My dad used to tell a story from his days as a boy in London. There was a Scout Jamboree held in London in 1948 and one of the Scouts from India had arrived with a revolver amongst his luggage. According to the story, he had been told repeatedly that Britain was a hostile place and that he would need the gun to protect himself.
“If people are told something often enough, they will believe it”, my dad would say.
The story in itself is interesting; I can find no reference to a London World Jamboree in 1948. Perhaps the story was told so often that it came to be believed itself, illustrating the point it was designed to make.
Irish taxpayers have been subject to the repeated telling of stories in these past few years. We lived in one of the richest countries in the world we were told. Yes, but if one starts with a very small population and has a super wealthy elite, it was not hard to get a very high average income figure.
We had a low tax regime, we were told. Maybe so, but then we have to ask what we were getting for it. If we had to pay a voluntary health insurance that is involuntary, if we had to fork out €50-€60 to see the doctor, if we had to pay for almost every service we receive, then shouldn’t all the additional cost have been added to our tax burden figure to make fair comparisons with other countries?
And what of the environment we had to tolerate? Would a country that was really rich have had our level of vandalism and litter and dilapidation?
Would a country that was really wealthy allowed the hideous defacing of its cities and towns by grim architecture?
Tomorrow we fly to Salzburg, the Austrians are and were far better off.
There will be saw no signs of vandalism in Salzburgerland; virtually no graffiti; everything will be smart and tidy and well maintained. In a village we visited on the second week of January in three successive years, I saw the director of the ski school leave his wheelchair in the street outside of the door of his house each evening, confident that it would be there the next morning, that no-one returning from the various bars would send it flying down the street. At the lift station I watched an instructor arrive in the locker room, which had completely open public access, between 3.15 and 3.30 each day, and prop his skis in the corner, quite happy that they would be there in the morning.
Austria has its problems; the role of the far right in recent politics is a sign of deep unease, but how would they feel if they had the level of public service that Irish people tolerate uncomplainingly?
Our forthcoming election campaign will see the lies of our supposed prosperity repeated, maybe it will also be a chance to ask why we cannot have the sort of country that Austrians take for granted.
I don’t detect much sense of optimism or even relief about the elections coming up. From one shower to another? What to do?
A benevolent despot is needed.