In this piece we examine the economic hate crime that has been committed against Britain’s working class in the last decade. We ask simply: who will pay?
In 2008 Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling bailed out Britain’s failing banks. In so doing, they rescued the British economy from imminent collapse. Capitalist economies across the West soon followed suit. It had to be done. Anything else would have meant years of miserable poverty for millions of working people both here and abroad.
If you look at the raw figures, the economy has improved markedly since those dark days, when recession seriously threatened to become depression. The economy is on track to grow 2% this year. We have record-low interest rates. Unemployment is falling rapidly. Inflation, though climbing now because of the decline in the value of sterling, remains exceptionally low. Real wages are at last recovering slowly.
Yet the last decade has been a total economic and social disaster for Britain’s working class. The relatively positive economic headlines we have today have come, and continue to come, at an horrific cost to millions of working people. Meanwhile, the economic recovery is incredibly fragile. It is driven largely by consumer spending, which will soon fall as inflation and interest rates rise. Brexit will choke it off further. An economy built on shopping is doomed to fail.
At what cost does Britain’s hollow recovery continue? The Royal Society of Medicine concluded that in 2015 30,000 people died unnecessarily due to NHS cuts. In the first 5 years of austerity, local authority budgets were cut by 40%, amounting to an estimated £18bn in care provision. Soaring homelessness has fuelled a £400 million rise in benefit payments. All of this for the slowest UK recovery on record. Ed Miliband was right two years ago when he said Britons were working harder for longer for less. Theresa May was right this year, too: nothing has changed.
Who will pay for this economic hate crime? Perhaps its chief perpetrators in the international banks? Not if 2017’s record bankers’ bonuses are anything to go by. Certainly there were plenty of very rich people who became even richer as a result of the 2008 calamity. Not one of the bankers who formed part of the international greed addiction that led up to the crisis was ever sanctioned or held to account. Meanwhile, in 2010 the new coalition government declared war on the working poor in order to pay for an orgy of austerity. This war is about to cause yet more misery in the grisly form of Universal Credit.
In truth, there are three groups who are paying for the economic hate crime committed against the working class. First, the working class itself. As if the challenges of hyper-globalisation and automation were not enough, the assault on living standards and public services has pushed many millions to breaking point. In the last two years, a crisis of capitalism 30 years in the making has begun to explode across the West. Stagnant wages, unaffordable housing, job losses and growing household debt have fuelled a series of political shocks the establishment could not foresee. Corbyn. Brexit. Trump. The establishment never saw them coming. They may be only the beginning.
As the chickens come home to roost, Western establishments are slowly waking up to the enormity of the unrest throughout Europe and North America. Our establishment reacted too slowly to prevent the likely economic disaster of Brexit. The US establishment, represented by a politically illiterate Hillary Clinton last year, could not stop a pathological narcissist from seizing the Whitehouse. To the detriment of order, reason and sanity, Western establishments are now paying the price too.
This crisis does not have to be permanent. It can be reversed. The trouble is that those who should really have the answers to a crisis of capitalism – i.e. the thinking parts of the Left – have little of consequence to say. We are adept at pointing out how grave the crisis is. We say we are anti-austerity. We say nothing of how we can be pro–prosperity. And so our enemies on the populist right seize the mantle of change, to the cost of all of us.
You will have to forgive me for the use of the term, “economic hate crime.” It is one I wish had been coined by a right-thinking strategist of the Left. But it wasn’t. The phrase belongs to Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s one-time chief strategist. He and others like him have stolen the Left’s clothes. All of this means the third group to pay the price is the political Left in Britain and throughout the West.
There is a way out, but time is short and the surgery must be radical. Earlier this week I wrote that Labour’s so-called moderates needed to spark a counter-revolution against unthinking populism. This is true of the wider Left also. To do so we will need to stop pretending that we can ignore the elephant in the room. Our natural supporters have been beaten to a pulp by Tory austerity. They cannot take any more, and they are running out of belief that we can be their champions.
Understand that by “natural supporters”, I mean not our liberal middle class newly-welcomed voters in Canterbury and Kensington. I mean our base. I mean the labour interest. Labour’s century-old core vote is at breaking point. It could not be shouting at us any louder to break the austerity spell and to replace it with something resembling a forward-thinking economic solution. This is the riddle at the heart of our politics. If we fail to solve it, we on the Left will pay the greatest price of all. We will be forgotten.