The Western world is at an historic turning point. It could be a tipping point. We could be on the verge of human extinction because of climate catastrophe or devastating nuclear war or both. Or we could be at the beginning of a new benign stage in our evolution.
We live in dark times; but they could lead to the best.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. A Tale of Two Cities
The history of humanity is one of constant revolution, innovation, turmoil, creation and destruction. Human life is full of opposites. Opposites make the whole. On the one hand the Fourth Industrial Revolution could bring enormous benefits but equally it could further increase the power of a super- rich elite and many jobs are at risk. Often, as in the Arab Spring, revolution starts peacefully but descends into mass violence of the worst possible kind. We have a choice between resolving conflict peacefully by compromise, finding common ground, and violence. When I look at my little grandson I think, how could human beings kill thousands of babies, little children and their mothers and fathers as in Syria today? On the other hand good people risk their lives providing aid and saving lives. We can be good or evil. We can be racist or delight in our difference. Everyone needs to be aware of what is within and not act it out.
Hope or despair? We have a choice. I believe history justifies hope. We do make progress; but often it is slow – steps forward and back. Compare the position of women in Britain today with the 18th century. Women fought for it, sometimes with their lives, and are still fighting (Counting Women In and 5050 Parliament ). Currently of the 650 seats in the House of Commons men hold 442 (68%) and women only 208 (32%).
Upheaval in the West After over a generation of failed neoliberal economic policies in the UK, USA and Europe, people are turning against both centre – left and centre – right parties and turning to extremism. The essential dynamic of the global economy is the systematic extraction of wealth from those who create it to the 1%. In Europe this system extracts wealth from southern countries and transfers it to the north, particularly Germany. It is particularly hard on young people amongst whom there are very high levels of unemployment. In Greece this is partly due to an inefficient and corrupt economy and excessive borrowing. Banks play a major part in this extractive process by creating debt. A common theme is the demand for more autonomy e.g. in Scotland, British Cities and regions, Catalonia, Lombardy and Venetia and similarly the Kurds in the Middle East. Compromise is required
Great Leaders. In the period 1940 to 1951 great leaders emerged following a period of incompetence. Churchill, Atlee, Beveridge, Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, George Marshal and others. The war was won and international institutions were set up including the United Nations, International Bank for Reconstruction, the World Bank and Development, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the International Monetary Fund. The Welfare State and NHS were established in the UK as part of a comprehensive social settlement – a model for the world. Today is very different,
There are daily exposures of incompetence, low standards of behaviour, corruption, sexual harassment and lies by people in power. Some ministers have no idea of how to lead or involve people in bringing about change e.g. Michael Gove’s interventions in school education. In contrast see Moving Schools into the Future and the book Education Forward We need lifetime education that brings out everyone’s potential and enables them to adapt to change.
Some are narcissistic egoists and unfit for office. Brexit, brought about by such people, is a violation of democracy. Hillsborough and Grenfell Tower are prime examples of the consequences of incompetence. However we are lucky to have a free press. Eventually, often after a long fight, justice is done.
The UK is a place people like to live in. It is admired for its culture, tolerance and multi-racial society. It is a good place to do business in thanks to the rule of law. It is alive with progressive think and act tanks and campaigns. Women and men, young and old are equally involved. There are many local initiatives people deciding to do what government is not doing. Government needs to devolve power and support communities with resources.
However Britain’s economic system is broken. Neoliberalism has failed to deliver wellbeing and prosperity and wellbeing for the majority. On the contrary it has created a deeply divided nation.
Thatcherism From 1979 to 1990 Thatcher ushered in an era of consumerism and greed, particularly at the top; not shared responsibility for a good society for everyone. She began undoing the work of the Attlee government – the economy certainly needed freeing up – and establishing Neoliberal policies and privatisation. She offered the council house “right- to buy” policy but without replacing what was sold. Thus began the housing crisis.
When Tony Blair came to power he offered a softer form of Thatcherism “The Third Way” “a varying synthesis of centre-right economics and centre-left social policies”. He properly funded the NHS. To finance investment in hospitals and infrastructure avoid more government debt, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown used Public Private Initiatives (PFIs) that have saddled these organisations with huge costs . Now we know there is Sovereign Money , a way of the state investing in infrastructure without creating debt.
Osbornism After the 2007 banking collapse and the Conservatives came back into power, “Osbornism” was born. The policy of austerity and cuts failed on its own terms. It failed to reduce the deficit, delayed economic recovery, put people out of work and hence reduced the tax take. Labour failed to challenge the narrative that its borrowing had caused the financial crisis and state clearly that this policy was illiterate.
The consequences of ideological policies become clearer every day. Seven years of underfunding the NHS and stealth privatisation created a crisis. Cuts in funding have led to inadequate social services, overcrowded crowded prisons, and failure to rehabilitate prisoners. Underfunding of policing and emergency services and education continues. Child care should be available at an affordable price.
UK is now one of the most unequal developed countries – similar to the USA and post – Communist Russia. The top 1% earn just over £150,000 each. The super-rich top 0.1%, roughly 50,000 people, earn more than £1 million per year. 1% or 488,000 own 14% of the UK’s assets, averaging about £3.16m each. 15% of adults, 7.3 million people, have no assets or are in debt. UK’s social mobility is one of the worst in the world (Resolution Foundation and Lib Dems The gap between the super- rich and the rest of us is spiralling out of control ).
Decades of incompetent government have failed to anticipate and plan ahead for both aging and growth in the population. They have failed to respond effectively to “The left behind”, globalisation, the death of old industries, generations of unemployment and now mass migration. The economy is unbalanced, too dependent on financial services. Wealth is concentrated in the South East. There is a long term housing crisis. Governments have failed to address the fundamental issues: an unbalanced economy with low productivity, low investment and an adverse balance of payments. Fundamental problems require a systemic approach (The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness ).The Institute for Public Policy Research provides A New Vision for the British Economy.
UK’s Economy may be the fifth wealthiest, but it is stagnant. Employment may be relatively high but much of the work is insecure and poorly paid. Large numbers of people are suffering poverty and are only surviving by borrowing, using their credit cards. A small increase in interest rates could be disastrous for them and lead to homelessness. Such people are often single mothers, sometimes escaping from violent abusive husbands.
Brexit is making the situation even worse. Despite government trying to hide it, every day more is revealed about the damage uncertainty is already doing and the damage leaving the EU will do. Where is the courageous leadership and integrity in the House of Commons to challenge this nonsense? This mantra “Brexit is the will of the British people” is a lie see “Brexit is the will of the British people.” Oh, really?
Brexit was a huge wake-up call from the 99% to the 1%. There need not be a disaster if we respond to its underlying causes. People at all levels in society need to Dare to be great, empower ourselves, demand political change and make change themselves. Brexit, like the emergence of populism in Europe of and Trump in USA was essentially a response to a long term failure to create a good society.
What you can do: Support
- The Progressive Alliance. Progressive parties need to collaborate for change. Tribalism gets in the way!
- Institute for Public Policy Research, New Economics Foundation, Electoral Reform Society, Make Votes Count, Unlock Democracy and Global Justice Now.
Many more campaigns are listed in The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness where you can sign up for my BLOG.