Over the last two years, it has been common for parallels to be drawn between the Thatcher and Reagan years of the 1980s and the experiences of today.
Many of us remember the 1980s and 1990s with mixed emotions. When thinking back to those dark days, many remember the miners' strike that occurred in various parts of the UK. Margaret Thatcher claimed victory but decades later we still find devastated communities with families trapped, unable to recover. This article from the Guardian gives an idea of the price that we are all paying for that particular 'victory'.
Today we are facing the destruction of the NHS. The medical, nursing and associated clinical professions have all called for the Health Reform Bill to be completely withdrawn. And the public response has been just as damning. Why commence such reforms when only weeks earlier in May 2010 a patient satisfaction survey revealed that 97% of patients were happy with the NHS?
The last time the public felt as strongly opposed to a government policy was when millions came out on the streets to demonstrate against the unfair Poll Tax Bill. Their protests persuaded the government to revoke it. A victory for the common will.
There is, however, another era which also looms into focus, and it is one that raises even more disturbing prospects for today than that return to the 1980s. And that is the 1930s.
In October 1929 the American stock market crashed. The resulting economic collapse was felt across the globe. American credit dried up. World trade suffered.
As a result, the UK suffered the Great Depression, economic instability also stemming from the debt incurred during the First World War. Countries across the world were affected. European countries' economies were destabilised. The industrial areas of the UK suffered severely as demand for British products almost ceased entirely. By 1931 unemployment increased significantly from one million to 2.5 million, growing to six million by the mid-1930s.
The first general strike took place in the UK, closely followed by the Jarrow March. The public, as this article from the time shows, were really behind the thrust of the march. (In 2011 a similar march was repeated.)
Significant unrest was also occurring in Germany. From the mid-1920s into the 1930s, the German government effectively evolved from being a democracy to a conservative-nationalist authoritarian state. Other small parties emerged and the establishment of a majority government became more difficult, resulting in short-term coalition governments.
Several elections took place in a fairly short space of time and it took the Nazi Party just a few years to gain popularity. Its growth was encouraged as an increasing number of young nationalists joined. We have all seen scenes of the huge marches that took place in Munich. In 1933 Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany.
When people are in trouble they look for others to blame. As unemployment rose, the Jewish population were seen to be taking jobs from the indigenous population. Gypsies, communists (the right's political opponents), and those who were weak, ill or disabled were also targeted. No-one was allowed to get in the way of the ideological views of the Nazis. Many felt vulnerable. They were vulnerable!
During this time some of the smaller groups began talking about the disparity in society. There was an agenda aimed at wealth distribution and an encouragement towards economic growth.
But industrialists and business felt threatened by such agendas.
Businesses donated to the Nazi Party, believing they would allow business to function freely. The donations were mostly used to fund the Nazi's propaganda against the Jews.
We know the rest... sadly and tragically.
Today in the UK attacks against Muslim and Jewish communities are increasing. We read reports that gangs are waiting outside mosques, ready to attack worshippers, as well as reports of arson. Here's one such fairly recent report.
Only this week we hear that the Archbishop of York has received racist letters because of his attack on gay marriage. An example of one vulnerable group attacking another.
The World Economic Forum was recently held in Davos. In attendance were over 70 billionaires and goodness knows how many millionaires. But even they acknowledged that a solution to the current economic crisis has to be found. As Klaus Schwab, the Chairman of the Forum, said:
"Capitalism in its present form no longer suits our world. We have failed to learn the lessons from the financial crisis of 2009. A global transformation is urgently needed, and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility."
It is important not to underestimate the problems that we face. We must not fall into the same mistakes of yesteryear.
Anyone with a shred of decency will be angered and ashamed that people can still be targeted in this way. As Lady Tanni Grey-Thompson explains, disabled people are not living a life of luxury.
We are living in dangerous times. As the past has shown us, human rights' atrocities often go hand-in-hand with poverty, neglect and inequity. We cannot ignore the past. And as we reflect on the errors of a different age, we must make sure that such messages are not repeated in 2012.
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