Everything that is wrong with the country in about 1000 words.
Why is it that there exists a critical distance between mainstream politics and your own life? Why is it that there are perennial protests against austerity, tuition fees and parliament at large? What is this distance? Why does politics not represent us? What, exactly, is wrong?
In a nutshell, the problem is the hijacking of Britain by an indiscreet group of elite politicians, businessmen, bankers and journalists. This was something begun in earnest by Margaret Thatcher in 1979 and her policy of power to the City of London. The City was the exemplar of her laissez-fair, anti-Keynesian ideals, and she allowed it to grow to become Britain’s primary generator of GDP with the abolition of capital controls, the abolition of taxes on movement of capital and a host of deflationary policies. What this incurred, however, was parliament’s loss of control over the country. If an elected government were to issue policies contrary to the market, then the country might suffer a sudden, unsustainable loss of capital to other parts of the world.
The privatisation of utilities started this trend of private interests becoming central to political thinking. In the past thirty years each and every single elected government has had a privatisation agenda, privatising such key national institutions as British Gas, the Bank of England and now, with this government, Royal Mail and the NHS. What this has done is increase the rich-poor divide in Britain endemically (Credit Suisse found that the richest 10% of Britons own 54.1% of the country’s wealth, which, disturbingly, has grown from 52% before the 2008 financial crash). The number of dollar billionaires in the country has risen from 8 to 44 in the last 14 years. And while the rich have got richer, lower and middle-income households have suffered under absurd rises in household bills and a stagnation in wages.
But the even more perverse thing about this neo-liberal agenda is the fact that it does not even do what it claims to do, which is free the taxpayer from the financial burden. Take, for example, the taxpayer-subsidised rail network, one of the most abhorrent examples of how hypocritical and selfish the neo-liberal lobby are. Railways were privatised in 1993 by John Major’s Conservative government, with the central idea being that the government would cease to fund the railways; yet, in 2013, government spending on railways had somehow managed to increase by 6 times in that 20 year period. Between 2007 and 2011, the UK’s 5 biggest rail companies received £3 billion. This is because the private companies who ran the network did not invest, and the state had to step in to help them. As a result, rail fares have risen exponentially (how often do you buy a train ticket and not bawk at the price?), while the shareholders still enjoyed some rather lucrative profits. In other words, the private shareholders who failed to even do their job got richer, and the rest of the population who rely on rail transport are now being forced to pay even more for a basic utility. And this is true of a huge and growing number of businesses.
What we now have in this country is socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. The biggest and most grotesque example of this is the government’s £500bn bail out of the banks in October 2008, saving the faces of the careless individuals who plunged this country into recession. The neo-liberal ideology that has governed the country since the 1980s ignores an incredible hypocrisy when it preaches that the state is a bad thing that interferes with entrepreneurial flair; for example, the government currently spends £10bn/year on research and development, something the Confederation of British Industry benefits from directly.
And what the business elite are doing is distracting attention away from themselves and attempting to direct public anger at the bottom of the society. I wonder how many readers could tell you that 46 of the 50 top publicly traded firms in the UK had a British MP as either a director or a shareholder – and would they know that this means that our MPs claim they are acting in the interests of ‘business’ at large, when in fact they are acting in the interests of their own wallets? The reason we don’t hear about this is because the media are all chums with these parliamentarians, and they choose to run stories on benefit scrounging instead. I suspect that many more readers would be able to tell me about a benefit scandal near them, and would be able to explain their opinions on immigration, rather than, for example, explain how Vodafone owe £6bn in unpaid corporation tax. And I can truly validate a statement as seemingly lofty as “the media are all chums with these parliamentarians”, with, for example, the fact that Rupert Murdoch and Tony Blair are godfathers to each other’s children, Danny Finkelstein of The Times and George Osborne are notoriously good friends (Finkelstein wrote Osborne’s 2011 conference speech, which he then reviewed in The Times), and the majority of MPs will happily purport to having several journalists amongst their contacts.
What has happened in Britain in the last 30 years is the creation of an elite set of politicians, journalists and businessmen, all of whom network together and argue day and night for the continuance of a neo-liberal agenda. They keep issues such as tax avoidance, MP involvement in big business and inequality out of the national discussion, instead preferring to keep the population occupied with debates about far more innocuous issues such as immigration and benefit fraud. Compare, for example, the fact that the government lost 0.7% of its welfare expenditure on fraud in 2011-12 – a tiny fraction – to the billions it loses in tax cuts and avoidance to huge corporations.
None of Labour, the Liberal Democrats or (especially) the Conservatives represent us. If there is a party to vote for come the next election, it is the Greens, the party closest to public desires: 70% of Brits want energy, the Royal Mail and the railway back under public ownership, for example, and the Greens are the only truly anti-austerity parliamentary party to champion this. The establishment have privatised everything from coal to gas to education, and now they are selling, of all things, the NHS. We cannot let this happen.
If I can sum this up in a phrase: the elites are unaccountable, benefitting and destroying, and the people are being distracted and taking the blame. This is what is wrong, and either we will be lead into chaos or we will change it.