“To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in”. Lloyd George.
Next year will mark the anniversary of the start of the First World War. I think with our short memories we often forget that the retaining of what we now know as democracy and the freedoms that we associate with it were achieved at great cost; and not that long ago. Early in my married life when I was making up for my misspent youth and studying with the Open University I would take a break from my evening study and take the car to pick up my wife’s Grandfather, Walter. I would drop Walter off at the local social club for his nightly allowance of three (he said) pints of Mild. I would talk to Walter about his time in the army when he was stationed and fought in North Africa and Italy. Although I didn’t know my own grandfather, I knew that he himself had served in the Far East.
Walter, like many people of that generation, continued to hold a firm and proud conviction that he had fought and suffered for something worthwhile, he was convinced that the alternative to an Allied victory was unthinkable. But Walter was under no illusions that the post-war society he was living in was not turning into the one that he thought he had been fighting for, for him democracy was still very much a work in progress and in his later years he became increasingly and perhaps justifiably resentful of how he and his surviving friends were treated. He became tired of listening to well paid publicly funded people sitting behind large desks explaining why he should be able to survive on a pension that was both an insult to what he had been through and quite simply wasn’t enough to live on. He was not a man with extravagant taste, his three pints of Mild and a couple of cigars were quite enough material pleasure for him.
I sometimes wonder if Walter and his friends would have signed up to fight if the motto for joining-up had been a picture of an MP thanking the taxpayer for having their moat cleaned, or maybe a diagram of all the public funds that would be wasted without impact over the next hundred years, or the Public Sector assets that would be sold, or a graph showing the increased gap between the haves and the have nots, or a chart showing the rise of food banks in 21st Century Britain alongside some information about the bailout of greedy banks; I think I know the answer. I can hear the cry of the well spoken captain as he’s about to blow his whistle and take men into battle, “right chaps lets show those Bosch what we can really do when our quangos are threatened, we are going over the top for semi-transparency, partial involvement in local affairs, minimal accountability in relation to the spending of tax-payers money and general confusion relating to the roles and responsibilities of an untold number of strangely named organisations”, now you may call me picky, but this call to action just does not have the snappy motivational appeal that is generally required in such situations. And I don’t recall hearing any references to defending the public sector when I watched The Alamo recently.
Public Service is a privilege, perhaps its time for us all in the Public Sector to remember this the next time we find ourselves chasing our targets and missing the point.