This is not going to be a political blog. However, I do see the world a certain way and my appreciation of music, the arts and all the other things I’ll talk about here is filtered through a left-wing political sensibility, which may at times become evident. So on this single occasion (OK, I can’t promise never to return to matters political – they preoccupy me more and more), I may as well give you a bit of background.
Since the Thatcher/Reagan era, the narrative of the ideological right, reinforced constantly by politicians, newspapers and media figures, has essentially been, and this doesn’t seem set to change any time soon, that successful people have earned their success and they deserve to enjoy it. If that was all there was to it, it wouldn’t be all that objectionable. But the corollary to this – sometimes unspoken but implied, sometimes proudly declared – is that if the rich have earned their wealth, the poor have earned their poverty, whether through misdeeds, or poor choices, or lack of hard work. The money earned by wealthy people, then, should not be taken away from them and spent on the poor, the sick and the unemployed, who by and large deserve their fates.
Where to start with this? Well, this view of the world supposes that we are all in control of our lives and our choices, and that whatever we are, we have chosen to be. Anyone, if only he or she has the gumption, can make a material success of their lives with hard work and ambition. Far more than talent, graft and determination is all that is necessary.
This view of the world fails to recognise the importance of contacts, access to capital, luck, good health. It doesn’t acknowledge the existence of poverty of familial expectation. It fails to appreciate that a person might have the business acumen of Richard Branson and the inventive genius of James Dyson, but if she can’t get a loan because she has a low income, if she is struck down by degenerative illness, if she has talents that no one ever identified and helped nurture, if she has dependents who need her to earn a steady income – any steady income – then her talents will go unrewarded and unrealised.
This worldview results from this lack of imagination and empathy, from not understanding that it could happen to you.
Let me be clear (as politicians love to say): it can happen to you.
Unemployment can happen to you – it happened to me, when the firm I worked for full-time as a freelancer ceased trading without notice after the directors transferred all the assets out of the company and locked the staff out of the building, defrauding their employees, their freelancers and their clients.
Ill health could happen to you – it happened to me when my heart failed in 2011, leaving me hospitalised, facing an extremely uncertain future, and truly aware for the first time that in this country we really don’t care for our sick, our poor, our elderly and our under-educated. We treat them instead with barely concealed suspicion and resentment.
I am lucky. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy did not kill me, like it kills so many others. It – and this is down to extraordinary luck and good NHS treatment – did not even leave me particularly damaged. You wouldn’t know if you saw me on the street now that I had ever been ill. But when I was trying to come to terms with a life without any of the old certainties and opportunities, I realised what it is to depend on others, and I came to understand (not merely in an abstract sense) that the state does not want to help you, that for many there is no safety net.
You might not need a safety net today. You may imagine that those who do have been reckless and deserve the hardship they face. God forbid you ever go through what I have.
But when you’re next reading the paper, watching the news or casting your vote, perhaps you’ll think about this. And be thankful for the good fortune that allows you to live in such unthinking complacency.
That said, let’s talk music.