A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

What planet are they on?

You could be forgiven for wandering around with a perplexed look on your face this morning. Not because you've spent the previous few days trying to work out which party leader was the real Tory in the so-called leaders' debates on TV, although that particular question is still up for grabs. But because it's getting harder and harder to work out the realities of the world we live in. On the one hand, we have a nation in a deep financial crisis, with the party leaders vying with each other as to who can propose the most horrendous cuts in public services and staff to rebalance an economy driven deep into debt by irresponsible bankers. The parties are so united on this that the only reason for voting Labour now appears to by that they don't want to do the hacking back right now. Schools, social services, public works, all are in danger because of the crisis and jobs are at risk by the hundreds of thousands. Credit rating agencies such as Moodys and Standard and Poor are watching like hawks to make certain that the government doesn't show any sign of sitting on the public debt, waving the implied threat of "doing a Greece" on it and reducing its AAA credit rating, with all the cost implications that that entails.

But there's another world-view and it's remarkably different, given that it's the same old world being viewed. In this world, things are one hell of a lot rosier and decidedly looking up. Forget the fact that you haven't had a pay rise this year or, if you have, it's been a tiny one, while, if you drive to work to earn your pay, you are shelling out an astronomical record high price for your petrol. Rejoice, instead, in the fact that oil giant BP declared profits of £3.6 billion for the first three months of the year, more than doubling last year's efforts. And while you are rejoicing for the company, try to forget that it's responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig which blew up recently, costing the lives of 11 rig workers and spreading a 2,000 square mile oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico. And you had better forget that no-one in the major parties is interested in a windfall tax on such ridiculous levels of profit. While you're forgetting, better spare a space for forgetting the banks' financial crisis as well. Because it will only make you upset when you see the news that Lloyds Bank, which was bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of £66 billion ploughed into shareholdings to stop it collapsing, is back into making profits again. Its shares were up another 4 per cent as a result and we can all rejoice that the shareholders will be smiling happily - all except for the taxpayer, that is, because, although we're now showing a theoretical profit on the publicly owned shares, we can't realise it by selling the shares and paying off our borrowings that way.

Because, after all, that would plunge the bank back into crisis, wouldn't it? It's still dependent on loans and guarantees provided by taxpayers that hit about £157 billion last year. So you can't get your money back to clear the debt, but the government's intent on paying back at least half of it over an arbitrarily arrived-at four years. Which means that the banks are smiling, the share traders are smiling, BP is smiling, and everything in their garden is positively rosy. So, while you are going to work and sitting in a queue at the garage waiting to put half the mortgage money into the tank, eagerly awaiting arrival at work to hear of your pitifully small pay deal, or if you are one of several million just sitting at home filling in endless job applications for work that isn't materialising, relax, there's another world in which the banks and businesses are coining it in again. The sun is shining for the big battalions and will continue to do so until we say, finally, that enough is enough - and they are taking more than enough. When Gordon Brown warns that a vote for the Lib Dems means a vote for the Tories and David Cameron warns that backing the Lib Dems means backing Labour, you begin to wonder what planet politicians are on.

And when Nick Clegg starts to use the election campaign to lay down conditions for whatever form of post-poll coalition he might support, you can't help feeling that he's getting a little ahead of himself. The more bluster that emanates from the three main parties, the more evident it appears that a de facto coalition is already in place in Westminster. A majority of people oppose the war in Afghanistan and want Britain's troops brought home without delay, but none of the three front-runners proposes this solution. They each play up to the troops, praising their bravery and dedication, but they are all determined to leave them stewing in an unwinnable war as they and unnamed and uncounted Afghan civilians pay the price of British subservience to US military strategy. Sixteen years after the John Major Tory government privatised our railways and Labour pledged - deceitfully - to renationalise them, the overwhelming majority of electors would back the return of the industry to public ownership. But Labour, Tories and Lib Dems hold firmly to the idea, despite all experience to the contrary, that private ownership brings benefits in efficiency, reliability and finance. Brown warns voters that both Cameron and Clegg are hell-bent on hacking back spending on public services. But his own Chancellor Alistair Darling proclaimed that Labour, if returned, would inflict cuts in public spending that would be even sharper than those carried through by Margaret Thatcher's Tory government in the 1980s.

What are voters to make of a situation where "our" cuts are better than "their" cuts while no-one is saying that public-service staff did not cause this crisis and should not lose their jobs, pay and conditions to pay for it? The contrast between the bail-out of the banks and the treatment of 120,000 mainly low-income families who were left stranded by the collapse of Christmas hamper firm Farepak in October 2006 could not be more stark. The government put aside £1.3 trillion to spare avaricious and reckless bankers the consequences of their conduct, but it has ignored those at the other end of the social scale whose only crime was to pay money to Farepak agents to ensure a festive Christmas for their families. The former Farepak directors have agreed with the liquidator to pay these people just 15p for every pound that they were swindled out of. But it is a safe bet that none of these directors will find themselves on the breadline as a result of their commercial failure. Once again, it is the little people who shoulder the financial consequences of the incompetence or greed of the powerful and wealthy. The politicians squabble about real or perceived marginal differences in their policies and the Establishment media pontificates about issues of style and personality, leaving many voters cold in the wake of an expenses scandal that devalued Parliament. This situation cannot continue without creating a crisis of credibility for the entire democratic process in Britain. Politics cannot be reserved to the political elite. Popular intervention through trade unions and other progressive bodies is essential in future to project an alternative to the present outdated and discredited scenario.

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