“I imagine that one of the reasons many people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain”. – James Baldwin, 1955

Surveying the wreckage of the 1992 general election in Chapman No 68 Christopher Harvie writes: “The spectacle of the night was, of course, Nicholas Fairbairn, swaying towards the microphone like some bemused capercaillie, carefully enunciating his triumph. What on earth, one wondered, did London viewers, viewers the world over, make of this tartan muppet? The house is packed, waiting to ‘go over to Scotland, where a quite different election has been going on’, and then the nightmare apparition, risen from the midnight crossroads despite the Van Helsing operations of dear old Willie Whitelaw pushes us off the stage…”.

Noting the empty bottle of Bell’s and the unopened bottle of champagne Harvie remarks that the autopsy included “wee Brian Wilson demanding we forget about the constitution altogether and Jim Sillars wanting us to elect a new Scottish people”.

This all sounds incredibly familiar, I know.

But if we didn’t know the full horrors of Fairbairn’s behaviour, back then we knew what his politics stood for.

The Tories of the 1970s. 80s and 90s were ideological, detestable and wrecked havoc on the economy and at a deeper level our society and even our sense of selfhood, but they were at least at one level, rational.

This new breed, leading the charge out of Europe and our minds are different. These are Chthonic Tories mired in irrationalism weaving a new sort of nationalist madness driven by hate and high on the fumes of power.

The Scottish Goverment has been successful within limits in stemming the tide of austerity and madness flowing north, we need to also look at it face-on.

The metric for assessing the state of society has changed but we haven’t updated the way we speak about it.

The number of jobless people fell by 52,000 from the previous quarter to 1.44 million in the three months to August, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Unemployment was unchanged from the 4.3% recorded in the previous month, which was the lowest on record since 1975.

But people are trapped in insecure and precarious work, bound to a low-wage low-skill economy.

As Gavin Kelly of the Resolution Foundation think-tank put it:

“Average pay nearly £800 below 2008 levels – and going backwards. The central fact of British politics.”

Real average earnings are still £15 a week lower than their 2008 peak – pay no higher than it was back in February 2006. And this as prices – notably of the basics: food energy and housing rise.

The state of poverty and inequality leaves us with the reality that:

“Currently, the richest 10% of the Scottish population have more income than the bottom 40% put together. Wealth inequality is even starker: the wealthiest 1% own more than the bottom 50% combined.”

As Brazil puts in place its plan to feed poor people pet food, it’s worth looking at the problem of food insecurity here, where thousands of people face crisis. The Trussell Trust have outlined the links between Foodbank use and the rise of the botched Universal Credit scheme.

in areas of full saw 17% increase in 2016-17, more than 2x national average of 7%”.

See their report here.

And yet as Stephanie Hammond outlines (‘Obesity epidemic: end food market anarchy’):

“At any given time nearly a billion people on the planet are hungry, and a third are malnourished. And yet a new report says the growing obesity crisis is set to cost $1.2 trillion a year worldwide from 2025.

Why is it that when so many workers and poor are going hungry, so many others of us are likely to suffer from obesity?

The research, conducted by the World Obesity Day organisation, found the US is likely to face the biggest health bill – from $325 billion a year in 2014 to $555 billion in 2020. That would factor in at $4.2 trillion over the next eight years.

Meanwhile the cost of treating obese people in Britain could reach as much as $247 billion.

The human cost of obesity-related illnesses like heart disease and diabetes is much more difficult to quantify. It will be felt most of all by those who can just about afford to pay for essentials, including food, especially with a cash-strapped NHS.”

These are desperate times and our ill-health is a barometer of failure.

 

Not Really Disabled

Unemployment may be down but those stuck in the benefits system testify to it being a hellish punitive bureaucracy.

In one Aditya Chakraborrty outlines the case of ‘John’ – the man who was told he ‘wasn’t really disabled’:

“None of this is an accident. It is a system that has been set up by a government that wants to deprive poor people of money that is owed to them, even while it hands cash to the richest. This week ministers will formally announce that disability benefits will be cut by a further £3.7bn a year. People with mental health problems, who need help just getting out of the door, are now to be judged not “really disabled”. This from the same party that has spent seven years slashing corporation tax, so that big businesses now pay nearly £11bn less into the public purse. What’s more, Theresa May has vowed to cut these taxes even further.

This is the same party that has tried to make the appeals process even harder for people such as John, so that claimants merely file papers rather than get to present their case in person. The same party that allows huge delays to mount up in assessments for personal independence payments, which means people with disabilities are deprived of both that and a range of other help.

Think about having to live on a few quid a week, of being interrogated over the possibility of any more, of being cut adrift from the rest of society for no other reason than your disabilities. Then think about the consequences. The people who can’t get by on nothing. Those who are driven to the wall.

I have lost count of the number of people with disabilities who have told me of friends who’ve contemplated suicide or who have even gone through with it. It is not an overstatement to say they have been killed by a government that wants to punish the vulnerable and reward the rich.”

These issues – the reality of poverty and inequality – the epidemic of diet-related illness (and hunger) – should be the central issues of our day.

Instead we have Brexit, and a government hopelessly out of depth in negotiations for a doomed economic project they have to complete in the face of overwhelming daily experience that it is an exercise in national humiliation. All of the independent evidence shows that this process will cause great harm to the already fragile and stressed economy.

It comes into play in an economy already riddled with problems.

As Will Hutton writes:

“In any league table of national figures who have been consistently wrong on almost every major judgment Nigel Lawson must rank close to number one. As Britain and his party reel from the impact of intolerable intergenerational and geographical inequality, stagnating productivity, a vast personal debt burden, and now the poison of Brexit, Lawson is the man most closely associated with the ideas and policies that have brought us to our current pass.”

If Lawson (and Hutton) are ghosts of the 1980s – and singling out one person is a distraction – Hutton is essentially right. Lawson’s attempts to rehabilitate Thatcherism is doomed. Citing the broken infrastructure of Thames Water he argues “The merits of privatisation have never seemed more questionable”.

When Hate is Gone

That’s why we are showered with British nationalist propaganda like confetti.

That’s why none of this makes any sense.

That’s why we are – and will be – driven off the cliff.

This is a government, a party, a class, that has lost the economic argument. Its ideology is a proven failure. It has instead to resort to a cultural argument.

That’s why instead of talking about food poverty we’re taking about a £100 million Britannia.

As Hutton concludes: “Lawson, like the Bourbons who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, believes Brexit “gives us a chance to finish the Thatcherite revolution”.

You won’t hear much about this from the Brexiteers, not in public. The script is very different: Bloody Eurocrats. Bloody Remoaners.

The central issue of the day is Brexit, not hunger.

That’s only possible because of a politics of hate. Hatred of the poor, hatred of the foreign,  hatred of immigrants, hatred of the other.

The problem for the peddlers of hate is what to do when the process ends? As Baldwin said “people cling to their hates because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain”.

So, if we slip briefly into psychotherapy, what pain is Brexit masking?

It’s the politics of decline. The fear of being normal, just a normal country. The pain of that reality.

If the Tories of yesteryear could engage in the Poll tax and the Miners Strike and death by a thousand cuts, they also had a rationality to their economic madness. They are now untethered from that and we are suffering the consequences.

 

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