Bring back Britain’s Golden Age of poverty

Post-War economic growth has come at a price, such as the rise of obesity, vulgarity and talentless nobodies. Iain Murray advocates a managed programme of poverty

It is now clear that the whole thrust of post-War economic policy was mistaken and should be reversed.

The aim of successive governments has been to achieve steady economic growth, low inflation and widespread wealth distribution. These goals were seen as so self-evidently good that no one thought to question them. But now that they have been achieved, we can see plainly that their benefits were, by and large, illusory.

Most of the ills and vexations of life in Britain today may be attributed directly to too much wealth being in the wrong hands. And there is a strong case to be made for returning to what must now be seen as the golden age of the Fifties.

During that decade, the liberal, urbane middle class was in the ascendance. Though not wealthy by today’s standards, the bourgeoisie were comfortable and reasonably content. Some had cars, some televisions. There were few traffic jams, and they tended to be seasonal. The BBC had a monopoly on TV broadcasting and its direction lay in the hands of the educated middle class. Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be in a suburban semi was very heaven.

The working class had never had it so good, as we were to find out later when a whole generation of playwrights, authors, politicians, broadcasters and university graduates proclaimed their proletarian credentials with nostalgic fervour. To be working class was to be good, true and, in an almost mystical sense, meritorious.

And, thanks to economic mismanagement, trade union excess and managerial ineptitude, the middle and working class could despise each other at a distance.

But then came Margaret Thatcher’s economic revolution, John Major squeezing inflation out of the economy and a New Labour government that was wise enough to leave those achievements well alone, and we are beset by ills. In the circumstances, and knowing what we now know, the case for engineering a prolonged and severe recession is unanswerable.

Obesity, for example, which we are told has reached epidemic proportions, is a disease of affluence. In the Fifties, children were slimmer, healthier and better exercised.

Widespread waste and environmental damage are directly attributable to excessive consumption. The Greens would certainly welcome a return to a simpler way of life that brought us closer to nature.

But of all the arguments for securing a controlled national impoverishment, the greatest are social. We have paid a terrible price for widespread wealth in terms of a pervasive coarsening of our lives. Because we have too much money, we are a nation saturated in vulgarity and obsessed by trivia.

Just think of the benefits of a Britain whose population was obliged, by straitened circumstances, to focus its attention on matters more fundamental than David Beckham’s haircut and Elizabeth Hurley’s nothingness.

Football, stripped of its excessive and unearned wealth, would revert to being a civilised game watched by a chastened public. The entertainment business would be obliged to divest itself of its ugly, grimacing, pampered and talentless cast of nobodies. Celebrities of all sorts – chefs, supermodels, gardeners, interior designers, partygoers, the whole grisly lot – would be luxuries the country could no longer afford; so too the superfluities such as opinion polling, PR girls, lads’ magazines and mobile phones. And just imagine the delights of a Christmas season with little or no spending.

Of course, to achieve a more civilised, tolerant, better mannered and less garish Britain, we would all have to make sacrifices. And it would be necessary to reverse this Government’s mantra of “for the many, not the few”.

In exchange for being able to drive on roads free of the enraged masses, eat in restaurants unburdened of noisy oafs and take the occasional foreign holiday in the company of people you would not cross the road to avoid, the middle classes would have to accept a decline into genteel poverty.

For their part, the working class could return to the gritty kinship and brotherly forbearance in the face of adversity so many still yearn for.

A declining economy would mean fewer tax revenues and better things to think about than banning fox-hunting, legislating to allow homosexualists to kiss each other in public and devising racial quotas for museum and art gallery attendances. No money would have meant no Millennium Dome.

The implications for marketing would amount to a need for greater discipline. Out would go lavish, self-indulgent commercials; in would come a need to make every advertising pound work hard for its share of dwindling disposable income. And since what little money was available would be in the pockets of the civilised few, advertising would have to clean up its act.

A soundly-managed programme of poverty may yet be a long way off. In the meantime, the wettest spring on record has spared us the sight of obese men parading publicly in shapeless shorts fashioned from curtain material. For that, at least, let us be profoundly grateful.

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