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Opinion

The cracks are showing

01 Apr 2024 5 minute read
Photo by Alexander Naumann from Pixabay

Ben Wildsmith 

Since the financial crash of 2008, there has been a constant suspicion that something cataclysmic was in the works for the UK, and the Western world more generally.

Previous to that event, we were all conditioned to believe that money was a finite resource: something that could only be grown by the application of prudence (Hello Gordon!) and entrepreneurial talent (Hi Maggie!).

So, when the entrepreneurial instincts of Wall Street blew up the global financial system, it came as a surprise to many that the ‘prudent’ solution was to print money as fast as we could and hand it directly to the reckless bastards who had caused the problem.

This can’t be right, we thought. We’ve been told our entire lives that requesting so much as a copy of Oliver Twist for the local library will bring down the wrath of the Beadle upon our feckless heads.

And we were right. George Osborne soon appeared in our lives to explain that asking for more gruel was entirely out of the question now that we’d wasted all our cash on bailing out the banks.

‘Austerity’ is a loaded term in the UK. Both Labour and the Conservatives used it to describe economic conditions after the war when, coincidentally, our pals on Wall Street decided that rebuilding Germany was a better economic bet than helping the Sceptred Isle.

Sacrifice

The term evokes a sense of moral duty, of sacrifice for the greater good. Accordingly, sufficient voters were persuaded to abandon their own interests in service of better times to come.

Only they didn’t come, did they? When Osborne’s fiscal rules rendered public services unaffordable to central government and local authorities, they were farmed out to hastily thrown-together private interests who charged more and delivered less.

The same workers were put on worse contracts and driven harder for decreasing rewards. Salaries shrank and assets rocketed as the wealthy entrenched their advantage.

The ultimate in Harold Macmillan’s ‘Events, dear boy,’ was the pandemic. Here, the veil was finally stripped away from the kleptocratic instincts of UK governance as, for a second time, the Bank of England’s printing presses went into overtime.

The ‘magic money tree’, it turned out, did exist. A nation that a year previously had recoiled in horror at Labour’s suggestion of free broadband was now handed 80% of its wages for making banana bread and clapping the NHS once a week.

Track and trace

Billions disappeared on PPE and track and trace, the same companies swelled their coffers and not a single penny was invested in the future.

Sadly, we are now in ‘the future’. The failure to invest in services, infrastructure, training, defence, or basic levels of welfare for the disadvantaged is playing out in a wave of national discontent that is erupting through the many and varied cracks in our society.

Racism, authoritarianism, toxic nationalism, and overt fascism are now commonplace in public spaces.

Yet, it seems, no political party is willing to take on the vested interests of finance and invest in the country. We have seen, twice, that raising capital is not a problem for a ‘sovereign’ nation. It is, in fact, what being sovereign means.

After the endless parroting of that word by Brexit enthusiasts, it is baffling that none of them seem keen on exercising sovereign powers for anything other than private enrichment.

Wales has a tradition of voting Labour; history is clear on that. Labour, though, in the imagination of most people is a radical force.

The milquetoast quivering of Keir Starmer’s party, which is seemingly reflected in the careerist advance of Vaughan Gething is anything but radical.

The UK, and Wales in particular, is in urgent need of radical reform if it is not to become an unliveable dystopia where health, education, and transport are brakes on the happiness of its citizens.

Change

I believe in the radical tradition in Wales, it is a real thing that has brought change on a global scale. If Labour is not to be its conduit, then we should be actively seeking an ethical alternative that has the political heft to replace it.

Radicalism is not confined to the left of politics and complacency now will see the void filled on the right.

Change is coming across the UK and radical voices on the left are allowing it to happen in front of their eyes.

Starmer’s Labour, yoked to austerity economics, is about to replace the Conservatives as the natural party of government in England. When will we hear from principled voices to the left of it – Drakeford, Burnham, McDonnell, Wood, Sturgeon, Lucas – that the time has come for a united front in service of the struggling people here?

If these politicians do not wise up to the reality of a Thatcherite Labour Party opposed by a Powellite Tory/Reform UK alliance, then their careers will have been for nothing.


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Malcolm Jones
Malcolm Jones
8 days ago

Well said !

Padi Phillips
Padi Phillips
8 days ago

Yet another thoughtful, powerful piece from Ben Wildsmith that hits the nail on the head. Yet we still hear far too many ordinary people parroting the nonsense that the country can’t afford the sums needed for investment. The money is there, and there is no real need to print that much of it either, as another contemporary thinker who knows a thing or two about how economies work – look up Gary Stevenson on YouTube and get wise to what is going on.

Annibendod
Annibendod
8 days ago

Absolutely spot on Ben. Sadly, people don’t listen. Cassandra spoke out on Blair’s deception, the ill fated joining with the neocon “War on Terror”. She spoke out on a kleptocrat showing disturbing signs of autocracy emerging in Russia a quarter of a century ago, questioning the wisdom of pumping petrodollars into his regime. Again, the same voice spoke on China and the folly of offshoring industrial capacity to countries with dubious regimes. Not at any point did our governments stop. They were arrogant and they thought that they were in control of events. And then Brexit. And now Ukraine. What… Read more »

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 days ago

Spot on. False consciousness clearly still plays a key role in the maintenance of power by the elites within our capitalist system. Its propaganda machine, ie the education system, the media and the press, ensures the ideology that supports the status quo is promoted and maintained. The status quo is presented as ‘normal’ and inevitable while any threat of change to the left of the prevailing order is quickly dissipated. Not so any change to the right. Lifestyle and identity politics seems to have taken over the left and is tolerated or even promoted as it does nothing to threaten… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
7 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

This is correct. The progressive parties all currently propose redistribution of income via taxation and benefits. They need to start talking about ownership of capital.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 days ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Very true. Talk about capital and move forward to redistribute existing and future capital and wealth more fairly.

Iago Traferth
Iago Traferth
6 days ago

Since 2008 the price of gold has rocketed but Labour sold our gold.

TomTom82
TomTom82
3 days ago
Reply to  Iago Traferth

True. Gordon Brown not only sold our gold, he publicly said when he’d sell it and for how much. That’s the sort of thing a school business pupil wouldn’t even do.

TomTom82
TomTom82
3 days ago

Yeah, the entrepreneurial spirit of wall street did not create the 2008 recession. It’s a proven historical event that the crash began in the US, specifically in banking and mortgages, 2 of the most heavily regulated institutions in the US.

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