Is Decency Dead in Modern England?


When I got off the bus beside the BBC building this morning, the first thing I saw was a group of young people wrapped up against the cold looking up at the Christmas decorations that have been erected over Abington Street. I presume that's what they were doing. Somebody might have been gesticulating at them from an upper floor of the Beeb.

It's too early in the year for me to feel in the festive mood. I was turned down for a job at Weston Favell Library yesterday as well, and the sense of rejection I have from that still smarts a bit. Obviously a First in English Lit, ten years experience of team leading, two years experience of tutoring and my famous charm weren't what they were looking for. Or perhaps they were looking for someone not in his fifties and without epilepsy.

Homelessness is my major festive buzz kill in Northampton, though. Abington Street's vacant shop doorways, abandoned by businesses that collapsed in the safe fiscal hands of the Tories, are filling up with people who have nowhere to sleep. I counted three under blankets or inside tents and two sitting upright on the wet ground asking quietly for spare change.

Across the street from the church I saw two more homeless people. One looked delighted just to be acknowledged by a little girl who passed with her mum. He said, 'Have a nice day.'

Meanwhile hundreds of us, including me, walked by with our bags-for-life full of shopping, half-price bargains picked up in the Black Friday sales, Argos packages containing new televisions, trees for Christmas.

The disconnect between the have and the have-not is not as severe as it seems, of course. We were going to buy a tree, but neither of us is working. The money for it comes from an unexpected tax rebate, and from the need to have at least a few days of pleasure in the middle of the struggle to keep our heads above water financially. I bet a few more of those shoppers drawing discreet circles around the rough sleepers are only a paycheck away from penury themselves.

So what is going on? I've been unemployed before. It's almost inevitable when your only true commitments are to love and poetry. But I've never known a time, in nearly forty years of political awareness, when a town as small as Northampton had become so poor, when the social fabric had broken down so completely, that little girls had to learn about homelessness before they were old enough to go to school. That sort of shit was supposed to have been on the way out in the generation before mine.

The present government, it's clear, has declared war on kindness, decency, civility, morality and any notion of society that acknowledges our responsibility for one another. Why? Because all of those qualities and ideals get in the way of profit and diminish their individual power. And I'm really worried about where it's going to end up, because as bad as it has become, there's still no sign that the British people are getting the message in large enough numbers to remove the Tories from office and toss them on the political dumpster where they belong.

Which is fine, in a way. It's your democratic right to be the sort of suicidally gullible jackass who signs his own death warrant. But when you do, you take me and everybody I love down with you.