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I can think of no better context in which to view the run-up to Election Day here, on May 6, May than Brian de Palma’s film, “Redacted.” That film, ignored by the Oscars but a winner in Venice, tells the story of the gang-raping and killing of a young girl in Iraq. Her mother, father, and 5-year-old sister were also killed. And the killing continues today in Iraq, as it does in the country that ordered Britain to war – 18 U.S. veterans kill themselves each day. Government statistics are probably more accurate in the U.S. For instance, we know that a couple of hundred thousand American veterans are homeless. In the UK, official statistics show that, overall, the number of total homeless people sleeping rough in England is currently 464. Charities say the figure is deliberately misleading so as to fit in with the governing Labor Party’s target of “eliminating all rough sleepers” (sic) within the next year and a half. That the Department for Communities and Local Government can be so misleading is symptomatic of a government that is filled with ministers who have been lying since Tony Blair came into office in 1997, way before the “dodgy dossier” and made-up stories of uranium from Niger destined for Saddam Hussein.
Idiotic targets for crime reduction, hospital waiting times, educational aptitude were a defining policy for New Labor and its disgraced think tanks which picked them as a universal panacea for the public sector. They merely led to forged and eccentrically derived statistics. Labor raced to contract services out to private corporations which simultaneously advised and bankrolled the party. Gordon Brown, who as Chancellor signed the checks for the terrible war in Iraq, says the war was worth it. He has no statistics for dead Iraqis. And the Iraq mantra of the PM and his cabinet shuts down debate on the BBC – the state broadcaster which lost its chairman and director-general over the suicide of WMD expert, David Kelly.
It’s perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the BBC no longer reports on the war in Iraq. It is not an issue. Matthew Taylor whom I interviewed with my co-host Yvonne Ridley on our weekly program, Rattansi & Ridley, and who was chief adviser to Tony Blair in the dying days of his premiership said as much. And though the third party, the Liberal Democrats, currently enjoying a surge of support after live party leaders’ debates, was against the Iraq war, they are not mentioning it much either. The second debate which was billed as about foreign policy rapidly deteriorated into talk of ruling class economic policy. Each of the three neoliberal parties has the same attitude to the national debt of the UK. Even though the annual deficit is lower than it was for much of the nineteenth century, let alone between 1945 and the 1960s, all three leaders bow to the markets and rating agencies without a second thought. For them, there is only the orthodoxy that the national debt is too high to sustain government bond sales.
We have generations, now, of economists who have learned their profession not in the shadow of Keynes but of towers of glass and steel in the City of London. For journalists and economics pundits, this is not the time to increase the deficit through investment in infrastructure and making things. Instead, this is the time for cuts in public expenditure because bond traders demand it – all based on mistaken algorithms and formulae about risk. If the next government actually cuts expenditure to the orders of the bankers, it will surely lead to civil unrest on the streets of Britain. And it is astounding that the party leaders do not realize that civil unrest will not impress the bond markets.
Ironically, it was the Governor of the Bank of England who put his finger on it when his comments at a private lunch were leaked by U.S. economist, David Hale. Governor Mervyn King warns that the victor in the general election will be forced into austerity measures that will keep that party out of power for a generation. Britain’s finance minister cheerfully says that should Labor win, there will be cuts which are “deeper and tougher” than those carried out by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s. In a country riven by thirteen years of Labour’s relentless increase of the gap between rich and poor, we can look forward to the commissioning of costly government inquiries into the reasons for violence in the ghettos of the poor.
How poor has it become in Britain? During the Glasgow East by-election, a few media outlets reported that life expectancy in one ward was 54 – lower than in North Korea or Iraq. Years of Labor policies that ended with the bailout debacle have left the Sunday Times Rich List showing the 1,000 richest have seen fortunes jump by 30 per cent, the largest surge on record. This because of Labor’s decision to inject billions into the bankers’ pockets – the same billions which will be cut from government social programs after the election. The combined wealth of the top 1,000 equals a third of the entire national debt.
Labor’s own report shows that the class divide now opens up amongst children as young as 3. Such is the state of the national education system that the National Equality Panel equates a month of cognitive development to one hundred and fifty dollars of parental wealth. Income inequality is among the highest in the developed world and is now the worst since the Second World War.
Fascism is on the upturn – aided by national disgust at what seems like an entire political class fiddling their finances. Fascist candidates have now won seats in the European parliament and the three parties vie for which can be toughest on immigration, ignoring the obvious – that concerns about immigration are merely a symptom of Labor’s disastrous economic management. The Prime Minister even stole an old fascist slogan – “British Jobs for British People” – and proudly proclaims what he sees as a great achievement : fewer and fewer people want to move to Britain.
The brutal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan increase the threat of a terrorist attack in Britain. There is doubtless a minority of outraged members of marginalized religious groups keen to avenge the industrial scale rape, murder and pillage of what they see as Muslim lands. The reaction has been Britain’s own Patriot Act which re-introduced the hated “sus” laws that allow police to ‘stop and search’ without “reasonable suspicion”. All 17 judges at the European Court of Human Rights decided that Labor’s section 44 of the Terrorism Act was a serious violation of the right to privacy. Gordon Brown is fighting the decision. The Conservatives whose “sus” laws led to the 1981 Brixton riots support it and pledge to cut the need for police to write anything down when they stop someone on the streets with unreasonable suspicion.
Add to this the continuing privatization policies that in one sector have led to hunger strikes in corporate prison camps and the growing subsidies for Britain’s largest manufacturer – the arms company BAE Systems – and Britain is set for a myriad “morbid symptoms” after this general election.
AFSHIN RATTANSI is a former chief risk analyst at a leading Lloyd’s of London underwriter. He has since helped to launch and develop television networks, working in journalism at the BBC Today programme, CNN International, Bloomberg News, Al Jazeera Arabic, the Dubai Business Channel, Press TV and The Guardian. His quartet of novels, “The Dream of the Decade” is available on Amazon.com. He is co-host and executive producer of “Rattansi & Ridley” which broadcasts internationally on Press TV. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org