Friday, December 21, 2012

A Hard Year

It's felt like a hard year. It has gone fast, but there's been little time for reflection. The culture of anxiety that is a distinct policy objective each time the Conservative party gets into power, has gone into overdrive. They want us all to be afraid that we might lose our jobs; they want our institutions to be both valued for cutting staff to create "efficiencies", and to be as equally anxious. Rarely, and certainly more than most other places in Europe, has power been so centralised. We see it time and again. The decision to spend precious police resources on the storm-in-a-Tory-teacup "plebgate", against the lack of prosecutions for the illegal fraud that the banks perpetuated on the Libor rate; the de-coupling of the welfare benefit system from any reality so that those with disabilities aren't judged on their real condition but on an arbitrary system that would be more at home in a Polish ghetto; and most of all in the corporate coup that has taken over not just much of Britain, but much of Europe, with EU territories such as "Luxembourg" or "Jersey" creating tax holes that can help corporates escape billions in tax, and fiascos such as the rail franchising system and the continuing disaster of PFI, where the systems have been designed as if to maximise the vulnerability of the public sector in order for the fake mantra of free trade (fake because these companies hate fair competition) to be the only thing we hear.

In a year of Olympic triumph it might seem that the crass dismantling of our better natures, begun by Thatcher, and continued by Cameron and Clegg, hasn't yet happened. Yet all the Olympics told us was that a publicly funded stable system that rewarded real excellence (regardless of class) and was fully resourced could be a triumph. For after all, lets not beat ourselves up, Britain has often excelled, despite, rather than because of its leaders and its institutions. But cracks are already showing. There seems a quiescence among the struggling young. The DIY art culture of the 70s has come back a little, helped by all these empty bars and shops which can no longer guarantee a puprose, yet University numbers are down, the effect of that debt culture is yet to be seen; I'm seeing arts and literature and music at a grass roots level, shrivelling up after the initial enthusiasm fails, with a time-rich but cash-poor artistic audience looking at the artificially high rents and house prices, and the low salaries offered in 2012 Northern Britain, and wondering where they go with this? There needs to be a massive redistribution, as Heseltine suggested, from central government to the regions, and then there has to be redistribution from our failing institutions to the grass roots. Yet I'm not seeing any political discussion about these things. The need for economic growth - with its false leveraging of debts above investment as "investment grade" financial instruments - comes at a price. The flow of people and goods is now destroying whatever bit of localism that had managed to gain ground.

Art and culture are as worldwide a market as precious metals or scarce foods, yet we were once - and still are - rich in them. Yet you wouldn't think so, listening to our politicians, who explain everything but understand nothing. The lie that Labour caused our debts through overspending is exposed by the coalition's own "blaming" of the lack of growth on crises in Europe and elsewhere; yet world growth has been growing again.

And, if the Olympics distracted us, and we could be accused of navel-gazing on our own first world problems - most of our own making - I don't think any of us with any compassion went through the year entirely comfortably about what was happening in the wider world. The ongoing murder of civilians in Syria, the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the late year massacre in gun-crazed America, the repression of free speech on the internet, including here and in the US, but also the remarkable women of Pussy Riot. This world remains adept at flinging more problems on top of those it already has, apparently intractably. And yet amidst all the swivel-eyed loathing, the somewhat battered President Obama made it to a second term, which like with Tony Blair's time in power, is the period when difference can really be made (and lets hope he doesn't embark on any disatrous wars); the Olympics showed that whether competitor, volunteer or audience, the British always know how to throw a party (unlike most politicians; they may have "Ok-d" it but the booing of George Osborne must have been one of the highlights of the year); and elsewhere millions of us continue to the best in a difficult situation. Unlikely as it is that we'll overthrow the rentier class any time soon, but Leveson and Uncut and public debate (though rarely, this year, the diminished BBC), at least have the power to embarass them occasionally.

Not yet over, but I've finished work for the year, and intend to have a couple of weeks of reflection myself.

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