Tag Archives: 2008 Financial Crash

The consequences of the Grenfell Tower tragedy could be profound

I have a strong feeling that the atrocity at Grenfell Tower this week (and my sympathies are with those affected) will prove to be both another nail in the neoliberal coffin and the beginning of a sweeping Labour revival.

This I have thought not for a very long time, but the longer I ponder the prospect, the more convinced I am that it is correct. At least, this is what the signs point us to.

There is something going on in Britain. Sections of the population are mobilising in profound ways, workers are demanding action where their voices were once muffled.

Who knows where this renewed energy will lead? I hope not towards the violence we saw at Kensington Town Hall. The poor know better and can get their messages across in more constructive ways.

Corporate failure to provide suitable, non-flammable cladding has sparked intense anger. But the emotion provoked is about more than just that. It is being more widely aimed at four decades of neoliberalism.

Public mistrust of the private sector was certainly aroused in 2008 after the financial meltdown. There came a turning point for the west, which I believe has swayed slightly to a more Left-wing, interventionist economic consensus.

The neoliberal agenda is treated by the working classes with understandable disdain. It promotes individualism over the maintenance of a social conscience and has represented a sustained attack on democracy.

There is also an interesting parallel at play here. When Margaret Thatcher was in power and she introduced ‘right to buy’ (a form of housing privatisation), homelessness right across rural England soared.

This has been recorded quite brilliantly by my friend Anthony Clavane in his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy. Though Grenfell Tower is a wholly separate problem, it does reflect a certain disregard for the housing needs of the country’s poorest.

I noted yesterday, also, the scurried way in which Mrs May climbed into her convoy 4×4, choosing, perhaps understandably, to avoid the baying crowds demanding both answers and leadership.

I can of course imagine that such a situation would be nerve-wrackingly intimidating. Local residents, bereaved families and angry demonstrators do not make for the ideal public meeting after such a painful week.

There was, though, something slightly symbolic about the Prime Minister’s forced departure from Kensington yesterday. Mrs May appears weak and biding her time, and this crisis could be the beginning of her end.

That is not to say that Grenfell Tower’s blaze was her fault. I think there have been very cynical attempts by hard leftists to associate her with the deaths of, at the time of writing, an estimated 58 people.

The idea that Mrs May ought to be blamed for the fire is fanciful and unhelpful nonsense. Leftists who have genuine (and I think reasonable) grievances with corporate ineptitude will undermine their cause by engaging in this useless finger-wagging.

I have defended the importance of protest at this blog as an important avenue of expression in any democracy. But there can be no excuse for ensuing demonstrations to erupt into savage carnivals of violence.

I also believe that the Labour Party will win the next General Election, whenever it is called. If contemporary British politics tells us anything, it could be as soon as this autumn. There are a few reasons why I think this.

The first is that the myth and fakery of Tory strength and stability has been left helplessly exposed, both by the party’s incompetent leader and their throwing away of 21-point polling leads in one of the worst political campaigns in modern history.

The second is its potentially disastrous dealings with the Democratic Unionist Party, which could completely hollow out Tory support in more urbanised, metropolitan areas of the country.

Social and moral conservatism, but for occasional stirrings, has been more or less wiped out in Britain. The Conservatives have instead presented a more liberal agenda for many years.

This has been because they have no alternative. The Tories are electable if they mouth conservative sentiments but advocate liberalising policy. They are able to tap in to a wide range of the electorate this way.

Of course, there are setbacks. The popularity of UKIP over the last three years (though now decaying again) was a result of Conservative Party failure to address problems caused by mass immigration and Brussels-imposed attacks on our sovereignty.

Theresa May tried to pose as the rescuer of the party; the woman to restore the winning ways of the 1980s, but her personality-centric campaign only managed to reveal her fatal weaknesses.

The mess she now finds herself in, combined with negotiations with the DUP, who don’t subscribe to the Tories’ more liberal agenda, will cost her party dearly at the next election.

More progressive Tory members, voters and activists have already begun questioning their support for the party. LGBT Tories, many of whom I know, will be particularly uneasy with this unfortunate (and thoroughly unnecessary) alliance.

There is also the question of Jeremy Corbyn, whose stock has changed significantly since last Thursday. He now looks the part, talks the part and oozes refreshing confidence.

Something resembling stability has returned to Labour over the last week. I am also convinced that Mr Corbyn’s party would have garnered many more votes from the electorate on June 8th had people genuinely thought he was within a chance of winning.

He should, though, refrain from overtly politicising tragedies of the kind we have seen this week. I don’t think he should, for instance, spend two minutes on Sky News berating cuts to local authority budgets and fire services without the causes of the fire being properly established.

If the election were held tomorrow, Labour would undoubtedly outperform themselves. Nobody believes that the Tories are adequately prepared for governing.

And nor are they in a strong enough position to negotiate our withdrawal from the European Union effectively. No wonder there is such anger.

 


Theresa May has been exposed as a political fraud once and for all

At last, Theresa May has been exposed as the ineffective, political fraud that she is. Quite a shame it is, though, that in order for the public to realise it, the country must sit and suffer through a minority government doomed to failure whether it is supported by the DUP or not. I doubt it will make it through the Brexit negotiations, or perhaps even to 2018.

One of the major reasons why I couldn’t bring myself to vote in this election was Mrs May herself. Aside from her woeful track record as Home Secretary, in which she clamped down on valuable freedoms, ravaged police budgets and botched spectacularly her efforts to get immigration under control, this election has exposed clearly her inability to lead.

Her advisers, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, have rightly taken some of the criticism, but the buck will fall with the Prime Minister. And so it should. This Tory campaign was one of the worst in history. So bad, in fact, that it let an IRA-sympathising Marxist come close to Number 10. Let that sink in for just a moment.

There are many reasons why May’s campaign backfired so dramatically. One factor was a Lynton Crosby decision to make it all about their leader. It was Team Theresa, in which every vote for her strengthened her bargaining power in negotiations with the European Union.

Campaign strategy was personalised in this way in order to frame political debate in terms of the ‘strong and stable’ (ha) May and her opponent, the hapless, scruffy Jeremy Corbyn, knee-deep in attacks from his own parliamentary party and likely to require some sort of coalition in order to get into government.

It was a strategy that pitted the strong against the weak, the stable against the chaotic, and it made sense when coupled with early, convincing polling leads of up to 21 points. But there soon developed a problem. Mrs May is a very wooden and uninspiring performer, especially when put under pressure by opponents and journalists.

There were countless times during the campaign in which she blatantly avoided simple questions, and thanks largely to horrid gaffes from senior Labour figures like Diane Abbott, she was allowed to get away with them more or less unscathed. Perhaps this was the real reason she didn’t take part in either leader’s debate, forgettable and nauseatingly stage-managed as they are.

The Prime Minister knew that she would not perform at all credibly. But, regardless of the motive not to show up, there was revealed a fetid hypocrisy. Any strong and stable leader would appear at political contests of this kind to defend his or her party interests. May’s back peddling revealed fatal flaws in the Tory campaign message. It was here that things really started to unravel.

Compounding upon her oratory weaknesses was her profound lack of direction. Mrs May, ironically compared with Margaret Thatcher as her Prime Ministerial tenure began, got herself caught up in sticky, unnecessary U-turns both before and during the election.

We were told that there would be no snap General Election. We were then told that the National Insurance contributions of self-employed workers would not be raised. Then there was the debacle with social care, which was soon climbed down from for fear of alienating that vital pensioner vote.

I am sure the government is in far too weak a position to even consider pursuing it now anyway. By the time the policy is revisited, it is quite possible that Mrs May will be sitting on her couch in Maidenhead, relieved of her duties and wondering why she ever bothered to call an impromptu election in the first place.

Then came the manifesto; one of the most vacuous in modern history. In many ways it was similar to Ed Miliband’s in how lacklustre and minimal it was. It didn’t feel conservative, it felt rushed and lacking in adequate preparation. This may have been because Tory party advisers were expecting a comfortable majority whatever was written.

The Labour Party manifesto, on the other hand, was very impressive. And I am not saying that I agreed with its policy proposals. I have, for instance, spoken out against plans to scrap tuition fees and maintain that zero hours contracts have uses for a range of different people.

Labour’s manifesto was substantially more radical and included policies which retain popular support across much of the country, including amongst Tory voters. A good example of this would be renationalisation of the railways, which a recent YouGov poll (May 17th) revealed majority cross-party support for.

The latter years of the neoliberal period have been defined predominantly by financial collapse. The crash in 2008 sparked a new wave of deep mistrust of markets, but no party prior to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour had managed to tap into that sentiment.

In this regard, I think the decision (accidental or otherwise) to leak a portion of the Labour manifesto in advance of the other parties was a wise one. Much like with Vote Leave’s use of the £350m figure during last year’s referendum, wide condemnation of Mr Corbyn’s Left-wing policies in the media backfired.

Finally, where May’s Tories spent time fire fighting with its core vote over plans to reform social care funding, the Labour Party managed to arouse younger voters and incentivise one of the surprise turnouts in recent electoral history. The great generational voting divide has opened up once more.

This blog post has been abnormally complimentary about Labour, and this is because I think they deserve great credit. I do, though, put their tally of 262 seats down mainly to Theresa May’s useless leadership and the influence of the Remain vote, seen most glaringly in pockets of London that remained blue for decades.

Labour’s radicalism was daring and paid off, but Kensington certainly didn’t become turn red in one dramatic election over plans to renationalise the National Grid. Moves towards a softer Brexit were undoubtedly made in these areas. Battersea, too, was a surprise gain for Corbyn and his team.

Despite picking up 43 percent of the vote share, Theresa May looks weaker than any Prime Minister in recent memory. There is no way she can stay in the long-term. Minority governments are rare precisely because they are a recipe for instability.

Even the Tories’ new partners, the Democratic Unionists, have differences of their own to iron out. Perhaps people will now start to realise what social conservatism really looks like.

And what really displeased me was how unreflective her speech was of the nation’s verdict on Friday morning. She had to save face, of course, but her podium address outside Number 10 Downing Street reeked of ignorance and arrogance. It is no wonder many of her Conservative colleagues now despise her.

 


All together now…there are more than two types of production ownership

A fascinating YouGov poll entitled ‘Nationalisation vs Privatisation: the public view’ has been published, with results in brief accessible here: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/05/19/nationalisation-vs-privatisation-public-view/ and a more detailed, in-depth table here: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/uufxmyd8qm/InternalResults_170518_nationalisation_privatisation_W.pdf that showcase the country’s views on ownership of several of the country’s most important industries.

It is a relatively mixed bag produced by a cross-party sample of slightly fewer than 2,000 adults. Some results, such as the substantial support for renationalising the energy companies and privatisation of the telephone and internet providers, surprised me. Others, like the tiny percentage in favour of privatising the NHS, did not.

I like studying polls of this sort because they offer quite a clear picture of the economic consensus embedded in the population. I have a feeling that much of the growing support for state involvement in major sectors of the economy is down to a mistrust of the market; exacerbated by both the 2008 financial crash and other consequences of the neo-liberal period, such as the ripping apart of the middle class.

Admittedly, the sample is quite small, but I don’t think larger samples would suggest that this poll is especially anomalous. It appears to me that the country has steered slightly to the Left on the economy, but since most do not think in terms of ideology, it means very little for Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral prospects. A party breakdown of beliefs is provided and yields quite interesting results. Labour and Tory voters, more alike on policy issues than they will ever care to admit, are most sharply divided over rail ownership.

There is, though, something else about polling such as this that concerns me. The title of it and the options given to those who took part are very misleading and assume that only two different kinds of production ownership exist. It is crucial for the sake of informing political debate over public policy that people are reminded of the forgotten third option. The means of production in a society can be arranged through nationalisation, privatisation or worker control of industry; which can itself be described as the very core of socialism, where producers take control of production.

Omitting the third option in polling is to be understood, of course. Adding in ‘worker control of industry’ may create unnecessary confusion and boost the likelihood of a ‘don’t know’ response. But polling is not the only incentive for this post. This past week, the country’s major parties have all released their manifestos ahead of next month’s General Election.

Much of the commentary since particularly the Labour and Tory manifesto reveals has circulated around whether or not Britain can afford to renationalise certain sectors of the economy and whether it is a viable solution to the problems we are facing. Plans to bring the Royal Mail, railways and National Grid back under public ownership, as well as introducing a National Investment Bank and National Education Service, have prompted misleading newspaper headlines about the 1970s and the now conventional bashing of state socialism, which is less electable than it has ever been (in part due to the UK’s staggering levels of public debt).

Direct worker control of industry, therefore, ought not to be left out of public debate because it may represent the alternative to neoliberal capitalism that the Left has been searching for over the last forty years. The Labour Party of the last two years has openly referred to itself as a socialist party, so why doesn’t it support producers taking control of production instead of managing industry itself?

As long as the Left pushes for government programs which increase borrowing, public spending and taxes, it will not be able to formulate a constructive alternative to neoliberalism. It must recognise the value in low-tax, democratising policies like worker control of industry if it is to avoid further swelling of our national debt and more hits to its voter base.

I make no comment about whether worker control of industry is preferable in each individual sector or to the efficiency of production as a whole. To make judgement would be difficult at this stage. I also reaffirm that I am not a socialist. I merely think clarification is useful where it is not being applied by politicians or by the media.