Monthly Archives: September 2017

Corbyn Gets It, May Doesn’t

I have been watching and waiting, with increasing despair, for an end to a disastrous 35-year experiment with our lives. I’m talking of the economic policies which have dominated our politics since Thatcher and Reagan began their counter-revolution in the 1980s. At last, in Jeremy Corbyn, I see the first signs that this may, at long last, be happening.

The sociopathic approach to economics which I call Free Market Fundamentalism collapsed and failed, big time, in 2007-8, initially in the USA, spreading to other western economies. The UK was particularly vulnerable owing to our over-dependence on financial services and the consequential destruction of most of our manufacturing industry. Ten years on, we are yet to change course.

The Evidence

And yet, the evidence of the collapse of the old order is everywhere to see:

  • 80 dead and 200 families homeless in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. It’s the natural consequence of contempt for the poor – yes, I do mean you, Kensington and Chelsea Council, and many more besides. And a disdain for proper regulation, in this case mainly fire regulations.
  • 400,000-plus passengers left high and dry following mass cancellations of Ryanair flights. This is caused by a combination of contemptuous treatment of passengers as cash cows and disgruntled pilots with inferior working conditions.
  • The loss of Uber’s operating licence in London, for failure to take passenger safety seriously and using unethical but (just) legal methods to deny basic employment rights to its drivers. This threatens inconvenience to users and a loss of thousands of jobs after Uber’s unfair business practices decimated the traditional minicab businesses.
  • Young renters paying 3 times as much as their grandparents did at the same age for a roof over their heads, as a direct result of decades of a disastrously marketised and deregulated – and self-evidently dysfunctional – housing policy.
  • The rise and rise of the use of “inspiring” (thank you, Jacob Rees-Mogg) food banks, the majority of users from working households. This follows the introduction of vindictive changes of policy in the treatment of benefit claimants.
  • A highly fragmented and confusing education system with demoralised teachers as a result of a false belief that the mantra of competition is appropriate in the particular case of educating our future citizens.
  • Shocking and illegal levels of air pollution in our major cities, concentrated in poorer areas, as a result of under-regulation of vehicle emissions and failure to stand up to vested interests.
  • Rises in energy costs and rail fares and under-investment in the future resilience of our basic infrastructure, through privatisation of key areas of our economy where markets and competition simply don’t work.
  • A worrying rise in intolerance, abuse and violence against minorities, women and political opponents. This follows decades of encouragement from newspapers owned by tax-dodging tax exiles. But it’s now amplified by the more lunatic fringes of social media and the blogosphere.

There is a clear chain of causation which links each of these outcomes back to the FMF dogma, which can be summarised as “greed is good”.

May and Corbyn

May at BoE

The Tories seem blind to all this, too busy tearing themselves apart over Britain and the EU to notice. Theresa May’s speech today, commemorating 20 years of Bank of England independence, was largely a paean to free markets. To be fair, she did mention the importance of proper regulation. But she has been saying this for some time, and it’s all words, no deeds. You get the impression that her weakened position as leader can only be sustained by continuing to bow to the gods of the status quo.

corbyn at brighton
Corbyn at Brighton

By way of contrast, Jeremy Corbyn’s closing speech to the Labour Party Conference yesterday recognises that times have changed. And that only Labour has caught the mood. He is clearly determined to embrace the break from the follies of the last three and a half decades and bring us back to the true mainstream. I disagree totally with Corbyn’s critics who try to paint him as some left-wing extremist. Labour’s policy announcements are classic mainstream social democracy. Most of his policies, e.g. rent controls and public ownership of key infrastructure industries, are everyday mainstream politics in other European countries. And, as I have arguing in this blog for over two years, social democracy is a perfect fit for how human beings – psychologically healthy ones at least – actually think.

I hope that Corbyn and colleagues can continue to surf the wave of the realisation that things must change. And about time!

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Truce and Lies

The truce didn’t last long. But the lies, I suspect, will go on and on for a long time to come.

At the end of Theresa May’s much-heralded “big speech” in Florence, Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond made a big, theatrical show of “unity”. They were seen walking out of the meeting as if they were the best of friends. Barely 24 hours later, civil war over Europe had broken out again in the Tory Party. It must have been one of the shortest-lived truces in politics.

This time, hostilities resumed mainly over the length of any transition period following the UK’s planned 2019 exit from the EU. Johnson’s backers claimed his one-man alternative post-exit “vision” in the previous Saturday’s Telegraph had “saved” Britain from purgatory: an even longer transition period, wanted by Hammond and nearly all of British business. His opponents deny this, of course… and so, on and on it goes.

David Cameron’s desire, when announcing an “in-out” referendum, was that this would lance the boil of the Tories’ eternal war over the EU. As was obvious at the time, this was never going to happen. To mix my metaphors, they just can’t stop picking at the sore.

May’s “Big” Speech

So much for the truce. What about May’s speech itself? Well, the tone was more conciliatory, which is welcome. But what about the content? Well, “big” it wasn’t.

We did learn three things which help to clarify the government’s position – a bit. Firstly, EU citizens’ rights will be drafted into the exit legislation: no change of stance, just a bit more reassurance for the millions fearful for their future. Also, at last, a statement recognising the reality about the UK’s financial obligations on leaving, but with the figures still vague. And finally, the two-year transition period – the very subject over which new internecine fighting has resumed. But there was nothing at all to replace the “magical thinking” about the Irish border – one of the key sticking points currently.

Perhaps worst of all, there was nothing new at all said about the long-term relationship Britain desired: the “vision thing”, if you like. The reason for this omission is obvious: Cabinet members are still fighting like cats in a bag on this key strategic point. May’s lack of authority and weakened position following the recent election means the most difficult question is still a can licked down the road. But this is the key point which is delaying business investment decisions and increasing the risk of multinationals moving their businesses out of the UK – to Britain’s permanent, long-term detriment.

Instead, we got the usual vacuous stuff about close relationships and advantageous trade deals. These fine phrases are just a more diplomatic variation on the “cake-and-eat-it” position that we all know is impossible. Reaction from the EU and other national leaders is, unsurprisingly, underwhelming.

Theresa May in Florence
May in Florence – or anywhere?

And finally, a word about the venue: Florence, birthplace of the Renaissance. More specifically, in a side-building of a fine Renaissance church just a stone’s throw from Florence’s main railway station. (May as vicar’s daughter continues to show!)This location, at least, was convenient for the British journalists catching the train from Pisa Airport, the nearest with regular flights from the UK. For this appears to have been an entirely British affair: British Prime Minister, three Cabinet members (all flown in at UK taxpayers’ expense) and a bunch of UK journalists. No one from other countries seemed particularly bothered to hear what May had to say. The Germans, in particular, had much more important matters on their minds.

Yet, despite the magnificent Renaissance surroundings, the drab choice of set meant that the TV visuals could just have easily have been done in a warehouse in Coventry. May’s advisers had done their research on European history. The 17th century Renaissance was the precursor, a century later, to the European Enlightenment. It’s a pity May wasted the opportunity to give us any enlightenment on the direction in which she is aiming to lead the country.

The Lies

I’ve entitled this piece “Truce and Lies”. As we’ve seen, the truce didn’t work. But we can confidently expect the lies to continue. Johnson’s Telegraph article, mentioned above, repeated the lie about the EU’s £350 million a week and the NHS, which brought him a strongly-worded rebuke from the head of the UK Statistics Authority. The article was a flagrant act of insubordination and a clear breach of Cabinet collective responsibility. In normal times, this would have led to instant dismissal by the PM. But, of course, these are not normal times. May is trapped by the arithmetic in the House of Commons and a prisoner of the extremist Leave wing of her party.

Talking of which, I fear it’s some time before those extremists, Johnson, Fox, Gove, Leadsom et al, stop repeating the ultimate EU-related lie. That’s the one that says there’s a future for the UK outside the EU which is better than if we were to remain. That’s logically impossible: there’s no queue of countries lining up to do deals to replace the national income to be lost through exiting the EU, for example. I can only hope there’s a scenario where we change course before too much damage is done.

I’m moving towards the end of my seventh decade on this planet. I cannot remember a time when we have been so badly governed as we are now. Or when we were faced with a more important set of political choices: the biggest since the end of World War II. We need a proper government, led by people of ability and vision. The current ragbag of the inadequate, the incompetent and the downright delusional is just about as far away from that as we could possibly get. How did we let the Tories get us into this monumental mess?

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