and to all children everywhere, hope in the future. A world that is cleaner and more peaceful. And to be able to say to them before I die that I did everything in my power to stop the powerful elites fracking, burning, despoiling, selling to the highest bidder, and by degrees killing the planet, is little consolation. To the rich I say, you cannot make money from a dead planet. Your children and grandchildren will not suffer the results of your policies as soon as we will. Their inherited wealth will keep them cushioned from reality until the very last tree has been felled. But this sick planet is what you are colluding in handing down to your children?
I’m not a Christian, or a believer in any religion. The way I conduct my life is by principles that, if I were to abandon them, would make me feel deeply uncomfortable. So it makes me angry when the only value that is considered worth discussing in Parliament, composed of nominal Christians, is monetary. Staying in the EU – it’s better for business. Fracking – great business opportunity. Selling our hospitals to the highest bidder – nothing wrong with profiting from illness. Refusing sanctuary to refugees desperately fleeing war? Never mind Christian compassion, brotherly love or even a remembrance of how Syria took in refugees and was known as a safe haven, until civil war, and war by proxy, turned the country into a dangerous, chaotic waste land – we can’t afford to have any of them here. Nuclear power stations – wait a minute. The new and long delayed station at Hinkley Point is uneconomic. It will cost us, the powerless, more and more as we pay the price for Osborne’s wrong decisions. A dose of honesty would be welcome here.
What has been lost, utterly lost, by today’s neoliberals, is any sense of sharing. Equality. Social justice. Those with the most helping those with the least – yes, even the undeserving, because, like Orwell, I don’t believe that people are automatically workshy. I hate to be dependent on others. I still work; I still write, even though my official retirement age was nine years ago. I don’t make money; I write because I love doing it. I have the most basic state pension, paid for by my own NI contributions. It isn’t much, because self-employed people don’t make much. But I don’t care, as long as I can live by my core values.
So David Cameron, George Osborne, Alan Duncan, Boris Johnson, and all who follow you-can you open your eyes to values other than than money? I don’t meant collecting art, or having a box at the opera, or taking holidays in Cornwall to enjoy the surfing. The values you seem to lack are the values that built the finest welfare state in the world. Visionary, revolutionary plans, inspired by ideals of fairness, bitterly opposed, of course, by the Tories then – and you have profited from it all. You’ve made billions for the exchequer by selling off things that belonged to all of us. Not just this government, but the past four, have forgotten that what matters most is not money. You know the price of everything, and the value of nothing. How can we get you to understand?
Frances Kay is the author of ‘Micka’, published by Picador, 2010 and ‘Dollywagglers’ published by Tenebris books, 2014. Her play ‘Feast of Bones’ will be performed at the ASSITEJ conference in Birmingham this July.