This is a birthday card but one with a difference.
It begins with the founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence at the end of the American Civil War and it’s grown out of the fact that I sent the stirring words of that declaration to the birthday boy yesterday by way of greeting and now I can’t resist spreading it around a bit more. It was such a bold, clarion call, such a clear, intelligent statement of belief. ‘We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.’ They look such wonderfully, serious, sober men but they were switching on a light that would give hope to ordinary people all round the world from then on.
Only sixteen years later the French were saying the same thing, singing their wonderfully fierce anthem on the road from Marseilles. ‘Allons enfants de la Patrie, Le jour de gloire est arrivee.’ The revolution of the subjugated working classes had begun and was spreading. Until these two events the wealthy elite had grabbed all the goodies and all the money and exploited the poor unchecked, now they were facing a powerful and determined opposition. ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’, as Wordsworth said ‘but to be young was very heaven.’
I felt much the same in the summer of ’45 when the war was over and the British plebs who had fought and suffered in it staged their own bloodless revolution in the first general election for 10 years. We were so sure of our strength in those heady days. We knew what we were going to do and that our new government would do it, founding the NHS and the welfare state, building schools and houses not for the obscenely rich but for ordinary people, putting into action our deep felt belief that all men are created equal.
Now, sad and hideous though it is to say it, our compassionate society is being destroyed. There are clear signs of it everywhere we look. Demoralised railwaymen out on strike because they know the new trains cannot be run safely without guards. Teachers in schools unable to teach because of the pressure of so many totally unnecessary and damaging examinations, their pupils worried sick. Our superb junior doctors bullied to accept a settlement they know won’t work, out on the streets in protest. Libraries closing, shops and businesses going bust. Our newspapers and television companies ruled by obscenely rich billionaires. And most insidious of all, because it’s all been done in secret, 99,344 properties in this country owned by overseas firms run by – yes you guessed it – foreign multi-millionaires. The old class war of the rich against the plebs, is being waged brutally and ruthlessly.
So it’s a very mixed message I’m sending you on your birthday Mr Corbyn. Strength to your honesty. Our next jour de gloire will arrive.