An encomium to the British (Welfare State)…

And who better to deliver it on the day that’s in it than Fintan O’Toole

If, in the period between 1945 and 1979, you wanted to understand the difference between ideology and human realities, the question to ask was: what’s the difference between England and Ireland? In the realm of rhetoric and abstraction, the answer was to be found in endless discourses about history, religion, victimhood and oppression, the Empire and the Four Green Fields.

But for those who grew up on small farms or in the working class ghettoes of Irish towns and cities, the answers were entirely different. You could get a job in England. Your kids could go to secondary school and, if they were smart, they had a good chance of getting to university. You could get your eyes tested and your teeth fixed. You could get some kind of a house. And in Ireland, you couldn’t.

And he concludes with a slightly maudlin finish:

…it also suits the British side not to celebrate this Irish attachment to their social democracy either. The post-war welfare state, imperfect and incomplete as it was, is the greatest positive achievement in British history. It was built on the greatest negative achievement (endurance in the face of the Nazi onslaught) and deployed the same qualities of hope and energy and collective will. But it’s being dismantled now, so it’s best not mention it.

Still, I’ll think this week of my English cousins with their decent jobs and pleasant houses and good education. And I’ll raise a glass in memory of the almost-dead – to English social democracy.