One thing that has struck me very forcibly as the events of the last ten days have washed over us all in a tsunami of misery, is the knowledge that many of us have been played, and now, in the aftermath of this referendum we are being hung out to dry. We are the marionettes in the theatre of politics. History shows, and last week confirms that we are repeatedly being sacrificed by those in power for their own self-interest and gain.

Politicians are required to be public servants, but in this last week, more than ever before, they are relentlessly and systematically being exposed as only interested in serving themselves, whether it be for more money, or more power, or to further an ideology they believe in more than the people they are mandated to help.

Over the last seven months, as I found myself plunged into a pell mell study of what our government has done and is doing to our health service, I felt it. Over the last five years as I watched schools go under the cosh in the name of educational reform that takes us nearer and nearer to the model of Dickensian ragged schools and further away from giving children any real understanding of the power of what education can do to liberate them, I felt it. As I sat in a meeting about mental health provision last month and learned that there are only ten beds for child and adolescent mental health cases available across my local area, which includes three counties, I felt it.

Yet, strangely, it was history that brought it home to me viscerally.

On Friday, as people commemorated the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, through the poignant We Are Here project, I knew it for certain.

As I watched the footage of the silent soldiers, sitting on town square steps, standing in railway stations, standing by memorials to the fallen, handing out cards with their names on to the passers by, I thought about how little separates us and them, and how little we have learned in the intervening century.

In her memoir about WWI, Youth At The Gate, Ursula Bloom writes:

‘It is difficult today to picture the 1910-1914 period, for then it was a bigoted world, the era of the autocratic individual, when today it has become the age of the masses. Society was carefully sectioned, all part of the imperial honeycomb. We were sons and daughters of an empire which we believed to be impregnable, and perhaps it was going to be the greatest shock of all to discover that – like other empires it could fall.’

She writes of the initial enthusiasm for the war they believed would be over by Christmas and their belief that ‘nobody could beat Britain’.

That’s what I think about now, when I hear all this talk of putting the ‘great’ back into Great Britain, when I am repeatedly told how powerful we are, and how much other countries need us.

I hear her words. I hear the disillusionment in her voice. I think about the fact that of course we won the war, but at what cost to ordinary people?

And I think about the fact that had we been left to our own devices, alone, without help from our allies, that we might have been commemorating something very different on Friday.

I think about Geoff Dyer’s brilliant book, The Missing of the Somme. I think about his belief that WWI was already being shaped by those in power as a memorial to those who died, right from its inception. That those millions of ordinary men were dead to our government before they even got on a troop ship. Dyer talks about the government pre-ordering millions of stretchers and coffins. They were corpses from the moment they signed up.

This then, was the cost of war, a war that was fought by two nations intent only on one upmanship, on proving one was more powerful than the other in a tit for tat game that led to the death of millions and the wreckage of their families in the aftermath of war.

Dyer talks about the language of sacrifice that shrouds our stories of WWI, and it seems so noble. Except that when you look at what they were sacrificed for, it merely seems futile and wasteful, particularly given what would come just a few short years later.

I think about the propaganda from the media and the politicians around the referendum. I think about the ‘patriotic’ fervour that has been stirred up. I think about people who talk about how we must ‘fight’ to separate ourselves from Europe, how we must all expect to sacrifice in the short term for the sake of the long term good, and I think about what happened one hundred years ago on those muddy fields and I weep.

I think about the boss of Wetherspoons pubs, Tim Martin. A man who poured hundreds of thousands of pounds of his own money into funding the leave campaign. His business has lost £30 million in the last week. Interviewed in the papers over the weekend, he has said that he is not really bothered by these losses, because of what he stands to gain in the long term. I think about politicians telling us how we will weather this storm if we stop panicking and look to the future. I think about how it’s much easier to weather a storm when you don’t really notice £30 million in losses. I think about how it’s much easier to be positive when whatever happens you are assured of a future in which you rule, rather than serve. I think it is much easier when you are independently wealthy, and you do listen to experts and can afford to ride the vagaries of the stock market and come out of anything on the winning side. I think it is much easier as long as you hold ordinary people in contempt. I think it is much easier as long as money is the only thing that matters to you.

And then I think of all those people who believed in the golden dawn of a new empire that Brexit sold them, and who are becoming increasingly disillusioned by the day. I think of the ordinary people, the cannon fodder, who were and are the acceptable sacrifice in this particular battle. I think of their losses. I think of the houses, the jobs, the university funding, the careers that are winking out in front of people’s eyes. I think of those who believed they could gamble this future because they had nothing to lose, and what they will think this time next year about that loss, and that future. I think of the racist hate crime, up by 500% in ten days. I think of the fear of the future, and the uncertain times we live in, steered by nobody, to nowhere. I think of those people who do not have stock brokers, or a financial cushion to break their fall. I think of George Osborne getting back on his podium and telling us that we must tighten our belts again, that we must face more austerity in order to reap the rewards later, and I wonder how for how many of those people later will be too late.

I thought about all this on Friday, and I wept.



54 responses to “Sacrifice

  1. I am overwhelmed by the same thoughts, even though in a totally different context. I think this time we are living is making History, even though we still don’t get it completely. We are into the mass, each of us being 1 small piece of a big big picture which we’ll maybe clearly see only in a distant future.

  2. absolutely!!

  3. Well said Katy…I imagine there is a lot of weeping going on at the moment.

  4. Carole Chiverton

    Katie you put into words exactly my sentiments, I to was greatly moved by last Friday, also drawing comparisons and wondering what we just haven’t learnt this century. Thank you for putting it into words.

  5. Brilliant. Thank you

  6. Spot on Katy.

    Ten days in and it feels even more as though the lunatics have taken over the asylum and thrown our world – not just this country – into some kind of parallel-universe.

    I’m in my 50’s and find it hard to believe that our younger citizens show more common-sense and understanding than my generation and that of my parents, who after living through WW2 – really ought to be extolling the virtues of being part of a progressive Europe rather than pushing us back into a Europe from 1932.

  7. How right you are Katy. I wish you weren’t, but you are. You are also spot on in your analysis of WW1 – aspects of which I studied at Uni many years ago, and other aspects of which I read extensively about for a thesis a couple of years ago. It is heartbreaking, because despite all our progress, we, as the masses, are still invisible and still cannon fodder. What makes it even worse is that so many people are now starting to react with ‘I’m bored with the referendum now, can’t we just move on?’
    Move on where, I wonder?
    The outcome of Brexit isn’t just going to go away. A little shake and life resumes as normal.
    Sometimes, as ‘masses’, we deserve to be regarded as cannon fodder if our collective ‘boredom’ kicks in within nano seconds of any event, whether it’s trivial or, as in this case, lifechanging.

  8. Absolutely brilliant piece of writing. Should be required reading for all those who say they represent us.

  9. Indeed.
    Have you come across this article, Katy? Terrifying – and a similar riff.

  10. Boris has bailed, Gove has cut his own throat and is slowly bleeding to death, and now Farage has bailed. If only these three had done so two weeks ago what a different world it would be. Yes I do mean world……..

  11. Well said Katy. And Osbourne now want’s to cut corporation tax – good for the 1% – hurrah, we should doff our hats and be grateful (sarcasm alert)

  12. frenchbrandywine

    Thank you. A wonderful piece to join others which continue to make me feel so grateful that people such as you are able to put what I know and feel into words.

  13. Sadly I have to agree with you, and thankyou for putting into words yet again the sick feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach not only for my children’s future but for our immediate future. Have lost any remaining faith in the so-called leadership of this fast-unravelling country…

  14. frenchbrandywine

    I forgot to say, I weep with you.

  15. Oh Katy, I hate to lower the mood even further but I’d like to add two more thoughts that I had when watching the “We are Here” project.

    First is that despite us honouring those returning soldiers, holding them up as banners of loyalty, sacrifice and so on that we’ve done over the past 100 years, the reality is when they came home from the trenches, their government and country turned their backs on them. No help with housing, welfare, pensions and those unlucky enough to come back emotionally and physically scarred for life were abandoned to make their own way in a country facing debt and depression. Squandered on the battlefield at the hands of often inept generals playing like little boys knowing that if they damage their tin soldiers they will get more for birthdays and Christmas, and then discarded to make their own way when they got home. I remember when moving to the UK in the late 80s being horrified and puzzled that WWI veterans would come through the cinema shaking boxes for donations to support the infirm and poor from their colleagues of those glorious ranks, to have a holiday somewhere nice for a week. We have a great way of treating our hero’s.

    Secondly, the treatment of the winners to the losers resulted in the most spectacular war where those who had fought in the first had the glory of seeing their children going to fight in a second. The punitive and vindictive measures of the victors, which I will admit also came from fear as much as revenge, ensured two generations of poverty, fear, anger and revenge of their own.

    There are two losers we have to look at now.

    Those within the UK, and if the predictions are right, that it will take the UK 10 years to leave the EU and set up trade agreements all over again, then both sides will be losers. The Leavers who really think that by this time next year “we’ll be millionaires” and have to face the truth that their own government were more inept and uncaring than the EU, and the Reminers whose own resentment and anger will grow exponentially over time.

    And the second loser the EU and all member states. Will we cut our nose off despite our face? Take out our anger and fear on the UK in punitive trade agreements and enforced migration for a country that doesn’t want that.

    My only hope is that the EU and those of us within it, will face squarely up to the challenges we face internally and work hard to make the changes that are needed so we can prosper together, without feeling that the only way to do it is by setting punitive conditions to the UK that the only option for member states, who are feeling their own discontent, is to keep the EU.

    Unfortunately I fear that all sides with adopt a “them or us” approach.

    The real victims? Those poor buggers facing death across the Mediterranean, and an unwelcome so frosty we should be knitting the endless socks and gloves women made for those sad and unfortunate soldiers on both sides of the trenches in WWI.

  16. Katy, I have followed your blogging for some time now, through vintage store finds and vajazzling to literacy to trying to save your local surgery and now this. Your writing is always excellent regardless of the scope. And as you wrote just recently, it is yours, done for your needs and purposes, and you owe nothing to anyone. But in these recent days I feel like it’s become especially important to others. You are saying what needs to be said and what people need to hear said. I am across the pond, in the U.S., where we have our own problems of xenophobia, hate, inequality, privatization…. etc. etc. — but they mirror what’s happening in the UK, and I benefit richly from the thoughts and emotions you bring to the surface. I suppose that’s what good writers do. Thank you.

  17. smerlinchesters

    I spent the last 10 days weeping… I also wish they would stop treating us like hostages

    • Interestingly, I just read this tweet from Andy Burnham: ‘Never seen that before. Not one MP on either side of the House supported the Govt. Theresa May’s stance on EU nationals won’t last the week.’ Let’s hope so. The term forced repatriation makes me want to be sick.

      • smerlinchesters

        Andy Burnham led a motion to have the government guarantee the Eu nationals can stay. 245-2 voted in favour but government abstained. I keep saying their behaviour is disgusting towards EU nationals and UK citizens abroad. The more arrogant they behave the worse it is for everyone’s involved. And I even would like to see how British government is going to deal with the repatriation of 2 millions of Britons, many retired too, whilst deporting 3 millions of people who are mostly of working age. Their plan doesn’t even make sense, beyond being disgusting already.

      • Their behaviour is disgusting. And yes, still no plan.

  18. Reblogged this on SallyP and commented:
    I didn’t write this, but I wish I had.

  19. I read your article and wept. Yet another brilliant bit of writing. Only wish I could add more to the already numerous and well thought replies.

  20. Katy Just want to say again how much I enjoy your blog. Thank you. Have you seen the latest from Prof. Michael Dougan, Liverpool Uni? He has an “”After Brexit” 20min video out. I’d be interested to hear what your thoughts are?
    Do you now feel that triggering Article 50 is a done deal? Is there no chance to pull this back as the voters who did vote on lower immigration, 350 mill a week to the NHS, and getting out country back(?) begin to understand that none of these things can happen, and I am not saying all Leave voters voted for those reasons but it is clear that the vote was swung by the people who did, as these people realise that there is no plan and that their jobs and what little they do have is threatened, do you think there really would be rioting in the streets if the Parliamentarians do not vote on the recommendation of the referendum?
    The media are all reporting it as if it is a done deal. When Brexit this and when Brexit that… it makes it hard to suggest even that there is another course of action and still remain within the concepts of democracy.
    Thank you again for your blog. I continue to share it with my friends on Facebook. Jane

  21. I wonder if you, Katy, or somebody else could please explain to me why it is that – since a) the referendum is not legally binding and b) the Leavers won by such a small margin and quite a lot of them seem to have changed their mind after the fact – you can’t now write to your MPs about their votes in parliament? I mean, might that not be sufficient to reverse the decision? If MPs were allowed to vote according to their own preferences/voters’ wishes instead of being whipped?

    • Susanne. You totally can. I have done so in fact, and so have many other people. The issue is, I believe, that just as with petitions, MPs are obliged to hear what you have to say, they are not obliged to act on it. With something this far reaching, the party will have a say which will override that of the constituents if necessary and the whips will do their job to the tune of what the parties see as their own interests, not necessarily those of the electorate.

    • smerlinchesters

      Susanne, I’m under the impression that whatever camp the Tories were in, many of them wanted to leave. They want division and malcontent. Dividi et impera, always. This situation, despite the appearances, only benefits who rules because dangling the carrot in front of the populace meant ‘they won’. Us, the population, we all lost.

  22. This is very powerful writing, Katy, and I share your sentiments.

    I have visited several of the WW1 cemeteries to pay my respects to some of my relatives buried there, or simply mixed with the soil there. I also have an uncle buried in Normandy, another victim of the ambitions of a few rich men.

    We can’t run the country by plebiscite. The average citizen doesn’t have enough knowledge of all the issues to make sensible decisions about matters as complicated as membership of the EU, let alone sufficient interest in it to take the trouble to find out. We employ politicians to do that for us. At least, that’s what they are supposed to do. They don’t seem to be doing much of that at the moment. It would be funny if it wasn’t something that affects everybody’s lives, or if not yet, it certainly will do. A plague on all their houses!

  23. Hi Katy.
    I haven’t read your blog for about two years, but today I did and will continue reading. Great piece of writing and very morose. I was and am on the ‘leave’ side of the EU argument and I do think the rhetoric about throwing our future away is over simplistic, its much more complex than that. To give you an analogy, someone who has been in prison a very long time does not, very often, want to leave because they have grown so accustomed and comfortable with prison life, they are afraid of what lurks on the outside, even though it is an exciting world of infinite possibilities. Many of our young people are a bit like that. They are comfortable in the prison, even though the prison walls are collapsing, the other inmates are becoming more greedy and more violent, the economy of the prison is falling apart……..but hey, this prison is all we have ever known and whatever its faults our gaolers will come up with something to put it right. I do not believe this kind of mindset is what defines the British people. What we joined in 1973 was not in any way, shape or form what it has become today. It is a modern day Tower of Babel and within it the seeds of its own destruction have germinated and the shoots are cracking through the walls and the roots are tearing through its foundations.

    As for the greed of those in power, I agree with you, but that too is over simplistic. Most politicians want to change society for the better. I believe the rot sets in when they reach the higher positions of State when they get led astray into the clutches of the bankers and fat cats who care not a fig for the likes of you or me, the people who sell off valuable businesses for £1 on which the livelihood of thousands of people depend, having stripped its riches into their own off shore bank accounts. Such people number among the scum of the earth and deserve to be slung into the pit where they belong.

    I agree entirely about WWI, and as far as I am concerned we should never have got involved, then it is likely there would not have been a WWII. I have Geoff Dyer’s book, but haven’t read it yet, but its now next on my reading list.
    Our leaders have not learnt the lessons of history and continue to involve us in wars in which we have no say, and then a terrible aftermath is reaped compounding misery upon misery on the lives of those poor people where our military boots one trod. It has to stop. Perhaps its time to start to challenge the established ‘received wisdom’ of our history. When you do, the cracks appear and you then realise that what you have been led to believe all your life is a lie, and when you proclaim to the world your findings you end up being persecuted and abused for daring to do so.

    You have a great blog.

    Keep it going.

    • Hi Stephen. Thanks for coming back! Do bear in mind I’m writing a single blog post with regard to the over simplification of issues. As for the politicians thing. It’s hard to say whether they do want to change society for the better on the whole. My own MP, for example, has proven himself to be working for his constituents where he can, but even he is hamstrung by the system he operates in and the demands of his party and the chief whips. It’s tricky. We have 650 MPs, not all of them are self interested, but I think the most ambitious ones often are, and sadly, they’re the ones that tend to rise on the bodies of the others. I think we have, as individuals, to get much more involved in our communities and our politics, where we can, if we want change. Again, simplistic, but I think it boils down to be the change you want to see.

    Katy have you seen the new lie. Andrea Leadsom said in the referendum Leave campaign well she retweeted and agreed that “we were being overrun by immigrants”. She has now deleted that account and is denying that the tweet ever existed. The farce goes on and on and on. I mean the lie that we are being “overrun” by immigrants was proven to be a lie by the Office of Statistics. But of course they were “experts’ and as Gove said “we don’t need to listen to experts anymore”. Anyway Leadsom has deleted that twitter account and is now saying the tweet never existed. You couldn’t make this shit up. Did you see the Kenneth Clarke blooper. Whoops. It goes from Stupid to Ridiculous.

    • I didn’t see her Tweet, but I did see the Kenneth Clarke material. It was priceless!

    • smerlinchesters

      @jacksoup many believed lies. There are not many jobs up in the North and trying to find an immigrant of any nationality is like trying to spot a golden eagle, basically impossible. However.. they all voted to leave the EU, with many not even knowing what the EU is… they just wanted the immigrants out, the immigrants they don’t even have around…

  25. A very moving post. Thank you.

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