Thursday, October 06, 2011

Room at the top

The empty rhetoric that was David Cameron’s speech to the Tory Party conference speaks volumes about the dire state of the governing political class in Britain (and elsewhere) just as the global economy heads for the cliff.

Cameron and other Tories like chancellor George Osborne can criticise the inaction by eurozone governments over the sovereign debt crisis. But their own “leadership” amounts to no more than a call for the British to show some wartime spirit and create a “can-do” society.

As it has been noted elsewhere, patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Cameron’s bugle call to arms was delivered by a former (?) PR man in charge of a cobbled-together, weak government caught in the headlights of an historic crisis.

His claim to be a one-nation Tory is, of course, a sick joke. The term originates with Disraeli in the 19th century when British imperialism ruled large parts of the world and could afford to dispense some crumbs from the top table. It was also a feature of the post-1945 Tory governments which accepted the creation of a welfare state.

Since corporate-driven globalisation accelerated from the early 1980s, no government – neither Tory nor New Labour – has practised “one-nation” politics. Instead, politicians have extolled the market, deregulated the banks, rolled back the state, cut welfare, targeted the poor, privatised key services and utilities and introduced competition in health and education.

The budget crisis that propelled the ConDem coalition into existence has been offloaded onto public sector workers and service users. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs and are now fighting to keep their pension rights.

Standards of living have fallen dramatically as real purchasing power has slumped. Household spending on essentials has fallen to its lowest level in almost a decade as they struggle to meet fuel bills and the rising cost of food. A survey has found that another 11.5 million homes, around half, were in danger of sinking into debt along with large chunks of the population who are already.

Of course, you wouldn’t expect the Tories to do anything other than what they are doing. But the nervousness they exhibit over the potential impact of a eurozone crisis on the enfeebled British economy raises question as to whether they could cope in a full-blown crisis. Slick, motivational speeches without content that are Cameron’s forté will not cut the mustard.

The inability of the ruling classes to take measures to deal with the economic and financial crisis and restore the growth that capitalism depends on, is significant. It is apparent throughout Europe and in the United States and is due to a number of factors.

First, the forces at play – financial markets, global banks etc – are to a large extent immune to the actions of governments and agencies. For example, the sums involved in currency speculation each day are so vast that central banks, even working in concert, cannot buck the market.

Secondly, the crisis has gathered a momentum of its own. Once started, the “deleveraging” process that involves debt reduction and writing down of assets is impossible to stop. That is why the global economy is contracting. The bark of the British bulldog is lost in the noise of the crash.

Unfortunately, the crisis of leadership at the top does not equate automatically to a favourable outcome. The ruling class has other options, including national governments and states of emergency. In Greece, where society is close to break down as a result of spending cuts, the military is making threatening noises.

Nevertheless, the ruling elites have patently lost their confidence and popular support. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the mass of the people to put them out of power and begin to revolutionise society in a progressive way. That can’t and won’t happen spontaneously. To succeed, we will need to create a leadership of our own.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

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