One of my earliest memories is watching a TV series with my mother, noting her distaste at seeing young people furtively passing around fat looking cigarettes. She was a smoker herself but told me those were, ‘reefers,’ and not nice. Teenagers, the kind I longed to be, were obviously keen on them. When we weren’t watching trendy drug-taking we were often looking at graphic sex in TV drama.
‘Are you allowed to sleep with someone when you’re not married?’ I once asked whilst looking at The Wednesday Play. ‘No,’ she said emphatically, adding, ‘The trouble with young people today is that they all want experience. When I was young, we weren’t interested in that.’
Like Michael Gove, born two months into the, ‘Summer of Love,’ I was a 1960s child, on a trajectory away from our parent’s norm of quiet respectability, no longer dressing or thinking like them. That experiment eventually jettisoned their whole way of life, which had been largely based on stable, monogamous marriage and frugality. In its place came ‘serial monogamy,’ always the first choice of sexually confident men, sexual freedom based on The Pill, and recreational drugs, for the experience alone.
After the Beatles left for India in 1968 drugs taking was established as a possible source of enlightenment, Nirvana achievable through Hashish, an acceptable recreation for the first time since the 1900s. I didn’t have access to drugs but admired people who took them and longed to be adult enough to do so.
Teaching in prison in 2006 I met elderly prisoners who still passionately believed in this notion. I also met violent young criminals from poor backgrounds, who lived in the drug addled culture of Rastafarianism, and worshipped Bob Marley. Through them I saw that drug culture had become dangerous, part of a vicious international trade. By then too, the quest for ‘enlightenment’ had long morphed into middle-class women taking classes in Reiki, Yoga and Mindfulness.
But ideas of social equality and public safety are not what worry the people who have judged and condemned Michael Gove this week. As usual with Puritans, they don’t want to stop drug taking simply because it damages lives, much more could be done to stop the drug trade if there was really a will to do it, they hate any form of reckless enjoyment.
The same sour disapproval lies behind the recent persecution of prominent stars from the ‘Age of Aquarius.’ DJ John Peel was perhaps lucky to die in 2004, as he joked that he, ‘Didn’t ask for ID’ when girls approached him at concerts. Jokes like that these days can land you in prison. His past also included marriage in America to a girl of fifteen and getting a girl of that age pregnant in London, when he was thirty. The court of public opinion would not be so kind to him today.
Much of civic life is unrecognisable to those of us who grew up forty years ago. People no longer go to church, but Islam, a faith hardly heard of in the UK when I was young, has gone mainstream with more BBC coverage at Ramadan than they give to Easter. Instead of politics in the hands of two sedate mainly male groups, we now have extra-parliamentary but powerful groups representing black, ethnic and sexual minorities, who now, unfathomably, control our language and parts of the school curriculum.
Even to say, ‘Coloured,’ rather than ‘Of colour,’ as Amber Rudd discovered in March, can endanger your career.
Not only must people in public life be seen to lead pure lives, policing every word they utter, enquiring into current orthodoxy is very dangerous. The Rev Peter Hughes, from south Yorkshire, a school governor, recently questioned the Government’s, ‘Relationships & Sexual Education’ to be taught in primary and secondary schools from 2020. He is now under ‘full investigation’ by the school for possibly having ‘brought the school into disrepute.’
Gove has fallen foul of a topsy-turvy morality and like others born into a gentler, more laisse faire age. Twenty years ago, he was already flying in the face of this new culture where all must think and act alike according to rules set by people who often condone what was in our parent’s time seen as vice.
He made his obligatory public confession of course but that might not save him. He may never become Tory leader. With little to lose, he could now repudiate this new culture of witch burning Puritanism. He could say, ‘Who cares if I took cocaine when I was young, be off with you, finger pointing scoundrels.’
He would be throwing all his cards into the air, something I was told, when I was very young in the 1960s, every adult should always be able to do.
Read more about The 2019 Salisbury Review Appeal