Attempting to reach for the stars before crashing is the perfect metaphor for Tory Britain
If life often imitates art, then politics is best represented by farce
The news that the first UK rocket attempting to take satellites into space suffered an ignominious failure should strike us all as being fittingly emblematic for modern-day Britain.
Sir Richard Branson’s idea to jury-rig a decommissioned 747 jumbo jet with a rocket engine and attempt to send it to space makes it clear sign he didn’t play enough Kerbal’s Space Programme.
But as a symbol for the UK these days — and space launches are as intrinsically tied to national prestige as they are to expanding our understanding of the universe — Monday’s launch was just perfect.
It comes at a time when more than a decade of Tory austerity, coupled with contemptuous policies only exceed by even more contemptible politicians, has seen the unravelling of the public healthcare system and the societal contract at large.
The news has been harrowing; nurses and healthcare workers rightly striking for the first time in their history to try and claw back real wages in the face of inflation has seemingly sounded the death knell for the NHS, already gutted by successive hostile governments.
Media reports are awash with distressing incidents; people dying whilst waiting at A&E because they didn’t wish to be a burden, or expiring because they were unable to see a doctor due to onerous waiting lines. Ambulance workers and nurses writing about how devastating it is to know that most of these deaths could easily be avoidable.
The government’s response has been to mull violating fundamental workers’ rights by criminalising strikes rather than reaching a swift agreement and attending to the severe healthcare crisis that has gripped post-Brexit Britain. The British Medical Association even condemned the Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak for making “the political decision” to allow patients to die unnecessarily instead of reforming the NHS.
Remember the promises of no more waiting queues regurgitated by the Leave campaign? Another thing that’s vanished along with the purported £350 million weekly savings that would be spent on the NHS, or ethics at № 10.
The crisis has reached a tipping point; the Guardian reported on Saturday that several NHS Trusts are offering private paid queue-jumps. Hip replacements will cost a cool £10,000; which makes the touted figure of £300 for an MRI scan a veritable bargain — though presumably getting someone to tell you what it shows will cost a few extra bob.
Levity aside, this formal establishment of a two-tier system sets a terrifying precedent. As Nesrine Malik cogently wrote in The Guardian, “This is the endgame — fast approaching here, in localised form — when the state stops performing its primary function, which is to provide basic human rights to health, shelter, energy, water and transport. Beyond the very wealthy who float above everyone else, the world becomes bifurcated into two classes, the same two that we are also beginning to see emerge in the UK. On the one hand, a class that may perish or starve, and another with disposable income diverted from self-improvement, leisure and savings to fund the creation and maintenance of a makeshift system of self-funded utilities.”
The breaking of the social contract results in more than just widening grotesque inequalities; it emboldens the most venal and corrupt government in living memory to continue debasing the system and shafting those who most rely on it.
But it also engenders a long-term fatigue and lack of trust in governments that is poisonous for any society or community to deal with. Malik recounted her experience of growing up in Sudan in her article; and many of the points she raised are identical to living in India, or any other poor country.
If you have money and means, you can always pay for services — but each time you do so, you further subscribe to the notion that the government will fail to provide any essential services. This certainty leads to a type of self-resilience in terms of the individual which is deleterious in the long-term to a baseline expectation of what a society should be and, crucially, what forms of support it should provide.
In India, we call this jugaad, but there are multiple different words for it across the world (like Cuba’s resolver); finding makeshift solutions as seemingly ludicrous as Branson’s rocket idea.
On the surface, these ways around obstacles can be even faintly amusing when recounting them later to friends; but the smiles begin to dissipate when you realise the joke’s on you.
And that the ones really laughing are the politicians ensuring your taxes aren’t going where they are most needed in this time of crisis.