As global change beckons, will Britain move forward from the roots of its ancient heritage, or from the Thatcherite ‘Greed is Good’ espoused by the current government?
Easter is the celebration of a religious leader whose contribution to humanity was to champion compassion, self-sacrifice and charity – Christian principles allegedly at the root of our ancient British constitution. But even for our increasingly secular society, it is maybe a good time to reflect on how far our modern culture has moved from the principles upon which it was progressively created, from Magna Carta of 1215 to the Human Rights Act 1998 – which the current government has plans to dilute.
How did we get here? And how might we find our way back?
The state of the nation
Headline news is that the current cost of living crises will push 1.3 million additional families into poverty, from an initial base from which poverty has already been steadily rising under the current government, particularly amongst those caring for young children and those living with disability.
The pandemic and the current world fuel crisis have affected populations across the world, but we must remember that the impoverishment of the UK’s population has been an ongoing situation over the past decade.
The government has steadily removed funding from agencies providing care and support for both the impoverished elderly and the very young. Long-standing ‘PIP’ evaluations for people with disabilities strip them of dignity, and in some cases, even curtail their lives by systematic deprivation of the means to survive in a ‘fit to work’ system that does not recognise their needs. This process was poignantly depicted in the pre-covid film I, Daniel Blake.
Boris Johnson’s illusory 2019 election promise of an ‘Oven Ready Brexit’ catapulted the current regime to power. It was the final momentous lie emergent from Dominic Cummings’ sophisticated Leave Campaign spin regime, which evidence suggests was created in league with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. The current impact of Brexit on the UK’s international business affairs has been highly negative, although the full impact has yet to be explored by the mass media, which has been distracted by the pandemic and now by the Russian attack on Ukraine.
Funding for state schooling has been declining since Michael Gove took over the Department for Education in 2010. The chaotic lack of organisation and consultation within state education that unfurled during lockdown is now legendary, particularly the ministry’s continued denial that covid posed a danger to children, spawning a policy that has resulted in schools becoming factories for infection and reinfection as the virus continues to mutate.
Elitism and Conservative policy
The government’s lack of respect for the rule of law resulted in the office of the prime minister staging a procession of raucous parties over 2020/21, flouting the pandemic lockdown measures they had recently passed through parliament. As the government partied, the general population were prevented by the lockdown laws from visiting friends and relatives dying in hospital, and from attending their funerals. Many ordinary people, disproportionately people of colour, were fined for violations of the lockdown laws during this time. History is likely to recognise this as the most callous demonstration of elitism ever from a modern British government.
The long-standing Conservative policy of selling off previously state-owned services, most particularly education and health, is another cause for alarm, particularly when it is considered that the Johnson government allocates the resulting contracts in a way that unfairly benefits individuals and organisations close to the Westminster regime, frequently resulting in lacklustre results and outright failure. The loss of £37bn in the test and trace fiasco is a macabre highlight, which competes with the increasingly disastrous Brexit initiative for infamy.
And the most shameful revelation of all has been the exposure of the City of London as the money-laundering capital of the world, alongside a still-emerging web of cronyism.
History will not be kind to Johnson and his government. But how did we get into this appalling situation?
Extreme capitalism: greed is good
All of these issues arise from the creation of a culture in which human beings are valued only to the extent that they contribute to the current and future economy, and the promotion of the concept that, as the fictional character Gordon Gekko proposes in Wall Street, “Greed is good”.
This ideology was launched by the Conservative Party in the late 1970s. In an interview with the Sunday Times in May 1981, Margaret Thatcher commented:
“It isn’t that I set out on economic policies; it’s that I set out really to change the approach, and changing the economics is the means of changing that approach. If you change the approach you really are after the heart and soul of the nation. Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul.”
But financial markets arose from generations of human relationships, in which the ‘heart and soul’ was located in the ability to share our thoughts through language, giving rise not only to competition but also to collaboration and cooperation, which underpin compassion and generate genuine trust; the ideology promoted by the originators of Christianity.
This intricate combination of competition, collaboration and cooperation is at the root of what it is to be human, to belong to a social, linguistic species that evolved over millions of years. But four decades of political manipulation has resulted in our current society losing its way, by placing the competitive cart before the collaborative and cooperative horse.
Thatcher’s folly comes home to roost
So, we now have a government that operates from the basis of cronyism, in an economy where spreadsheets and the personal agendas of those in charge determine policy, rather the needs of the people.
In an article outlining the horrendous state of the UK ambulance service, the author comments “the priorities of the management … are, in this order: themselves, the service’s image, the budget, patients, and finally the staff”. This is perfect example of where Thatcher’s folly has led the UK: to a society where personal greed is the most typical guiding principle of governance and management.
But the world order is now shifting under the feet of sitting western governments. As Putin unleashes a vicious attack on his neighbour, Ukraine, Johnson’s attention has predictably turned first to his own and his regime’s self-image. This has directly led to his recent series of attempts to extract himself from the mutually beneficial relationship, rooted in immoral greed, that he previously nurtured with Putin and his oligarchs. For the past decade, Conservative coffers have been boosted with dirty Russian money to launder, whilst Johnson in particular has helped Putin to advance the interests of his rogue nation.
As Russia’s smokescreen now evaporates in the media spotlight turned upon their heinous war crimes, so Johnson’s elaborate facade also begins to crumble, driving him to increasingly desperate public displays to place himself on the side of the ‘good guys’. Whether these will be successful in diverting the international community and the British public from seeing him naked in the same spotlight remains to be seen.
Moving forward in a new world order
It must be noted that Johnson does have previous form as a propagandist and coercive controller, and that the failure of these attempts is far from a certainty. These attributes may have been skilfully mobilised to create the leaks that have effectively destroyed the credibility of Rishi Sunak, Johnson’s most likely challenger for the party leadership. But it is clear that Sunak’s revealed ‘offences’ only demonstrate an equally sickening level of chicanery and self-interest to that shown by Johnson and many of their other cabinet colleagues.
In a week in which we commemorate an ancient story of unselfish sacrifice whilst standing on the precipice of a new world order, perhaps we could also reflect on whether greed really is good. Or conversely, whether it has led to the catalogue of spin, callousness and overwhelming self-interest that now pollutes our ancient halls of governance, and if so, whether the British people now wish to be rid of it.