'Truth spoken without moderation reverses itself'
This blog is a source for intellectual exploration. It includes a list of alternative resources and a source of free books. The placement of an article does not imply that I agree with it, merely that I found it thought-provoking. There are also poems and book reviews. Texts written by me are labelled. Readers are free to re-post anything they like.
Tuesday, December 13, 2016
Aditya Chakrabortty - A Brexit betrayal is coming – but who will get the blame?
NB: In the past few months, ideas of 'revolution' and 'complete transformation' have been all-but completely appropriated by nihilists such as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. I use the term nihilist advisedly (and I am aware that it is applicable to major currents of left-wing politics as well).
fundamentally an attempt to overcome or to repudiate the past on behalf of an
unknown and unknowable yet hoped-for future' (Stanley Rosen). Political promises of this nature are
based on the public yearning to overcome their painful situation in the name of an indefinable but rosy future. Speech that promises such things tends to discard all relation to reality.
Over the past year, we have become familiar with terms such as 'fact-free' and 'post-truth' in descriptions of contemporary politics. And speech that is indistinguishable from silence is
When the promised transformation disappears into the void created by snake-oil salesmen and continental-scale scamsters, the people who were manipulated by 'fact-free' politics will be grievously disappointed, to put it mildly. Who will put together their shattered dreams? No one, I'm afraid. The sooner we realise that racism, nationalism and communalism are one-way tickets to disaster, the better for the world at large. There are global problems we need to fix. Self-love combined with the hatred of 'outsiders' will not fix them. DS
The forecasts for
wages and living standards are in, and they indicate Britain will suffer its
first lost decade since Karl Marx was alive. What happens when 17 million
people get the feeling they’ve been cheated? That will be the most
profound question in British politics, not just in 2017 but for many years to
come. As the broken promises of Brexit pile up one on top of the other, so that
they are visible from Sunderland, from Great Yarmouth, from Newport, what will
the leave voters do then?
The pledges I mean
aren’t the ones about how £350m will flood each week into the NHS, or those others that came
out waving a Pinnochio-sized proboscis. I’m thinking of the promises that went
far deeper. The vow to “take back control”. To stop being the human punchline
to someone else’s macroeconomic joke. To – as our north of England editor Helen
Pidd wrote last week – no longer live on crumbs, while others in
London enjoy entire loaves.
The Brexiteers were
explicitly offering voters a once-in-a-lifetime shot at changing the status
quo. And before embarking on what has otherwise been a stiff-backed,
fixed-grin, try-hard few months at No 10, Theresa May got it, promising “people voted for change. And a change is going to
come.” The forecasts are in,
and they indicate Britain will suffer its first lost decade since Karl Marx was
Except change, in our
new prime minister’s dictionary, just means more of the same. Admittedly, it is
only six months into Year Zero and Britain is yet to start disentangling itself
from Europe. But whatever is promised – hard or soft, red white or blue – it’s
clear that the terms of Brexit will be dictated by Donald Tusk, Angela Merkel
and the other 27 members of the EU, rather than by our dream team of May, Boris
Johnson and David Davis. We can also see much else of what the next few years
will bring. The economic plan for the rest of this decade has been laid out by
Philip Hammond, and it equals austerity-lite – but for even longer. The
forecasts for wages and living standards are in, and they indicate Britain will
suffer its first lost decade since Karl Marx was alive.
More to the point,
it’s not clear what May’s initial promises of a fresh start were worth. She
steeled herself to call off the expensive disaster of Hinkley C – then
meekly waved it through. She vowed to install workers on company boards – then
the idea didn’t even make it on to a green paper. She promised to stick up for “just about managing” families, then allowed her chancellor
instead to carry on slashing taxes for multinationals.
You may never have
heard of Macquarie, but my guess is you’ve probably been one of its customers.
The bank is known as the “millionaires’ factory” or the “vampire kangaroo” –
and it owns a lot of the most prosaic parts of British life. You’ve been
Macquaried if you’ve left your car in a National Car Park, or flown out of
Glasgow, Southampton or Aberdeen or if you’re among its 14 million customers in
Thames Water. And as of next spring, it will lead an international group with a
61% share in our biggest gas distribution network: that’s 82,000 miles of pipe,
serving 11m homes and businesses across eastern England, the north-west and the
I have come across
Macquarie before, through its handling of Thames Water, which some analysts cite
as being among the greatest debacles in all of Britain’s history of
privatisation. Just as with National Grid, it led a consortium to buy Thames.
Two academics at the Open University examined the accounts between 2007 and
2012 and found that in
four out of those five years, Macquarie and its fellow investors took out
more money from the company than it made in post-tax profits. They crippled the
firm with billions in debt, while Thames customers paid ever more in water
bills and got among the worst service offered by any water company.
When I put these
findings to Thames, its response was the email equivalent of a shrug: “Some
years dividends exceed the years’ profits, sometimes they are less.” This was
even while the company successfully managed to offload much of the cost and the
risk for the Thames Tideway tunnel on to ordinary households. The National Grid gas
pipelines aren’t the only things Macquarie is set to get its hands on. Even
while May was at her party conference at Birmingham talking about a country
working for all, journalists were being briefed that the state-owned green
investment bank would soon be flogged off to … you guessed it, Macquarie.
One of the canards
about the referendum is that the decisive swing came from working-class voters
furious at high immigration, and that therefore the primary issue that needs to
be resolved in the next few years is who gets to stay in Britain and how.
Whenever I hear that, I think of the voters I spoke to in south Wales just
before the vote. True, all the leavers volunteered immigration as their main
justification. But the longer we talked, in this area that remains almost
exclusively white, the more it became clear that they were angry at something
else – not the invisible refugees, nor far-off Brussels.
One, Gareth Meek, told
me: “I’m angry at the British government. They sold the country out. There’s nothing we own any more.” A multitude of frustrations, pushed through a binary
vote. What happens when Meek
and his fellow voters realise that their vote for change – however loosely
defined – means more of the same? When that call to take back control ends up
with them playing the same old captive market, there to be ripped off by
multinational capital. Who will take the blame then?