When I made my maiden speech a little over two decades ago, Margaret Thatcher had been elevated to the other place but Thatcherism was still wreaking, as it had wreaked for the previous decade, the most heinous, social, economic and spiritual damage upon this country, upon my constituency and my constituents.
Our local hospitals were running on empty. Patients were staying on trolleys and in corridors. I tremble to think what the death rate for pensioners would have been this winter if that version of Thatcherism had been fully up and running this year.
Our schools, parents, teachers, governors, even pupils, seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time fundraising in order to be able to provide basic materials, such as paper and pencils. The plaster on our classroom walls was kept in place by pupils artwork and miles and miles of sellotape. Our school libraries were dominated by empty shelves, very few books, and those books that were there were being held together by ubiquitious sellotape and offcuts from teachers' wallpaper used to bind those volumes so that they could at least hang together.
But by far the most dramatic and heinous demonstration of Thatcherism was certainly not only in London, but across the whole country in metropolitan areas, where every single shop doorway, every single night, became the bedroom, the living room, the bathroom for the homeless. They grew in their thousands. And many of those homeless people had been thrown out onto the streets from the closure of the long-term mental hospitals. We were told it was going to be called Care in the Community. What in effect it was was no care at all in the community.
I was interested to hear about Baroness Thatcher's willingness to invite those who have nowhere to go for Christmas. It's a pity she did not start building more and more social houses after she entered into the right to buy, so perhaps there would have been fewer homeless people than there were. As a friend of mine said, during her era London became a city Hogarth would have recognise. And indeed he would.
But the basis to Thatcherism - and this is where I come to the spiritual part of what I regard as the desperate, desperately wrong track that Thatcherism took this country into - was that everything I had been taught to regard as a vice - and I still regard them as vices - under Thatcherism was in fact a virtue: greed, selfishness, no care for the weaker, sharp elbows, sharp knees. They were the way forward ...
What concerns me is that I'm beginning to see possibly the re-emergence of that total traducing of what I regard as being the basis of the spiritual nature of this country, where we do care about society, where we do believe in communities, where we do not leave people to walk by on the other side. That is not happening now. And if we go back to the heyday of that era I think we will see replicated again the extraordinary human damage that we as a nation have suffered from.
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