As the late Frank Zappa once said, “there’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over.” And right now, we are being bent right over. Welcome to 2011.Before Christmas, when Vince Cable talked about the coalition being essentially Maoist there was a fair amount of media scoffing and incredulity on offer. I’m not sure there’s much to laugh at now: Cable’s thesis is turning out to be pretty much on the money. We are in the midst of a time of continuous revolution. Here’s a government who know, in their hearts, that they’ve got one Parliament to do what they want, so they are haring around at pretty much breakneck speed, trying to force every single last bit of change through before anyone tries to stop them.The only thing Cable got wrong in the analysis was that the Coalition project hasn’t modelled itself on Mao, but Pol Pot. This year is rapidly turning into Year Zero on the political calendar. Every institution or system is being ransacked:
- The NHS : today’s Bill publication sees a huge change to the way health care is provided. At first it looks little more than an accounting practice of ditching PCTs, then giving the cash to doctors instead. This is all very well, but there’s a rather more sinister logic behind this: GP’s are not going to run their own finances; they’ll see the amount of work and subcontract to a specialist medical management organisation. The big European and US players must be rubbing their hands right now as a new market opens up to them. Goody, just what we need: more private organisations bleeding money out to hand to shareholders, and more managers to do it.
- Education : the Universities, Free Schools, the trashing of FE. How do you begin to even comprehend the coming car crash that this will be? There’s not enough room here.
- Electoral Reform : changes to the voting system? Ok. Consultation? No, why bother, let’s just bulldoze it through the Commons and Lords and have the referendum anyway. Still, for some in the Conservative party this is great. After using the LibDems as a human shield for a year, anything with Clegg’s name on it will be toast. Then came the proposals to force 50% participation in union strike ballots. But this is also hypocrisy. Why should different rules apply to unions when elections to parliament, in parliament, or to any other public office, for example, don’t have these conditions. Boris Johnson was elected Mayor of London on a turnout well under 50%, for example. But he doesn’t like to talk about that.
- The Economy : what we have is essentially neo-Thatcherite. We have a government who are intent on sucking money out of the economy as quickly as possible. But, of course, with rising unemployment and rising inflation, the prospect of all that private sector growth Cameron and Osborne were optimistically predicting looks fairly dim. And that’s before the tax rises really bite: VAT and fuel rises are going to cause a fair bit of discomfort for many. And then when interest rates start rising again. Meanwhile, the 50% tax rate is going to be removed because it is “ineffective”. Lovely, so slap up indirect taxation and use the most regressive means possible to screw the public.
- Transport : so another thing that will be rising is train fares, and once again well above inflation. And then there’s the (at least) 35bn to be spent on the London-Birmingham High Speed Rail Link, for which the benefits are, at best, questionable. I’d have thought the money would be better spent elsewhere, and not on bulldozing on of the few green areas left in the south of England. But no, it’s OK, we’ll plant a few tress and everything will be just peachy. Never mind that neither the rail link to the North East of the country, nor the A1 could be described as more than barely adequate, we Northern Johnnies will just have to make do. And, in rural areas, cuts to local authority funding will have disastrous consequences for public transport, like this and this. It’s almost as if someone doesn’t want the population to be mobile.
- The Banks : the government claims that they cannot affect bank bonus culture, even though we, the public, own 82% of RBS, for example. The mantra is that, “if we curb them, they will move elsewhere”. Well, given the wonderful job they’ve been doing, elsewhere can have them.
- Local Authorities : one of the results of all this cutting is that local services will suffer. The quality of life for many people, some of whom are the most vulnerable, is going to get markedly worse. And the wave of redundancies mean that those people who were in work will now be on benefits, unproductive and angry.
- The Big Society : Cameron’s BIG idea. And what a wet, resounding fart of an idea it is. Perhaps he envisioned all those people being made redundant being energised to go out and do what they were doing, but without earning a living doing it (and in some cases barely even that). Perhaps he really is that much of a blithering moon-faced imbecile. No, the Big Society is a cynical exercise in the neo-Thatcherite embracing of ‘charidee’ and a public high-minded morality concealing the systematic rape and pillage of much of our infrastructure, both physical and social. As an idea it is both iniquitous and hypocritical. And he can shove it.
So far, after the New Year, the weather is just about holding but the political and social temperature is starting to rise. Already unions are expressing concern about inflation outstripping people’s ability to live, and pressure is starting to build. It’s already a rocky start to Year Zero. how much worse will it get?