UNTIL my political consciousness was raised by a dog – everything else having failed – I had spent precisely no time thinking about pets as economic indicators.
It's not something that comes up in the pre-dawn struggle for the duvet. Words on judging a society by its treatment of the most vulnerable would have been manageable. A thought on the moral status of animals – even the ones with no morals – might have been achieved. But I had never thought about measuring a country's economic health according to the Wee Neglected Dug Index.
Last week, the RSPCA said I was mistaken. The charity is struggling to cope with a rising tide of animal cruelty. That crude measure was up by 24% last year. What's worse, the charity's shelters are being swamped by animals that have been abandoned by people who can no longer afford Rover and Daisy and Fido. The English version of our Scottish society has 500 horses on its books, never mind a horde of cats and dogs.
You might say "So what?" and you might be right. If 800,000 people are to be wiped from the face of London just to justify a housing benefit cap, man's casual neglect of the next most stupid species probably doesn't count for much. I wonder, though.
People who say they care about animals come in all shapes and moral sizes. Some are the usual brutes; most have deep (and silly) feelings about their beasts, and what a pet can mean to a household. If animals are being abandoned to the extent claimed by the RSPCA, all those cliches about the British and their beloved pets are under attack. It seems that a lot of households can no longer run to a few Bonios and a tin of meat-stuff.
I heard the RSPCA tale at around the time a chap on Radio Four, a good journalist, was rolling the phrase "technical recession" around his mouth. I mostly attend to Evan Davis. He doesn't bluster. Where economics is concerned he is orthodox, but alert. For some reason it was important to him, nevertheless, to convey the idea that Britain had only resumed a "technical" recession.
How many wee neglected dugs, I wondered, will be dying for that this month? How many twenty-somethings will be wondering what became of the world they were promised? How many families will try to cut the threadbare cloth again and still come up short? If people are getting rid of the pet, what else is being sacrificed? For the first time in 20 years, I dread – genuinely – to think.
I could give you the usual piece on Tory economics. I could start in the 1930s, and spell out why the sound-money prescriptions of the rentier class extinguish the hope for work, and therefore any hope of prosperity. It has to do with asset prices, chiefly. But I think about wee dugs, memories, and struggle instead.
I'm not sure whether this is my fourth or fifth recession. The – and here's a favourite old line – "inherent instability of capitalism" is barely worth another outing. They screw up; we pay; and then we get a lecture on our profligacy. These sermons are deceitful. Did Osborne or Clegg tell you that Britain is "mired in debt"? That isn't even historically true. This state had worse debts when Victoria was on the throne.
Never mind. If memory serves, I got out of my first recession by the skin of my teeth. Thatcher came in just as I was bluffing – you should trust me on this – my way into journalism. I got the last spot on a lifeboat. Meantime, some of the best minds of my generation, even the ones who had never read Allen Ginsberg, were destroyed. Smack got a couple of them; exhaustion and the other bad habits got the rest.
This is not nostalgia's romance. A whole generation, where I came from, was destroyed for the sake of a theory involving money supply. It wasn't even a good theory: so much seems to have been accepted after the fact. My type – my class – were put to the sword. When Osborne and David Cameron now complain that Britain's manufacturing industries are not all they could be, a list of dead firms spools forth in my mind. A living economy depends on people in work.
We said all that. We got angry, too. Amid my faded mental snaps is a night at Wapping – one of two nights; it was a long trip – when the police decided to get serious on Murdoch's behalf. The image came back to me last year when puce Cameron was finding comfort in the idea that London's riots were only "wicked". Probably so. But where did that leave him, then, as a moralist? And what could a poor boy do on a Wapping line?
Don't get pushed around, but don't get lifted. Don't get photographed. Don't blether. Don't let them find your bank account for the poll tax. Don't let Nazis run through your streets blaming immigrants. When you find it, stand your ground. Then hope against hope.
All the brave talk got us nowhere: so much is self-evident. Already it is common coin in these British Isles that the age of austerity has come about because Labour spent too much on the NHS, not because of banking fraud on a scale without any historical precedent. Most of the people getting rid of Fido seem happy enough to believe the lie, though.
Anger doesn't make a difference. Demonstrable facts have also become irrelevant. Osborne said it would all be fixed by now. We should have been approaching the end of his "road to recovery" last year. Instead, after the latest "technical" double dip, it seems that this road goes on forever.
There's a certain logic to that. You can't spend a lifetime maintaining that capitalism is an extraordinary nonsense without facing up to the consequences. Perhaps we got what we voted for.
Perhaps our children will not get out of this by the skin of their polished teeth. Perhaps 22% youth unemployment is just the new fact of fiscally-responsible life. Since we're talking about long ago and far away, I should probably mention the Pistols. Johnny said: "Ever get the feeling that you've been cheated?" That would qualify as prescient.
If this is my fourth recession, I am probably witnessing my third – quotes will be necessary – "lost generation". Once upon a time, my generation were doped by the Bay City Rollers and the basic Trot analysis. Now it's TV talent shows and the fleeting sense that all the world, and every future, is elsewhere.
What is missing, then as now, is democracy. People who abandon beloved animals because the budget won't run to a vet's bill did not choose this world. They did not make it happen, either. But they have not the slightest hope that things might be changed. Change is not, by no coincidence, available.
As in France, some near-fascist will spring forth any day now to pretend otherwise. As always, common sense will prevail in the end. The point in eradicating generations, however, is to ensure the loss of memory. Then you can tell the peasants that poverty is only "technical". Tell that, if you have the heart, to a wee dug.
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