Tele column – 20th January 2017

Back in the eighties Margaret Thatcher was of the opinion that monetarism was the solution to all our ills and so she sold off British Gas, British Coal, British Telecom, British Steel, British Leyland and British Petroleum and encouraged everyone to become investors. The suburban hedgerows of little Britain buzzed with excitement as working and middle class people were sold a dream fuelled by financial aspiration. Money wasn’t just what we used to purchase goods, money supply was a way of controlling the economy. A generation that had been born too late for rationing and had been spared the pain of post war Britain struggling to rebuild from the ruins decided that the factory floor was not good enough, not modern enough, too dirty, too hard, too demanding and we were told that greed was good and the acquisition of wealth was the primary aim of any respectable upwardly mobile individual. We didn’t need a trade, we needed to be traders. We were told to aspire to owning faster cars and bigger houses, we were encouraged not to notice that the public transport system was crumbling and social housing was being sold off and not replaced. We were informed by Margaret Thatcher that “there is no such thing as society”. It was all about self. Stockbrokers, traders and money men became the role models and manufacturing was shipped offshore and labelled as an unworthy industry. The UK would be the financial powerhouse of the globe. Everyone, well everyone worth their salt, would be a millionaire. This was the ideology of Thatcher’s Britain.

This proposed capitalist utopia turned into the banking crash of 2009 and Joe Public who surprise surprise hadn’t found great wealth in his shares which he so optimistically bought in the eighties, was once again used to bail out the rich. We saved the banking elite amidst promises of reform that never came. Multi-national companies avoided paying tax while austerity was wielded like a giant hammer to bludgeon the poorest and keep the rest in their place while placating them with a ready supply of cheap alcohol and a national lottery to pin their hopes on.

And here we are now. 37 years after Thatcher and 8 years after the banking crash and unbelievably we are being sold the same eighties dream again. Phillip Hammond has decided that the United Kingdom will become a tax haven. We all know he means London and not even all of London, just the important parts. The parts the fat cats inhabit. Only this time we need the dream, not because of the trade unions, not because of the premature proclamation of the death of heavy industry, this time it’s the European Union’s fault. It’s Brussels fault, it’s all these foreigners coming here propping up our hotel trade and health service and building sites, doing the jobs we either can’t or are unwilling to do because we all wanted to be stockbrokers. So we are leaving them behind and with them the European Union and the single market that the European Union gives us membership of. Mr Hammond declares that he is prepared to have a tax and trade war with Europe. He threatens to impose tariffs on European imports. He declares that a wounded Britain will come back competitively engaged. He doesn’t explain how. This is the rhetoric of a man hanging on to a dream which is rapidly becoming a nightmare. Theresa May and her entourage of sycophants, charlatans and mercenaries are concocting, in a fog of uncertainty, travel plans for the United Kingdom that will take us who knows where. Unless we have a compass, a moral compass, we will make the same mistakes again and the only thing we do know, is that way madness lies.

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