I could have called this post On the saying that ‘because other peoples in other times and places have much more severe problems than us, our problems are not real problems’. I hope you’ll agree that this is catchier. In short, I think one of the real political problems we have is, to borrow a phrase from Heidegger, ‘The plight of a lack of sense of plight’. It loses something in translation, but the point is that, whilst in danger, those who are in danger do not recognise this danger as such, which is in itself a further danger.
‘First world problem’ is a jokey way for us to talk about those things that we get all het up about, but ‘in the grand scheme of things’ we shouldn’t really be that mithered. Several people have suggested to me that the current political situation in the UK is more or lest such a problem, although they might not use the term itself. OK, there’s bad stuff for sure, but not as bad as Syria, “Africa” or the past. So overall, we should be grateful and feel lucky. This is a difficult argument to counter, because has a surface level truth in it. We have a hard-won quality of life in the UK. We have an imperfect yet high quality state education system. We still have at least three fifths of an nationalised health service (maybe) which is free at point of use (apart from prescriptions in England, and probably not for long). But, this is not down to luck and fortune, but because working people faught for it, recognising what the establishment parties were. As Nye Bevan is often quoted as saying, the NHS will only last as long as we’re willing to fight for it.
However, if the Tories are now only a first world problem, there is no point fighting them. More important than the people actually voicing this view to me (for they, me and our views do not really matter) is that I think there is a basic presupposition in our country that everything is more or less OK. As such, all strongly held political opinions are pedantry, and we can bracket the issue of austerity as a first world problem that at most can lead to an inconvenience. This is woefully naive.
I recently had to change crumpet brand upon discovering that Warburtons have donated to the Tory party. I’ve gone with Co-operative crumpets, which are seated applicably to the left of the Tory crumpets in the image above. Losing Warburtons crumpets is, however, a real personal blow. I don’t really like breakfast food, but the one thing that I always like is a crumpet, and Warburtons make the best ones. Yes, I’m sure if I went on a middle class trek through darkest Chorlton or [insert your own regional hipster-mecca], I could find some free range, organic,
over-priced ethically-priced Crumpettes de la Terre, but they would not be as good as Warburtons.
There is a weird idea about at the moment that machinic perfection is a bad thing. I haven’t done any research, but I think it probably originated from people watching The Making of Shrek, where they talked about having to making the human characters faces imperfect so they were realistic. Learned as I am in Crumpet Lore, I contend that this principle does not universally apply. Crumpets are best when they are mass-produced, geometrically identical and full of preservatives. Warburtons do that best. Yet, I can’t buy them anymore. To do so would be to help fund the Conservatives in their mission to do real damage to the working people of this country and elsewhere in the world (I’m referring to China).
In short, because of my ethical sensibilities, I choose not to buy something that I would like and am perfectly capable of buying. That is a first world problem, Conservative policy is not.
In any case, by any sensible definition of “The First World” other than “aligned with the USA”, this country is only a partial member. Have a look at this article from The Conversation last week that shows the spread of inequality in our towns and cities. And, inequality is increasing. Why? Because they only reason we have a semblance of equality is workers rights and the welfare state, both of which are targets of the Tories. It doesn’t take a leftist to realise what they are doing.
If in 2010 our political problems were first world problems, they will not remain so, as the Conservative Party abruptly sail us away from the first to the third. That we aren’t all in work houses already is testament to the success of our ancestors, but the longer we insist on not taking the Tory Threat seriously, the more damage Labour (and it will be Labour) have to undo when they eventually get in.