The day after the election one BBC commentator perfectly articulated the misleading narrative that has propelled the Conservative party into victory. He suggested that voters now had to ‘make a choice between social justice and economic efficiency’, with economic efficiency apparently being the obvious choice.
The Conservatives have won this election by painting all deviations from their ‘long-term economic plan’ as absurd and dangerous, aided by a Labour Party utterly unable to form a counter narrative, a deliciously hypocritical yet depressingly successful manoeuvre. They have, just as Thatcher did, managed to convince just enough of the electorate that there are ‘no alternatives’ to austerity, privatisation, poverty and inequality to romp home to victory. This clever ploy may have boosted them to a majority in the Commons, but it’ll bring the country to its knees.
Higher levels of state spending may be sneered at by The Sun but thankfully people with actual souls and brains realise that it is both a morally right and economically sound thing to do. To continue to believe that a small state and big business, achieved by austerity, privatisation and deregulation has even the minutest ability to solve our problems is to ignore economic evidence and historical precedent. The best way out of a recession and to get the economy going is for the populace to start spending more: government cuts restrict certain sections of the public from being able to do just that. Cuts look good in the short term but help no one in the long term. The U.S spent their way out the biggest recession in history, why did we assume we couldn’t?
Even the IMF (an organisation that has been forcing austerity upon developing countries for decades) has recently admitted that it had ‘massively underestimated the effects of austerity’ and that much of the research supporting it had been discredited. Nobel Laureate and economics professor Paul Krugman described the ideology as ‘intellectually bankrupt’, deriding Cameron for following an economic approach that has long been abandoned by others. Krugman points out that the little growth the UK has enjoyed over the past parliament only came about post-2012, when the worst of the cuts were already over.
Inequality is also estimated to have kept our economy a good 20% smaller than it would otherwise have been, a problem set only to worsen under a government determined to cut top rates of tax and inheritance tax whilst slashing welfare and worker’s rights. The truth is that state spending, done properly, is an investment that can produce economic returns. Much of the economic evidence is now suggesting that the potential for state spending to fiscally multiply (i.e gain the country money in the long run) has been underestimated, meaning the damage austerity can actually do is much higher. As strange as it sounds, the best way to reduce the deficit can be at times be to spend more in the short term. This also has the minor side effect of improving, rather than ruining, people’s lives too.
The Conservative’s complete failure to grasp this has already left us with a dark legacy. Over a million using food banks per year, at least 1.4 million zero-hours contracts , almost a third of all children are living in poverty, nearly 50,000 people dying simply because they couldn’t heat their home and we have burgeoning private debt. This is on top of tripled tuition fees, cuts to legal aid, massive public sector job losses and arbitrary and unthinking welfare caps (now set to be lower than even the minimum wage).
The future looks equally as bleak. Research by Oxfam suggests that an additional 800,000 British children will live in poverty over the next decade, as well as an extra 1.5 million working age adults, and by 2018, 900,000 public sector workers will have lost their jobs: and this is just based off what the Tories have already done. The very real possibility of even higher tuition fees and student debt, £12 billion of welfare cuts (that we’ve just seen will actually hold back growth as well put many others in misery) and cuts to various government departments look set to plunge us even further into a broken ideological crusade.
Our freedom, that rally call for many on the right, is also in for a hit. The ‘Snoopers’ Charter is back on the agenda, giving the government increased powers to snoop on your calls, texts and emails even if you’re not suspected of any crime. The chilling phrase tucked away in their Bill of British Rights proposal hints of the future of our human rights too: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.” What this essentially means is that your human rights will no longer be unequivocal: this government gets to determine what they are and when they apply. Then there’s the flip side of giving more rights to corporations (highlighting the truly backward and depraved morality we must now endure) enshrined in TTIP, allowing corporations to sue governments for any potential loss of profit, effectively destroying the NHS and any chance of environmental regulation crucial to halting climate change.
This is without even getting onto deeper and systemic issues concerning spiralling national and global inequality and the degradation of the planet that continuous growth and consumerism is inflicting upon us, issues the Tories are not just ignoring but actively exacerbating.
A blind reliance on perpetual growth and deregulated business to somehow make things ok sounds dubious theoretically: in practice it has proven to be downright disastrous. The next 5 years will see our treasured public services carved up for the rich, it’ll see increasing divisions and hostility between sections of society, the most vulnerable hit harder again and again, our freedoms eroded and irreparable damage due to climate change draw ever closer.
Many have pointed out that we’ve had an election and the Tories won it (even though they obtained less than 4 in 10 of the votes), so those that don’t like it need to just get over it. This not only fails to grasp just how catastrophic the next 5 years are going to be, but also profoundly misunderstands what democracy is about. Through a media that treats us as consumers, not citizens, and an aloof and archaic political system we have been fed the message that politics is a game played by the elite, watched by us.
A true democracy is where we are constantly engaging in the political conversation: our power does not start and end on election day, we have it all year round. So I will not sit silently as thousands suffer and die and the rich obtain even more power and wealth. I will be protesting, blogging, organising, debating and fighting this government with every inch of my being because that’s what is needed to save lives, and that’s what my democracy not only allows me but implores me to do. I hope that you’ll join me