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Parisian Scenes

Comment Editor Toby Fuller draws some parallels between fin de siecle Paris and the left-wing here at Holloway...

Like Baudelaire’s blind Parisians, we too wander ‘Down to the street, head hung, as in a dream’. These walkers of the city, these ‘terrible somnambulists’, tread a liminal path; alive yet not quite living in the society in which they exist. One can assume that Baudelaire’s poem ‘The Blind’ is as much metaphorical as it is literal, doffing his hat to those Marx called the proletariat; those whom today are referred to as ‘the under-classes’. Just as the aimless ‘mannequins’ of the Parisian Scenes were ignored by the ‘laugh and roar and play’ of the city, a growing number of Britons are now beginning to feel a bellicose resentment toward the bourgeois comfort and security that so many of us enjoy.

You would be forgiven for believing the propagandizing of the Student Union politburo in thinking that we are the oppressed, bound by the adamantine chains of a capitalist society. While the established Left focus their efforts avenging the rise in tuition fees, too many have forgotten those ensnared by chronic unemployment and educational deficiency.

Whilst we are encouraged to wail in our woes and injustices, the worker – or should I say the non-worker – is forgotten in contemporary policy debate. The indefatigable working classes of the 1960s have been replaced by a torpid and inert class of the disregarded, an abandoned generation that looks to a future of short-term cheap labour, numbing their boredom through an equally cheap combination of booze and narcotics.

During last week’s Conservative Party Conference, two very significant policy decisions were announced. First, that £10 billion would be cut from the welfare budget. The battle-cry from the Left screams of injustice and cold hearted Tories; surely the government cannot abolish free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance for wealthy pensioners?

The second policy announcement, and an infinitely more significant one at that, was the decision to allocate an additional £200 million to scientific research at English universities. A small sum, to be sure, considering the financial beating higher education has received over the past two years, yet one cannot deny the qualities of such a policy, though a fortuitous success it may be.

The significance of this funding is not merely that of sound economics. Not since the days of New Labour have Britons seen an attempt by a government to encourage intellectual endeavour, to inspire a generation to engage in higher learning and ultimately find a career of both financial security and the satisfaction of mental stimulation. By maintaining Britain’s status as world leaders in academic research, not only is wealth created, but an attitude of determination to be part of a society of progress and critical thinking. Whilst Baudelaire’s blind Parisians hopelessly roamed the labyrinths of poverty and ignorance, we can open the eyes of the young to see beyond material wealth and seek a future of intellectual fulfilment.

Great Britain has prided it itself on academic excellence, its sea of young minds defending us, as Shakespeare’s John Gaunt said, ‘Against the envy of less happier lands’. And yet still our political elite use numerical trickery to lure the electorate in to a false affinity, the favouring of base electioneering over grounded social policy.

During the recent Labour Party Conference the dear leader Mr Milliband made the rodomontade claim to Disraeli’s ‘one nation’ politics, a belief that no section of society should be left behind. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the protection of mere financial relief through the welfare infrastructure will do little to guide Britain’s disadvantaged to a life of fulfilment. Tax credits and give-away budgets may ease the stretching of one’s pocket temporarily, but it is through jobs and education that governments can bring the disenfranchised back into the arms of society.

Whether one hears the words of Marx or Disraeli, the national consciousness is awakening from the dogma of the Left-Right battle lines of the 1960s. It only remains for our political leaders to follow suit, else the cities of Britain will resemble all too much Baudelaire’s 19th Century Parisian Scenes.

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