(This is an edited version of a rant I did on Facebook earlier.)
Look, no-one is trying to derail Brexit. Get it into you thick brexiteer skulls that letting our sovereign parliament of elected representatives debate what the terms of our exit from Europe should be is a Good Thing. Isn’t that one of the things you all claim you voted for in that wretched referendum?
I didn’t want to leave Europe, but I am resigned to the fact it will happen. So, forgive me if I don’t want to let the morons grab the steering wheel while we all try to make the exit as beneficial to EVERYONE in the UK as we can.
We have to work TOGETHER. If we don’t, we are all utterly screwed. Understand that, and help make leaving the EU as painless as we can.
It’s a terrible affliction, and one which I find myself suffering more as I get older. That feeling when, perhaps, you’re listening to a favourite album and it suddenly smacks you between the eyes that you bought it for the first time 35 years ago. You’re suddenly transported back to those days, and you can’t help feeling things were better then than they are now…
See? How can things be worse now than three decades ago? Ridiculous! Look around you! Look at how marvellous our world is.
How marvellous our world was, perhaps. My species is rapidly outgrowing its home planet, with precious little thought to what happens when the resources run out. “Someone else will sort that out for us,” seems to be the consensus. “Someone clever will solve all our problems, so we don’t need to worry about it now.” We carry on being told to consume all we can, and so we do.
For the first half of the 20th century, life for ordinary people was tough. If you were lucky, you had a job, your health, and enough money put by that you could perhaps consider a short holiday by the seaside once a year. You couldn’t hope to own your own house, or a car. If you were unlucky, you struggled to survive, reliant perhaps on charity to get by until something turned up.
Further afield, the world in general was not a happy place, with conflict and things to generally make life harsh and short for most people. If you were wealthy, however, the world was your oyster. Some had managed to make a large fortune for themselves and their offspring, mainly by exploiting the labour of the poorer members of society.
In some countries, men came to power that promised to make life better for all. They blamed all of society’s ills on ethnic minorities, or anyone who wasn’t “like us”. People believed in their special kind of message, and so the world turned. Eventually, things went too far, and the poor and disadvantaged were plunged once more into a conflict not of their making.
In 1945, after this particularly savage global conflict had finally ended, the returning soldiers, sailors and airmen decided they wanted a world that would be better for everyone and not just those that could afford it. What is now known as the post-war consensus was formed. Many industries were taken into government hands and run for the benefit of all. A universal healthcare and welfare system was set up to ensure no-one would suffer unduly from ill health, and there was something there to catch you and help you get back on your feet if things went wrong. New social housing was built, slums were cleared, education was improved, the world began to look bright and hopeful.
By the 1970s, things weren’t looking quite so bright. Industrial strife gave nationalised industries a bad name, and some politicians began to point to a brave new world where privatised and deregulated businesses could solve all the ills of our world. Slowly but surely, everything the returning servicemen and women from the Second World War had built was taken away again. It’s taken four decades, but even the sacred cow of the National Health Service is being slowly devoured, sliced and diced to the highest bidder.
It struck me today that the calibre of those who built our post-war society was much higher than those who think they should run things today. In the 1940s and 1950s, I suppose the founders of the new Britain hoped their children would learn to run things well, and so it proved for a while. Where things have taken a wrong turn is difficult to say, but perhaps the so-called Baby Boomers “had it so good” and really did think it would last forever. They didn’t teach their offspring as well as they might, it seems, and the result is we’ve got a bunch of career politicians who don’t have a clue about much.
Disaffection with the political classes, the intense feeling that former industrial areas are wilfully ignored by the elites in Westminster, has led to a collapse in our political system. We see the rise of the far right—across Europe and beyond, it has to be said—and such political organisations tap into the general dissatisfaction. It’s all the fault of the “others”, those ethnic minorities, the “immigrants” and “migrants”.
Supposedly sensible people—like me, for example—tend to want to make fun of the new species of demagogue that is arising in the world. The Nigel Farages and Donald Trumps of this world won’t ever amount to much, we tell ourselves. They’re fringe politicians, their followers are not the mainstream of political thought.
Then the Farages and Trumps begin to win.
“There’s no way Trump could win the Republican Party nomination.”
“We won’t vote to leave the European Union.”
“But there’s no way Trump can win the presidential election.”
I find myself thinking, after everything else that’s happened so far in 2016, that we had better prepare ourselves for a Donald Trump presidency. The world, it seems, has turned almost a full circle. Where it will end, I don’t know. I’d like to be optimistic about things, but I rather think it won’t end well. You don’t need to guess who will suffer the most, whatever the outcome.
Ticket To The Moon ELO, Time, 1981
Words and music by Jeff Lynne
Remember the good old Nineteen Eighties, When things were so uncomplicated, I wish I could go back there again And everything could be the same.
I’ve got a ticket to the moon I’ll be leaving here any day soon Yeah, I’ve got a ticket to the moon But I’d rather see the sunrise, in your eyes.
Got a ticket to the moon I’ll be rising high above the earth so soon And the tears I cry might turn into the rain That gently falls upon your window You’ll never know.
Ticket to the moon Fly, fly through a troubled sky Up to a new world shining bright.
Flying high above, Soaring madly through the mysteries that come, Wondering sadly if the ways that led me here, Could turn around and I would see you there, Standing there
Ticket to the moon Flight leaves here today from Satellite 2 As the minutes go by, what shall I do, I paid the fare, what more can I say, It’s just one way.
I’ve been mulling this post over for some time. I’ve been editing and re-editing, trying to put over what I have in my head. I may upset some readers. If that is the case, so be it. Sometimes, you have to say what you have to say.
It can’t have escaped attention—here in the UK, particularly—that a certain nationalist political party is beginning to make some headway in gaining parliamentary seats.
Let’s leave to one side the fact that both of the United Kingdom Independence Party’s seats have been gained by the sitting Conservative MP defecting to them, forcing a by-election, and being re-elected. Let’s also leave to one side the mainstream media’s fawning obsession with UKIP, because the blame for the party’s rise can be laid squarely at their feet, in my opinion.
A general disquiet and discontent about our elected representatives has been brewing since the global financial collapse of 2008, and the Westminster expenses scandal of 2010. I’m surprised it took so long, but the population in general has slowly woken up to the fact that MPs are out of touch with the real world, the world in which the rest of us live and work. While it’s always been an undercurrent—probably always has been, and probably always will be—the rise of UKIP has been mirroring a general feeling that someone or something else is to blame for all our ills.
UKIP began as a one trick party, its sole reason for existence was to push for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. It gained some Euro MPs, a few English councillors, but never made much headway in parliamentary elections. Now it’s making a lot of noise, and has somehow transmogrified into a more acceptable version of the British National Party and English Defence League.
Instead of blaming the finance industry, which was truly the chief architect of our current financial woes, and which seems not to have learned from its mistakes at all, far more base instincts are being called upon. Immigrants, foreigners, the “others”—they are the ones we should, apparently be blaming for everything that’s wrong with our world.
There is now a lot of hand-wringing in Westminster, and the main parties have all lurched further to the right wing. They’ve done this in some mistaken belief they must be seen to be doing something about the root of all our ills. We are now in danger of losing sight of reality, as those who harbour frankly outright fascist views on anyone who isn’t “indigenous British” suddenly find they are being listened to by the Westminster elite.
The joke is UKIP is being put forward as a party that is different to the old guard. The fact that is it anything but seems to be completely ignored. The established parties, scared that their relevance is beginning to wane, are scrambling to out-UKIP UKIP, and anyone who has a clear head can only shake it in despair.
Who speaks for me? Who speaks for what may well be the vast majority of the population of this country? Right now, no-one. I would like to believe that a majority of the population in this country are like me. I don’t care about immigration, never have. I don’t think the EU is a monster we have to escape from. I think we have a moral duty to look after the disabled, the sick, the elderly, and I think we should encourage those who can afford it to pay more tax so we can rebuild the society our grandparents and great-grandparents forged after the Second World War.
Instead, we seem to be slipping back to the 1930s or earlier. Those who lurked in the shadows now feel they can come out and spout their hideous views without sanction. You can’t turn on the TV without seeing Nigel Farage, UKIP’s main spokeshole and leader, grinning out.
Tied to the renewed vigour of blatant racism seems to be a growth in the veneration of national symbols—not just flags, but also things like the poppy. Every November we are encouraged to support the Poppy Appeal, and to observe the act of remembrance, respecting the dead of many conflicts since the armistice of 1918. Somehow, since western powers bombed and invaded numerous Middle Eastern countries on some spurious pretext of fighting “wars on terror”, this annual act of remembrance has been co-opted into some quasi-religious festival of honour. To be seen in public without wearing a poppy is seen as something sacrilegious. Those who might prefer not to buy into poppy worship are vilified, while politicians and public figures try to out-poppy each other to show how well they remember the fallen. It’s become a paper flower circus.
The same thing is happening with the English flag—the red cross on a white background, the cross of St George. We have become accustomed to seeing these flags sprouting on cars, vans and houses during sporting events where the national teams are playing. You can probably picture the kind of person who happily proclaims their nationality by such displays. These are the same kind of person which support the likes of the English Defence League, the British National Party, Britain First, and UKIP.
I can’t help thinking these nationalistic attitudes can only lead us backwards, not forwards. As a nation, we seem to want to draw into ourselves, pull up the drawbridge and to hell with anything “other”. We want to blame everyone else for our problems.
I am happy to be proud of my country. I am British first, English second, and a European third. One of my grandfathers was from the Republic of Ireland, an immigrant who came to the UK to work and make a better life for himself. It seems likely that the other side of my family may have arrived from France several hundred years ago. I have no issue with people of other nationalities arriving here to do the same. I am proud of what my country has done, what its inventors, scientists and artists have created. There is nothing wrong with pride in where you live.
When you stop being parochial, you realise we all, whatever our colour or creed, live on a small rock, orbiting an unremarkable star. I wish we could all just get over our petty obsessions with race, colour, religion, borders and lusting after natural resources and just live happily together. Regrettably, it seems it will be some time yet before human beings learn to do that, if we ever do.
If the recovery is underway – the new mantra – how come people have less money in their pockets? How come youth employment is refusing to budge, and a generation moves seamlessly into “the long-term unemployed”? Pay has stagnated, prices have gone up. To have avoided a fall in standards, one has to be either wealthy or asset-rich. This means owning property in London, as do most of the media/political class, me included.
Nonetheless, my standard of living is certainly affected by the distress all around: by the numbers of mentally ill people wandering the streets; by what happens in my child’s school; by seeing friends and family pushed out of hospital long before they are able to care for themselves. Austerity meant we quickly forgot the happiness index, but we must still comprehend that a decent standard of living comes from understanding rather than undermining mutual dependencies.
There’s been even more hot air from our government this past day or two about benefit fraud. It’s been claimed by the Department for Work and Pensions—and ably regurgitated with little analysis by our state propaganda machine mainstream media—that benefit fraudsters should face tougher prison sentences.
So if we combine the central estimates from both departments, the total amount of money lost to fraud across the benefits system was a little over £2bn in 2011/12.
To put that into perspective:
Fraud accounts for about one per cent of the total annual benefits and tax credits spend, which ran at £194.3bn in 2011/12.
Fraud isn’t getting worse
DWP says 0.7 per cent of its benefits were overpaid this year due to fraud. The percentage was exactly the same last year, and it was a fraction higher in 2010/11 – 0.8 per cent.
“Error” costs more than fraud.
Across the whole system, fraud cost us £2bn and error – in the form of honest mistakes made by claimants or official cock-ups – cost £3.4bn last year.
This is only a fraction of the money lost from tax evasion and avoidance.
HMRC puts this figure at £32bn but tax campaigners say the real “tax gap” is much higher.
Richard Murphy from the Tax Justice Network thinks tax fraud could be 50 times bigger than benefit fraud.
The cost of fraud is dwarfed by the surplus from unclaimed benefits
The figures are a bit shady but DWP say between £7.5bn and £12.3bn of the six main benefits it administers were left unclaimed in 2009/10.
To this figure of around £10bn we can add several billion more in unclaimed tax credits, although HMRC is reluctant to tell us the real figure.
Huh. So, the actual amount of fraud in the system is smaller relative to the amount of errors made on benefit payments, and absolutely minuscule when compared to the total benefits paid out each year—and the albeit completely legitimate tax evasion and avoidance going on.
If we could get everyone to pay the right amounts of tax, this country wouldn’t be in the shit it’s in. Or is that too simplistic?
Hammond, stop the warmongering. The UK is not a “world power” any more, and we shouldn’t be pretending we are. What is this “power” you want to project anyway? Planning on attacking Iran on the coat tails of the US are we?
Anyway, £100 million pounds for one plane, for an aircraft carrier we haven’t finished yet. I’m not sure we can afford a second plane, so I propose the RAF and Royal Navy sort out a time share on the one we have got. The US military-industrial complex must be rubbing its hands with glee.
The government is not “curbing spending” on doctors’ pensions. That suggests the medical pension scheme was running at a loss; in fact, it was perfectly self-sufficient. This isn’t a cutback, it’s a raid.
Andrew Lansley said: “People know that pension reform is needed because people live longer.”
That’s not why pension reform is needed. We’ve known for years that people are living longer – doctors know that better than anyone – and pension contributions were put in accordingly. Unfortunately, successive governments spent that money on other things. Ignoring statistics for life expectancy, blind to forthcoming trouble, they failed to ring-fence pension funds for their proper purpose. It was a Ponzi scheme.
It was exactly that kind of live-in-the-now, credit-card attitude, from governments everywhere, that triggered the recession. They’d planned to pay back the “borrowed” pensions with new money that slid down the magic beanstalk. Now, staring in bafflement at a handful of dead leaves, they want to cover their arses by going back and nicking some more.
They are busting a gut to persuade us that we’re “all in it together” and that any public sector workers who choke at longer hours or slashed wages are “greedy” and “not team players”.
But they weren’t “greedy” 10 years ago, were they? They worked and they got paid. They only became “greedy” after our masters had sold off the gold reserves, borrowed fantasy amounts with fantasy collateral, allowed the banks to gamble with it, watched them lose and lose until the creditors came calling, bailed them out with more of our money, then sat back as it was paid out in bonuses to people who had too many yachts already.
And somehow, the moral is that doctors and teachers and train drivers are “greedy”, simply for wanting to live as they did before. God knows we were treated like idiots all along – but if we buy this new propaganda, we deserve no better.