FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Can the Impossible Happen in Britain?

Photo by Garry Knight | CC BY 2.0

To state the obvious: two weeks can be a long time in western electoral politics.

The Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn has been gaining steadily in the opinion polls, despite a massive media campaign to undermine him, extending from the BBC and the supposedly “liberal” Guardian to the UK’s famously ghastly tabloids. When Theresa May called the election, Labour was 20 or more points behind the Conservatives, but this figure was down to as little as 5 points in some polls conducted before the Manchester bombing atrocity occurred.

The policies put forward in Labour’s manifesto are popular (especially when they are not identified as Labour’s!), Corbyn has been an effective campaigner, but Labour has also been aided by a woefully inept Tory campaign.  The Tory spin doctors and election strategists somehow convinced themselves that the largely untried Theresa May was their trump card, so much so that only her name (accompanied by the vacuous slogan “strong and stable”), and not her party affiliation, featured on their election propaganda.

While the hunch behind this decision of the election strategists was probably the marketing of May as a Thatcher Mark II, she has been a disaster so far.  A stodgy performer in debate, famously unable to think on her feet, May refused to take part in televised debates.  Her few attempts at “connecting with the public” have seen the wheels come off the proverbial car.

She scuttled off rapidly when booed on a visit to a social-housing estate in Bristol– people living in social housing have been under an unrelenting cosh since Thatcher became prime minister in 1979, and only someone in a fantasy conjured-up by Lewis Carroll would envisage a Tory leader being greeted with warmth and affection on a visit to such an estate.  Someone on May’s support team needs to be sent forthwith to a dungeon in the Tower of London for this Carrollian mishap.

Another walk-about in Abingdon (Oxfordshire), potentially less hostile territory, saw May confronted by a voter with learning disabilities visibly upset at having her disability benefit cut by the Tories.  The easily flustered May, seemingly unable to distinguish between learning disabilities and mental health issues, sought desperately to reassure the distressed voter that the Tories had a bunch of new initiatives on the latter.  The massed TV cameras recorded the entire episode, and May became an immediate object of derision.  She retired to her bunker at Tory HQ, and has not been seen in public since.

May’s two one-on-one television interviews have likewise been a disaster.  UK TV interviewers, even those not known for their leftist inclinations, are a much less calmative bunch than their American counterparts (the Orange Swindler would not last 60 seconds with the routinely ill-disposed and aggressive Jeremy Paxman), and May suffered her predictable meltdown.  The sight of her waffling and prevaricating when interviewed by Andrew Marr and Andrew Neil while trying to pull-out her “strong and steady” soundbite as often as possible, was utterly delicious to behold.

So, what’s next for the maladroit May?  TV debates are out, and so it would seem are walk-abouts and one-on-one interviews.  The halt to campaigning observed by all parties after the Manchester carnage has given her some breathing space, but it is hard to see what can be improvised by her handlers.

Theresa May apart, the Tory manifesto has also been a hostage to misfortune.  A grab-bag of vague promises and uncosted policies, it soon suffered from media scrutiny.  The manifesto, and the accompanying vapid sloganeering, are thinly disguised attempts to deflect attention from the one big issue the Tories can’t campaign on and must therefore keep out of public view, namely, the cruel and irresponsible austerity policy they have pursued since 2010.  In parliament, May has voted for every legislative item underpinning this policy, despite touting herself as a “compassionate Conservative”.  Here in the manifesto we are told: “We do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality”.  They could have fooled me, and perhaps this was the Tory intention.

Paraded as “fiscal prudence”, Tory austerity has been quite the opposite.

The UK economy has grown since 2010, but, according to the Guardian, 7.4 million Brits, among them 2.6 million children, live in poverty despite being from working families (amounting to 55% of these deemed poor) – an increase of 1.1 million since 2010-2011 (i.e. the first year of austerity).

The report discussed by the Guardian, produced by the reputable Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), shows that the number living below the Minimum Income Standard – the earnings, defined by the public, required for a decent standard of living – rose from 15 million to 19 million between 2008/9 and 2014/5.  The UK’s population is 65 million.

These 19 million people, or just under 1/3rd of the UK’s population, are its “just about managing” families (JAMs).

An important contributory factor in these shifts, the JRF said, was the increased number of people living in basically unaffordable private rental properties, with the number of people in poverty in private rentals doubling in a decade to 4.5 million.

“Failures in the housing market are a significant driver of poverty,” the JRF study said. “This is primarily, but not entirely, due to costs.”

The number of rental evictions has risen by 60% over 5 years to 37,000 annually.   Over the same period mortgage repossessions have fallen from 23,000 to 3,300.

According to an article by Frances Ryan in the Guardian:

For a government to cut in-work social security, reduce child tax credits and freeze working-age benefits in this climate is the equivalent of knowingly removing the life rafts from the millions of citizens who are struggling to stay afloat. Drowning comes in many forms: perhaps eviction notices or hungry children. The Children’s Society says that by 2020, when all the new tax and benefits changes will have been implemented, low-income families making a new claim for support could be up to £9,000 worse off a year. The government’s four-year freeze on working age benefits alone will make four million families poorer.

Social care has become increasingly unaffordable for these struggling families, the NHS is starting to charge for treatment as it undergoes a stealth privatization, they have fewer opportunities for upskilling in order to raise their incomes, and so on.  This while their wages are stagnant even as the cost of living is increasing for them.

“Austerity” always was a hoax attempting to magic the banking-induced crisis of 2007-2009 into a crisis of the welfare system.

It has nothing to do with the “deficit”— if it did, Cameron and Osborne would have serious steps to reduce the “deficit”, instead they chose policies that increased it.

And indeed, UK public sector debt has risen since 2010–  according to the Office of National Statistics, from 60% of GDP in January 2010 to 85.3% in January 2017.

The Tories and their banker pals are determined to make ordinary UK citizens pay for the bankers’ mistakes with reduced wages and pensions, reduced health care, reduced education opportunities, reduced real employment (job “growth” is largely confined to “bullshit” jobs or McJobs), and reduced social services.

Their public position is that ordinary UK citizens are “living beyond their means”, thereby using this as a subterfuge to get the ordinary citizen to pay for the bankers’ fecklessness and criminality.

So far, no politician from any party has stood up and said it is the stock-portfolio class, and not ordinary Ukanians, who live beyond the Ukay’s means!

With the ideological dragooning supplied in endless doses by the rightwing tabloids, the “slackers” and “scroungers” always seem to be the not so well-off or totally indigent, as opposed to predatory bankers and avaricious landlords.  The former tend not to vote under the present electoral system because nothing really changes for them come election-time, while the latter make a point of donating generously to the Tories in order to safeguard their gravy trains.

More articles by:

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.

January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
Paul Cochrane
Europe’s Strategic Humanitarian Aid: Yemen vs. Syria
Tom Clifford
China: An Ancient Country, Getting Older
Greg Grandin
How Not to Build a “Great, Great Wall”
Ted Rall
Our Pointless, Very American Culture of Shame
John G. Russell
Just Another Brick in the Wall of Lies
Patrick Walker
Referendum 2020: A Green New Deal vs. Racist, Classist Climate Genocide
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Uniting for a Green New Deal
Matt Johnson
The Wall Already Exists — In Our Hearts and Minds
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Flailing will get More Desperate and More Dangerous
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Three
January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail