I belong to a privileged generation. Not that I was raised in affluence; far from it. Born in 1958, to a mother who worked all her life as a weaver in the textile industry and a father employed as a maintenance mechanic at the local factory, I lived on a council estate for the first decade of my life. Money was tight, holidays were basic and infrequent, and treats – in the form of confectionary – were rare, usually restricted to a Turkish Delight chocolate bar each Sunday evening. Although I never realised it until I was 62, I was, however, part of a cohort who possessed something sacrosanct, something so very precious and – deplorably – something future generations may never enjoy again: individual freedom.
To be clear, the world I have lived in has been far from perfect. My era has been one incorporating fundamental inequalities and injustices, widespread poverty, discrimination and – particularly in my young-adult years – a recurring risk of physical assault. But despite this context, each of us took for granted a range of basic human rights: to meet with whomever we wished; to leave our homes whenever we chose; to eat whatever we wanted; to express opinions others might not agree with; to take risks, make mistakes and learn sometimes painful lessons; to wear whatever we wanted; to work to improve our career prospects and earn more money to enhance our lives and those of our families; and to decide what drugs and other medical interventions to accept. When cheap flights emerged in the 1970s and 80s, the whole world became wonderfully accessible.
My perception (probably a naïve one) of successive Labour and Conservative Governments was that, although often inept and guilty of policy errors, they broadly sought to improve the lives of their citizens and could at least be relied upon to protect us against external malignant forces. Furthermore, it seemed that the life-spans of our elected politicians were dependent upon keeping us – their constituents – satisfied by acting primarily in the interests of U.K. citizens.