Monday, 28 December 2015

Overturn the tables of the money changers

This is the season to be jolly, and I wish all readers a prosperous and rewarding new year! I thank you all for taking the trouble to read Song of Life in 2015.

You will forgive me if I say that our celebration of a new year should be tempered with the knowledge that so many are suffering the consequences of austerity. Poor working people have been made to take the blame for the financial crash and the actions of irresponsible bankers. Their prospects in 2016 are not good.

The NHS is at breaking point. Social justice is being eroded. The social care system is crumbling.  2016 will be the year when local taxes will rise to pay for government cuts - more families will lose their homes.  There will be more NHS rationing as 'efficiency savings' create post-code lotteries in health care. The poorest local authorities will find the most difficulty meeting social care needs. It is likely that more residential home providers will go bust. Happy New Year!

Christmas and New Year are times for reflection.  For Christians Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth and life of Jesus, and a passage in his story I think is appropriate for our times - and that is Mathew 21:12 and 13:

"And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And He said to them, It is written, My House shall be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a robber's den."

I don't know about being a 'house of prayer', but I do know that the City of London is the centre of global finance where the Gods of wealth and greed are worshipped. Love thy neighbour is changed to beggar thy neighbour.

I am not a soothsayer, but there is one prediction I can make with a fair degree of certainty. The 'robber barons' of global finance will still be plying their trade and taking their ill-gotten gains for many years to come.  Global finance is as little regulated now as it was before the crash. The same 'mistakes' are being made. Growth is being 'stimulated' through increasing household debt. We seem to have learnt little from the financial crash.

Imagine these robber barons in the Dragon's Den making their pitch. "We have come up with a package made of nothing, filled with nothing, based on nothing. We can trade so fast nobody bothers to see that it is nothing. And we can make billions and pay no corporation tax." What an ingenious product! "Everyone will become so dependent on it that nobody will dare say it is nothing, worth nothing, based on nothing. Their pensions will be dependent on it." Such is human ingenuity. 

Meanwhile, there is something absurdly self-defeating about a government seeking to promote 'home-ownership' whilst driving so many out of their homes.

It is as if the government believe its own distorted truth - that putting the economy right is all to do with tackling the deficit.  Sadly it is a narrative that reaped success for the Tories in the general election. But it is a false prospectus, and one Chancellor George Osborne is increasingly unlikely to fulfil.

Where have compassion and social responsibility gone?

Whilst the poor and disabled are being driven out of their homes by austerity,  we now find that five large banks paid no corporation tax last year.  That is a disgrace. Despite making billions in profits they paid zilch! The robber barons rule! They don't need to understand the difference between 'lawful' and 'ethical'. If they can find a way, any crack or crevice, they will worm their way into it to escape social responsibility.  They are literally taking us to the cleaners. 

We need a new politics with a new economic and social strategy.  An economy that doesn't simply 'grow' but has social objectives, and where economic success is judged not by increased wealth but by social wellbeing.

We need to put society back at the heart of our economy and not follow blindly an economic strategy predicated on greed and selfishness.  We need an economy with a clear set of social and environmental priorities.

Tony Blair was wrong when he said simply 'education, education, education'. It was a great soundbite, but really what we need is 'education, health and social wellbeing'.  It isn't such a good soundbite, but it is the foundation for a strong economy.

In the three decades following the Second World War, full employment was adopted as an objective. Government acted to clear the old Victorian slums and build new homes.  The State invested in health care and created the National Health Service.  The Welfare State was developed and with all this massively increased public spending, the national debt, which was at a historic high...fell. The debt was paid off!

Yes, it fell.  The economy had ups and downs, but it grew. Increased spending on eduction created a skilled workforce. Increased social spending increased wellbeing. A healthy workforce is a productive one.  This is not to say that all was perfect. It was not. Poor industrial relations and restrictive practices bedevilled production and reduced competitiveness.

Industry after Industry collapsed through the late 1970s and 80s, and the industrial decline continues. It laid waste to so many parts of Britain and these areas continue to suffer deprivation now. Our economy became distorted and reliant on London's position as the Capital of global finance. We import what we should be making.

Yet, the answer to the failure of rampant global finance cannot be found simply by going back to the 1970s.  This is the challenge Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party faces.  It needs a new narrative - a new set of clothes.  Above all it needs a coherent economic and social strategy, and the truth is it doesn't yet have this.  Let us hope that in 2016 a new narrative gains credence.

We need to overturn the tables of the money changers. But we cannot do that with anger alone. It needs new policies that work with business to meet clear social and environmental objectives.  We need to develop our local economies, working with businesses to harness local potential and resources.  Such a strategy isn't anti-business. It is pro-business. Business harnessed to local needs and social objectives - creating coherent local economies - developing infrastructure, creating jobs. Local authorities, businesses, environmental groups, communities, all working together with clear plans to promote clean and socially responsible growth.

We can no longer go on exporting our carbon pollution through massive imports of manufactured goods, and then claiming we are meeting our carbon targets. When we take account of imports, we are amongst the largest polluters. Currently, meeting 'our' targets is a charade that puts the planet in jeopardy.  I have little faith in the 'agreement' at the Paris climate summit this year.  Only time will tell if we can grasp the nettle to genuinely reduce our carbon footprint. To do so we need an antidote to globalised capital.

So, here is to 2016. I don't have all the answers, but I hope you will continue to join me in 2016 in searching for some of them.  

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