Two years ago I wasn’t able to go home for Christmas to see my parents in Glasgow because of Covid. This year I’ve taken the decision not to travel because of strikes. The stress of not being able to get on a train and chaos at the airports is enough to have an aneurysm. I remember getting stuck at Luton airport overnight one Christmas and it was a study in how society can go feral very quickly. It was all jolly Blitz spirit until the Wetherspoons and Burger King closed and then it was like a scene from Grand Theft Auto. Men, women and children (the latter were the worst) wrestling over a working power socket.
So who do I blame? A number of businessmen at a lunch I attended yesterday were cursing the RMT union and Mick Lynch. It’s not as simple as that. Because if this was all down to Lynch, why are the nurses, paramedics, ambulance and bus drivers, airport staff, posties, road workers, firefighters and even scientists and meteorologists going on strike? Either Lynch is our new overlord or something has gone very wrong in Britain. Lynch is the easy bogeyman because he fits the bald-headed trade union baron bruiser stereotype — although he’s far more articulate than most politicians, but he doesn’t speak for the nurses or any other sectors.
These strikes are a result of soaring inflation. If you work hard, you should expect to be able to provide for your family. You may not think nurses should go on strike — I agree. But you probably also agree that they shouldn’t be going to food banks.
These strikes are not just about pay. They expose how broken this country feels. It’s sometimes hard to tell when people aren’t on strike. Mundane everyday life activities which we used to take for granted are now a massive gamble, from trying to catch a train to trying to see a doctor or renewing your driving licence. And it’s not just the public sector. Have you tried to do any life admin lately which doesn’t involve a chat bot? You cannot have a full-time job and try to get through to your bank on the phone, it’s just not possible.
The old line about “organising a piss-up in a brewery” these days is no joke — it would be like organising the Olympics opening ceremony, a high-wire feat involving booze delays and staff shortages.
So who is to blame for basket-case Britain? Some of it is a longstanding culture of selling off everything then cutting it to the bone to drive profits for shareholders.
But a government sets that culture and oversees the structures of society. Yes, the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and inflation have hit hard but those events don’t mask the fact that something has gone very wrong in how this country functions and how hard working people are treated. And while tone-deaf ministers accuse exhausted nurses of helping Vladimir Putin, they seem very relaxed about all those who creamed off billions of taxpayer pounds during Covid with dodgy PPE contracts. Funny, that.
Ngozi Fulani, the charity boss of Sistah Space who was repeatedly asked by Lady Hussey where she “really came from” at Buckingham Palace, has spoken of the horrific abuse she has faced since speaking about her encounter.
Sadly, this comes as no surprise. We often see this depressing pattern when women or people of colour — or both — speak out. First comes the media attention. Then comes the backlash, where they are branded liars, accused of hating Britain, and racially abused online. The former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, who spoke out about racism in the game, has said he and his family are leaving the country as they had been subject to so many threats. Look at the hatred that the Duchess of Sussex continues to receive even though she moved to the US.
It takes courage to expose discrimination — but it often means paying a heavy personal price.