Conversations with Penfold: The Waste Land
By Anthony Rose
New Year’s Day can be a wistful time. I saw, as a youngster , the film “The Time Machine ” with Rod Taylor, and found myself then ( and many times since) thinking how marvellous to live before the time of the internal combustion engine, in a slower and more reflective age. I did not, nor do I now, ever consider the benefits of this and other labour saving, world transforming inventions. Only of the calm and slower pace.
It is only a matter of moments before the mind strays to other virtues now lost. For example, of honest politicians – the landed classes who could make decisions for the long term benefit of the country ( and perhaps, in the Victorian mind, of the World) instead of short term decisions, quick fixes, popularity contests which have nothing to do with building, or enhancing, the structure of society or the Citizenry. Disinterested politicians can’t be brought back, of course, but they built for the future.
We see it, for example, in the upheaval all over the streets ofLondon and elsewhere as Victorian sewers and water pipes are torn uphaving performed yeoman service for 150 years or more. We see it (well,as a matter of fact, we don’t anymore) in the world leading railwaysystem they bequeathed, a network that reached nearly all parts of theKingdom, at affordable prices . What planning, what vision, what senseof purpose they had . The railways, nationalised and then vandalised byBeeching in the 1960s, are now just about the worst, least reliable andwithout doubt the most expensive in Europe. In a shifty and dishonestattempt to ramp up rail fares still further, and circumvent such punyconstraints as are placed upon the rail franchises, they now propose tomake still more Byzantine the matrix of off peak possibilities so thatmore and more passengers – not merely business passengers – are forcedon to the expensive fares. A shameful deception. More than £250 totravel from London to Manchester. For a first class return toInverness, you will spend more than you would need to fly to Australia.
Our pigmy-like politicians are consumed with fixing their salaries,their pensions, their expenses (and the concealing thereof, through anabysmal and self serving Speaker, from the critical gaze of those whoelect them and pay their salaries. It is frequently stated in the press(though possibly not as the result of any controlled or representativesurvey) that never before have politicians been held in such universalcontempt, having sunk as low as humankind can go in their selfinterest, greed, ambition and duplicity.
Only in Britain is it considered fitting that prisoners should be paidmore than honest pensioners, that colossal sums of money should be paidto employees because someone made them cry at work, or because theiremployer ( having found them dishonest or idle or incompetent ) simplyfailed to fill in the requisite forms in triplicate.
Many of the forecasts for the coming year (in respect of which GBrown told the country that we were in a strong position to “weatherthe economic storm,” a view which the International Monetary Fundconspicuously failed to share) warn that as the pressure mounts, sowill resentment increase against the shirkers, the idlers, those wholive off the state and put nothing in. The huge disparity of Government(that is to say, taxpayer) funded pensions for public sector workerscompared with private sector workers will be a source of increasingtension. Our position as the financial services vortex of the economicworld is under attack, is perhaps lost. Will it go the way of ourmanufacturing industry ? We have a shrinking tax base – effectivelyonly the middle class pay tax. The glassy eyed incompetent Brown , inone of his baffling signals, urged the country to save and in the samebreath ripped £5billion in tax credits out of pension funds. Whatshould we make of that? Or his sale of most of Britain’s gold reservesat the bottom of the market. What judgment! What finesse! How the restof the world howled in merriment.
The abiding mystery is why such a man remains in office – indeed, ashe piles misjudgement upon error upon confusion upon knee jerkdecisions and legislation he seems to perform better in the polls. Howcan one account for that? Is it because the Tories are still judged toofeeble (entirely possible) or, more simply, that the British love anunderdog?
These are dark waters, Watson.