2020 vision - the broader picture
The Blair/Clinton and friends project represented the final flowering of the old post war consensus, but of course Thatcher and Regan had already torn up the old social contract it was built on. It was doomed as a vehicle for carrying it forward, but that was not its purpose. The creepy cabal of war mongers and delusional free market ideologues who wanted to pretend history was over and capitalism victorious needed a quiet period to consolidate the changes they had made and keep the rump of the working class union movement quiet while they did so. This wasn’t conscious, but I remember that in the UK there was definitely a feeling of exhaustion towards the end of the Thatcher era, and the credit boom was making it look like we needed a more optimistic, forward-looking government.
The defeat of the unions had been spun into a great victory for the country as a whole, and indeed the ultimate justification for New Labour. If I talk to others who were around in the 70’s and 80’s they mumble about the strikes in the coal and rail industries, and the three day week that meant we had to get by on candles occasionally before Thatcher came in and sorted the unions out. Nobody starved, nobody died, and the strikers were extremely careful not to compromise hospitals and other emergency services. These workers were defending their jobs and the services they provided, they stretched their industrial muscles, they were defending the needs of their members and the working class in general. The delusion and nascent atomisation of solidarity was so well done that people can no longer see who us and them really was. Looking back, this was one of the first victories for the right wing press spinning things to break up the consensus, although they’d been doing the usual lying through their teeth for years.
Once history was over government became a competition between which management style would work best, and the aggressive and somewhat deranged bark of the old Tories wasn’t wanted. New Labour promised to undo the anti-trade-union laws, and the beginnings of the NHS sell off hidden in the splitting of the authorities into commissioning bodies and service delivery, but in fact they made them worse and didn’t undo the work. What they did do was soften us up, reassure us that things were getting better after the long trauma of the Thatcher years, and at first it seemed like it was true. UK Plc had a new smooth CEO and all was right with the world. He left the Cameron-era tories with a useful bag of tools to carry on with the destruction of the NHS and the emasculation of the unions with little opposition.
There was definitely an undercurrent of you can trust us, we’re nice, so why are you worrying about laws and precedents that could lead to bad things? We won’t let them. What a lie that was, even more egregious than the nonsense about the free market setting us all free, when the only freedom it has ever had on offer was the freedom to starve to death. This ten or so year respite from the relentless breaking up of the publicly owned and managed systems, and putting money into things like the NHS made us trust politics again. How wrong we were. The older members of the work force who could remember, and indeed would demand, that things weren’t interfered with had started dying off, the first wave of baby boomers were retiring and losing their political clout. The trade unions started to seem irrelevant, except inasmuch as they might be a route to cheaper car insurance for their dwindling membership.
The world was changing and on the surface things were improving, at least if you lived in the prosperous countries in Europe. Even the Iraq war was just a blip. But you could see how the underlying systems were shaking. Reregulation of commodity futures meant that speculators could manipulate the markets for things like gas and oil. Fuel became really expensive in the early 2000’s and this dishonestly was put down to the rapid growth of China when the measures of actual demand showed little change. More cynical commentators, including the author, believe it was people like the Koch brothers pushing up the price to make themselves rich. The journalist Matt Tiabi in Griftopia covers how speculators managed to persuade regulators to treat them as special cases who could buy up large parts of the market, which then were repackaged as investment vehicles for the wealthy and drove fuel prices up, causing a recession that starved people in the global south and bankrupted them in the north. The book examines how modern capitalists are lazy, entitled grifters who game the systems to rob people in some detail.
After the crash, which was adroitly and dishonestly blamed on Labour by the incoming Tories and their Lib Dem cronies, Blarism was effectively dead. The lie was the Tories had the skill needed to manage the economy, and many people had seen through the ersatz Toryism of the Labour leadership. Why vote for the condescending pale imitation when you can vote for, and be condescended to by, the real thing? Plus, finally, people realised what an idiotic mistake the Iraq war had been and it tainted the brand.
Instead, what they got was a bunch of clueless chancers who proceeded to loot what little was left of the commons and borrow eye watering amounts of money to finance the deficit caused by austerity driving tax revenues down. Then we had the Brexit circus that has allowed them to get away with even more while something so irrelevant distracts everyone. The social base of the Tory party has disappeared, they have relatively few members. This means that it’s very difficult for them to find talent to do things on their behalf. Instead, they seem to have found a dodgy group of ex-kipper racists to do things like contest local council seats. The kippers joined the Tories en masse and are practising their disconnected lunatic politics in their new home with impunity.
In all this the empire socialists have been pretty determined to wreck even the small chance of the beginnings of real change. After sabotaging Corbyn’s chances and manufacturing a whole slew of at best questionable allegations of anti-Semitism to keep the left wing of the party fighting a rearguard action instead of the Tories they have succeeded in wresting the reins of power from them. The first few months if Starmer’s leadership have been marked by a curious combination of embarrassing Johnson a little at PMQ’s, ignoring things like BLM, and locking the left out of power and ignoring direct questions about what his policy ideas actually are. Heaven forfend they might actually attempt to take on the tories themselves, except insofar as they want to replace them in the two party merry-go-round.
This is understandable, you need to see where the Overton window is and triangulate. He has no policies other than keeping himself from looking bad and waiting for his turn at PM after Johnson wrecks everything so his friends in the City can make a killing shorting the UK economy.
In the short to medium term, unless we scare Starmer into keeping at least some of his promises by campaigning outside of parliament and demanding what we need rather than asking politely, we’re fucked. Not to put too fine a point on it.