UK: Here Comes the Breakdown Decade

2 January 2020 — True Publica

In the decade from 2010 to 2020, a period in which the Conservative government oversaw the Great Recession and managed the slowest recovery from any economic slump on record – it heaped misery on millions in the shape of a failed policy called austerity.

It doubled the national debt as a percentage of GDP and borrowed over £1trillion to save the banks and the political-economic mismanagement of successive governments. In so doing, it deprived the most vulnerable in society, accelerated child poverty and homelessness and looked the other way over the emerging healthcare crisis and social care crisis. At the same time, well over 100,000 people lost their lives waiting for help. Inequality was expanded, not the economy.

The government offered a protest vote in the form of a referendum and in the end, it led to Brexit, which itself led to a government more right-wing than any for over 200 years. The UKs Union is now seriously at threat as are important international relationships. As the South American saying goes – “if there’s no food for the poor, there’s no rest for the rich.” This is the trajectory of a downward spiral.

In the last decade, we have witnessed more political and financial scandals than any other decade on record; its zenith observed in the fallout of the bank-led financial collapse, the implications of which, are still unfolding.

The next ten years will be worse though. Electoral law, the judicial system and parliament itself will all be ‘reformed’, all for the purpose of providing political and electoral advantages to one political party. Boris Johnson’s government will ruthlessly exploit their win and radically reshape British democracy, ushering in a period of power to last possibly a generation.

With authoritarian tendencies, the Tories, who have only ever dreamed of a victory of this kind, will take this opportunity to entrench what can only be described as Conservative hegemony.

This is evidenced by page 47/48 of the 2019 Tory manifesto, which sees making those dreams become a reality.

The Fixed-term Parliaments Act will be repealed. This allows Johnson the personal right to determine the date of the next general election. Electoral boundaries will be redefined to favour Tory marginals and a voter identification law will be introduced to ensure those who lack photo ID will be unable to vote. The totally outdated ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system is to be protected and the upper house will continue to be a place to shift power.

Boris Johnson, who won just 1 per cent more of the electoral vote than Theresa May did in 2017 – resulted in hers being a disaster but with FPTP his a landslide.

The threats contained in this manifesto are blatantly transmitted and more substantial than anything before it in modern times.

“After Brexit, we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the Government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the Royal Prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people. The ability of our security services to defend us against terrorism and organised crime is critical. We will update the Human Rights Act and administrative law to ensure that there is a proper balance between the rights of individuals, our vital national security and effective government.“

Revenge hides maliciously in the shadows of this paragraph. The saga that unfolded during the Brexit battleground in 2019 is to be dealt with. The Supreme Court, House of Lords and parliament that attempted to halt Brexit will experience game-changing legislation. And when it does – it will be fashioned to ensure enduring power to crush any resistance to its will.

The institutions that have served Britain well over the decades are to be adapted to fit the new order. Dominic Cummings, the man in charge at Downing Street is a dangerous technocrat who has made no secret of his hatred towards Britain’s neutral civil service, towards an independent judiciary, the monarchy, military and government in general. He worships the American administration and authority (without the constitutional obstacles of couse) and their way of life. It says something about our politics when a fifth of all new Tory MPs have worked as lobbyists.

As TruePublica has reported on and warned about so many times, authoritarianism now beckons in this decade of breakdown. And, we are almost helpless in being sucked into its pernicious sphere.

In the UK, liberals have watched in horror as Donald Trump has trampled on the norms of US democracy. He has been impeached as a threat to national security amid claims of corruption and malfeasance. But on this side of the pond, the few mechanisms left to halt the destruction of laws designed to create fairness, balance and impartiality dissipate when the role of the political opposition is vacant. The truth is that the UK is more vulnerable to authoritarianism that America is. Britain’s centralised political model, its unwritten constitution and antiquated electoral system are all gifts to the incumbent government – especially one prepared to break all the rules.

Fake news, ‘deepfake’ video technology, artificial intelligence, surveillance capitalism, social media and other tools of failure will cover us in a blanket of mistrust. It’s the perfect cloak for populists – the dividend of liars.

A British prime minister — with a majority in the House of Commons is almost unrivalled in their power in Europe.

The electorate’s recent habit of returning governments with only small majorities — or no majority at all — had acted as an informal check and balance. But Johnson’s unambiguous triumph has removed even this.

Scotland, one of the few areas to defy Conservative hegemony, may soon secede from the UK. But watch how vindictive this government will be over granting that wish.

Britain’s delicate, unwritten constitution and fragile democratic institutions now face an unprecedented test. And as Labour will soon learn to its cost, election defeats of this nature have consequences. By the time their squabbling is over and they have regrouped, the political, technical and operational landscape of winning elections will have changed.

Supreme Court

There have been calls from Brexiter lawyers and MPs for the appointment of judges to be approved.

Outgoing Supreme Court president Lady Hale – who famously ruled against Mr Johnson’s five-week prorogation of parliament, used her retirement speech last month to warn against the political appointment of senior judges. “Judges have not been appointed for party political reasons in this country since at least the Second World War, we do not want to turn into the Supreme Court of the United States – whether in powers or in process of appointment.”

In a bid to stop cases reaching the Supreme Court – Downing Street has already confirmed a plan to allow lower courts to roll back EU legal rulings following Brexit. This is a plan that prompted concerns that it will become easier to challenge European standards in areas such as workers’ rights and the environment. This distortion of democracy is baked into the new Withdrawal Bill and is seen by many as a way to divert scrutiny and reduce regulatory standards.

Civil Service

Dominic Cummings quickly approaching war on the British civil service is alarming. One insider writes: “He (Cummings) is a shock doctrine aficionado who has seen in Brexit a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ram through policy ideas that couldn’t be implemented at any other time.” Some of those ideas may be good ones. Others, like allowing an increased politicisation of the civil service, are not. The problem with most of his ideas is that they are untested. If they go wrong, they would, according to the civil service union chief, David Penman, “impact upon the delivery of public services to millions of citizens” – an experiment that will could cost lives.

Civil Service World writers published this first paragraph in a dire warning of the immediate future – “After the crepuscular administration of Theresa May, night has descended. Shrouded in gloom, a Prince of Darkness rides. Dominic Cummings is set to become the most influential adviser in British political life. He will be this generation’s svengali; the internet-era Rasputin.”

Monarchy

In 1980, the Queen’s speech was watched by 28 million viewers which reflected and celebrated on the service of people to the state in its many forms. Last year, her speech was watched by 7.1 million people in which she warned that people should respect each other even when they harbour deeply held differences.

In 2019, Professor Robert Hazell of the Constitution Unit branded Johnson’s political plans a “sham” that “embarrassed” the Queen. The proroguing of parliament was a display of political power – not just to the Queen but to all of Johnson’s political adversaries. Relations between the monarchy and government then hit rock bottom.

Prince Andrew has done much to ruin the reputation of the House of Windsor, meanwhile – the right-wing printed media has used the Duchess of Sussex, Megan as their destination of royal ire.

In the next ten years, the Queen will likely become too old to serve and step down. Prince Charles is already 71. What she leaves behind is a monarchy that has been savaged by the right-wing media and subordinated to an unscrupulous authoritarian unphased by tearing down traditions and norms.

Economy

Old claims that Brexit will bring an economic boom have not just been thoroughly rejected by economists, but the drag effect of crashing inward investment is now taking its toll. The UK economy is now entering 2020 with the weakest growth outside a recession since second world war.

This can now be classed as a trend. Economic growth for 2019 as a whole is forecast to be just 1%, the weakest expansion outside a recession for more than half a century. And Johnson’s decision to leave the option of no-deal Brexit on the table will hold back business investment yet again, the impact will continue through the following years.

The only consensus by economists over Brexit is that all forms of Brexit will damage the economy. The only question left – is by how much. With promises to not raise taxes and spend more in an environment of reducing revenue will most likely see the 2019 Tory manifesto turns into a tissue of lies again.

NHS

There is no real consensus amongst economists that Brexit will increase tax revenues – quite the opposite in fact. The Tory manifesto promises no new taxes and in complete contrast to Boris Johnson ’s repeated election campaign denials about selling off, privatising and/or doing a trade deal with America – an exclusive report in The Mirror confirms that – “NHS cancer care and kids’ ­treatments are up for grabs in a stealth Tory sell-off.” Dr John Lister, from Keep Our NHS Public, said: “This is batch privatisation aimed at encouraging NHS trusts to outsource services rather than provide them themselves. This could mean outsourcing whole units or services and transferring staff, or making them redundant.”

Our most detailed report on NHS privatisation from the Centre for Health and the Public Interest proves that privatisation projects now takes up 26 per cent of the NHS budget – not 7 per cent as widely reported. The NHS is already heavily privatised and will continue to be so. The consequence is obvious. NHS services will nor recover and the overall service is once again being set up to fail. Expect no improvements in the NHS but do expect an expansion of private hospitals and related profit-based services that the NHS ends up buying. This is the money extra will go.

Immigration

There’s an unspoken irony here. The new PM has already publicly complained that EU citizens feel ‘too much at home in Britain”. But Britain cannot function without immigration. And so, it will continue.

You can expect immigration to be clamped down upon but don’t expect immigration to fall. Immigration from the EU will fall only to be substantially replaced (after all, according to the government, unemployment is at its lowest). Instead of EU service workers – expect workers from Africa, South America and Asia. The numbers won’t change unless the economy falters or it falters because there are not enough workers.

Age of uncertainty

All of this change will be covered in an era of uncertainty. Fake news, ‘deepfake’ video technology, artificial intelligence, surveillance capitalism, social media and other tools of failure will cover us in a blanket of mistrust. It’s the perfect cloak for populists – the dividend of liars.

Google/YouTube, Facebook/Instagram and Twitter command attention on a truly vast scale and opened political discourse to voices from outside the mainstream media. In so doing, they have done the same to those with nefarious intent, including foreign state powers. Sensational, misleading and fictitious content has been an essential driver of their growth.

According to files leaked by Edward Snowden, the NSA now has effectively unlimited access to data collected by Google, Facebook and Microsoft. Its sister institution in the UK, GCHQ, also conducts massive illegal surveillance of all our online communications. It knows more about your movements and interactions with the world than anyone. All this is now in the hands of a new government with authoritarian tendencies who got into power by lying. This trajectory will see the will of the government exercised over citizen protest groups and dissenters like never before. Soon, we won’t trust much about what we see, hear or read.

Breakdown or reconstruction?

Over the next decade, the political, economic and social landscape of Britain will undoubtedly change but one thing will surely emerge as the truth. By 2030 the schism between the haves and have-nots will have only widened further.

For the haves – Britain will have reconstructed itself in an era of financial failure (2008 crash = austerity) to emerge with extreme advantages provided in a post-Brexit world. For its architects and acolytes, wealth will continue to funnel upwards but with fewer barriers or regulatory obstacles. For the have-nots, social democracy and the institutions that supported it will have withered, and the failure of trickle-down (extreme neoliberal) economics only becomes more visible. Here – the entrenchment of discrimination, injustice and inequality become the definition of the crisis of daily life for half the population and all of the despair that brings with it.

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.

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