June 2, 2017
By John Wight
One million people, many of them in work, forced to rely foodbanks; 1 in 4 children living in poverty; homelessness, including rough sleeping, at a 30 year high; real wages down; the worst housing crisis of any advanced industrialised economy; healthcare in crisis; the most ramshackle and expensive rail system in Europe; the highest prison population in western Europe; crime up; suicides up – all this at the same time as the richest 1,000 people in the country saw their wealth increase by 14% the past year. This is not Britain in 1817 we’re talking about this is Britain in 2017, thus ensuring that the stakes involved in the country’s upcoming general election on June 8 could not be higher.
And with the election looming, isn’t it instructive that the Tory political and establishment have been throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at Jeremy Corbyn and key members of his team? Dredging up positions he held on the IRA in the 1980s, demonstrations he attended, along with speeches and statements he made decades ago, it all points to the fact that despite spending the past year dismissing him as the most inept, feckless, and incompetent leader of the opposition there has ever been in decades – that despite all of that the Tory establishment is worried, and with good reason.
Labour’s election manifesto is the most transformative and radical programme for government the UK has seen in over a generation. It is one that plants its colours squarely on the side of working people and the low waged, pledging to reverse decades in which successive governments have worshipped at the altar of the free market, allowing blind economic forces to dictate every aspect of government policy, embracing thereby the economy as a tyrant over the lives of ordinary working people rather than a servant of their needs. In this regard austerity, rolled out as the answer to the global financial crash of 2007-08, has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with ideology – specifically the unleashing of a class war with the objective of blaming the poor and working people for the actions of the rich, whose greed was responsible for the aforementioned crash.
It really doesn’t have to be this way. You can have a society based not on greed but on justice, based not on despair but on dignity.
His detractors accuse Corbyn of wishing to drag Britain back to the 1970s, a supposed decade of doom and gloom. This is nonsense. I grew up in the 1970s and for working people in the UK it was a veritable paradise compared to today. Free dental care, free eye care, free school meals for all children, decent wages and conditions, trade union rights, a sense of community that is sorely lacking now. And thinking about it, to label these things as “free” is a misnomer. They weren’t free, they were paid for out of general taxation, and taxation, as every smart person knows, is the price you pay for civilisation – i.e. the more taxation the more civilisation, and vice versa.
Yes, there was a rising tide of industrial action by the unions, but in contradistinction to the right’s narrative of the period, this industrial unrest came about in response to the spike in inflation that arrived on the back of the liberalisation of the global financial system, thus reducing wages and living standards. This financial liberalisation began in the early 1970s and was exacerbated by the Nixon administration’s decision to abandon the gold standard in 1971 in the face of the economic drain on the US economy and the value of the dollar internationally as a result of the war in Vietnam. As revealed by Cambridge academics Ken Coutts and Graham Gudgin in a recent report, “The freeing up of finance led to a huge, and eventually unsustainable, expansion of household borrowing. This temporarily accelerated the growth of consumer spending and hence GDP and of house prices, but in 2008 contributed to a banking crisis and the longest recession for over a century.”
Later in the same report, on the issue of industrial relations, the authors have this to say: “Common sense indicates that less [industrial] disruption should be a good thing in itself, but not necessarily if the result has been a weakening of wage bargaining power that has allowed a resurgence of extreme income inequality. We note that the UK economy grew consistently and well through the 1950s and 1960s even with poor industrial relations, as it did in the USA with extra-ordinarily high strike levels by British standards. Moreover, the idea that high inequality is necessary for enterprise and innovation also receives little support from the data. Recent research from the IMF suggests that increasing inequality is not associated with faster growth in GDP or higher productivity.”
With a manifesto that will drag Britain not back to the 1970s but out of the 1870s, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has reignited the kind of class and political consciousness among large swathes of working people not seen decades, challenging in every particular a Tory political establishment that has extended itself in being a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.
And when it comes to foreign policy, just consider the difference between a sitting Tory government whose defence secretary, Michael Fallon, has boasted of Theresa May’s willingness to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike in certain circumstances, and a leader of the opposition, in Jeremy Corbyn, who has pledged to establish a ministry of peace, if elected. And just consider the difference between a government that slavishly attaches itself to the coattails of Washington and a leader of the opposition who, if elected, will not.
In 2010 the Tories came to power and unleashed war on society, turning the lives of millions of British people and their families upside down in service to a callously and consciously cruel belief that poverty marked out its victims as perpetrators of their own condition – their just desserts for being lazy, indolent, and lacking moral fibre. Thus the demonisation that accompanied austerity shaped public apathy if not consensus when it came to its implementation as necessary in order to trim the fact of a bloated public sector and purify the poor and disadvantaged with pain.
You don’t have to be affected by austerity, by foodbanks, benefit sanctions, zero hours contracts, and attacks on the disabled, to be offended by it. You don’t have to be a migrant to resent their depiction as the enemy within. And you do not need to be among the growing number of rough sleepers on our streets to know that no one should be allowed to fall that far. The aforementioned impacts all of us, the normalisation of so much injustice and cruelty chips away at our humanity, which is unforgiveable.
If nothing else, the success of the Tories in turning the British people into passive spectators of the mass experiment in human despair they have inflicted on the most vulnerable in society should be foremost in their minds when they cast their vote on June 8.
*John Wight is the author of a politically incorrect and irreverent Hollywood memoir – Dreams That Die – published by Zero Books. He’s also written five novels, which are available as Kindle eBooks. You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnWight1