It’s worth watching this debate in parliament to see how nasty the Tories really are.
It’s worth watching this debate in parliament to see how nasty the Tories really are.
It’s worth watching this debate in parliament to see how nasty the Tories really are.
Social democrats understand that luck plays a key role in determining everyone’s life chances and experiences. The lottery of life, where you are born, your access to intelligent networks, and being in the right-place-at-the-right-time, all have a significant chance of determining the life expectancy and outcomes of your life than any other factor. Social democrats see these as random factors that often impact on our lives but which few individuals can readily control. These random factors can make us incredibly rich or incredibly poor, regardless of the effort that we put in to mitigate where we start from. Social democrats recognises that life, therefore, is often a series of random events, some positive and some negative, that are best moderated through collective action, and about which we should all be vigilant lest the role of the dice lead to divisive extremes and moral cruelty.
Social conservatives, on the other hand, predominantly look for a narrative explanation of why things are like they are. Social conservatives cannot accept randomness. For a social conservative the unfairness of life is explained from one of a number of set and originating stories. From a moral perspective, from a historical perspective, or even from a providential/divine perspective. The world is as it is, so the social conservatives think, and we should do as much as possible to maintain the ‘natural’ order of this world and respect the original forces that often (according to myth) pro-generated the world we are now part of. The debate about gay marriage is an excellent example in which ancient religious traditions and mythology provide the reference points against which choices and beliefs are held in the present.
The poor are poor, according to the social conservatives, because they are feckless shaggers who have too many babies – as Louise Casey, the Prime Minister’s families advisor recently claimed. It is time for the state to intervene, Casey told the Daily Telegraph: “There are plenty of people who have large families and function incredibly well, and good luck to them, it must be lovely. The issue for me, out of the families that I have met, they are not functioning, lovely families.” Miss Casey went on to warn that the state must start telling mothers with large families to take “responsibility” and stop getting pregnant.
Likewise, the ill are ill, according to the social conservatives, because they don’t have the moral fibre to maintain their bodily integrity. The widespread anxiety in our media about the obesity epidemic focuses almost exclusively on individual moral virtues, and does little to challenge the monopoly of junk food and convenience food industries that dominate British towns and cities. As the Welcome Trust points out, there are clear links between obesity and ill health, but Michael Gove insists that the right people to review (again) the standard of food in schools are people from the fast food industry themselves. According to the Daily Mail, the Secretary of State for Education “enjoyed a holiday at a Moroccan villa with a top chef who was later commissioned to carry out a Government review into school dinners.”
Which brings us to the Olympics, were questions are being asked about the role that major convenience food brands have in sponsoring the London 2012 games. CNN asks “Olympic sponsorship – must it be so unhealthy?” According to CNN “the media has, until now, been slow to pick up what health campaigners have understood for some time: there is public unease at some of the world’s biggest junk food manufacturers using the Olympics to heavily promote their unhealthy products at every opportunity, and especially to children. In fact, one might expect sentiment against the company to fall further, now the torch relay — with its super-sized Coca-Cola trucks and brightly dressed assistants handing out free Coke samples and merchandise to children and their parents — has passed through Britain’s streets.”
Then, of course, it’s the turn of the rich to claim that they have achieved their wealth through merit, good stewardship and entrepreneurial zeal. There is not much to add that hasn’t already been publicly aired in recent months, except to offer a reminder that, as Jonathan Freedland pointed out in The Guardian last year, “free-wheeling capitalists should be particularly alarmed… Gargantuan executive pay is sapping enterprise: people who might have been risk-taking entrepreneurs have no reason to start their own businesses when they are so comfortably looked after at corporate HQ. And of course such winner-takes-all rewards warp the wider economy.”
Lord Turner, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, rightly points out that the public have lost trust in the whole ‘rip-off’ culture of British banks. Reported in the Daily Mail, Lord Turner says millions have lost trust in the financial services industry. He said people were “angry with banks and bankers” and added: “They doubt banks’ values, and they doubt whether banks have their interests at heart.”
Which makes Tony Blair’s untimely thoughts on the financial crisis make him seem increasingly out of touch, with both the facts and popular sentiment. Mr Blair, who was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph, pleads “don’t take 30 years of liberalisation, beginning under Mrs Thatcher, and say this is what caused the financial crisis.” Okay, so the extreme suggestion that hanging bankers from the lampposts is something we can agree on as a bad idea. At last Tony and I agree on something these days. But the fact that no bankers, regulators or politicians have stood in a dock, in a court, or even before an officer of the law, to account for their actions, is astonishing. Just remember that bankers have cost the UK £1.2 trillion.
One thing that we are learning from the banking crisis is that moral certitude and accountability is clearly measured in different ways for different people. It’s a question of doing as the bankers say, and not doing as they do. Daniel Kahneman points out in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, that “our predilection for causal thinking exposes us to serious mistakes in evaluating the randomness of truly random events” (Kahneman 2011, p.115). For Kahneman it isn’t enough for us to seek the simplest answer that comes to mind first, and which feels comfortable with our prejudices. If we want to make lasting change, we have to come up with a diagnosis that is determined by a more rigorous thought process and mindset. The more that we acknowledge that we are subject to forces that are random and unfair, the greater likelihood we have of developing some longer-term and sustainable solutions, and the less likely we are to rely on social myths and fairy stories about why poor people are poor, ill people are ill, and rich people are rich.
With each announcement of financial news it is becoming clear that the austerity plan irrationally beloved by the coalition is failing. Now the IMF is calling on George Osborne to go to Plan B to save the British economy from it’s present stall. According to the Daily Telegraph “The IMF said that the British economy may not be able to cope with the scale of austerity planned for 2013-14. It argued in its latest staff report on the UK that the Government has room to relax its deficit cutting programme with targeted tax cuts and increased infrastructure spending should it prove necessary.”
According to The Guardian the IMF report makes clear that “the coalition’s austerity has exacerbated the weakness, wiping 2.5% off GDP since 2010.” But as the Daily Mail points out “Ministers rejected calls for a plan B to revive the economy in June, after leading economists warned the Chancellor was not doing enough to promote growth.” The Mail points out that “Forty-seven economists wrote a letter to the Observer newspaper demanding changes to the Coalition’s economic policy, claiming the UK’s finances are too unstable to withstand the spending cuts.” But that “The Treasury and senior Cabinet ministers said at the time that there was no need for a change of course and put the blame squarely on Labour’s shoulders for leaving the country with a record deficit.”
How much longer can the coalition go on blaming anyone and everyone other than their own failed policies. Remember in May 2010 the British economy, according to The Guardian, was bounding back from recession with growth in the first quarter of 2010 rising at 0.3% – more than the UK economy has grown for the last twelve months. It’s time that Osborne got a new job – but based on this record, would you employ him?
All in it together?
As the frenzy surrounding the Jubilee celebrations dies down, and the inevitable hype of the European Cup has evaporated, we are only left with the Olympics to console us as a national distraction from our economic woes. Not that the Olympics will distract us for long mind, as the enforced and coerced straightjacket of global-corporate branding will give island Britain very little opportunity to express the wide and diverse range of its authentic voices. The Olympic message is pre-packaged, pre-heated and, quite frankly, nothing but naked totalitarianism.
Under the ideology of brand-management, the individual freedom of British communities to express themselves has been squashed. The Olympic Torch passes through Melton Mowbray on 3rd July, but what difference can a small market town like Melton make when the story is tightly controlled and managed by LOCOG? The organisers of the London Olympics wont dare let anyone deflect these local events away from the centrally defined message. This is a chance for London to share in the power of global super-brands alongside global corporate organisations. These organisations claim to be on our side, but don’t play any meaningful role in our communities. Coca Cola and MacDonald’s bring us better lives, they say, but once the torch has moved on, so will the super-brands.
The power of executive management, branding and global corporate organisations have defined Britain for some time now. Small elites of super-connected individuals have been able to ‘executively manage’ Britain with impunity. Spending and wasting billions on half-baked projects that have no meaningful checks and balances in place to provide accountability and stability. Since the 1980s British political life has been about how a tightknit clique of people can get to the top of the centralised state and exert executive control over the machine of government. To make it do what they believe should be in the interests of themselves and people like them. This was the model that the Labour Party accepted with New Labour in the 1990s, and which the Tories initially struggled to re-brand in the 2000’s.
The present attempts by Britain’s governing coalition of Conservative and Liberal Democrats to maintain this model of governance are looking shaky and increasingly fragile. This particular brand of politician wants to be treated like CEO’s for some international conglomerate. A conglomerate that is recognised for its brand identity only, but which is otherwise faceless and shadowy. The decision making process they use is opaque. While the rhetoric extols the heroic nature of ‘crucial decisions’ and ‘doing whatever it takes’, these are nothing but power-plays that boost the image of each politician’s individual prowess and executive autonomy. Their aim might not be sky-high salaries while in government, but they are likely to earn millions when they leave office. Their grip on power is justified, however, along the same terms as the CEO of many international corporations, in the name of the market and of ‘talent’. There can be no independent corroboration of their abilities, and we are told that there is no way to test if the two are not mutually exclusive.
Britain has been governed since the 1980s, off-and-on, by so-called strong leaders who have sought to express themselves through simple slogans. ‘The lady is not for turning’, ‘New Labour, New Britain’, ‘Vote Blue, Go Green’, and more recently ‘We are all in it together’. As the economy hovers, however, on the edge of a meltdown even worse than the great depression of the 1930s, it would be appropriate for us to reflect on what has brought us to this place. Particularly, it is time to start thinking about our self-delusions, those things that brought us to the point of self-imposed, reckless austerity being seen as the only answer to our economic problem. When in fact, all of the evidence is suggesting that austerity is leading us nowhere. In this maelstrom of self-delusion one phrase resonates and cuts-through more than any other. ‘We are all in it together’. And yet, recent events and news about the crisis in banking practices have convinced us that this is far from the truth.
George Osborne’s empty soundbite and slogan has been found out for what it is. It is a vapid and narrow papering. A veneer over the ideological dismantling of the British state and the imposition of the rule of one class over another – in perpetuity and without a single shot being fired. George Osborne minted this sound bite in order to justify the most extreme fiscal contraction the British economy has seen for many generations. The aim was to bind the British people into a neo-liberal drive towards a smaller state that would be founded on low taxes, individual reliance and hand-bag economics that equates good governance with simple moralism. Cameron, Clegg and Osborne banged on about how the country had ‘maxed-out’ its credit card, how we were next in line to be trashed by the financial markets, and how private companies would ride to our rescue and rush in to fill the gap that was being cleared for them with the dismantling of the state.
Never has so sudden an economic turn-around been imposed with such scant evidence. As Nick Cohen argues in today’s Observer, “Although it is easy to damn David Cameron, Nick Clegg and, above all, George Osborne, as boys doing men’s jobs, it is not true that they are incapable of taking bold decisions. In 2010, they took the audacious step of stopping Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling’s Keynesian efforts to nurse Britain out of the crash.”
So what is the starting point for getting us out of this mess? Actually there is a simple approach that can make effective headway almost immediately. Adopting, turning and using the slogan ‘We are all in it together’ as the battle-cry of a coalition of patriots, progressives and radicals. Cheering this slogan back at George Osborne and his clique would drown-out the message of the neo-liberals, who so plainly don’t want us to all be in this together. Adopting this slogan to challenge the powerful elites and corporate executives jetting around the world with impunity would serve as a reminder that corporate capitalism has a single purpose, and that is to serve society, and not the other way around. ‘We are all in this together’ resonates as an ideal that is clear, heartfelt and something that can be taken up by diverse communities of different backgrounds and different expectations, but who all recognise that the extreme individualism of the past should be consigned to the past.
There are calls for a debate about how we renew social capitalism as an essential part of our social democracy, our civic society and the moral fabric of our nation. To be sustainable this re-evaluation of our economic sustainability has to find wide-based agreement and support founded on a moral and ethical democracy that is transparent and fair. If we are all in it together, then bankers will face prison for their crimes alongside rioters. The powerful will have to negotiate and agree their freedoms along with the powerless. The global will have to negotiate with the local to agree their freedom of action. The short-term needs of industry will have to be negotiated with the long-term sustainability of the eco-system. And the Olympic ideal of peaceful competition without the burden of politics, religion, or racism might be achieved – only now we might want to include ‘corporate might’ within the core of these ideals as we wake up to the dangers of executive dominance and self-serving rip-off capitalism.
The warning signs have been clear for some time, and yet George Osborne and David Cameron have chosen to ignore them. Now, even friends on the right are in despair over the economic incompetence of this shambolick government.
According to Philip Aldrick, the Daily Telegraph’s Economics Editor “George Osborne will be wincing this morning. Applauded internationally for his austerity programme, at home he’s facing brickbats. Forget the pasties and the Granny Tax, though: Britain has double-dipped. The Chancellor’s insistence that the best stimulus he could give the country was low interest rates, driven by market confidence, has self-evidently failed. The UK is in recession again.”
Here’s what Larry Elliot writing in the Guardian says:
“In the past, even during the 1930s, recoveries have been well under way by now. This time, despite the massive stimulus that has been chucked at it, four years into the deepest depression of the post-war era Britain is going backwards.”
Adding that “Output is more than 4% below its peak in early 2008, living standards are falling and there is no sign whatsoever of the much-heralded rebalancing of the economy.”
Here’s what the New Statesman’s Economics Editor David Blanchflower said about Osbourne’s emergency budget in June 2010: “I am now convinced that as a result of this reckless Budget the UK will suffer a double-dip recession or worse”.
However, Mehdi Hasan makes the point in the latest issue of the New Statesman that “the Austerians won’t give up without a fight. They seem to have two tactics. The first is to blame the lack of growth on anything other than the cuts – be it the Euro crisis, the weather, health-and-safety regulations, the family dog, etc, etc.”
It’s time for Osborne to change plan, listen to wiser heads and start dealing with the lack of growth in the economy. We can’t pay off debt if we aren’t putting people to work and generating income. The Tory handbag economics that insists that we run the country like a household budget is wrong, and will continue to do serious damage to the country.