The below footage was taken on the streets of West Wickham, South London in 1968. I came across it when a friend shared it on social media and asked "What went wrong?", and that seemed to be a question worth considering.
There are many interesting things worth noting, from the bustling local businesses, to the number of mothers with prams and children, to the mingling of old and young, to the way that kids play freely on streets that instinctively look like they would feel safe in a way they no longer do. Together these elements, and many more, hint at the broad social peace that existed in Britain during that time.
A social peace can be a fragile thing; that blend of institutions, rights, duties, traditions, values and common bonds which characterise a society and a broad social order where social cohesion, individual happiness and a degree of prosperity are broadly attainable. Britain was able to achieve a social peace of sorts in the years after the Second World War, when for the first time the excesses of industrialisation were tamed and the squalor and disorder of urbanisation were tackled. The 'post-war consensus' created a society that, broadly speaking, functioned for the ordinary British people across class and other social divides. We had a balance between tradition and progress; the national and the local; duties and rights; the community and the individual; social support and personal responsibility; state intervention and private enterprise; national sovereignty and participation in the wider world. This Britain: sovereign, industrial, constitutionally united and in many ways still distinctively Christian and traditional, was broadly functional and is still looked upon with a deep sense of attachment by many who can remember it (to remove any doubt, re-watch the above footage while imagining a street in London today).
How then did we throw all this away? The truth is that over the past several decades every aspect of that Britain has been dismantled. Our constitutional, economic, social and moral foundations have been trashed by successive governments who had no care or interest in preserving them, and who were more interested in pursuing their own revolutionary projects; everything from the dissolution of the married family to integration into the EU superstate.
We transitioned from a serious industrial economy which provided skilled, stable employment; to a shallow, debt-based service economy that is inherently low-skill, low-pay and low-employment.
We introduced a policy of open borders, not just with Europe but with the world in general and became a multicultural society. The incredibly deep and complex bonds which underpinned British culture and identity (now things routinely derided as concepts at all) were viewed with contempt by a political class keen to usher in their 'New Britain'.
We stripped away the tripartite school system and replaced it with the failing comprehensive system, and in doing so robbed bright working-class children of the chance to flourish academically in grammar schools, and for others to pursue a worthwhile trade in technical schools.
We did away with selective higher tuition grants based on attainment and allowed higher education to become an industry which views students as cash cows, and has made it the norm to enter adult life with thousands of pounds of debt.
We bureaucratised the life out of the NHS, removing matrons, state enrolled nurses and other vital cogs in the system and replaced them a highly salaried class of pen-pushing managers with no experience of patient care.
We slashed government spending on such essential national functions as border maintenance, the Armed Forces and national industry, and instead taxed the public to fund ballooning PFI contracts, a massively corrupt third sector where public and private interests blend together, and a legion of box-tickers to enforce the equality and diversity codes throughout government and civil society.
We took police off the beat and forced them to sit behind desks, while suspended and shortened sentences became the norm and our streets became less and less safe.
We crippled cherished and long-standing local business through punitive tax rates while at the same time pandering to multinational corporations, many of which pay little or no tax at all.
We ceased to value the married family as a source of social good and stability, and instead pursued the policies of no-fault divorce, nationalised childcare and the wider sexual revolution; a world where relationships are cheap and dispensable and more and more people live atomised, isolated lives.
We carved up the United Kingdom itself, and balkanised a once unitary state into a patchwork of devo-parliaments and assemblies, each enforcing their own distinct laws and regulations and agitating constantly for total independence while everyday issues are swept under the carpet.
And finally, we surrendered our national sovereignty to the corrupt, unaccountable corporate behemoth that is the European Union, and ceased to be a country in charge of its own laws or democratic process.
I say we, in the sense that this is the path we took as a nation; of course, all of these things were carried out by an unrepresentative political class, and indeed many of the above policies were never manifesto pledges which were put to the electorate at all.
All this, and many things beside, is why our social peace was shattered, and why our country seems totally unrecognisable to the one that we used to know. Things that we once took for granted: family life, stable employment and a country that feels uniquely our own are now no longer the norm. We are becoming an increasingly polarised society where common social bonds are absent across class, generational and cultural lines.
This is a dangerous development and we are all poorer for it. The social peace which Britain achieved after the Second World War was carelessly cast away by our political class. We must now work to rebuild it and to reclaim the Britain that we used to know.