I put together an article for Progressive pulse on the state of the nation around the time of the Brexit referendum (available here). Nothing much has changed (apart from things getting worse) and I would recommend Raoul Martinez’s article at openDemocracy, and it is worth reading in full: If you’re not yet radical, you haven’t been paying attention. (The text from Martinez’s article is in italics).
Martinez identifies a number of main themes:
Inequalty: People have been working longer for less, and wealth, rather than trickling down, has been flowing upwards. An investment deficit; soaring house prices; insecure, low-paid work and rising tuition fees created a population with dwindling disposable incomes. To function, the economy required vast sums of private debt. A deregulated financial sector was happy to oblige, engaging in reckless lending. As we now know, this paved the way for the financial crash of 2008. The richest 10% of UK households own more wealth than the other 90% percent combined, and we have more billionaires than ever before. Exacerbating the problem is that tax evasion is costing the UK in the region of £100B PA. In 2014 Richard Murphy estimated that tax evasion might cost the UK £85 billion a year; tax avoidance might cost of £19 billion and tax not paid £18 billion, and the problem seems to be getting worse rather than better.
Poverty: over a million people using food banks; 16 million Britons with savings of less than £100; four million children living in poverty (the vast majority of whom have at least one parent in work). 24,000 elderly people dying each year because they can’t afford to heat their homes properly, workers suffering the biggest fall in wages among the world’s richest countries.
Austerity: Rather than blaming the banks for the 2008 crisis the Tories shamelessly and with the collusion of much of the main stream media managed to blame overspending by the Labour party for the crisis. Local authority cuts are such that the most deprived area in the country was suffering cuts worth £807 per household while the most affluent area was getting away with per household cuts of just £28. Austerity was and is both unnecessary and counter-productive. Oxford economist Simon Wren-Lewis found that austerity after 2010 slowed our recovery, costing the nation over £100 billion. Austerity was and is a crisis for millions of people in this country — it has destroyed lives, well-being, wealth and mental health on a significant scale. A banking crisis that had its origins in the irresponsible and illegal behaviour of the private sector was repackaged as a crisis of government spending. Mervyn King, while Governor of the Bank of England, summed up the situation, when he said ‘The price of this ﬁnancial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it’ and ‘I’m surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has.’
Market fundamentalism: Neoliberalism has transferred wealth and power from the public sphere to the private, and on a global scale. Today, one percent of humanity owns as much wealth as the other ninety-nine percent combined, and some of the largest corporations control more wealth than many nations.
Corporations are driven by the profit imperative. A corporation can increase profits in various ways. Some of these can benefit society as a whole, such as creative innovations. But there are many easier ways to generate profits that are seriously damaging: increasing demands on workers while reducing wages, using natural resources without paying for them; polluting while leaving others to pick up the bill; manufacturing unhealthy wants through manipulative advertising; and extracting subsidies, tax breaks, and bail-outs from the state. In the UK rents are also being increasingly used for profit.
Environment: The IMF calculated that the world’s governments are subsidising the fossil fuel industry to the tune of $10 million a minute. In the UK, while cutting vital subsidies to renewable energy, the Tory government’s contribution to the fossil fuel industry stands at £9 billion a year. All of this is going on as climate scientists warn that we are on course to create a planet able to support less than a billion people by the end of the century. (Ed note: we take climate change extremely seriously at progressive pulse but Martinez’s estimate is towards the more extreme end). In other words, business as usual for the fossil fuel industry means wiping out most of humanity — and our taxes are helping them do it. And because of the warming that’s already occurred, millions are dying and being displaced each year. Today, few acts are as violent as the burning of oil, gas and coal.
Subversion: When democratic power fails to regulate the market to protect the public interest, market power will regulate democracy to protect corporate interests. To defend citizens, workers and the environment, a democratic state must limit the ways in which corporations are allowed to pursue profit. The state has the power to impose regulations, extract taxes and cordon off parts of the economy from the market, such as healthcare and education. This enables the public to obtain with their votes what they cannot afford in the market. From the perspective of the corporation, a well-functioning democracy is an obstacle to profit. The obvious solution is to take control of the state through the capture of regulatory agencies, the lobbying of government, the funding of political parties, the establishment of think thinks, and by ensuring that the revolving door between high level industry and government keeps on spinning. The USA in particular is so far down this trajectory that it could be considered a failed state.
Manufacturing consent: There have always been two ways to gain the consent of the governed. The first is to change the government to please the public, the second is to change the public to please the government. Almost a century ago, the influential US intellectual Walter Lippmann wrote about the need to ‘manufacture consent’ as a solution to the threat of democracy. Since then, techniques for controlling the flow of ideas, facts and perspectives through society have been increasing in sophistication. There’s a rich, though little known, history about how public relations, informed by psychological research, have been used to subvert democracy — it ought to be widely studied. The latest developments draw on big data. You may have heard of a company named Cambridge Analytica, owned by a US billionaire. According to a recent Guardian investigation, by exploiting the growing field of psychometrics and drawing on vast stores of personal data, this company has played a decisive role in influencing electoral outcomes, including the EU referendum. More and more revelations on this come out each week and the Northern Ireland DUP seems to have been heavily involved. Decades of academic studies have also demonstrated the systematic right-wing biases of the classical UK media — including the BBC — on a range of issues, and poll after poll shows how public opinion reflects this distortion and bias. A recent post on this (16/05/17) by Wren-Lewis on media bias during the Brexit referendum is worth reading (here). Buoyed by the success of the Brexit campaign the media bias against Labour in general and Jeremy Corbyn in particular, during the current GE campaign is staggering. This is to be expected from the right wing media but am I alone in thinking the BBC is also extremely biased?
Against this backdrop the Labour Manifesto For the Many not the Few is very welcome. At 128 pages it is long and covers the areas:
- CREATING AN ECONOMY THAT WORKS FOR ALL
- NEGOTIATING BREXIT
- TOWARDS A NATIONAL EDUCATION SERVICE
- A FAIR DEAL AT WORK
- SOCIAL SECURITY
- SECURE HOMES FOR ALL
- HEALTHCARE FOR ALL
- SAFER COMMUNITIES
- LEADING RICHER LIVES
- EXTENDING DEMOCRACY
- A MORE EQUAL SOCIETY
- A GLOBAL BRITAIN
This is an exciting progressive manifesto on which much has been written and it is worth visiting the TRUK blog: Labour has delivered a good manifesto for the UK. The right wing media reaction seems even more hysterical than usual; hopefully they are rattled?
At the time of writing the Tory manifesto is being announced. It does not seem to be going well particularly on social care:
The National Pensioners Convention says the Tory social care plans offer pensioners “the worst of all possible worlds”. This is from its general secretary, Jan Shortt.
The Conservative’s manifesto pledge on social care offers the worst of all possible worlds for millions of older people and their families. It’s a Frankenstein’s monster of a plan which bolts lots of bad policies together and still fails to tackle the real unfairness in the care system.
The Bow Group, a Conservative party think tank has put out a press statement denouncing the care plans as “the biggest stealth tax in history”. This is from its chairman, Ben Harris-Quinney.
These proposals will mean that the majority of property owning citizens could be transferring the bulk of their assets to the government upon death for care they have already paid a lifetime of taxes to receive.
It is a tax on death and on inheritance. It will mean that in the end, the government will have taken the lion’s share of a lifetime earnings in taxes. If enacted, it is likely to represent the biggest stealth tax in history and when people understand that they will be leaving most of their estate to the government, rather than their families, the Conservative party will experience a dramatic loss of support.
This is truly a strange General Election but its been a good week for Labour and a bad one for the Torys. One can only hope this will continue.