The UN is to visit the UK to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms have caused “grave or systematic violations” of disabled peoples’ rights… The UN’s special investigator on housing has previously urged the government to scrap the bedroom tax, after hearing “shocking” accounts of how it was affecting disabled and vulnerable people.
Report in the ‘The Independent’ online, August 2015
Britain has got its mojo back.
George Osborne addressing the US Council on Foreign Relations, December 2015
On behalf of our group, the present author, Mark Conlon, wishes readers of this blog good fortune for the coming twelve months. Not for the first time, though at this point the apology is more exigent, I must say sorry to followers of the site – for they exist, even if constituting a select band – on account of the lack of articles published over the past year. Perhaps the shockingly horrible outcome of May’s general election brought on a paralysis of writer’s block, and conceivably readers can be thankful to have been spared an outpouring of embittered philippics on the state of the nation. I’ll refrain from issuing rash promises regarding an accelerated work rate in the new year, but output can scarcely fail to rise.
It is not the case, after all, that we are in a era ill suited to the splenetic inclination of the keyboard polemicist. On the contrary, there is much to rail against, and some things to marvel at. Just after the election, I predicted that the Labour Party would move rightwards in the wake of its disastrous defeat, with the paralyzing grip of neoliberal ideology strengthened as a result. One is always pleased to have a gloomy prognostication turn out spectacularly wrong. V.I. Lenin maintained that, in politics, there are decades when nothing happens, and weeks when years happen. We have seen an example of the phenomenon with the elevation to Labour leader of Jeremy Corbyn, a rapid and wholly unexpected volte face after thirty barren years in which Corbyn’s party distanced itself almost completely from social democratic principles. The Blairites still comprise a majority of Labour MPs, and many of them are striving furiously to topple this reincarnated George Lansbury and return Labour to the status of pliant tool of capital, but for the moment a remarkable grass-roots surge has snatched the leadership from their grasp.
The situation, nevertheless, remains desperate. What John Quiggin has termed zombie economics, a Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together from expedient state-shrinking nostra, staggers blindly on, trampling services and solidarity as it goes. David Cameron, in praising his administration’s response to the summer’s refugee crisis – that is to say, the flaccid inaction that followed excoriation of a “swarm” of sans papiers menacing Albion’s sacred shores – held up “extraordinary compassion” as the hallmark of the contemporary UK. Rarely, however, can rhetoric and reality have grown so thoroughly estranged. We inhabit a country, to quote Charles Fourier (and who could be more deliriously at odds with the mood of Tory Britain?) bent on the creation of “legions of starving men who sell themselves at bargain prices to conquerors and shop bosses.” Benefit sanctions facilitate the starvation, abrogation of workers’ rights fast tracks the exploitation. The conquerors and bosses, together with assorted spivs and toffs, comport themselves with haughty grandeur at a Tory conference held with breathtaking insouciance in the working class city of Manchester; only disabled activists in their wheelchairs, a lone egg thrower, and the taunts of a Mancunian petroleuse are forceful enough to quell the delegates’ triumphalist swagger, and then no more than fleetingly.
In September, Syriza’s Yanis Varoufakis appeared on Question Time, a BBC current affairs discussion programme. As embattled finance minister, Varoufakis may have failed miserably in his efforts to defend Greek workers from the depredations of the troika, but he at least was able to articulate a simple truth that escaped his fellow panellists, whose pro-establishment wafflings served merely to confirm that the “flagship” show is a vessel that lists heavily to the right: namely, that what the UK government calls “austerity” is class war under another banner. The campaign is conducted on two fronts, those of wealth confiscation and propaganda. Not only are the populace compelled to subsidize the recapitalization of criminal banks through a rescindment of access to social security; they are to be shamed into accepting that social security provision was always unsustainably prodigal, and must vanish in the name of tackling a sovereign debt crisis that, according to the propaganda narrative, has barely anything to do with bankers. In other words, rob the poor blind, but turn a determinedly blind eye to the robbery and sacrosanct assets of the rich, while concocting a story that makes it all seem moral.
A real-world consequence, far from the well-heeled circles in which such pestilent fables are hatched by Lynton Crosby and associated adepts of the dark arts, is that the members of our group live under an unremitting cloud of fear and uncertainty. They contend bravely with a raft of mental health problems, but find themselves at the mercy of the economics of the madhouse. At any moment, they could be pitched into hardship by the knavery of George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith. One Pathways participant has been left suspended in soul-withering limbo for over six months by the Department for Work and Pensions, the agency to which the scrofulous Smith clings like a limpet of malignity and incompetence, as its minions inch forward with an inquiry as to whether he is fit for employment (he transparently isn’t). We see all too clearly through the government’s machination, but that provides no guarantee against falling victim to it. None of us has economic security, and without it psychological composure rests on shifting sands. That this is a generalized state of affairs as we enter 2016 is heartbreaking and enraging. It is, I hope, one of the innumerable injustices that might catalyze change.