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Bus-ness as usual

04/20/2013

Number 11 bus

I like the number 11 bus. It gets me to and from work when I can’t be mithered with the tube. It’s a sort-of unofficial sightseeing bus of London, passing an abundance of tourist attractions as it trundles from Liverpool Street station to Fulham Broadway. I usually hop on near St Paul’s and get off at the fag end of King’s Road in Chelsea. A journey of about forty five minutes that gives me enough time to bury my head in a book or catch up with a podcast.

If you’re visiting the smoke and gawping at old buildings from the top deck of a bus is your thing, but you don’t want to fork out for one of the official tours, then the number 11 is your answer. You’ll get chance to tick off the likes of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and the scene of the poll tax riots to name a few. Get your skates on though before that mop-topped nasty piece of work from City Hall sticks the fares up again.

Unfortunately the number 11 wasn’t running on Wednesday. Many roads were closed as there was a funeral. A party political jamboree for one of the most hated political figures of the twentieth century.

I’ve been strangely subdued since the news of Thatcher’s death last Monday. There was no running through the office stark naked as I’d once promised. Not even any jelly and ice cream like we’d always sung about. Thatcher may be dead but the intellectually and morally bankrupt two-bit ideology of Thatcherism is sadly still alive. You only need to look at the onslaught on the welfare budget that continued this week with the introduction of benefit capping.

I took another bus journey on Saturday from Nottingham’s Victoria bus station to Eastwood to watch FC United of Manchester play the local side. As the bus left the city centre and wound its way through the Nottingham hinterland on its ten mile journey towards Eastwood, the occasional grassed-over slag heap offered a reminder that this used to be the heart of a proud mining community. Until 1985, that is, when the last three local pits were shut, deemed uneconomic.

A mile or so from Eastwood, the site of a former colliery is now home to a huge IKEA superstore which sits adjacent to a familiar looking, utterly soulless, out-of-town retail park containing the likes of Next, Boots and Comet. In the busy car park, amidst this retail hell, sits a Nando’s restaurant offering shoppers the opportunity to purchase a Billy book case and then relax in the car park chomping on a mildly spiced chicken leg.

In contrast Eastwood’s main street offers a rather shabby collection of pound shops, takeaways, hairdressers, charity shops and a Tesco Express. Sadly, there’s little else in town now except for the DH Lawrence Heritage Centre and museum which celebrates the novelist who was born here. Billed as a “working class rebel” in a leaflet advertising the museum, Lawrence’s politics were right wing and openly hostile to socialism. Born a century on he may well have been an admirer of Thatcher.

Eastwood is not alone of course. Far from it. As sycophantic politicians, journalists and other assorted “experts” eulogise about how Thatcher made Britain great again by bashing the Argies and the trade unions, across half of Britain people are striving to eke out a living in towns and villages like Eastwood, largely ignored by the political elite. The real Thatcher legacy is a country that’s far more divided and unequal. Ken Loach’s recent film The Spirit of ’45 highlights the unbridled optimism and belief in collective action of the immediate post-war years, a huge contrast with the “I’m alright Jack” society of today. Look at the way we squabble over public sector pensions. Look at the ease with which we label some of the less well-off members of society as “chavs” and “scroungers”.

The experiment with “trickle down” economics was an abysmal failure. Whole communities were destroyed and the focus of the economy shifted to the service sector and, in particular, financial services and the City of London. That retail park near Eastwood, and many like it round the country, epitomise Thatcherite economic policy. The replacement of unprofitable, unionised manufacturing industries with low paid, largely unskilled, non-unionised jobs in shops and businesses that generate profits that are rarely ploughed back into the local community.

If you’re too young to remember the Thatcher government then you could do worse than read Seumas Milne’s book “The Enemy Within – Thatcher’s Secret War Against the Miners”. It’s a magnificent work of old fashioned investigative journalism with a fierce social conscience and undoubtedly one of the best books written about the politics of the 1980s. Read it and you see the Thatcher government laid bare. Bullying, lacking in compassion and seemingly capable of reducing everything to a question of economics. They threw every single ounce of the might of the state at the miners. Even the BBC played its part.

I didn’t rejoice on Wednesday. I simply boarded a tube train and headed to work ignoring the obscene pomp and ceremony. On Thursday morning I was back on the number 11 bus, the roads were open again, the sun was shining and the world was mercifully Thatcher-free. What was it she once said about people who travel on buses? “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure”. I’m 44 by the way.

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