Like plague in the 14th century, the scourge of debt has gradually migrated from South to North. Our 21st-century Yersinia pestis isn’t spread by flea-infested rats but by deadly, ideology-infested neoliberal fundamentalists. Once they had names like Thatcher or Reagan; now they sound more like Merkel or Barroso; but the message, the mentality and the medicine are basically the same. The devastation caused by the two plagues is also similar – no doubt fewer debt-related deaths in Europe today than in Africa three decades ago, but probably more permanent harm done to once-thriving European economies.
Faithful – and older – New Internationalist readers will recall the dread phrase ‘structural adjustment’. ‘Adjustment’ was the innocent-sounding term for the package of economic nostrums imposed by wealthy Northern creditor countries on the less-developed ones in what we then called the ‘Third World’. A great many of these countries had borrowed too much for too many unproductive purposes. Sometimes the leadership simply placed the loans in their private accounts (think Mobutu or Marcos) and put their countries in hock. Paying back in pesos, reals, cedis or other funny money was unacceptable: the creditors wanted dollars, pounds, deutschmarks…
Anti-austerity protests in Spain
Furthermore, the Southerners had contracted their loans at variable interest rates, initially low but astronomical from 1981 when the Federal Reserve declared an end to the era of cheap money. When countries such as Mexico threatened default, panicked creditor-country treasury ministers, top bankers and international bureaucrats spent some sleepless weekends eating take-out and cobbling together emergency plans.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.* Decades later, serial crisis meetings still take place, this time in Brussels and, with minor variations, the response is identical: you only get a bailout in exchange for committing to a set of stringent requirements. These once echoed the neoliberal ‘Washington Consensus’; now they are more truthfully labelled ‘austerity packages’ but demand the same measures. Sign here, please, in blood.
For the South, the contracts said: ‘Cut back food production and grow cash-earning crops. Privatize your State enterprises and open up profit-making activities to foreign transnational corporations, especially in raw materials and extractive industries, forestry and fisheries. Drastically limit credit, cancel subsidies and social benefits. Make health and education paying propositions. Economize and earn hard currency through trade. Your prime responsibility is to your creditors, not your people.’
Now it’s Europe’s turn. The countries of southern Europe, plus Ireland, are relentlessly told: ‘You have been living beyond your means. Now pay.’ Governments meekly accept orders and their people often assume that their debt must be paid instantly because the debt of a sovereign State is just like the debt of a family. It’s not – a government accumulates debt by issuing bonds on financial markets. These bonds are bought mostly by institutional investors such as banks which receive an annual interest payment, low when the risk of default is low, higher when it isn’t. It’s absolutely normal, desirable and even necessary for a country to have a debt which will pose zero problems and generate many benefits if the money is prudently invested for the longer term in productive activities such as education, health, social benefits, solid infrastructure and the like.
Indeed, the higher the proportion of public spending in a government budget, the higher the standard of living and the more jobs are created – including private-sector jobs. This rule has been verified time and again since the correlation between public investment and national well-being was first noted in the late 19th century.
Obviously, borrowed money can also be wasted and spent stupidly and benefits can be distributed unfairly. The big family-State budget difference is that States don’t disappear like bankrupt companies. Productive, well-managed investment financed by government borrowing should be seen on the whole as A Good Thing.
The magic numbers
In 1992, European countries narrowly voted Yes to the Maastricht Treaty, which at the insistence of Germany contained two magic numbers, 3 and 60. Never allow a budget deficit greater than three per cent; never contract public debt greater than 60 per cent of your Gross Domestic Product (GDP).** Why not two or four per cent, 55 or 65 per cent? Nobody knows, except perhaps some ancient bureaucrats who were there, but these numbers have become the Law and the Prophets.
In 2010, two famous economists announced that beyond 90 per cent of GDP, debt would plunge a country into trouble and its GDP would contract. That sounds logical because interest payments would take a bigger chunk out of the budget. But in April 2013, a North American PhD candidate tried to replicate their results and found he couldn’t. Using their figures, he got a positive result for GDP which would still rise by more than two per cent per annum. The famous, if red-faced, twosome had to admit they were Excel victims and had misplaced a comma.
Even the International Monetary Fund has confessed to similar mistakes, this time on the austerity cuts issue. We now know, because the Fund was honest enough to tell us, that cuts would hurt the GDP by two to three times more than it initially foresaw. Europe should go easy, says the IMF, and not ‘drive the economy with the brakes on’. The magic 60 per cent of GDP debt limit is no more sacred than the three per cent deficit limit; yet policies remain the same, because the neoliberal hawks seize upon every scrap of dubious evidence that seems to promote their cause.
We are faced with two basic questions. The first is why did the debts of European countries rise so steeply after the crisis struck in 2007? In just four years, between 2006 and 2010, debts escalated by more than 75 per cent in Britain and Greece, by 59 per cent in Spain and by fully 276 per cent in all-time champion Ireland, where the government simply announced it would assume responsibility for all the debts of all the private Irish banks. The Irish people would henceforward be held responsible for the irresponsibility of Irish bankers. Britain did the same, though in lesser measure. Just as profits are privatized, losses are socialized.
So citizens pay through austerity, whereas bankers and other investors who bought the country’s bonds or toxic financial products contribute nothing. After the 2007 crisis, the GDP of European countries dropped by an average five per cent and governments had to compensate. Escalating business failures and mass unemployment also meant more expenditures for governments just when they were taking in less income from taxes.
The New Morality
Economic stagnation is expensive – higher expenditure and lower revenue add up to a single answer: borrow more. Saving the banks and taking the consequences of the crisis they created are the fundamental reason for the debt crisis – and consequently for harsh austerity today. People were not ‘living beyond their means’ but the New Morality is clearly ‘Punish the Innocent, Reward the Guilty’.
This is no defence of stupid or corrupt policies such as allowing the Spanish housing bubble to inflate or Greek politicians to hire masses of new civil servants after each election. The Greeks have a bloated military budget and inexcusably refuse to tax the great shipping magnates and the Church – the biggest property owner in the country. But if your bathtub leaks and the dining room paint is peeling, do you burn down your house? Or do you fix the plumbing and repaint?
The human consequences of austerity are inescapable and well known: pensioners search through rubbish bins at mid-month hoping to find a meal; talented, well-educated Italians, Portuguese and Spaniards flee their countries as unemployment for their age group approaches 50 per cent; unbearable stress is laid on families; violence against women increases as poverty and distress rise; hospitals lack essential medicines and personnel, schools decline, public services deteriorate or disappear. Nature takes the brunt as well: nothing is invested in reversing the climate crisis or halting environmental destruction – it’s too expensive. Like everything else, we can’t do it now.
We know these outcomes, the results of what Angela Merkel calls ‘expansionary austerity’ policies. This neoliberal theory claims that markets will be ‘reassured’ by tough policies and reinvest in the newly disciplined countries concerned. This hasn’t happened. Pictures of Merkel adorned with swastikas are appearing throughout southern Europe.
Many Germans think they are helping Greece – and they don’t want to anymore. In fact, virtually all the bailout money has taken a circuitous route: EU government contributions made through the European Stability Mechanism have been channelled via the Greek Central Banks and private banks right back to British, German and French banks that had bought up Greek Eurobonds to get a higher yield. It would be simpler to give European taxpayers’ money directly to the banks, except that said taxpayers might notice. Why make an ongoing psycho-drama over two per cent (Greece) or 0.4 per cent (Cyprus) of the European economy? A cynic might say: ‘Easy. To ensure Ms Merkel’s re-election in September.’
The second basic question is: why do we continue to apply policies that are harmful and don’t work? One can look at this self-created disaster in two ways. Eminent prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz believe that the European leadership is brain-dead, ignorant of economics and needlessly committing economic suicide. Others note that the cuts conform exactly to the desires of such entities as the European Roundtable of Industrialists or BusinessEurope: cut wages and benefits, weaken unions, privatize everything in sight and so on. As inequalities have soared, those at the top have done nicely. There are now more ‘High Net Worth Individuals’ with a much greater collective fortune than in 2008 at the height of the crisis. Five years ago there were 8.6 million HNWIs worldwide with a pile of liquid assets of $39 trillion. Today, they are 11 million strong with assets of $42 trillion. Small businesses are failing in droves, but the largest companies are sitting on huge piles of cash and taking full advantage of tax havens. They see no reason to stop there.
This is not a crisis for everyone and the European leadership is no more stupid than its counterparts elsewhere. It is, however, entirely subservient to the desires of finance and the largest corporations. Certainly, neoliberal ideology plays a key role in its programme but serves especially to emit thick smokescreens and pseudo-explanations and justifications so that people will believe There Is No Alternative. Wrong: the banks could have been socialized and turned into public utilities, like other utilities that run on public money; tax havens closed down, taxes levied on financial transactions and many other remedies applied. But such thoughts are heretical to neoliberalism (although 11 Eurozone countries will start taxing financial transactions in 2014).
I am a fervent European and want Europe to thrive, but not this Europe. Against our will we have been plunged into class warfare. The only answer for citizens is knowledge and unity. What the one per cent has imposed, the 99 per cent can reverse. But we’d better be quick about it: time is running out.
Susan George is Board President of the Transnational Institute and author of 16 books, most recently Whose Crisis, Whose Future? and How to Win the Class War, on her website in June for electronic download and print on demand along with six ‘Susan George Classics’.
* ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’
** Public debt is money owed by a government in the form of loans obtained on the financial markets rather than other forms of lending.
“This is not a good situation to force women into when what they need is care. It is deeply wrong,” says Ann Furedi, of PBAS, the British Pregnancy Advice Service
Women from Ireland having abortions in Britain face “enormous additional burdens” compared to British women, the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advice Service, said yesterday.
The service is a registered charity and the largest abortion services provider in Britain.
Ann Furedi said she could not comment on the specifics of the case reported in yesterday’s Irish Times.
“The Irish women we see are absolutely the same as the British women we see, apart from the fact the Irish women have these enormous additional burdens,” she said.
“They have travel, transport, accommodation costs and the additional stress of having to travel to a different legal jurisdiction to get the care that they need at a time when they are feeling, frankly, pretty awful. I think people forget that.
Lowest emotional ebb
“To be imposing on women, at a time when they must be feeling at their lowest physical and emotional ebb, the need to organise travel, bundling themselves on to Ryanair flights, shleping about Britain, taking time off work, having to leave their families.
“This is not a good situation to force women into when what they need is care. It is deeply wrong,” she said.
More than 95 per cent of the service’s work is funded by the National Health Service in the UK. Women from outside Britain must pay to avail of its services privately. An abortion costs between £400 (€465) and £1,500 (€1,750) depending on how far the pregnancy has progressed.
She said that in the vast majority of cases her organisation’s abortion services are free to women resident in Britain.
Mara Clarke, the founder of the Abortion Support Network in London which provides support to women from Ireland seeking to access abortion, said the women the organisation helped were in “dire financial straits, making huge sacrifices to get the services they need”.
“Recently we helped a mother who fed her three children toast and sandwiches for a month to save the money to pay for an abortion for her raped 17-year-old daughter.
“We helped a woman who needed her car but sold it and cut off her landline to raise the money.
“These are not women with credit cards or overdrafts. These are women who already have nothing, who are going to loan sharks, who are not eating trying to get the money together.”
‘Well over 400’
Since the network was founded in 2008, she said the number of women seeking its help had grown constantly, from 66 the first year to about 200 the second, and she expected the number this year to be “well over 400”.
While nationally in Britain about 2 per cent of abortions were carried out later than 20 weeks’ gestation, about 8 per cent of the women supported by the network had late-term abortions.
“This is because they are raising the money and, of course, the later they have it the more expensive it is and more traumatic.”
Thousands will descend on London today for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity to launch a united opposition that will mobilise co-ordinated anti-cuts action at national, regional and local level.
The event is Britain’s largest political conference in recent history – outstripping the combined attendance of the annual conferences of all three main political parties – and is backed by Britain’s major unions.
The assembly will give a voice to the millions of people who oppose failed coalition government policies which are wrecking the economy, forcing down wages and decimating public services.
The assembly has been hailed as a big breakthrough in creating a united front against the Tories and their Lib Dem accomplices.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “The People’s Assembly is the most significant step yet in building a nationwide opposition to the government’s policies of social devastation.
“Unite is proud to stand with all those demanding an end to the cuts which are pushing millions into the abyss of despair and in standing up for an alternative of social justice.”
The People’s Assembly has been endorsed by over 100 organisations including Unison and Unite, which between them represent almost three million workers across the public and private sectors.
It is also backed by thousands of individuals and groups, including academics, pensioners’ organisations and campaigners fighting to save the NHS.
Green MP Caroline Lucas, who is speaking at the assembly, said: “It offers a crucial opportunity for civil society to come together and take a stand against this government’s socially destructive and economically illiterate austerity programme.
“It is also a chance to challenge the harmful ideology which claims that public is ‘bad’ and private is ‘good’ and that everything from our health service to education is little more than a marketplace to be exploited for profit.”
With evidence emerging that austerity, pay freezes, tax rises and welfare cuts will drive seven million children into poverty in the next two years, she said: “It’s time to expose the lie that there is no alternative to austerity.”
The assembly will also launch two “People United” bus tours organised by unions Unite, Unison, GMB, PCS and CWU and the TUC to take the campaign against austerity into communities.
The tours culminate on July 5 at the NHS’s birthplace, Trafford General Hospital in Manchester, to celebrate the 65th anniversary of its foundation.
Expect to see more big names from the oil industry, such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Statoil, moving into the British shale sector now that one of their competitors – Centrica – has taken the plunge. The international companies have always taken a keen interest in the UK fracking scene, despite endless statements from their chief executives that there are better prospects in China and elsewhere.
There is some speculation this weekend that the reason Centrica paid a fairly toppy price for the stake in the Bowland Shale licence from Cuadrilla Resources was because it faced competition from Shell and others.
It is not so much the geological uncertainty that made big oil hesitate in the past, but the fear of reputational damage. And as one of the industry players told the Observer: “That all changes now because Centrica has elected to become the lightning rod for the industry.”
Indeed it will. Green groups opposed to fracking because of the chemicals used and because they believe more gas use means more carbon emissions have already condemned Centrica. A couple of small earthquakes in the Blackpool region that helped to trigger an 18-month drilling moratorium have heightened public concerns. Fracking remains banned in France, Bulgaria and some other countries.
In fact it was always likely that the British Gas parent group would be first out of the blocks, not least because it has the largest retail supply business in this country.
Equally, if anyone is going to have the inside track on what government is thinking about the future taxation structure planned for a shale gas regime, it is going to be homegrown Sam Laidlaw, chief executive of Centrica, rather than say Peter Voser, the boss of Shell, who spends much more time in The Hague than London.
Laidlaw is constantly in and out of Whitehall. Until recently he was part of David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group, while Centrica, as one of the UK’s few, and by far the biggest, British-owned power suppliers, stands most to gain from changes in UK energy policy.
Was British Gas pushed by ministers to front UK shale? Certainly Centrica had privately expressed reservations about the flack it might take if it got involved at an early stage. Ministers were keen to give credibility to a sector populated by small firms, even if some have big backers behind the scenes, such as IGas’s connections with the partly state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation.
But it seems more likely that Laidlaw, who as recently as January had expressed the view that UK shale was no “game changer”, just changed his mind and decided it was worth having first-mover advantage.
He had no doubt spent much time talking to John Browne, whose chief executiveship at BP was characterised by being first off the blocks (into Russia, mega-mergers with Amoco etc) and just happens to be a director of Cuadrilla and the UK government’s lead non-executive board member.
So Centrica is to spend £100m helping Cuadrilla with an exploration programme which restarts in earnest next year with a new, fourth, well. A further £60m is promised if the exploration turns into production.
But the size and scale of the shale sector in Britain remains unclear. The British Geological Survey is shortly expected to come up with some encouraging new reserve estimates. Equally, the Treasury will confirm the level of tax breaks available before the parliamentary recess next month.
But the issue that will decide whether Britain can replicate the enormous success of the shale frackers in America, where prices have dropped like a stone, is whether the gas can be made to flow from the rocks easily and in large quantities. That will only be known once more wells are drilled, but Centrica is clearly optimistic.
Deflation could be the way forward
Hard though it is to believe, historically Britain has been as prone to bouts of deflation as it has to inflation. Not in the past half-century, of course, but in the three centuries or so since the Bank of England was founded in 1694, there have been as many years when prices have fallen as there have when they have risen.
Indeed, until quite recently deflation was the natural order of things. Competition resulted in downward pressure on prices and it was only during wars that inflation moved upwards. The price level in the UK was lower at the outbreak of the first world war than it was when the guns fell silent after the battle of Waterloo.
Dhaval Joshi, an investment strategist at BCA Research, says we are on the cusp of returning to this sort of environment. The age of inflation, he says, has also been the age of credit growth, with a strong correlation between the annual increase in the cost of living and the annual increase in debt.
But debt is likely to rise far more slowly in the future than it has in the past, argues Joshi. Why so? Because debt levels are already uncomfortably high; the collateral against which the debt is secured is impaired; and there has been a widespread backlash against debt that was sparked off by the financial crisis.
As a result, the only way the age of inflation could be extended into the future is if central banks decide that it is a lesser evil than deflation. In the short term, that is certainly the case, which explains why central banks have been pumping credit into their economies through quantitative easing.
But will central banks really be comfortable with the next stage on from QE, helicopter drops of money into economies?
Joshi says that ultimately policymakers will prefer modest falls in the price level to the risk of runaway inflation, and that deflation will become the new normal.
Cosy chair awaits Tucker
Paul Tucker’s decision to quit his job at the Bank of England was not unexpected. He has been at the bank for more than 30 years, risen to deputy governor and had been regarded as the nailed-on certainty to take over from Sir Mervyn King. Missing out on the top job meant he was always likely to walk.
He now plans what Threadneedle Street describes as a sojourn in “US academia”.
But it is unlikely that Tucker, an expert in the way that banks work, will disappear into a black hole of research and quiet contemplation. He will without doubt be top of many headhunters’ lists when they cast around for candidates to chair UK banks in the coming years. And it just so happens a couple of jobs might just come along to suit his timing: Sir Win Bischoff has already made it clear that he won’t be hanging around at Lloyds Banking Group beyond next May. And if that is a tad too, soon then there will be a berth at Royal Bank of Scotland as soon as it has bedded down a new chief executive.
Tucker will be back.
Britain is to push the European Union to relax restrictions on the licensing of genetically modified crops for human consumption amid growing scientific evidence that they are safe, and surveys showing they are supported by farmers. The Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, is expected to use a speech next week to outline the start of a new government approach to GM to ensure Britain “is not left behind” in agricultural science.
The move comes as 61 per cent of UK farmers now say they would like to grow GM crops after a disastrous 12-month cycle of poor weather that is expected significantly to reduce harvest yields. Senior government officials said that ministers are increasingly concerned that the potential moral and ethical benefits of GM are being ignored by costly and bureaucratic licensing regulations.
With one-twelfth of global arable land under GM cultivation they have privately warned that Britain faces being left behind in an important technology that has the potential to improve crop yields, help the UK’s agricultural industry and provide benefits to human health through vitamin fortification.
Government sources added that GM also had applications beyond food including the potential to combat diseases such as ash dieback and in developing new medicines.
“The point about GM is not simply about food production,” they said. “There are wider potential environmental and economic benefits to the technology both in the UK and internationally.
“What we want to do is start a dialogue within Europe on GM based upon the science.”
Ministers are hopeful of building support in Brussels for a change of heart on GM, with Germany seen as a key swing voter. However, any attempts to relax the rules could face opposition from countries such as Poland which in April became the eighth EU member state to ban the cultivation of GM crops.
Mr Paterson is said to believe that Britain should take the lead in moving the debate on from the knee-jerk reaction against GM for much of the last decade.
The move comes as a poll of over 600 British farmers found a considerable shift in their stance toward GM in the past year, with nearly a third saying they would be more likely to grow GM crops if it were legal now than they were 12 months ago – about half of them a “lot more” so.
On top of the advocated benefits of improving yields and cutting down on costs such as pesticides, the increasingly extreme weather has concentrated farmers’ minds on the need to guard against climate change.
“The weather has definitely had an impact,” said Martin Haworth, director of policy at the National Farmers Union. “Farmers are becoming more and more aware that climate change doesn’t mean a gradual rise in temperatures but rather a stream of extreme weather events. GM technology is one possible way of mitigating this.
“Last summer was disastrous for potatoes, for example. The potential for growing potatoes resistant to blight has had an impact on some farmers’ attitudes,” he said, adding that farmers were “very frustrated” at not being able to grow GM crops.
One of the survey’s respondents said they wanted to grow GM crops because “the terrible weather in the past two years has meant that yields have been down and the cost of fertiliser and pesticides have been rising ever since”.
GM crops can be engineered to grow faster, increase their resistance to weeds, pests and pesticides, produce extra nutrients or survive harsher weather conditions. They are created by taking genes with beneficial qualities from other organisms and injecting them into the plant. A gene from bacteria found in soil has proved particularly effective at warding off pests from cotton plants, for example.
But while they are widely grown in North and South America, GM crops are effectively banned in the UK and Europe where they are considered on an extremely strict case-by-case basis.
Since the first GM food was produced in 1994 – a delayed-ripening tomato, which had a longer shelf-life – the EU has granted just two licences to cultivate GM crops, neither of them grown in the UK. One was for plants engineered to resist corn borers and the other for a starchy potato used to make paper.
Apart from that, Europe’s exposure to GM products has been confined to imports of genetically modified animal feed, while much of the meat, eggs and milk comes from animals that have been reared on engineered grains.
Science Minister David Willetts said that controls on GM crops should be weakened to make it easier for Britain’s farmers to grow them.
“We believe that GM crops can help make agriculture more efficient and also just as importantly more sustainable, by, for example, reducing the use of pesticides and the use of fossil fuels,” he said.
“There are just too m any 21st-Century technologies that Europe is just being very slow to adopt… one productive way forward is to have this discussion as part of a wider need for Europe to remain innovative rather than a museum of 20th century technology,” he added.
A European Commission analysis of 130 research projects carried out by 500 groups over 25 years concluded in December 2010 that there is “no scientific evidence associating genetically modified organisms with higher risks for the environment or food and feed safety than conventional plants or organisms”.
However, the evidence is not conclusive and the technique continues to be highly controversial. Opponents to GM crops argue that it is far too early to conclude that the technique is safe – including many farmers, with a quarter saying they would not cultivate them under any circumstances.
They are concerned that adopting GM crops could foster stronger pests, diseases and weeds as their foes evolve to adapt to engineered plant and that the injected “rogue” genes could cause problems by spreading to other plants.
The report was conducted by Farmers Weekly magazine and the Reed publishing group and commissioned by Barclays.
Amongst the posts on Chris Nosworthy’s Facebook page were details of an afternoon stroll through the park, a happy birthday message to a man called Nigel and a YouTube video of a dog walking on its back legs.
Mr Nosworthy defended the contents of his Facebook page and strongly refuted claims the he is ‘non-racist’.
“My friends, family and the people who know me will tell you I’m a total racist,” he insisted.
“I’m also pretty sure that dinosaurs were wiped out by Jews,” he added.
UKIP Facebook page
A UKIP spokesperson revealed that a full investigation would be carried out and action would be taken “if necessary”.
“It might just be that Chris has been a bit naïve and made an error of judgement.
“We also shouldn’t rule out the possibility that his account was hacked by leftist flag-burning gays from the BBC.
“He’s already been for a precautionary AIDS test.”
The restaurants are called ‘Giraffe’ because the food is mainly ‘giraffe’
The company announced that it was now close to perfecting the experience of shopping for mystery animal parts in a windowless hangar staffed by polyester-clad accidents.
Tescologist Wayne Hayes said: “Now you can sit in a Giraffe watching somebody’s drooling ratbag smear ketchup into your coat while your ice cream melts in the boot of your car.
“Notify Dante, because we just laid the concrete for hell’s basement.”
He added: “Foreigners stroll around local markets before enjoying a tasty meal in a family-run restaurant and now we can have the same experience on a grey industrial estate where you can exchange your vouchers for some pretend happiness.”
Until yesterday Sainsburys was the champion of retail misery by making people think of Jamie Oliver dribbling over their food every time they shopped as well as describing a mass-produced cottage pie like it was a new indie band.
But they were challenged strongly when Morrison’s paid Ant and Dec to prance around Britain pretending to talk to ruddy-faced suppliers while skilfully avoiding abattoirs and Eastern Europeans bent double over a beetroot field.
Hayes said: “You did it Tesco, you magnificent son of a bitch.”
This interview with Tariq Ali was conducted by Die Presse in Vienna and appears in German in the paper’s Sunday edition.
What is Mrs Thatcher’s legacy?
Her legacy is clearly visible in the state of Britain today. It is essentially a story of decay and ruin: A small, post-imperial vassal state dependent on nostalgia and, more importantly, the United States to keep itself afloat. On the economy the Thatcherite model (astonishingly, still being praised by blind politicians in denial) was effectively the deindustrialization of the country, the purchase of working-class votes by squandering the monies that accrued from North sea oil and laying the foundations for a financialised economic model that exploded with the Wall Street crash of 2008. We live in a world where it is convenient to personalize politics. Thatcher obviously pushed through the measures required by capitalism with a raw and ruthless energy that was her very own. She was a great believer in appealing to the lowest common denominator, to the animal instincts that remain present in the psychological make-up of individuals regardless of their social origins. Another politician could have done exactly the same things as she did using a less charged rhetoric. A number of old Conservatives were not shy in stating that their party had been taken over by English ‘poujadistes.’ She almost came a cropper. Had the Falklands war gone differently which it might have done if Pinochet’s dictatorship (pushed by Washington) had not backed Britain.
She outmaneuvered the once powerful Mineworker’s Union, forcing it to call a strike on her terms and then destroyed the union and in the process broke the back of a once powerful British labor movement. She had referred to the striking miners as the ‘enemy within’. Even as she neutered the unions, she effectively destroyed the old Labour Party. Thatcher’s favorite Chancellor of the Exchequer and cabinet colleague, Nigel Lawson, while reviewing a book in the Financial Times noted admiringly that the tragedy for the Tories was that Thatcher’s real heir was Leader of the Opposition. Blair’s policies were little more than a continuation of her policies with better PR and an aggressive control of the media. Blair was less lucky with his wars. Iraq finished him off. He was exposed as a simple and straightforward liar. The Scottish writer, Tom Nairn, was accurate in his assessment: “Like other flotsam on the ‘no-alternative’ wave of the nineties, they think that the essence of ‘modernization’ is adjusting society to fit economic and technological advances. Which means serving such changes, via a machinery of collusion between government public relations, a compliant legal system and a servile press.’
With Murdoch dominating the press agenda thanks to Thatcher’s ‘generosity’, she sent her tank commanders to fire a few warning shots at the BBC. A reliable and appropriately named toady, Marmaduke Hussey, was catapulted on to the BBC board as chairman. His first task was to sack director general Alasdair Milne for “leftwing bias” and ‘not being one of us.’ Thatcher was livid that the BBC had permitted her to be grilled on the Falklands war on a live programme by an ordinary woman viewer from Bristol who successfully demolished the prime minister’s arguments. Hussey appointed a pliable Director-General in the shape of John Birt, a dalek without instincts or qualities, who transformed the BBC into the top-heavy managerial monster that it has become. When New Labour won, a New BBC was already in place. Blair and his spin doctors Campbell and Mandelson turned out to be even worse control freaks than Thatcher. Together with their subordinates, they regularly harassed producers complaining about what they perceived to be anti-government bias. Radio 4′s Today programme became a favourite Blairite target. Simultaneously they were crawling to Murdoch at regular intervals, hobnobbing regularly with the editors and staff of the Sun and happily inhaling the stench of the Murdoch stables.
What do you consider her biggest achievement?
I can’t think of any, but the English establishment would see the destruction of union power and the opposition party (Blair and his coterie Thatcherised the Labour Party as is obvious to this day) as an prerequisite to the privatization and marketisation of the country, with private money enable to enter the hitherto hallowed domains of the public sector. This was their finest hour and just look at Britain today. The film-maker Ken Loach has suggested that her funeral should be privatised too and the highest corporate bid should take charge. Or, one could add, it could be sponsored by several firms with logos proudly displayed on the coffin.
What do you consider her biggest mistake?
Everything from neo-liberalism to wars. From her point of view she was supremely successful. Her legacy lives on, thanks to Blair and Brown, except insofar that she was a xenophobe and a racist as the Australian foreign minister reminded us this week. She told him don’t let Sydney become like Fiji. He was shocked since his Malaysian wife was standing next to him. Thatcher in her election campaigns used the phrase that she feared how ‘Britain was being swamped by immigrants’. This was when 2 percent of the population was non-white! Blair and Brown preached a bland multi-culturalism. But Cameron and Miliband have started off on immigration once again.
She proved to be as divisive in death as she had been in life. Has she permanently split British society in “haves” and “have-nots”, in winners and losers, in “wets” and “dries”, in “one of us” and “not one of us”?
She did not do so as an individual. A new course for British capitalism had already been agreed to by her party under Edward Heath. She implemented it and those who followed her went even further. British society is extremely divided but there is no reflection of this in the House of Commons. All three parties constitute the extreme-centre. The democratic process is under great strain and all over Europe and North America.
How do you view the street parties celebrating her passing away?
Inevitable, but also a sign of despair. Had she been defeated politically and her legacy reversed her death might have been ignored. But I always disliked the misogynism by sections of the left. ‘The Bitch is Dead’ makes one cringe.
Is the Britain we live in today “her” country in the sense that it is still shaped by her influence and legacy, and in the sense that she would recognise it as a country developing in a way and direction she would approve of?
Without any doubt, apart from Scotland. The Scots never voted for her, but whether they will have the courage to break from her successors and come out for an independent Scotland remains to be seen. I hope they do. It will shake up politics and open a new space in England as well.
Who is her true heir? Was it New Labour? Cameron’s Tories? UKIP?
Blair, Brown and Cameron make no secret of their admiration for her and her policies. If he’s in form, Blair might manage a few tears at the state funeral she is to be given next week. They’ll turn to millstones as they fall. I hope, second-rate actor that he is, he does. It will be very diverting.
What lessons can be drawn from her reign?
The 19th century poet, Shelley, expressed well what needs to be done. Then , as now, the country is without a serious opposition.
Children of a wiser day;
Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many, they are few.
Enoch Powell famously said that “all political careers end in failure”. Is this also true for Mrs Thatcher? How will she be remembered?
I always regretted that her career ended via a putsch within her own party. She was seen by some as a martyr. It would have been far better for the country had she been defeated by the electorate, but her personal humiliation should not be confused with her political successes on behalf of the class that she represented. They, and those in their thrall, will always remember her with affection. And her opponents should heed Spinoza’s words: ‘Don’t laugh or cry, but understand.’
Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).
It’s an anthem that is usually sung with chest-thumping pride and misty eyes by British imperialists. “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves”. This jingoistic celebration of Britain’s former global conquest may yet degenerate into “Rue Britannia, Britannia rues the waves”.
This is because, as The Guardian newspaper reports this week, the
London government has at long last been forced into recognizing compensation payments for as many as 50,000 Kenyan nationals who were victims of torture and other crimes against humanity during that country’s independence struggle in the 1950s. The eventual bill for compensation could run up to tens of millions of pounds.
But the bad news for financially bankrupt Britain does not end there. With this precedent established of compensation for past British imperialist crimes, that now leaves the way open for a global flood of similar claims.
Jingoistic British imperialists may therefore soon rue their often-made reference to Britain ruling the waves and so many countries the world over – at the height of the British Empire some 20 percent of the globe’s land mass was under colonial domination. That’s a lot of people who can claim recompense for past British horrors and deprivation.
If the bill for Britain’s crimes against humanity in Kenya alone runs into tens of millions of pounds, then we can easily multiply that sum manifold if the millions of other victims from across the world who suffered under the British jackboot come forward to claim justice.
The Guardian listed just a handful of additional class-action cases for compensation against the British government. They included the former colonies of Cyprus, Yemen, Swaziland and British Guiana. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when measuring Britain’s global legacy of crimes and human suffering. Many others would include Britain’s dirty wars and repressive colonial regimes in Bahrain, British Somaliland, Burma, Ghana, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Oman and Zimbabwe. Even that list is far from complete.
Iran presents a challenging case too. After the British-assisted coup in 1953 that led to the 26-year reign of terror under Shah Pahlavi, tens of thousands of Iranians were subjected to torture by the Western-trained and armed Savak secret police. Iranians therefore have a case for compensation against the British government.
Previously, the British House of Lords decreed arbitrarily that no cases for compensation stemming from before 1954 can be brought to an English court. Fortunately for the British establishment, that ruling excludes millions of more potential litigants from former British India, which gained independence in 1947.
Given the appalling suffering inflicted by the British overlords in India – from starvation, massacres, mass imprisonment and destruction of farming and textile livelihoods to give British exporters a competitive advantage – the resulting claims if filed to the Exchequer would definitely spell good night for Britain’s sputtering economy. Far from ruling the waves, Britannia would sink to a watery grave.
But the real point perhaps is more about principle than money – important though material redress is to victims of injustice. What the case of the Kenyans against the British government is really achieving is to strip bare the truth about Britain’s imperial legacy. British national conceit and history books are replete with double standards and moral relativism. It is too widely and fatuously assumed that Britain’s Empire represented somehow a benevolent contribution to history. British people, and unfortunately English-language academia and media across the world, tend to perceive Britain’s “decolonization” – its retreat from imperial territories – as a magnanimous gesture of granting independence. This delusional notion is best summed up in the Orwellian term “the British Commonwealth of nations”.
With conceited moral duplicity, Britain insists that Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany must pay out compensation to victims of their conquests. But no such obligation pertains to Britain, according to the British rulers. Why not? Only imperial arrogance and a certain sense of victor’s justice stemming from the Second World War are invoked to subjectively justify that contradiction. In the world of objective facts and evidence, Britain is equally liable for redress to its global victims of crimes against humanity.
When Britain set out to destroy the Mau Mau struggle for Kenya’s political independence during the 1950s, the British were not interested in benign, passive “decolonization”. For the British rulers, it was a life-or-death challenge to the entire global system of British Empire and its exploitative excrescence on the world. The same British “siege mentality” manifested ruthlessly against the independence movements in all its colonies.
Up to 300,000 Kenyans were incarcerated in concentration camps during what the British euphemistically called “The Emergency”. That same quaint word – “Emergency” – was used by the British to dissemble their barbarism and brutality in Burma against pro-independence communist guerrilla. During Bahrain and Northern Ireland’s struggle for freedom from Britain’s unlawful dominance, the preferred euphemism for repression was “The Troubles”.
But these semantics aside, the nature of repression meted out by British rulers and their officers was systematically criminal and brutal and comparable to the worst genocidal regimes the world has known.
The Kenyan Mau Mau may have suffered the most, probably owing to a twist of racist depravity among the white British counterinsurgency practitioners. Kenyan prisoners were castrated and roasted over fires by British officers using methods of torture that even classified British records explicitly sanctioned as “Gestapo techniques”.
During the British suppression of the Cypriot insurgency during the 1950s, inmates were routinely tortured by water-boarding sessions in which Kerosene was added to the drowning water. Later, during the 1970s in Northern Ireland’s conflict, Irish prisoners were incarcerated without charge and tortured by hooding, prolonged wall-standing, sleep deprivation, white noise and intimidation with guard dogs, not to mention routine physical beatings.
If such torture and generally repressive regimens sound similar to what has since been uncovered in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay it is because they are wholly consistent. These are the standard operating practices of British military doctrine and that of its close American ally.
The reason why such barbarity continues to be practiced is because of the moral duplicity and propagandized version of history that the Western media and academia instill. Barbarity is something that others perpetrate, not us.
The glacial pace of justice – as shown by the more than six decades’ delay for the Mau Mau victims of British crimes – is reflective of the massive public deception instilled by Western media on behalf of their criminal governments.
However, thanks to the courageous pursuit of justice by many people across the world, this edifice of deception will eventually be broken down. This is imperative as a matter of justice for the millions of victims of British crimes against humanity.
But, in addition, the exposure of British criminality is crucial to deleting the duplicity that serves to give contemporary British and other Western governments a veneer of legitimacy. Britain has no right to pontificate and brow beat Syria, Iran or any other nation about “international obligations”. With the full record of British criminality on display, this is a country that, far from lecturing others, should be made to hang its head in shame and remain silent.
Bord Gais to sell off energy unit ‘in coming weeks’.
We are not citizens anymore, we are a new breed “the spineless ones” – we have become no more than conduit assets of the banking system.
Once this asset is sold off get ready for ever more expensive utility charges…and the government of the day will hide behind “it is a private company,it was a commercial decision.”
Just look across the water to the UK and observe how the sale of Britain’s energy companies worked out, not too good me thinks. Massive price increases whilst the companies post record profits.
Selling off key State assets to foreign owned companies will do no favour for this country in the long term!!
Just look at Telecom Éireann (now eircom) The company has struggled with international players buying it, stripping off key assets for short term gain, then piling the debt used to acquire eircom on top of the company and selling it on again!
Bord Gais Energy remains on track to become the first state asset to be auctioned off under the ‘New Era‘ privatisation scheme to be followed by the rest of the family jewels
I have no doubt that Kenny and Noonan have good intentions but can you see these men throwing down the gauntlet to force radical change to IMF/ECB policy… no these guys will not rock the boat for the are bonded to their masters
We are a country blitzed by the imposition of austerity…no credit, mounting household debt, high unemployment, plummeting standards right across the broad spectrum of education/social services and finally the Government selling off the what remains of the family silver. Light at the end of the tunnel I don’t think so all I see is devastation and more ruin. Given the level of mounting Government debt at some stage we are going to reach the point of no return and what then. Do we have to wait until the bitter end to face face reality.
Cutting public sector jobs means higher unemployment and fewer people in work paying taxes
Freezing public sector pay and higher unemployment means less disposable income to be spent in the private sector, with a knock-on effect on private sector jobs
Cutting business taxes means less revenue to close the deficit and pay off our debt.
The government is presenting its plans as simply ‘dealing with the deficit’, but that is a smokescreen for another agenda. The government wants to cut and privatise public services because it believes in a market for even essential goods and services; that business should be free to extract profit from any public service, even schools, hospitals, welfare ETC.
The government’s policies are failing because the public sector is not the real problem.
Instead of solving the crisis, these policies are making it worse.
In Spain the unemployment rate is now 25%, while youth unemployment is over 50%.
We are the 99% – and as an end game harassing the 99% cannot not work.
Wages have disportionately . Inflation has been higher than the annual increase in pay. This fall in real wages means we are able to buy less with our money than before, as we have less disposable income.
. . . .
Redistribution: to the 1%
Why is this happening and where is the money going? At the same time that wages and other income has been squeezed for the majority of people, a few people at the top are doing better than ever A few at the top are getting very rich by cutting pay and pensions for the rest.
Freedom of information
The very fundamentals of democracy are build on freedom of information and yet on a worldwide basis it appears to be politicians want to squeeze the information been fed to its citizens. Why will the Irish/EU not release the full details of the bailout agreement to its people.
Cutbacks In in education will mean will mean we revert to being a nation of unskilled factory workers.
What next immigration to Bangladesh?
Education is one of the few remaining life lines open to the country
No sell off of public utilities
Everywhere this has happened it has been an unmitigated disaster
A banking system that works for people not profit
Some of the banks that were bailed out by the government are still using loopholes to advise their corporate and wealthy clients how to avoid paying tax.
They have also laid-off thousands of their own staff to maintain the greed at the top. It feels like we have nationalised the debts while the profits are privatised.
The banking collapse, which caused such economic damage , means the finance sector has lost the right to carry on as before. It must now act in the public interest; publicly owned and controlled.
The money, real money, that is held by the finance sector is ours anyway: our pension funds, our savings, and the cash in our current accounts. The rest of it is credit – electronic money (as over 90% now is) created out of thin air by the banks to lend. The banks are given the right to create credit by governments.
We therefore need the government to ensure that when banks create credit, or lend or invest with our savings or pension funds, they are doing so in our collective interest.
That means investing in infrastructure like new council housing not lending recklessly and creating a housing bubble (and inevitable crash). It means investing to create new jobs in renewable energy rather than speculating on food prices to profit from starvation. And it means investing in new businesses and ideas, not getting windfall dividends and bonuses for merging existing businesses and laying-off staff.
Essential public services are being cut back and privatised, and people’s living standards have been falling , both for those in work and even more so for those unemployed.
There are social consequences too, which have clear financial costs.
Research from previous recessions shows that the increased financial pressures push more people into depression and substance abuse, means couples are more likely to separate, and suicide rates increase.
Politics is about choices – and there is always a choice and always an alternative. Because there always is an alternative but yet we are continually fed the mantra there is no alternative to austerity.
There is an economic crisis – one of rising unemployment, inequality and economic stagnation. Austerity isn’t working, and is not producing the economic growth that the government promised it would. But it is not just growth that matters. If we value people’s lives as more important than simply making more transactions, then the relevant tests for judging an economic recovery are:
Is unemployment falling?
Are people’s living standards rising
Is inequality reducing
Is the tax gap closing?
These are the tests against which we should measure the government’s economic strategy and proposals.
Also the government we have appear to be incapable of showing any leadership whatsoever. They sheep like continue to follow the dictate of their masters…Ollie Rehn. “the eurozone has shown a degree of resilience and problem-solving capacity that many observers and policymakers would not have predicted even a year ago”…Commission chief Jose Barroso insisted that the policy(austerity) is “fundamentally right” and working in Ireland, a risible statement if ever.
We need a leadership that knows how to play rough and this was familiar territory for the IRA. The lesson learnt was once the financial heart of London was bombed peace was in the making.
If the politicians do not heed the wishes of the electorate what then, protest marches …if they still do not listen…civil disobedience… if they still remain deaf well the options narrow. Revolution,guns , violence bombes I hope not.
May common sense prevail
“This is a terrible day for British justice. After fierce lobbying by the government, peers have failed to restore even minimal amendments previously included to this deeply damaging bill,”
The cherished and vitally important principle that justice must be done and seen to be done has been dealt a serious blow this evening,” said Tim Hancock, Amnesty International’s UK campaigns director.
Legal Agency Reprieve executive director Clare Algar said the secret courts will “do irreparable damage. It is deeply shameful that the government has been allowed to push these plans through parliament, despite the total lack of evidence that they are needed. Secret courts will ….. do irreparable damage to our reputation as a country which respects fair play and the rule of law,” she said.
British secret service officials, claim the Bill is designed to protect national security by preventing informers from being exposed.
Amnesty International said earlier, that the plan gives the British government the power to “simply play the ‘national security’ card whenever it wants to keep things secret”. The British government only needs the Queen’s Royal stamp of approval, to start the secret courts as new law in Britain.
Some of the public’s reaction in Britain is as follows.
All those lives lost in WW2 just to be ruled by Nazi-s again. Those that died in WW2 must be somersaulting in their graves.- Vincent
When those who oppose some British Government policies like the welfare cutbacks, bank bailouts and banker bonuses, privatisation and illegal foreign wars (like me) or those who complain about injustice start disappearing, losing their citizenship, being renditioned and killed by armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV drones) then no one in any central or local government roles including ALL employees, councillors, MP’s, and other politicians can be trusted. The number of people who criticise the British Government will rapidly reduce when the secret courts starts. It will not affect organisations like the SWP, EDL, BNP as they are funded by the Zionists, Bankers and operated by the security services MI5 and MI6 in order to control and suppress dissent among the sheople.- Student
The silence from the British legal fraternity in academia and in legal practice is shocking and a shameful indictment on the” profit without ethics” system that has pervaded every aspect of British life today. Justice must not only be done but be SEEN to be done. Having secret courts is an attempt to avoid scrutiny of checks and balances, to ignore rules of evidence and deny an accused person the right to defend themself agianst the mighty apparatus of state.
That’s why UK raceist authorities have been busay to make fake-secret documents against people they have targeted. They abuse people in UK and claiming that they have secret information about them, the information they have fabricated. UK has returned back to the medieval time. – Pam Cox
UK abused people for years and now want to kill them through their secret court so that nobody will realise what happened to them. UK is just trying to destroy the evidence of their abuse and mistreatment for the past decade so that created a legal support for themselves. I’m sure that the lives of thousands innocent people in the UK are at risk. – A Solicitor
My God, my ancestors will be turning in their graves. The Tories are finally realising what they have long dreamed of – throughout the years of the post-war settlement, they moodily incubated a determination to reverse the social and economic gains fought for and won by people of unparalleled toughness and determination, people who took on the might of privilege and wealth and defeated it. This is the New Tory moment; this when they come out from behind their cosmetic masks of reasonableness and fairness and social concern and display their true dark hearts before the world.
But I reserve my greatest contempt for those of us on the left; this is all happening on our watch. We betray those people I mentioned above, who vanquished the landowners and the factory and coal owners. And what are WE up against? a couple of Bullingdon hooray-henries and a leadership reject with the political acumen of petrified bird droppings . But the neoliberal apologists and careerist politicians that have infested the Labour Movement see only the votes of bigoted Middle Englanders and the ignorant Sun reading dross that posts here waiting to be harvested. The latter busy calling for their own enslavement, too ignorant or misinformed to notice the turkey staring back at them in the mirror of a Christmas Morning. And in the new Dark Age heralded in by IDS, every morning will be Christmas Morning for the beneficiaries, the businesses who will exploit this measure to access free labour, the talk of charities being a transparent smoke screen to hide the fundamental dismantling of the human right for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
Make no mistake, this is just the beginning. Anyone who thinks that once the principle of unpaid labour has breached the social repugnance it generates that it will stop at a month’s work for ‘idlers’ is the kind of fool the Tories are relying on get this through. These are the descendants of people who built vast fortunes and empires on the sweat and death of their factories and workhouses; they are past masters at dressing up inequality and evil in Protestant work ethics and biblical rhetoric denouncing the peril of idleness – except where it’s practised in its purest forms of course, by digital fortune shufflers and land owning parasites drawing their subsidies while they indulge Mediterranean waves with their oversized cock-yachts.
Shame, shame on us all. Tolstoy said everyone was innocent. I say everyone is guilty. And our children will never forgive us for allowing this to happen. The Tories talk of not saddling future generations with our debt; I think only of future generations facing the return of evils greater than any debt, that we had long thought banished from the lexicon of social intercourse and post war economics, all presented as some kind of economic panacea. Who is really ‘taking the piss’ here?
No doublethink, no prevarication, no quarter.