Friday, 13 May 2011

Unfortunately, lots of them come along at the same time

Something said recently by David Cameron, set me thinking of the Thatcher years. He had said so many of Thatcher's ideas were now being recognised as great, suggesting I suppose that he and Gideon fully intend to continue implementing such wonderful policies as destroying the public sector, privatising anything that moves and casting another generation onto the slag heap.

But it made me think of one very practical example I lived through of how Thatcher's "grand ideas" completely changed one aspect of our society.

One person's economy is another's quality of life

In the 80's I was commuting into Waterloo, then taking two buses to get to the school I taught in, on the Old Kent Road.

When I started doing those journeys every bus had a driver and a conductor. As the Tory cuts took effect I saw the progressively deteriorating effect on travel in London. It may be apocryphal, but the Thatcher quote about only failures needing to take a bus, seemed to be evident in the transport policy concerning them.

A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure

Slowly the friendly conductor, who helped on board the old, the infirm and the young parents with kids, was got rid of. It took longer at each stop because no-one was there to direct and the driver had to take the fares, creating long hold ups of cars behind the bus. Pretty soon the drivers alone in their cabs got frightened of the passengers and heavy duty plastic screen were put in between them and the people getting on. Queues and travel in London got slower.

Once that minimal contact between driver and passenger was eliminated with tickets bought before getting on, the driver became dramatically more distant. Old people who might have been helped by a conductor, now got thrown around as driving became more erratic and less connected to the people in the bus. I saw the service deteriorate around me.

In other words buses became less of a service to the people who used them. Besides, important people didn't need them anyway.

So much of what happened under Thatcher was the elimination of care and public service. It's all happening again.

The public sector is now again being dismantled. The teams that have grown to support the people they serve are being broken up, individuals made redundant. Things that matter to ordinary people are being scrapped because the "important" ones, the millionaires in cabinet have no need for them.

That's the way it is. Let's face it, when you get on a bus how likely is it that George Osborne will be sitting next to you. His oyster card would only be used to buy the oysters to accompany his champagne.

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