Wednesday, 19 April 2017

'Strong leadership'


This word matters. I think it was chosen to describe the government's approach to finance for two reasons.

1) it's more appealing than 'efficiencies'
2) it's laden with good old post war, Brits in it together meaning.

The word was then largely dropped but the process remains in full force. (See the upcoming *massive* real term school budget cuts and the recent parks closure warning as just two examples)

The use of the word makes me angry. It irks me because it's being used as a justification for cuts.

It's become a reason why nothing can get done and the ultimate answer to 'why everything is shit'

Can't afford libraries, mental health service, special education support, disability benefit, buses to rural areas, care for the elderly, social housing and so and so forth? Austerity.

Pay freezes, withdrawal of subsidy for new technology, cutting educational subsidy for low income students, closing per school services and so and so forth? Austerity.

Yet, if we examine the word in the context of British political history we see a very different picture.

Think of Britain in 1945. Think of the depth of destruction, the sheer cost of rebuilding the infrastructure, the streets reduced to rubble, the creaking public services, the huge cost of the war. There is austerity. Life is austere. But it's not hopeless. It's not a procession of cuts, diminishing gains and rights in employment.

There is investment in housing on a scale unimaginable to the modern mind, there is the NHS, the widespread improvement in quality of life and wages. It's worth noting that creation of a meaningful welfare state is not just happening in the UK but is a condition of the reconstruction in the post fascist axis countries.

In essence, the word austerity in that context means 'yes, things are a bit grim, but this...'

It's easy to romanticise the Atlee government and it's wrong to suggest they were as radical or far reaching as they could be (it's the flippin' Labour party for heaven's sake) and I have much sympathy for the argument that in reality the establishment went as just as far as they needed to mollify a potentially revolutionary disillusionment but...

Whatever you think of that government austerity today doesn't have the promise of the reward and rebuilding. It doesn't lead towards any sort of future prosperity. We can question whether government debt really exists, let alone whether it should be paid off, but even this central tennant of the idea is empty. Debt has risen. Growth (which again, we can question as a useful measure) is negligible. By the terms used in conventional economics the policy is useless. It doesn't achieve its own (taken at face value) aims.

I think the point I'm making is this. If the question is 'how do we make things better' then I'm stumped that the answer appears to be a version of austerity that takes the grim bits of 1945 without any of the good bits.

I'm even more confused that for the average person some vague notion of 'strong leadership' seems to be more important than an actual strategy to improve anything.

I meet people in real life who say 'I just don't think there's any alternative' and the point here isn't to bang on about St Jeremy. Far from it. Corbyn is not the new Messiah, he's just a cipher for a lot of disparate (and desperate) hopes. Which is part of his problem really. Though, it is undeniable that he is an opponent of austerity. He might not be the best at pointing but what if he's actually pointing in vaguely the *right direction* as opposed to pointing with certainty and elan in *exactly the wrong direction*

The point is also not to say the answers of 1945 are the answers of now. Again, they're not. Some things would be welcome, but good luck with the nationalisation of the shipyards and the coal mines. Times have changed both socially and economically

The point is, that if we continue to be 'strongly led' down a certain path toward more austerity the only outcome is more cuts, more pay freezes, more dwindling living standards, more declining rights, more precariousness overall.

This is not to do with Brexit. This process was already in place. I'm not going to get into the ideological outrage about the rich/poor divide or who benefits from austerity because i think we often vote from self interest, even when we think we are voting in a socially responsible way. My point is, how on earth are the vast majority of people going to benefit from austerity? What exactly is in it for you?

You might be able to list some emotive arguments like 'scroungers won't get benefits' or 'immigrants won't get solid gold cars' and clearly those arguments are not invalid - you have to be completely blind to the concerns of actual people to right them off. But, (and this is a big point) whatever the rights and wrongs of benefits poverty costs more than keeping people out of poverty.

What essentially I'm saying is - if we stick on the same ideological course (with the strong, business like leader) we face not only losing all the services (and plenty more) listed above but we pay more to pick up the cost of poverty. Poverty equals crime. It equals illness, both mental and physical. It equals children who require more intervention, it denies access to education and self improvement, it equals, ultimately ghettoisation and gated community and unfortunately the bad news is, the majority of us are locked out and even if we aren't, it's a damn sight more expensive than the alternative.

Ok, we might not be contributing to fund 'feckless workshy people' (or people with terminal illnesses or youth clubs or rape crisis centres or jobs) but our private security is essentially equivalent to a tax (that doesn't go back to the government either, so can't be reinvested in anything that may potentially benefit us), as is our spiralling insurance costs and as is the feeling of dread every time we set out in the armoured Hummer.

There are of course complex issues the election is going to be fought on. Of course Brexit is going to be 'a thing' and immigration is not going away (either as a political issue or a real world real problem) but these are the issues that the Prime Minister wants the election fought over.

Now, I would be the first to express cynicism about the democratic process but I've got just enough faith in the intelligence of people and the ultimate logic behind our process to think there is just a slim chance that in 30 years time this is remembered as the Election where Theresa May asked a question about Brexit and got an answer about austerity.

The question of austerity or not is far simpler and far more pertinent than remain/leave. It's also not just a question of whether 'you care more about other people' - it's about your self interest. If you want more grimness, anxiety and general squalor, go ahead and think there is no other way.

If you want to be route marched further towards a low tax economy built on debt repayment with few (if any) safety nets to catch you or your loved ones, go ahead and do what you think is best.

May wants this to be about Brexit and Corbyn's perceived competency. It actually really shouldn't be about either of those things. It should be a test (the first one) of austerity as that is the defining factor of this government and no one has yet (Scotland aside) stood up to this at the ballot box.

Please, stop playing internal politics, playing dumb, playing head in the sand, playing whatever game you play to distract yourself and just consider opposing austerity by the most effective means open to you. It is almost certainly bad for YOU.

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