Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Cameron: riding the rapids

In Editorial on December 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

It’s been a rough ride for David Cameron over the past couple of months – one that should have made him realise that slick presentation and a background in public relations simply aren’t enough.

Opposition to his NHS “reforms” continues unabated. Unemployment keeps on growing whilst the economy continues to sink deeper into recession. On top of that, street rioting in August rapidly replaced his fanciful notion of a “big society” with that of a “broken society”.

As far as the continuing campaign against the break-up of the National Health Service is concerned, it should be noted that the Bill on the NHS passed through the House of Commons last month, largely thanks to the support of most of the Lib Dem MPs. Despite the opposition expressed by the Liberal Democrats at their annual conference last year, only a handful had the courage, or principles, to vote against it. As for the rest (including Clegg and co), it seems that it’s now a done deal.

A SINKING ECONOMY: But on the economic front, it seems that Cameron, Osborne and the Cabinet are facing problems that put their entire strategy in question. Our economy is on the slide. Unemployment is rising, people are spending less, and any talk of a “recovery” has been exposed as all smoke and mirrors. In other words, merely an illusion.

There’s even worse news for Osborne. It seems that public sector borrowing actually rose in August and may well continue to rise. His “Plan A” strategy, it seems, results in a certain boomerang effect – cut jobs, and consequently depress spending, and there’s less revenue available for the exchequer. Not only that, but more money needs to be spent on benefits for those made unemployed (however much the Government may try to massage the figures).

Of course it’s not only our economy that needs fixing. The whole of the Euro zone, plus the USA, is facing the brink. And, on September 22, we faced a “Black Thursday”, when £64 billion was wiped off the value of Britain’s leading shares. On that particular day of trading, every share in the FTSE 100 index fell. Such was the market’s lack of confidence in the state of the economy.

George Osborne has declared repeatedly that he’s not for turning. There is no “Plan B” he keeps saying. Now we’re not in a position to forecast what may happen in the weeks, or months, ahead. But already countries like the USA and Canada have been coming to the conclusion that making cuts alone is not enough. Money must be available to stimulate employment. Of course in America Obama is hampered by the Tea Party tendency, who seem intent on letting their country go to hell in a handcart. Now, even the IMF has warned that stimulating growth and employment must be part of any deal to tackle our economic woes – a point that one would have thought should be obvious.

So it’s possible we may get a “Plan A (slightly revised)” from Osborne – preferably before Christmas. Meanwhile, in the Labour Party it seems that the works of John Maynard Keynes may be coming back in to fashion. Keynes had very different ideas from the neo-liberals who currenty rule the roost, about how an ailing economy should be tackled. He believed that a “slash and burn” approach could only make matters worse. Public intervention, not suppression, should be a key to pulling the economy round.

At least it would be a step in the right direction.

RIOTING IN THE STREETS: On August 6, Tottenham in north London experienced some of the worst riots since the street protests of the Thatcher years.

Over five days, the rioting spread across England. It even hit the Barton Street area of Gloucester. Since then there have been acres of print, vivid film and photography and countless attempts at analysis.

We’re not in a position to say whether it was “planned” (as some commentators claimed), or point to a single reason that would explain it all. No doubt those who took part in the riots had many different motives for their action. In some cases it’s likely that it was just “mindless” behaviour from street savvy kids who simply wanted a bit of action. But that begs the question – why?

An alienated under-class has grown up since the days of Thatcher. They have been marginalised, shunted into ghetto-like sink estates, and no longer share the moral certainties of wider society.

For many who watched the images on TV, there was a feeling of stark disbelief. But, in retrospect, it may be that this was a tragic episode waiting to happen.

What is equally depressing is the reaction by the Government after the riots ran their course. David Cameron has long since forgotten his famous “hug a hoodie” speech, made when he was in opposition. Now the response was to clamp down on those who took part in the riots with harsh penal penalties (which has resulted in the prison population rising to record levels) in an orgy of summary “justice”. And the PM went further. Families of those who were involved in the riots have been threatened with the loss of their benefits or homes. He even invited an American police chief over to tell us how to tackle such disorder !

The Government and its supporters may have been over zealous in tackling the effects of the riots. But nothing has been done to tackle, or even recognise, the causes. Surely that’s something that requires urgent consideration?

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