‘Lexit’ supporters welcome new round of austerity

Supporters of the ‘Lexit’ faction in last June’s EU referendum have proclaimed themselves “satisfied” with Chancellor Philip Hammond’s explanation that Brexit will necessitate a new round of austerity for the public sector.

Jane Blobb, from Sheffield, said she was “not in the least bit surprised” that Britain’s leaving the EU will now serve as a pretext for even more cuts to services essential to the running of society. “It’s just what I expected”, she said. “I mean, Remain voters did warn me that this is exactly what would happen, that they would use it as an excuse, another ‘shock doctrine’ if you will, but I’m not in the least bit bothered that they are indeed doing so, because…er…the EU is a…capitalist club. For…neoliberals”.

Fellow Lexit enthusiast, SWP member John “Johnny” Johnson of Hemel Hempstead, agreed. “It’s a price worth paying”, he said. “We’ll almost certainly see the end of the NHS now, and I helped make that happen. As a lifelong socialist, I’m proud of the decision I made. The EU is a bosses’ club. A neoliberal one.”

Hammond also warned that their calls for wage hikes for teachers, nurses and others may have to mean tax rises for millions and further ‘savage’ cuts to social welfare benefits.

“Well that’s fine,” said Billy Bonehead as he folded and unfolded a three-day-old edition of the Morning Star while waiting for the off-license to open. “I haven’t worked since 2013, and I’ve been sanctioned six times for the pettiest reasons you can imagine. I’ve been staying on a friend’s sofa for the last three months and it’s getting to be a real strain. But if Mr Hammond says that we need to tighten our belts even further, I can respect that. People like him have got a difficult job on their hands managing public finances, and at least it’s not the EU calling the shots this time. They’re neoliberals, you know.”

Hammond, one of the ministers battling for a “soft” UK exit from the EU, defended the 1% pay cap for public sector workers, declaring the Government “must hold our nerve”. He also said that any attempts to address the climate crisis would now have to “take a back seat” to efforts to promote economic growth at any cost, and that any responsibility the UK has to help tackle the global refugee crisis were “not now a priority”. He added that the Government is looking seriously at abolishing corporation tax, bringing in a ‘fasttrack’ fracking compulsory purchase order system, erasing all health and safety legislation from the statute books, tripling VAT and replacing the progressive tax regime with a flat tax, in addition to reintroducing conscription, setting up a network of Victorian-style workhouses, decriminalising child labour and introducing on-the-spot execution of dissidents. This was all necessary because of Brexit, or “whatever you choose to call it”, he added.

“Fair enough,” said another Lexit supporter, Sadiq Eejit of Birmingham. “That’s more or less what I voted for. As long as it doesn’t affect my political principles, I’ll put up with it. God knows what sort of world my kids will live in. It defies thinking about. But as long as we do whatever Mr Hammond and Mrs May think is necessary, we’ll get through this. We’re all British, after all. I’m sure after a few more decades or possibly centuries of entirely necessary austerity and corporate looting, we’ll be back on our feet again, and then there’ll probably be a revolution, or something. Did you know that the EU is run by neoliberals? It said so on The Canary.”

Additional reporting courtesy of The Huffington Post.

“Austerity is over” – so what exactly did Daniel Blake die for?

Conservative Party billboards, 2010

Theresa May has said that austerity is finished. What she didn’t mention – but knows full well – is that it was never necessary in the first place.

After the financial crisis of 2007-8, which was largely caused by deregulation of the financial system on the ideological basis that the market always knows best, the Conservative press started telling a story which wasn’t true. The narrative they came up with was that Labour overspending had caused the country to become mired in unsustainable levels of public debt. The solution was to do what they had always wanted: shrink the British state, selling off the profitable parts of the NHS and reducing the post-war Welfare State to a bare mimimum. It was a clear case of what Naomi Klein had described the previous year as the shock doctrine: the taking advantage of a crisis in order to implement an extreme ideological agenda which in normal circumstances would be roundly rejected. As the neoliberal guru Milton Friedman had said:

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.

On the basis of the story the Conservatives won two general elections. As a direct result of the ‘savage’ cuts (to quote Nick Clegg’s ill-advised boasts) millions turned to food banks and thousands were killed by benefit sanctions and the removal of their disability benefits. The NHS is now on its last legs, both of which are due to be ripped off at any moment and sold off to speculators, as detailed in the Naylor Review.

How were they able to get away with it? Because the Labour Party never challenged the narrative. They never pointed out with sufficient conviction that it wasn’t government overspending that had caused the crisis. Whenever they tried to articulate their own version of events it was done so unconvincingly that the right-wing press shouted them down and they were cowed.

Now the Labour Party is telling its own story and it happens to be one that coincides with the truth. Austerity was a con, a scam, and a coup and the damage that’s been done to public services and to social cohesion was a result of maliciousness and greed. Now, at long last, after seven bitter and frustrating years, it is finally arguing its case with such conviction that the whole tenor of debates about society and the economy have changed more or less overnight.

The Tories think they can get away with pretending to drop austerity and moving swiftly on. They must not be allowed to do so. The cuts agenda has been the entire basis of government policy at every moment of the last seven years and they knew that it was based on lies. They knew that the economic crisis was nothing to do with government overspending. The scale of the scam that has been pulled is so great that it would take a truth and reconciliation commission to get at the truth. It was not based on a regrettable misunderstanding that has now been resolved. It was based on an immense campaign of lies so that public wealth in all its different forms, both tangible and intangible but all absolutely invaluable, could be monetised, financialised and ultimately stolen. It hasn’t been a marginal aspect of the last two governments’ political programmes but their absolute centrepiece. We have been ruled by a regime of austerity and in order to move on from it in any meaningful way HEADS MUST FUCKING ROLL starting with that of Theresa May, who just a few weeks ago thought she could crush all political opposition for good. If austerity is dead, then so are the careers of all those who, with staggering dishonesty and massive corruption, supported it in the first place. They have ruined millions of lives – and, given that without austerity, Brexit would be inconceivable, set in chain a series of consequences which may end up destroying peace between European nations – on the basis of an absolute lie.

Greece has to go green

(This was written as a comment in response to this typically excellent piece by Alex Andreou (@sturdyalex), I’m not sure if the Byline comments section is working properly so I’m posting it here in any case)

You lay things out very clearly and fairly. This article from a French site published yesterday makes clear just how enormously difficult the position of the Greek negotiators was, so anyone criticising Tsipras and his team has to do so with great circumspection. For me (from my customarily limited perspective) it seems as though Costas Lapavitsas was right all along, that Greece has to leave the euro and strike out on its own, nationalising the banks forthwith. The problem with this in the context of the last two weeks is threefold: problems of liquidity made it unfeasible; Tsipras had just asked for a mandate to stay in the euro; and the process will be a time-consuming one as it will have to be done in an orderly fashion. It’s clear now that Syriza weren’t and aren’t prepared for this at this stage. I do think that in the future one of the Second Division Euro countries will have to make the leap, and when they do it will need to be on the basis of not only a formal process of disengagement and the setting in place of a formal alternative, but also on the basis of a massive campaign of national and international solidarity for a popular austerity programme a la Cuba. It would have to mean taking a path of alternative sustainable development rather than further slavish adherence to the neoliberal model of selling off the country’s assetts, sacrificing its environment and enslaving its people. I don’t say this as a fan of Castro’s Cuba but it does offer a useful point of comparison for what would need to happen. There’s a documentary from the early 90s about Cuba’s special period after the fall of the USSR which I think would be very useful viewing at this time as it details how Cuba was forced to turn to alternative energy in order to survive. Why couldn’t Greece be the world’s first truly sustainable economy? Easier to ask than to achieve but if it is to survive with falling into war, fascism or permanent debt peonage it seems to me that this is the only way for it to develop. So far, as Naomi Klein details in This Changes Everything, Syriza doesn’t seem to have begun to take climate change and other environmental questions seriously but in doing so it may not only be able to find a way out of this morass but also to offer a shining example to the world of how humanity itself can leap off the express train leading it to certain and total destruction and survive its special period.

On Framing Austerity

Popular support for austerity as a response to economic crisis remains very high in the UK. Statistics on unemployment, child poverty, homelessness seem to fall on deaf ears. So far none of the campaigns which have been launched to challenge the austerity agenda appear to have had the slightest impact. Why is this?

One very convincing explanation lies in idea of framing. According to the work of George Lakoff and others, people do not simply evaluate the available evidence and form their opinions on this basis. Rather, they tend to accept facts which fit into their picture of the world, and reject those that don’t fit. A great deal of research into the way that people perceive events, think and form opinions supports this.


And it is not just a conscious thing – research into the brain shows that we take metaphors much more seriously than was previously assumed. When we hear it repeated endlessly and everywhere that the national credit card has been maxed out and that we urgently need to cut back on spending, we tend to believe it, whether we want to do so or not.

A recent report <http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/entry/framing-the-economy-the-austerity-story>from the New Economic Foundation addresses this problem head on. Over the last few years a very effective story has been told, which barely bears repeating here: The country is broke, austerity is a necessary evil; government spending has grown out of control; many are addicted to welfare and have no incentive to work; many are simply lazy and their outright refusal to work conflicts with the hard-working efforts of the rest of us; the national debt is a ticking time bomb which simply must be addressed.

This story has been effective because it contains key elements: it relates powerfully to people’s own experience of the world; it contains vivid and memorable metaphors; it consists of a simple message repeated endlessly and consistently.

If we want to challenge this agenda, we need to change the terms of the debate. It is clearly not enough to claim, as Labour has done, that austerity is too fast or the cuts too deep. Those of us who oppose austerity have to develop alternative frames which make sense to people and have an emotional appeal.

To this end the NEF report makes a series of suggestions. They suggest the following would be effective messages that the left should try to communicate as much as possible:

*1. **Casino economy – our economy is like a casino, it is in need of reform so that **it can be stable and useful.*

*2. Treading water – we are not making any progress as a nation; we are running **to stand still, struggling but not moving forward.*

*3. Big bad banks – our current problems are the result of a financial crisis that we, **and not the banks that caused it, paid for.*

*4. Big guys and little guys – there are two types of people in Britain, the little guys **who work hard and don’t get a fair deal, and the big guys who have money and **power and play by their own set of rules.*

*5. Jobs Gap – the biggest issue facing our country is the jobs gap: people who **want to work but can’t, people who work hard but don’t take home a decent **wage and young people who cannot be sure of a good job.*

*6. Time for renewal – we need to rebuild and renew what made Britain great– **from the railways to our education system. We need to invest.*

*7. Austerity is a smokescreen – The Coalition uses the deficit as an excuse to do **what they have always wanted to do like shrink the state and privatise the NHS. **We cannot trust them; they aren’t out to help ordinary people.*

We can, indeed should, debate which of these messages may resonate more powerfully with the public. Some would clearly be much more effective than others. We also need to use whatever resources we can to find out which ones work best. They all potentially present alternatives messages which exploit certain sentiments which are widely held and deeply felt. Whichever messages we choose will need to be repeated as consistently, as clearly and as widely as possible.

One hopeful sign that Miliband and co may be aware of the potential of such an approach was his recent instruction to MPs and ministers to refer to ‘social security’ rather than ‘welfare’. But if Left Unity is serious about having any sort of impact on public debate in this country it will have to take up this challenge and go much further.

I’m sure that these ideas will provoke a furious reaction from some on the left who are allergic to any attempt to rethink the way we use language to formulate and communicate our ideas. For me such a debate will be very welcome. We cannot just keep trying, and failing, to appeal to people’s rationality.

The same goes for climate change. No amount of appeals to people’s rational sense of self-interest has worked in trying to raise awareness of the coming catastrophe. The need to behave sustainably does not fit into people’s framework for understanding reality, which is based on infinite economic expansion and ever-increasing consumption. We have to develop frames which are based clearly on the notion that we cannot separate economic and social development and environmental impact, that the economy and the environment are not two separate entities but one. Thinking in new ways, seeking to reframe debates about all aspects of how we perceive and organise our social reality has to be an integral part of the project to build an effective left movement in this country and elsewhere.