I dreamt, the other day, that I was in the Nineteen Fifties. It was one of those nasty dreams, where it seems that somewhere in the dream that you can’t see, someone is plotting against you or something feels like it’s about to go wrong. It understates the creeping dream horror to say it was a glimpse of straitened times: brylcreemed hair, no colour T.V. and spam fritters for dinner – enough to make me believe that those who wish for the ‘good old days’ are senile. I also had an overwhelming urge to bottle up my emotions; even though, when I went to sleep, I don’t remember having any emotions to bottle up. Worse, instead of the ‘Friday News Quiz’, on the wireless, a voice, in cut glass English was using words like ‘responsibility’ and ‘austere’ and ‘importance’.
Seconds later – awake – my initial relief at being back in my own ‘pleasuredome’ was subsumed by resurgent feelings of creeping horror. I stared, tall-eyed at the T.V., seriously wondering if I’d been ‘incepted’: that I‘d only woken into another level of the dream. On the screen was a politician, muted, while in the ribbon below were phrases: “Continued austerity deemed necessary,” or “Fiscal responsibility a must.” I no longer felt the need to bottle up my feelings.
Can anger be described as biblical? I don’t know, but the word ‘austerity’ reduced me to my knees, crying, with my arms aloft and my hands balled into fists of rage. Look, I didn’t say I was rational, did I? So, why do I go ‘all manic’ when I hear that word? There are a number of causes. Firstly, it’s inaccurate. The dictionary definition of austere is: ‘puritanical in outlook, severe, strict, harsh or ascetic.’ None of those in power at the moment can claim to be anyone of these. Certainly not if you take their dealings with ‘big business’ into account – I realise this is a vague term, but there are so many instances: ‘Ve Banks’, ‘Ve Tabloids’ and the NHS sell off to name but a few. Certainly not if you take their private lives into account either. They have not applied ‘austerity’ in such a way as it can be called ‘austere’. Try substituting ‘austerity’ for ‘maintaining inequality‘. ‘Austere’ also has connotations of immovable and objective. Neither term could I imagine applying to our ‘glorious leaders’ in a tax meeting with a company like Citibank or. . . News International.
Secondly, and I am sure this will resonate with the emotions of many, is the fact that they brazenly nicked the term from the fifties, when rationing was still in full swing after our great grandparents and grandparents had, oh aye, defeated the fascist Third Reich, by throwing the kitchen sink at it. The country was austere because it had fought itself to a standstill in the last ‘moral’ war; not because a few coke addled city boys had spunked our pensions up against a wall. By borrowing the moniker for the government measures that have been introduced, it appears that they are automatically making links between the disasters that forced their introduction. Sickening. Or Orwellian, if you are of a government conspiracy bent.
Another aspect that makes me ‘act like a daftie’ is the fact that a vast majority of the politicians who were implementing the original austerity measures had far greater gravitas, purely because, despite being ‘toffs’ – they at least believed in the spirit of service. Many had served in the First World War, some being horrifically wounded, and had played their part in the wartime government; at least if they were asked if ‘we are really all in it together’ they could point out their service records. If we asked the same of those leading us now, would we get an answer anywhere near as satisfactory? No.
Nothing is satisfactory about this government. At least in the original ‘Austerity Years’ the U.K. saw government led initiatives to improve housing and the introduction of the N.H.S. – things that led to unity. Now, they’re selling everything they can, destroying levers and mechanisms that were designed to ameliorate the harsh conditions in which many were living.
Austerity? You can kiss my decadent bum.