Friday, 12 November 2010

Cameron's War on the Poor.

The Obscenity of Meritocracy.

If you dare raise the issue of class in today's politics you should expect to be knocked down as "out of touch" and as taking us back to the politics of yesteryear. For we are supposedly beyond class, it is a thing of the past and we are now a merry meritocracy where everyone is given an equal start in life. We are to believe that we live in a society in which losers sink as fast as winners rise according to their merits. We live in a society run by a cabinet consisting of 18 millionaires, 19 men and 22 white people. The Prime Minister is the Queen's cousin and the Chancellor is an Anglo-Irish aristocrat, to call this meritocracy is just obscene. The attack on universal education alone are enough to disperse the "meritorious" fog around this administration. A serious discussion of class is imperative right now, the political discourse in Britain is vacuous without it and stagnant in practice.

The Con-Dem Coalition and its narrow right-wing agenda has been received with demonstrations and strikes across the nation. Despite attempts by the Coalition to hide behind the pre-election smorgasbord of progressive policies once offered by the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable have made it clear that it was all electioneering with no actual substance. It is a bourgeois liberalism that binds the Liberal leadership with the Conservative Party holding centre-left Liberals hostage and leaving the Lib Dem voters disillusioned beyond repair. Liberals have always been dangerous compromisers, but never to the point of actually abandoning their ideas and values in such a crass display of power-hungry opportunism. The Coalition can only defend the class-interests of the ultra-rich and is doing so through a bitter class war.

Now that the dust is settling after the financial crisis of 2008 a great deal of competition has been wiped out, household names like Lehman Brothers have been taken out of the picture. The banks will be looking to not only resume the same reckless lending practices and to further intensify such practices but also to delve into new areas. The opening up and exploitation of new markets also "opens up" new possibilities for future crises, that could be potentially more extensive and destructive than the last. At the same time the means by which another crisis could be overted are being undermined. The financial sector is de facto insulated, by the government, from the level of regulations and controls necessary to restore order to the reckless volatility of the markets. Many banks are partly nationalised, but structurally the institutions remain the same as does the behaviour of the bankers. The bonuses are untouched and the profits are barely touched by a joke of a bank levy. It is a system of private profit in which costs are covered by the tax-payer.

In a sense it is a case of accumulation by dispossession, a lot of poor people have been dispossessed of housing and employment through processes that are rewarding for the few in finance. Before the crisis a great deal of money was made from sub-prime mortgages and the credit boom of the last decade, when it all came crashing down the state quickly intervened to insulate the financial institutions responsible for such recklessness. The bankers have kept their remuneration and have left with golden handshakes worth millions. Now the working-classes are facing regressive taxes and, potentially, the end of the welfare state. Not only could this drive many poor people onto the outskirts of cities like London, it could cause demand to decline significantly. Though this would leave more people dependent on credit to substitute for higher wages and benefits, which may supplement the loss in demand.

The Dependency Culture.

Of course David Cameron and George Osborne have sought to take advantage of the displaced class struggle engineered by the reactionary press. Newspapers like the Daily Mail and the Sun, among lots of others, have many people convinced that the government is spending too much on benefits and foreign aid. These papers spread the false notion that benefit "cheating" is rife and that there are too many people riding the "gravy train". The press has been trying to turn the unemployed and immigrants into an exploitative elite living luxurious and excessive lives at the expense of society. Just as the Republicans crafted the image of the "Welfare Queen", driving her Cadillac from benefits office to benefits office making false claims. The fact that benefit cheats cost £500 million a year, and that over £10 billion in benefits is not even claimed, are conveniently absent. You'll never read of the £100 billion lost in tax-evasion, and through various loopholes, that the wealthy benefit from significantly.

The aim of driving the unemployed, including the disabled and single-parents, into the workplace is not to create a fairer society. There are very few jobs available for the unskilled and people who have been unemployed for many years. Though the government is subsidising firms to hire such people at the minimum wage. This has the added effects of driving down wages for the rest of the workforce and further undermining trade unions. The other claims of "fairness" are equally absurd, the government is meant to be cracking down on tax-evasion but has set a precedent of sorts by letting Vodafone off £6 billion in taxes. Osborne, along with Andrew Mitchell and Philip Hammond, is guilty of tax avoidance himself and will cost the Treasury £1.6 million. Though Hammond is pocketing £3.75 million and this is nothing unusual, these are members of a class that uses accountants to avoid as much tax as possible. The "crackdown" will barely scathe the £100 billion lost through similar tactics every year.

The Con-Dem Coalition has used the opportunity to ram through as much reform as possible, most notably in health-care and education, to bring the welfare state to an end. Where does this take us? On the road to a new Victorian era of workhouses, soup kitchens and pawn shops, where education and health-care are rationed according to wealth and not by need. The state will resort to cynical moralising about a "broken" society to go on, as the rich seek to excuse themselves through charitable giving. All the while the widespread decadence, sleaze and general misery rife in a dissolved society is glossed over by the mass-media. From time to time the blame would be placed on knife-wielding yobs, benefit-cheating whores and unruly foreigners. But never would the flaws of the system be held accountable for the decay of a society.

Unless it is possible to have endless economic growth every year forever, predicated on a totally deregulated and barely taxed financial sector, in a world of finite resources we will have to confront the serious choices we face. There are serious crises for Britain alone, the Pensions Crisis for which privatisation, greater immigration and higher taxes are options. But at a international level we're looking at problems like mass-migrations of people and an impending fuel crisis. Let alone the risks of nuclear proliferation leading to the end of our species. There are no serious plans to deal with such enormous problems, let alone the relatively smaller crises. Dramatic economic and political change will not come from above, but will rise from below and will have to shake-up the status quo if it is to accomplish anything of worth.

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