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Opinion

Regrets, we have a few. But this Christmas we must focus on present need, not past mistakes

Instead of focusing on the ‘what ifs’, we must forget our regrets about politics past, and prioritise the people in poverty in the here and now

There are so many ‘if only’s about at the moment. And these regrets increase and multiply. If only we hadn’t had an administration that allowed a lot of politically well-connected people to invent companies, or use existing ones, to sell Covid-related materials (PPE as they call it), we wouldn’t have a long line of claims appearing in court. If only the British and US secret services had not undermined Mossadegh, the legally elected prime minister of Iran, and installed the Shah – leading to the revolution of the Ayatollah 25 years later – we wouldn’t have female and male protesters being killed in Iran today. 

 If only the west had played fair when the Soviet Union collapsed, rather than raiding it as a soft place to make money, we would arguably not have built up such an anti-western Russia determined to regain its former power. 

 If only we had challenged poverty before Covid hit, rather than going through all of the horrors of austerity thrown at us by the Coalition, we might not have filled up our hospitals with people suffering from illnesses related to food poverty. And we would not have seen the ever-increasing growth in the need for the NHS if we had hit poverty squarely on the chin, and declared a war on it as some of us advocated. 

Of course, if only we had not had a majority vote for Brexit that split the country and filled the political agenda with its debate, and stripped us of thousands upon thousands of NHS staff, we would have been in a better NHS space. But then, if only we had addressed the many social ills and not simply turned to austerity to pay for the bankers’ crisis, payrolling the banks to return to their former antisocial ways, there might not have been the millions who felt left behind by the shenanigans of Westminster. 

 If only we had rebuilt and redeveloped industry post Second World War, rather than creating a Welfare State based on a continuing poorly waged working class, then we might have skilled and waged people up from the poverty and needs of the current working poor. If only we had not done so many wrong things in the past, then of course, we would not have the problems and regrets that now fox us, that trip us up, and that make the current UK riven with need.  

 If only we had reformed our education system to make us sharp participants in the political world, rather than mostly observers in a crisis of thinking and doing, of bloated egos riding roughshod over the public finances, which still add up to the biggest pot of money in the game. 

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If only we had actually embraced the idea that we are all in this together, as countless politicians have mouthed over the last three years of our Covid and almost post-Covid times. But as the Covid budgets have shown in their distribution, some very fat cats have become fatter. And riding a coach and horses through public finances has left the current administration with a kind of fear that we have spent too much already and so we just have to let the neediest drop off the tree.  

Austerity is the biggest mistake, and the misborrowings and misusing of our public resources have only made more austerity more likely, because of the fear of how much we owe. If only we didn’t have Covid or didn’t close the economy down so steadfastly. The ‘if only’s stretch back to yesterday, and yes, to hundreds of years. An alert, careful, thoughtful, astute, and involved political base within society is the only cure for us in the times ahead, for limiting the damage done by regrets. 

But I must not end this Christmas column with a parade of indignities, many of them brought about because the government’s complexion seems to favour ambition over delivery – promoting careers over defeating need among our hardest hit. Brexit, Covid, Ukraine, climate change, inflation: they work on us but will not defeat us. We will hopefully find the leadership in the coming year to address many of the ‘if only’s that have previously tripped us up.  

But for many, celebrating Christmas seems to be out of the question. That is why it is essential that we respond better to the emergency, in a bigger way than we have ever done in the past. Times have changed, and with them priorities. We will have to leave our regrets in the past, and the future further down the road for the moment, and urgently address the current safety nets that have so many holes in them. And wrap our arms around the neediest. Something that flies in the face of our long-term needs, because the short term is demanding so much more of us. 

Last year, or perhaps the year before, I wrote about my worst Christmas ever. This year I would like to imagine the best. I think I would like for once to agree with Charles Dickens in A Christmas Carol. Better to think of those that live in need. And help them to a fulfilling life.  

More safety nets with true bounce, and less ego among our leaders with their passion to rule. And no to austerity and the poverty of mind and spirit it demonstrates among those who control the purse strings. 

Have a Bon Christmas. 

John Bird is the founder and editor in chief of The Big Issue. Read more of his words here.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.


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