No, this is not what you think. It won’t be a nostalgic trail through puffball dresses, piano ties, wedge haircuts and misty-eyed reminiscence about Durran Duran. for those of us who were there, there was another, far more serious 1980’s, and today’s news seems to rather starkly highlight it.
Plastered all over the news this morning is the story that certain parts of the country will be less resilient to cuts when the spending review finally happens this autumn. Can you guess which bits of the country they might be? So much for sharing the pain. So, if you live in poor, Labour-voting Middlesbrough or Mansfield you are far more likely to feel the effects of the ConDem axe than if you live in Harrogate or St Albans. At this stage, I might say that this was always likely to be something of a ‘No Shit Sherlock’ moment, but the barefacedness of it all is just breathtaking. Anyone who says the North-South divide is closing is, frankly, living in a dream world. And Nick Clegg’s mewlings about how, as a Sheffield MP, he understands the concern being shown, is little better. Prattling about ‘difficult choices’ does nothing to acknowledge that those who are going to be asked to suffer the most are likely to be the ones who can least afford to suffer at all. All of his attempts to ameliorate the anxiety that is being felt are ham-fisted and ineffectual, all of which seem to be rapidly becoming his leit motif. To those of us who were around in the North during the Thatcher years, this is all starting to sound depressingly familiar.
And the results of all of this are fairly obvious to predict. Yet more damage will be done to those places least able to sustain it. So they will be left to rot further, and will then be berated by the government for doing so. Then, in years to come (and not a for fair while yet), the mistakes of now will be lamented over as regeneration money will be allocated to solve problems that have lain unresolved for the best part of thirty years already. Current actions are storing up huge structural problems for the next generation, but no one in the coalition seems to either want to listen or care.
Clegg must also see the writing on the wall. The support the LibDems have spent years building up has been pissed away. Already, party supporters and the wider electorate are starting to ask questions about the LibDems, and more particularly their leader. He may be convinced that the coalition will hold, but will he manage to hold his own position? It may seem fanciful to ass this question now, just four moths into the coalition; but come next May, especially if the AV referendum is lost, and the LibDems do badly in local elections, what then?
And what if we have a bad winter? If we have another severe winter, against the backdrop of swingeing government cuts and worsening public services, the distinct possibility of civil unrest, strikes and protest rears its head again.
Of course, the background to this is painting a picture of blitzing those making a, “lifestyle choice to just sit on out-of-work benefits” (in an interview with Nick Robinson, reported by BBC News) and ramping up the rhetoric on ‘benefit cheats’. This is, once again, the language of the 1980’s, with its return to the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor. I notice, however, very little being said on the far more expensive problem of tax evasion and avoidance. I wonder why.
Meanwhile, the previously sensible Vince Cable appears to have totally lost the plot (see this BBC story from yesterday), in announcing that Science funding would face significant cuts. This was defended by Science Minister David Willetts, echoing Cable’s promise to ‘screen out mediocrity’. What was more worrying was the push for concentrating funding on ‘impact’ research, which generates immediate outputs. The president of the Royal Society, Lord Rees, was rightly deeply concerned about such moves and, in an opinion piece in the Financial Times lambasted the government’s approach.
We are in grave danger, by cutting in this way, of leaving vast swathes of our economy so fundamentally weakened that any potential recovery will take years, perhaps even decades to happen. And when recovery does happen (if it happens), then some regions will be left even further behind to wither and die. Coincidentally, few of the areas suffering most are represented by LibDem MP’s, fewer still by Conservatives. How very strange.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the belief that much of this is being done with an ideological zeal that borders on the insane. And that the Liberal Democrats are actually abetting this madness is nauseating. A generation in the wilderness awaits them.
God help the rest of us.