I’m still working on the Thatcher assessment. I know it’s overdue, but the dog ate my homework. In the meantime, can we sniff around one of the clichés that has filled out papers recently – that the reason Thatcher was unpopular was that “people hate change”. This trotted out whenever some government department or mega-corporation decides on a new way to reduce services or screw their workforce.
People do not hate change. Many changes they like a lot. I like the fact that dentistry no longer hurts, that I can get raspberries in February, that cars don’t break down and that clothing can be washed without shrinking or running. I like the way people can have sex without getting pregnant, or if they want to get pregnant, they get help to enable them to do so. I like the way that road casualties have fallen by three quarters, that cancer survival rates are constantly rising, that gay friends don’t have to worry about blackmail or physical assault. Change is just great.
What I may react against is cancelling a convenient bus service, or taking a government service centre miles away from its clients. I can be heard to gruntle as train fares go up again, or as a perfectly serviceable public industry is sold to some Tory jack-the-lad. When I worked in colleges, I may have raised an eyebrow when the funding system was changed for the eighth time (back to what it was the second time), or the inspection regime changed for the fifth time. I can restrain my pleasure when my road is dug up for two months to create designated parking spaces for cars in the exact same spot where they park peacefully at the moment.
Let’s cut to the chase. What I dislike is not change, but things getting worse. And I think that is what ministers and chief executives and PR spinners know, under their skin, when they smile through a firestorm of public opposition to their latest idiocy. Problem is, we now live in a society where a firestorm of opposition is felt by those in charge to indicate that changes are dynamic and desirable. Politicians have moved from saying that some tough decisions are justified to a position where no decision is justified unless it is tough.