When I was little (and I was little in the 80s), the government was this thing that my parents seemed to know how to deal with. I didn’t have to worry so much about them, if at all. They ran the railways, the phone lines, the post office, the NHS and Margaret Thatcher had been and was going to be Prime Minister forever. As far as an 8-year-old could be concerned, we were called Great Britain for a reason.
They were a known quantity; something I never felt I needed to worry about. Of course, now I know a little more about the conditions of the day and that being an adult in the 80s wasn’t necessarily a rose garden. But the point is, they never seemed to do anything too outlandish and, from one day to the next, I never felt I was in for any major surprises.
Then things got privatised, I had an education, became old enough to vote, old enough to work and got made redundant once or twice.
I started paying more attention to the government. Or governments. And, in particular, my relationship to them.
It’s been about 20 years since I started paying attention to them at this time of writing. At first I was simply swept up in the coolness of being able to vote and all was pretty much well. Then one day I had a revelation. A vision. A picture in my head! And it wasn’t a flux capacitor.
This is my outline of my view of the government. Run with me on this.
Imagine a school playground. You have some kids playing hide and seek, another bunch playing football, a couple having a read of something. Some of the sneaky ones may be experimenting with their first snog behind the bike sheds. Then there is one group of kids who think they’re a bit more intelligent than the rest, having “serious” discussions on a bench in the corner. This goes on day after day, week after week and maybe even month after month. Everyone minds their own business and gets on with it.
Then, one day, something strange happens. The stuck-up kids stand in the middle of the playground and make an announcement: “Hold it, everyone! Which one of us do you think should be our leader?”
Everyone looks. The footballs stop being kicked. The books get put down. The posh kids are absolutely firm in their resolve. But everyone else is thinking “who on earth are you?” and, quite probably, “what the hell does this have to do with me?”
That’s the how the public and the government see each other in my world.