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I am a public health doctor who is cynically optimistic about most things.

Explosions, Tories and communal Hugs

Not so long ago, the electricity substation directly opposite my house blew up. We had experienced a power cut earlier on in the day (yes it seems to be an Iraqi thing) and we were pleased to see engineers lazily attempting to fix it. When power was restored, we were relieved and I temporarily took back my disdainful view of our electricity firm’s earlier slowness to respond. That mini-honeymoon was interrupted by a loud bang followed by a succession of pops and sizzles much like a big fireworks display. Given it was not Diwali, Guy Fawkes’ night or Baghdad I raced to the window and the sight before me did not disappoint. There was the substation engulfed in sparks and flames giving us a stunning visual display in the dead of night.

Our household was not the only one to witness this event and very soon half the street was outside in all manners of dress and undress. From the window I could see the neighbours I knew but also those I had never exchanged words with despite living here for almost 11 years. I could also see our rather plump Tory local councillor in pyjamas and robe, extremely excited and flitting between people outside theatrically recounting his version of events. Having witnessed this rare communal gathering I decided to venture out and  enter the mix.

It was not long before Fat Tory came lumbering towards me all smiles and asked if I had witnessed the explosion.  Now the last time I had spoken to him was several years ago while his was canvassing. Enquiring about my voting intentions, I explained that my voting strategy was to vote for any party that might dislodge the Conservatives even though it was one of the safest Tory seats in London. We had left it at that, but outside in the light drizzle his excitement was infectious and I soon warmed to him and the other neighbours, making acquaintances with the rest of my street.

What struck me was that my situation was probably not vastly different form the rest of the streets in modern-day London. In Iraq by contrast, up until recently at least, people would have quite strong relationships with their neighbours, their street and wider area. Communal links would help carry the burden of things like childcare, domestic help and a myriad of other services that the state would not have to be concerned with. Having said that there is no reason why we can’t make the effort to get to know our neighbours, bridging the multicultural divide here and if I’m not getting ahead of myself start forming the social networks that will help fix ‘broken Britain’ that everyone keeps going on about.

OK, maybe that’s a bit hippy but I’m seriously thinking about how to build on this fortuitous communal bonding and maybe all of us on our own streets should too.

4 Comments on “Explosions, Tories and communal Hugs”

  1. Ali D March 26, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

    Thank you for your article Ali, I think it raises a very important and often neglected issue. Personally, I think that of the reasons why religion emphasises on the importance of the ‘neighbour’ so much is down to the points that you raised. From a socio-political aspect, as according to what you wrote, an economic burden can be lifted from the state if communal relationships were such that everyone in the neighbourhood was looked after in terms of food, health, social relationships etc. The ‘welfare state’ would then only be necessary for exceptions rather than the ‘norm’- it seems that the majority of people above a certain age are only able to rely on the state for survival, in this country.

    Another point I wanted to mention is the repercussions that such a mentality would have on taxes, for example. It is much easier and more efficient to share my family’s food with my neighbour than to pay x% of my income in tax for the state to arrange it. The day we undergo this change in social mentality is the day that all other state services can be improved without the crippling economic burden of ‘welfare’. Give your neighbour food, pay less taxes.

    One question though; how does one effectively bring about such a change in the way that people think? Through preaching pragmatism, or ideology? Or another way?

  2. Ali Latif March 27, 2010 at 9:06 am #

    Thanks Ali for further developing the initial premise alluded to. State welfare interventions are invariably clumsy and ineffective compared to communal networks. Our situation in the UK goes further with family networks crumbling away leaving situations where elderly parents are looked after by the state rather than their children.

    The issue is that the relentless march of social liberalism since the 19th century, with a more recent boost by the likes of Thatcher and Reagan, have championed the individual, rights over duty and had a powerful effect on the idea of community. Added to that you also have the social and economic upheavals of the modern age that have disrupted the existing social networks around the world. For example migration flows have meant cosmopolitan capitals but less cohesion.

    So how to reverse the trend? Well organised religion is the neatest and most effective vehicle but there is the fundamental issue of belief that is not there in the UK currently. New age morality and belief is also very individualistic and strictly confined to the private sphere so no joy from that either. Pragmatism works for policy makers and not the people.Ideology also is less effective than previously as a distinct entity – just think about what ppl actually believe in any more?

    I therefore see local leadership playing a part, where everyone in their local space attempts to reach across the chasm. There are many willing to do this but may lack the readiness to take the first step.

  3. Ali D March 28, 2010 at 2:59 am #

    Wow, an objective and ‘to the point analysis’ if I ever saw one. Keep up the good work!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Deja vu daydreams « British Iraqi Forum - May 7, 2010

    […] across the astonished onlookers. But my gait is heavy and I soon find myself face to belly with Fat Tory. Fat Tory! what’s he doing here? He has certainly gained weight and we engage in a civil […]

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