It’s actually quite hard to know where to start with all the things I want to say about The Nanny State Made Me. To put things in context though, The Nanny State Made Me was published just before Covid hit, in March 2020. I read it during the third lockdown here in the UK in early 2021.
The sub-title of The Nanny State Made Me is “A story of Britain and how to save it” and whilst the first part of that sums things up well, the second part is now somewhat out of date following Covid. I understand that an updated paperback version has now been published, which takes account of some of what happened in the last 12 months, but there is so much in the book that I read and wanted to ask more questions about after everything that has changed since. It’s not Maconie’s fault that the book is in places now out of date, after all he wasn’t to predict a global pandemic and how the country had to cope with it!
If you’re read any of Stuart Maconie’s previous work you’ll have to accept that this is quite different. It’s very much a political book, and possibly not what you’d expect from a man who spends his weekend mornings eating crisps on the radio. But it turns out that Maconie writes about politics excellently.
You might guess from the title which way Stuart leans politically and The Nanny State Made Me certainly is very critical of various Tory governments and politicians, but in a measured manner with plenty of evidence backing up why Maconie feels the way he does.
Just the term ” the nanny state” can cause anger with some people who don’t believe that it is the state’s role to look after its citizens, but as Stuart himself points out “those who complain about the nanny state are most likely to have nannies”. I think if anything the last year and some of the decisions made by the Government really echo that sentiment. The simple lack of understanding by some in power of how the consequences of lockdown and restrictions impacted some people in society more than others suggested a vast lack of knowledge about how the state is relied upon by many, and the support that it should be providing.
In the book Stuart takes the reader through the various ways that the state has made his life better. He starts with the NHS, an institution that now people happily declare their love and admiration for. Was that really the case pre-Covid though, or were many of us just taking it for granted? There’s absolutely no doubt that the whole country certainly appreciates the NHS now more than ever before, but can the same be said for some of the other elements of the state that he covers?
Anyone who is familiar with Caitlin Moran will know how she credits her local library with educating her and shaping her life, but she is not alone in that sentiment. Before Amazon and the internet a local library was the obvious way of helping the nation read, but even now libraries (when they are open!) open doors for people’s imaginations and knowledge. They can help provide internet access for people who don’t have it at home, and also act as a safe haven for so many that want to escape into a book. Their opening hours and staff have been decimated over the years and yet many provided an amazing service for many isolating at home over the last year. We’ve heard of libraries offering click and collect services, but also delivering books to people shielding after taking phone calls to help understand their reading preferences. Some libraries even took it upon themselves to act as a telephone befriending service to people living alone, with librarians making calls to talk about books and even recording their own audio books for those who struggled with print but wanted to read a specific title.
It’s not just the NHS and libraries that get Stuart Maconie’s praise though. He also talks about council housing, schools, buses and trains, leisure facilities, the benefits system and even his employer the BBC. Whilst you might not necessarily agree with everything that he has to say, he makes his points eloquently and very convincingly, with everything incredibly well researched. I’ve always been a fan of libraries, thought that the railways should be renationalised and a firm believer in using places like council run leisure centres so that the powers that be don’t decide not enough people do and hence move to close them. On top of all that The Nanny State Made Me has also given me so much more to think about, and also more to research too. The idea of universal benefits for instance was something that I had always just instantly dismissed, but now I really want to follow up on some of the writing that Stuart used as his research and make a better informed decision on it myself.
In addition to my further reading what I also need to do is get my hands on a copy of the updated paperback version, although that may require me to find a copy in a bookshop (or library) first so that I can make sure I’m actually getting an updated version. The Nanny State Made Me left me shouting in frustration at time about how things have changed over the last year, but also realising just how little I know about certain issues in society. My reading challenge for this year includes alternating between reading fiction and non-fiction titles where possible and thanks to Stuart the number of non-fiction books and articles on my to read list is growing quickly.
The Nanny State Made Me by Stuart Maconie is published by Ebury Press and is available to buy online here.