Britain’s descent into chaos is a pointer to the fate awaiting people in Western countries if their governments strip down the welfare state that has sustained two generations of prosperity.
“My advice, as a Christian priest, is to shoplift. I do not offer such advice because I think that stealing is a good thing or because I think it is harmless, for it is neither. I would ask that they do not steal from small family businesses but from large national businesses, knowing that the costs are ultimately passed on to the rest of us in the form of higher prices. I would ask them not to take any more than they need. I offer the advice with a heavy heart. Let my words not be misrepresented as a simplistic call for people to shoplift.”
These are the words of Anglican priest Tim Jones, the vicar of London’s St James Anglican Church, to his congregation two days before Christmas 2009. (No, Jones is not a liberal or an anarchist by any means. A staunch pillar of Britain’s establishment, he once launched a tirade against yoga, calling it a Hindu contrivance and therefore, against his concept of God.)
So what made this most English of British subjects, a representative of the Christian church no less, offer an exception to the 8th commandment? Simple – desperation. As Jones noted, “The life of the poor in modern Britain is a constant struggle....a constant effort to achieve the impossible. For many at the bottom of our social ladder, lawful, honest life can sometimes seem to be an apparent impossibility.”
After decades of Thatcherism and Tony Blair’s crony capitalism, the wheels are coming off the United Kingdom. According to a Wall Street Journal report, approximately 20 percent of the UK’s population lives in poverty. Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper commented that “intergenerational poverty, rare in most countries today, is a factor in a notable British subculture.”
That, however, is only half the picture. The increasing frequency of riots across the country is a stark reminder that Britain remains one of the most unequal societies in the world.
In 2009 the Alan Milburn Report revealed an uncomfortable truth – the previous twelve years had seen a widening gap between rich and poor and a decline in social mobility, and that children from the poorer social groups now have less chance of getting into the elite universities and the top professions than children born in 1958.
The report also showed that the 7 percent of the population who go to private schools (oddly called public schools) not only still dominate British society, but their dominance is increasing. They produce 75 percent of Britain’s judges, 70 percent of finance directors, 45 percent of top civil servants and 32 percent of MPs. Commented The Guardian newspaper: “Behind its modern veneer, British society is determined by who you know, and who your parents are.”
In Britain today, there are 70 applicants for every vacancy. In a country where nexus rules, it is the kids who are not well connected who hurt must. Upper class parents, with their school and university contacts, can more easily get jobs and internships for their children.
Perhaps the only thing Karl Marx – who incidentally crafted his discredited theories in Britain – got right is that the most difficult thing a person can do is to break free from his class. In Britain, where your accent gives away your social standing, gentrification, or the improvement in social standing, has become nearly impossible for the permanent underclass.
Riots are inevitable in a country where the recession threatens to produce a generation of young people who have been trying and failing to get jobs, and have lost the will to work. And it's likely to get worse; the Centre for Cities, a British think tank, projects that by late 2011, youth unemployment will nearly triple.
Britain hasn’t had a popular leader in decades. After the smarmy Tony Blair, Prime Minister David Cameron came to power after considerable horse trading following a fractured electoral verdict. Britain is therefore governed by a party which does not command the support of a majority of voters. The disconnect between the elites and the rest can be measured by the fact that both Cameron and Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, were holidaying abroad and returned only after the country had endured three days of rioting.
Labour leader Ed Miliband stirred things up a bit by catering to the simmering class envy in the country. He taunted Cameron about his days as a member of the Bullingdon Club, “a raucous dining club for gilded toffs at Oxford with a track record of raucous, glass-breaking, food-throwing bad behaviour.”
Cuts that hurt
While the old men jaw, the young men riot, spurred by the massive cuts in government spending, the hike in tuition fees, and the stopping of the measly $50 (approx) student stipend, especially at a time when the UK’s leading corporations have indulged in massive tax avoidance.
Much as the British elites would like to paint the rioters as unionised thugs or welfare hoons, the reality is they represent the struggling middle class too. As the Guardian reported, “The young, the poor, and disadvantaged will feel the cuts chill first, especially in the most deprived neighbourhoods and regions. But the healthy and wealthy will not be immune from the erosion of public space and collective provision, whether through the closure of public toilets, swimming pools, arts galleries, museums and orchestras, or the sacking of the park rangers that keeps public green space clean and safe.
“Grants will dry up, contracts will end, a third of charities will shut down, A&E and maternity units will start closing as waiting lists rise. Thousands more young people will join nearly a million already unemployed.”
Cuts to housing will see thousands end up sleeping on park benches and pavements.
Corruption and immigration
Add corruption to that potent mix. The collusion of the police force with scumbag journalists is common knowledge to the outside world; less well known is corruption in the Mother of Parliaments. Britain’s MPs have used their various allowances to pay supermarket and video rental bills, or to buy houses while in fact staying with relatives, and in one bizarre case to have the moat cleaned at a private castle. Such scandals have severely undermined public faith in politics and politicians.
And of course there is the elephant in the room – a steady influx of immigrants, including uncountable illegals, that threatens to rip apart the country's multicultural society. A large number of immigrants comprise Muslims who are notorious for ripping off Britain’s welfare system. Few are willing to assimilate but instead many have been known to join the jihad against the state that feeds them. The fallout of such unbridled immigration has resulted in the rise of the fascist right that now has two members in the European Parliament.
The cuts are perhaps inevitable. For, the recession has shrunk Britain's GDP by over 5 percent. The ratings agencies are threatening to lower its AAA credit status, a move that could lead to a flight of capital. Ominously, Britain has a budget deficit that rivals that of Greece, and its national debt is soaring unsustainably.
Isn’t it hard to believe that this is the country preparing to host the 2012 Summer Olympics? It is debatable if Britain, which harbours many hardcore Islamic radicals and home-grown Muslim terrorists, is fully equipped to handle this new threat of civilian disrupters. The Games will also place additional financial burden on a country that can’t pay for basic public services!
Needed: New work culture
At any rate, instead of playing sports Britain needs to get back to work. Its work culture – or rather the lack of it – has been parodied in the comic book “Asterix in Britain” in which Julius Caesar conquers the country by attacking only at tea-time and on weekends. Ratan Tata, the CEO of India’s Tata Group, has recently lamented about the work culture in Britain where the weekend starts after lunch on Friday. Tata acquired and turned round Britain’s Corus Steel, Land Rover and Jaguar, and it’s safe to assume that his British employees weren’t allowed to go home at midday.
For, the British must realise they are not competing with debt defaulting European cousins, but with powerhouses like China and India that have high growth rates inspite of not so good economic governance. The country’s position as a financial hub relies significantly on the back of foreign direct investment, much of it from Indians and Chinese. That tap may shut if the triple-A rating goes.
As their cities burn, for millions of Britons it must feel like the end of an era. But if they don’t turn around their country quickly, it could also be the beginning of another – irrelevance.
About the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based writer. He has previously worked with Business World, India Today, Hindustan Times, and was News Editor with the Financial Express.
Editor – some titbits.
1.Inspite of Britain’s precarious financial position the country still remits money to NGO’s in India. The number was Rs 1,131 crs in 2008-09. Should not NGO’s like Action Aid International UK, Christian Aid UK, Save the Children UK spent these monies on their own countrymen instead. To know exact amounts remitted
2.I have great faith in the Law of Karma – we reap what we sow. Any student of Indian history would be aware of the damaged done by the British to India’s economy and social fabric. Perhaps their karmas are catching up with them. To know impact of British policies on Indian economy
3. In line with karmas read How the British created the dowry system in Punjab -
4. In October 1931 Gandhiji was invited to address the Royal Institute of International Affairs, London where he made two observations. One ‘that today India is more illiterate than it was fifty or hundred years ago’. To know the state of India’s education system before the British came in -
5. A large increase in prices of food items has made it very difficult for the poor and lower middle class to make two ends meet. On the other hand the rich have got richer. Unless the Government takes concrete steps to reduce prices and the rich share a larger % of their wealth with the have not’s a similar conflict in India is not far away. Mumbaikars might remember that the Mumbai Police looted shops in the early 1980’s.
6. A country that ignores its manufacturing sector by outsourcing it to other nations and focuses on services is asking for trouble. This is one reason for an economic crisis.