At school I was taught that Napoleon once referred to England as ‘a nation of shopkeepers’. It is now commonly believed that he didn’t say any such thing, that the statement either originated from one of his less celebrated fellow revolutionaries or was never uttered at all.
Thirty years ago, on the ferry to Boulogne at the start of adventures in hitchhiking, the phrase came back to me. I did not question its veracity as the country I was leaving behind really did strike me at that time as wallowing in a self-satisfied culture of mercantile smugness.
If commercial enterprise benefitted the entirety of this island’s society my antipathy towards capitalism might be less pronounced but that is far from the reality of this nation. While the gap between the haves and the have nots seemed unbearably wide in the vulgarity of 1980s consumer frenzy it is a far wider chasm now. What’s worse is that while the prime minister throughout the 80s – that beak nosed crone, I won’t dignify her with a name – claimed there was no such thing as society, her governments still grudgingly acknowledged that parliament had a duty of care towards the poor and the destitute. Today the responsibility of government has been systematically eroded to the point that Westminster panders to the wishes of corporations and bankers at the expense of the needs of the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Corporate greed reigns free when deregulation permits the more successful shopkeepers to form cabals and cliques which drive less unscrupulous competitors to the wall. Entrenched corporations become privileged elites, no better than the opulent aristocracy Napoleon’s revolt initially set out to eradicate. The rest of the nation is no longer made up of shopkeepers but of glorified serfs all sold on a dream of breaking through the fiscal ceiling to claim a place at the top table; a dream which for virtually all of us has little chance of ever becoming reality.
My disgust for my country’s abandonment of its underprivileged which first caught light in the 80s now burns hotter and brighter than it ever has. Those in power, along with many in the media whose job it used to be to speak truth to power, have become so morally bankrupt that their ideological hegemony recently appeared to have crushed the fight out of the population. At last, however, there are green shoots of genuine protest springing up after the seven year forest fire of Cameron and May’s disregard for democracy.
Every dissenting voice matters and should strive to be heard otherwise this very modern reign of terror will stretch forever on into the future. Courage mon braves.