Why We Can’t Afford Austerity

Why are the Tories pursuing a policy of austerity when it isn’t working, never can work, and succeeds only in destroying everything that is good about British society?

I think its basically because it’s the only idea they have. They dare not admit, even to themselves, that it doesn’t work. The first-past-the-post political system breeds politicians and political parties that focus simply on winning power – not on good, responsible government in the interests of the people. Cameron and co. have got into power by pretending they know how to restore economic prosperity to Britain; they have got in by lying, and they are staying in by gambling on their ability to fool most of the people most of the time so they will never be held to account for the damage they have done.

The theory goes that in order to retain power in a democracy, governments have to deliver good, responsible government in the interests of the people – but this is not true. The Tory party is supported by thousands of British people whose personal prosperity flourished under the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s, giving them the impression that the policies of these governments were good for the country. It is an unfortunate fact that the credit card bill for this falsely manufactured sense of prosperity landed on the doormat of Nos 10 & 11 Downing Street during a New Labour government which had done too little to address the core weakness of short-term, right-wing policies. This gives those who believe in those right-wing neo liberal policies cart blanche to simply lay the blame for our current economic state on ‘Labour spending’. Blaming someone is the main tactic such people adopt for dealing with problems – failure is always down to some individual or set of individuals who made mistakes. It is never because those individuals are trying to work in a system based on false assumptions and monitored with false accounting.

Let’s have a think about ‘Labour spending’. Labour’s fiscal record in government is actually far better than the Conservatives, but I won’t argue that Labour didn’t waste money – the Tories waste money. All governments waste money. Big businesses waste money. They are dominated by alpha males who are far too interested in proving themselves right to worry about running anything effectively. But that aside, the Labour ethos is to invest in society (however efficiently or effectively they actually manage to do it). At heart, Labour recognizes the need for the state to own healthcare, education, housing, justice and essential national infrastructure such as energy, transport and communications. These areas are owned by the people of this country, and should be run for the support and benefit of all the people in this country, not for the profit of private individuals. Getting the right balance of taxation, getting the right contract between the state and the private enterprise which generates most of the wealth, is not easy, and there will always be arguments about where the balance lies, and how best to do it. But the policy being ruthlessly pursued by the Cameron government is for the state to step back from healthcare, education, housing, justice and essential national infrastructure. The policy is to place the running of these services in the hands of private enterprise, where profit, rather than the support and benefit of the people of this country, is the deciding factor. It frequently means these public assets are owned by foreign individuals and corporations who have little or no interest in the support and well-being of the people of this country.

This is a cynical and horrifying betrayal of principles that were established in the wake of two devastating world wars where we truly were “all in it together”. Yet even polls which give an optimistic view of Labour’s support currently show 37% of the British electorate support this policy. Despite the fact that in practice it is obstructing healthy economic activity, depriving increasing numbers of the British people of homes, jobs, and in extreme cases the means to continue living; destroying the education system and a health system which has been shown to be among the best and most efficient in the world, and driving a blatant disregard for environmental stewardship on both a local and global level. But for that 37%, none of this matters; its not adversely affecting them, now. They are the 37% who elected the Conservative government, and as long as the Conservatives look after their own narrow short term interest,  I fear these people will continue in their cosy belief that Conservatism is a safe option. That Conservatives are the natural party of Government. That the ministers of Cameron’s government actually know what they are doing.

No longer having a Labour government to blame, some of those who want to look everywhere except themselves for fault have switched their misinformed bigotry to Europe, pinning the blame for all shortcomings in Britain today on Brussels.

There’s plenty that is wrong with the European Union. But really guys, Europe is not the problem. The EU can be reformed, though not from the outside.

The problem is that we are heading for a planet running more than 2 degrees warmer than it is today. Unless there is some kind of popular revolution in the West in the next few years, we aren’t going to stop it happening. Politicians only seem to be capable of talking about action on climate change, not actually taking action, certainly not on the scale needed. Goals might be agreed, but they are not taken seriously. They are regarded as being subject to the same sleight-of-hand false accounting that keeps the neo-liberals on top. As if we could invent some kind of environmental quantitative easing to stave off reality.

There are various predictions about what a rise in world temperature of 2 degrees or more will mean in practice, none of them good. We don’t know for sure what will really happen, but we can be certain that those of us who survive will be living in a very different world. Its a world we should be preparing for right here, right now.

I do wonder if anyone apart from the environmental activists understands what “climate change” actually means. It doesn’t mean the occasional spell of wet, cold, hot or windy weather. It means the seasons shift. It means the wind patterns around the world change. It means sea levels rise dramatically.

In Britain, we talk endlessly about the weather, but only rarely do we ever encounter the true power of the elements. Shifting seasons mean radical changes in agriculture. We will need to adapt the basic ways in which we feed ourselves. Changing seasons mean loss of habitat, and loss of many species which can’t adapt. The animals, plants and landscapes we are used to will gradually change out of all recognition, with the potential for mass extinctions around the world not seen since the demise of the dinosaurs. Just because its not all going to happen at once, do we really believe this will have no adverse effect on the economic activity everyone seems so keen to place above environmental concerns in order of importance?

Climate change will bring changes to wind patterns around the world. Around the world rainy seasons may no longer be rainy, and once-productive areas may become deserts, with huge implications for human suffering and mass migration. Ocean currents change – if the Gulf Stream ceases to influence Britain, we would revert to a climate similar to that of equally northern countries such as Russia. Yet we still build houses as if there was an endless supply of energy to heat them (apparently, it is “too expensive” to build them any other way). Ice-caps melt and sea levels rise. Low-lying land will disappear beneath the ocean. Maybe London and South East England will submerge beneath the waves before the multitude of Canutes in this land get what climate change means.

This is a worldwide phenomenon, and if we think there is a refugee problem today, it is nothing compared to the number of displaced, starving, homeless people there will be in the future.

This is not an issue that can be tackled by a few individuals putting solar panels on their roofs. The whole world needs to shift focus away from economic growth and into survival mode. This is the direction our political leaders should be taking us in. Not pandering to the lowest common denominators of ignorance, greed and fear.

Do we prepare the people of Britain to meet these challenges by dismantling the social cohesion of one of the most advanced and wealthy nations in the world? Of course not. Yet that is what austerity does. It doesn’t – can’t – generate sustainable economic growth. It doesn’t address the real environmental issues facing every living being on the planet – issues that should have been addressed yesterday. It simply destroys the unity we need to adapt and deal with the changes that will come upon us in the next decades. It leaves our society broken and weak, prey to men of violence; leaves our children lost and ignorant, prey to dogma and charismatic nutters. Leaves us facing an approaching cataclysm divided, weaponless, fearful, helpless.

Climate change needs a national a re-engineering of our energy production system that can only be done by the state – because the interests of the existing energy industry and the interests of society as a whole no longer coincide. It is not in the interests of global energy companies to support local energy production from renewables. It is not in the interests of private builders to include ground source heat pumps in new estates. Motor manufacturers will not switch wholesale to producing electric and hybrid vehicles without the commitment and political leadership that ensures the infrastructure will be in place – leadership, for example, that legislates for all taxis and buses to be electric vehicles by a given date. Proper storage systems and facilities have to be created before solar energy can be an effective player in the market. These are the kind of changes that would kickstart a real movement to green energy, and compared to the cost of climate change, they are not expensive.

We should not be still having to march on the streets to raise the issue of climate change. By now, its a matter of economic necessity, not to say urgency. History will look back on the catastrophically blinkered, partisan, backward-looking politicians of this era in bemusement, and wonder why, when we still had the opportunity to mitigate the threat of climate change, we chose to run headlong in the opposite direction.

Sue Rule
November 2015

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