Category Archives: Economic decline

Dear World,

I don’t think us British have much of a sense of what effect our recent domestic wranglings have had – and will have – on the global stage. Some of us do, but I suspect not enough, or we wouldn’t have got ourselves into the state we’re now in. So we’ve got ourselves into this massive political tangle, our economy has crashed and needed some quite fancy footwork to get back on its feet, and that small element of our society who thinks racial hatred is OK has felt validated in its actions. Add to that the economic and political shockwaves felt in many other countries by our decision, and to me it feels like we’ve got a lot to apologise for.

For a start, our ruling party has unleashed a beast that they had little idea of the size of, and next to no idea of how to contain. The beast is fear, conceived in an uncertain economic climate born of too many years of austerity, that have made the poor poorer, and are now rocking the economic stability of the middle classes.

And so we, as a nation, voted to raise the drawbridge and seal ourselves off from having to confront the politics of difference any more. Those who are already here can stay – they’re just about OK – but no more foreigners for us, thank you. It’s dreadful indictment on our political classes that they managed to sell us the lie that immigration has caused our economic vulnerability. Not just because of the rift such discourse opens up in our own society, but also because it has a huge impact on our interactions with the rest of you.

My burning question in the midst of all this mess is whether our political establishment will ever apologise for its role in all of this. Sadly, I’m not sure it even recognises the full extent of its culpability.

To begin with, a referendum should never have even been held on British membership of the EU. I realise that a lot of fellow Brits will now stand up and shout ‘oi! We had a right to reclaim our sovereignty!’ But the fact is that until David Cameron decided to placate the small but powerful right-wing element of his party by holding a ‘safe’ referendum, most of us didn’t know what on earth the EU was or what our relationship was with it. Most of us probably still don’t have much of a clue even now. What we were fed in the campaign was an indigestible mess of spin, propaganda and ideology that bore very little relevance to the actual costs and benefits of EU membership. Costs and benefits that we exercised our sovereignty in agreeing to.

So in effect, David Cameron placed a bet on a sure thing in order to unify his party, only to find that his horse fell at the last jump. Boris Johnson also thought he was quids in, expecting to raise up a large army of disappointed leave campaigners to support his bid to become the next prime minister. His morning-after face on June 24th was very telling indeed. Then, of course, every Tory MP who went along with this charade is also held culpable, if they placed more importance on their own position and power than on the welfare of those their actions have an impact on.

And talking of placing more importance on one’s own position and power than on anything else brings us neatly to the Labour Party. Imagine what they could have achieved, if they had made even the slightest effort at some kind of unity. Jeremy Corbyn, adept as he is at opening up dialogue in conflict situations, could not sway the intransigence of the Labour right. It seems clear now that from the beginning of his leadership, minds were set against him despite his strong mandate from Labour party members. What we’re seeing now is rank opportunism at its absolute worst, played out at a time when Britain desperately needs a strong and unified opposition party. I shouldn’t need to point out that unity does not require all members to agree on everything, it simply needs the grace to concede with one another and to compromise. I had hoped for so much better from the Labour Party.

And there you have it. Our political establishment in all its glory. Its campaigning on both sides of the argument was breathtakingly inward-focused, appealing predominantly to British self-interest. It didn’t seem to matter what the rest of the world thought or felt, even though plenty of politicians knew that a decision to leave would create economic shockwaves across the globe. Nor did it matter if we sent a message about the strength of fear and xenophobia, because whose business is it what we get up to? Well I believe we have as much global responsibility as we do local, and so you, dear world, have my apology, for what it’s worth. I’m just not sure you’ll ever get one from the people most responsible for bringing all of this about.

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Twitter and the art of democracy

Hello to any who reads this…I’ve decided to pick up the blog again, since my time is slowly becoming more available for such things once more, and I’m buzzing with questions about the incredible upheaval that our society seems to be going through at the moment. I have also recently begun being active on Twitter, which has opened up a vast new realm of facts, opinions, news before it breaks, hilarity, satire, grief, contentiousness and oh so much more. I’ve read and absorbed more news in the last few weeks than I had in the last year BT (before Twitter, that is), but the problem therein is my maximum capacity for information. It doesn’t by any means allow for the scope of what is flying around the social networking sphere about the Leveson Inquiry, about the Queen’s Speech and government policy, about the local elections last week, about the new Israeli goverment or what’s happening in Syria, or about what people think of all those things. Fortunately, what I do find is that with practice it is possible to skim and sift, pick the stories of immediate interest, and even to build connections between facts that, on the surface, are completely unconnected. A wider picture of the living, breathing entity that is our society, both local and global, begins to emerge. The picture is undoubtedly skewed towards my preferences of who to follow (among the best being Graham Linehan, or @glinner, I have to say), but follow enough hash tags and it becomes possible to see through the eyes of people whose views differ widely to your own.

The picture is broader and wider and deeper and longer than any one mind can hold, and is by no means restricted to the two-dimensional. For example I have been following the Leveson Inquiry with great interest – and on this and closely related subjects, there is reams and reams of material to sift through. I had to delete my #Leveson column for a day or two as my brain began to go into meltdown, though I will be picking it up again tomorrow with avid interest, no doubt. But it has left me with much to think about – I have by no means forgotten all of it! – and the biggest question I am left with is this: for a man of Rupert Murdoch’s character, intellect, power and wealth, just how much control has he exerted over the exposure of his company’s illegal activities and work ethic generally? It’s just one to throw out there, really. I’m not one for conspiracies at all, but I can’t help suspecting that he had at least some idea of what was coming, and self-preservation is a natural human instinct, after all. If he anticipated the exposure he could perhaps have done something to mitigate for the worst effects, to protect himself and those close to him from the full impact of these events.

So where do I see this question fitting into the broader picture? I think it’s of particular interest that in the UK we are going through this seismic shift in media accountability alongside economic chaos in Europe signified by our own double-dip recession. At least when the government has bad news to tell us about the economy, it can do so under cover of exciting revelations at the Leveson Inquiry, and if there are some particularly indicting details about its media connections to be told, the announcements can be timed to coincide with news of supposedly positive policy changes. Or cabinet re-shuffles, perhaps. We are, after all, easily distracted. However the connection between these two significant facets of UK life runs deeper than a mere distraction technique for the government. How much of our confidence in our government’s ability to restore economic growth is knocked by the apparently inextricable links with News International staff? We are left with little faith in our government and our own democratic process – we are a nation with the wind kicked out of us, and declining economic conditions to boot. If the national confidence in itself and its government is lost, then we will of course slip several rungs down the ladder of economic prosperity.

We struggle because so much has been hidden from us, so much that runs deep into the core of what our society is or has become. But the great, the marvellous thing about Twitter, and social networking generally, is that there will always be someone who notices that which is trying to remain hidden, and thus, despite all its glorious (and not so glorious) faults, information spreads uncontrollably. Twitter offers us greater transparency than any government can, and is therefore a highly valuable cog in the machine of democracy.

What’s in store for England?

Economic decline and rioting on the city streets of England are filling our newspapers at the moment, but very little attention is being paid to what things are going to be like when all the furore has died down and we have to rebuild what has been damaged and lost.

It feels as though we’re on a precipice, on the verge of ecomonic disaster and momentous social change. And not just us, I hasten to add – the USA, Spain, France, even China to some extent – one by one the economic powers are falling, and I haven’t heard anyone even allude to what the world is going to look like when the last power bloc falls.

England stands firmly within an international community, a complexity of economically interdependent relationships whose strength ultimately relies on the strength of the American economy. The plunge into ridiculous levels of debt since Bush’s decision to deregulate the financial industry has undermined those relationships, and those who have taken the dream of capitalism between the bit and galloped off in pursuit of perfect freedom are now miring themselves and others in the bog of being unable to extricate entire countries from this now unsupportable debt.

And so the worsening economic climate has been a major contribution to social disaffection. The police shooting of Mark Duggan was catalyst rather than cause of the ensuing violence, as discontent has been rumbling and building under the surface of our society for quite some time now, perhaps even generations. Unsurprisingly some of the major media-fed characteristics of our society – such as the drive to possess, and the centring of ones own world around oneself – have driven the wedge between the wealthy and the impoverished in England deeper and deeper every year. As a nation we are all, including myself, responsible for having created the mess we are in, being almost completely unable to see the value in caring for the wider society we ought to be a part of.

For some individuals, the immediate aftermath of the riots is clear. My heart goes out to those whose livelihoods have been destroyed, to those who have suffered injury or bereavement. They are ever-present in my prayers as they face the coming weeks and months and possibly years of coping with the fall-out of the awful events of this week. As a nation, staggering through a social crisis that no-one seems to have foreseen, and simultaneously suffering from the blows of international economic decline, it feels as though we have a long way to go before we reach any kind of stability. I wonder why it has to take a crisis this deep-running to bring people together; still, it is hopeful that we are now beginning to show, as a nation, our potential to see beyond our own individual needs. Witnessing the hordes of people cleaning up the damaged streets, and reading of the generosity of those helping affected people, is a tonic amidst so much suffering. If, as we rebuild businesses, homes and lives, we can build such expressions of generosity and good will into the fabric of our society, then whatever the future brings for England, we will be better resourced to deal with it.