Beginning to see the Light: ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’
‘I was always looking left and right
Oh, but I’m always crashing’
When I retired the old column, my intention was to start afresh. The new column will still be a commentary on the weeks’ events, with a primary focus on the wealth gap, which, except for climate change, is, I believe, the biggest issue facing us – writes Philip Gilbert.
One that has created such an unequal society. Within this the column will consider political movements especially populism and fascism (1), and their terrible twins, nationalism, and racism.
Yet, despite of my best intentions I find myself covering old ground, namely Brexit as there is a scandal that deserves to be aired, and governmental incompetence which continues apace.
However, before that, we must start with the apocalyptic scenes in Washington last evening. I take no pleasure in being right on this matter, which was covered in some depth in my article entitled, ‘We Don’t Need that Fascist Groove Thing, US election special’, on the 5th November last.
The events of yesterday were the latest in Trump’s 4-year assault on US democracy. This orgy of violence aimed at the heart of the country had a feel of inevitability about it.
Although trouble was expected the police were overwhelmed, and the mass ranks of national guard and federal agents who had crushed peaceful Black Lives Matter protests in the summer were nowhere to be seen until evening fell. There are videos on social media that appear to show officers taking aside barriers for demonstrators and even taking selfies with them.
I suspect that had the protesters been African American or Muslim the authorities would have started shooting long before the Capitol was breached.
It wasn’t only the Capitol, authorities found pipe bombs outside the offices of the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, as well as a cooler with a long gun and Molotov cocktail on the Capitol grounds.
This is the result of Trumps disinformation campaign which started months ago, one in which he determined to sow doubts in peoples mind as the legitimacy of an election result where he wasn’t returned as president.
As Hitler said, ‘If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.’ And this is what has happened, the rioters believed him, they think they are protecting the US constitution and their legally re-elected president.
‘If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.’
Even yesterday he continued to fan these flames of discontent telling his supporters: ‘…. And we are going to have to fight much harder.’
Most commentators feel that common sense will prevail, America is a liberal democracy, and its only a few rednecks having their 15-minutes of fame. I think that’s too easy an explanation, C.70m people voted for Trump, 1-2% of those are sufficient to start a war. Weapons are readily available in the US; I suspect a good number of that 70m have their own little arsenal at home.
Their grievances are not new, ‘for several decades right-wing politicians and pundits have opportunistically pandered to the far-right electorate by defining them as ‘the real people’ and declaring this loud minority to be an allegedly victimized silent majority.’
This has been amplified in the US by ‘conservative’ media networks such as Fox News. But, by far the most concerning support is that of the religious right.
A Cas Mudde wrote, ‘It was so successful that, already before Trump won the presidency, a majority of white Evangelicals believed that ‘discrimination against whites is now as critical as discrimination against non-whites’. A year later, a poll found that a majority of white Evangelicals believed they are more discriminated than Muslims in the US.’
As to ‘it can’t happen in America, they are too cultured, too intelligent, a liberal democracy’, I say this. These terms could have been used to describe Germany in 1932, 12-months later Hitler was a dictator.
I fear that what we witnessed wasn’t the end but a beginning. As the Guardian today reported:
‘A young couple, Kasey and Mike, were sitting under one of the ornamental cherry trees near the monument, having travelled down from Rhode Island. They spoke with the dreamy smiles of two people in love, sharing a moment in history, but their message was one of looming conflict. ‘People here are mad. They’ve watched so many people destroy our country like that. I don’t think they’re just gonna sit back anymore,’ Kasey said. ‘I think Trump’s only option he really has left is to call military action into it because he has the right to do that’.’
I fear that what we witnessed wasn’t the end but a beginning
From anarchy in the USA, we turn to Brexit which could prove to be the bonfire of our national illusions.
Whilst any deal was better than no deal, Brexiters have failed to replace the EU with a brave new world where British trade flows unimpeded. Any attempt by us to deregulate will be met with EU retaliation.
Yes, we have achieved the stated intent of repatriating economic sovereignty, but rather than humbling the EU we have shot ourselves in both feet.
Our leaders, who thrive on the myth of the greatness of a renewed British nation might be champions of free trade, but they have more in common with Joseph Chamberlain (2) than they do with modern economics.
There are other options for Brexiters to explore; for example, ‘the Cayman Islands model where the UK could merge with an archipelago of tax havens run from the Caribbean, to create an even bigger rentiers’ paradise than the one we already have.’
Or we could focus internally on Johnson’s planned ‘levelling up’. However, as C-19 has highlighted this could just mean contracts for cronies and dodgy start-ups angling for subsidies, while Brexiter businesses, such as Dyson, invest overseas.
Of course, Brexit was always smoke and mirrors, and lies. On New Year’s Eve another was revealed, as a site close to the famous white cliffs of Dover is to be transformed into a customs clearance lorry park for 1,200 trucks.
This is in addition to the Ashford lorry park 22 miles away that barricades fields behind 4-metre fences.
Locals say they feel ‘betrayed’ and ‘trapped’ by the ‘lies’ of the government over Brexit.
Just as they were looking forward to a new year, the letter from the transport minister Rachel Maclean arrived advising them that the white cliffs site had been purchased and would be used as an ‘Inland Border Facility’ from July.
A former HGV international driver doesn’t believe the government’s claim that lorries will be required only to drive in, get their customs paperwork cleared and drive out again. ‘They say it’s not going to be a lorry park, but a customs clearance site and lorries will only be here for 20 minutes. I know exactly what will happen. Lorries have nowhere to park in Kent, and they will come in here and stop and wave their tachograph and say: ‘I’m not moving.’ They will have to have floodlights, power points for refrigerated lorries, which means generators going all night.’
He continued, saying; ‘I’ve been here for 36 years and I would have been for all my life. They have just told lie after lie after lie. Never has a country treated its people so badly,’ he said, adding that Westminster ‘bigwigs’ had no interest in the consequences of their decisions.
‘They have just told lie after lie after lie. Never has a country treated its people so badly’
In defending this you can almost hear the mealy-mouthed excuses from Johnson et al. It will be the same cringing, hand-wringing phrases; ‘I hate having to take these decisions …’, ‘I deeply regret having to do this …’, ‘I do this with a heavy heart …’
These three phrases are a neat summary of why Johnson’s government continually trail in the battle against C-19.
He wants to be popular, to be liked, to achieve this he vacillates and delays making the hard decisions until it is too late.
This results in two-things, U-turns to right wrong decisions, and the country constantly chasing the virus rather than getting ahead of it. There is no doubt we are paying for his weakness and vacillation in lives.
On Monday evening he told us that ‘if things go well, and with a fair wind in our sails’, we will have vaccinated 13.2 million of the most vulnerable people in less than six weeks, by mid-February.
This is the entire top four categories of vaccine priority. It’s now Thursday, my wife’s surgery still hasn’t received any vaccine or instructions on what is supposed to happen.
Of course, it would be unfair to expect them to pass-up a moment of jingoism, Hancock is especially wanting to mention that the vaccination is a British achievement. Perhaps he should check to see if infecting 1:50 of English citizens and 1:30 in London is a British achievement, too?
And now we turn to the odious Gavin Williamson who resembles a combination of the child-catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Indiana Jones (I read he keeps a bullwhip on his desk, alternatively he might just be a pervert), and Francis Urquhart (3)
Less than three weeks ago, he was threatening to take legal action against schools in Islington and Greenwich, if they closed a few days early for Christmas in light of alarming increases in C-19 infection rates.
Last Wednesday night, primary schools in these boroughs were told that they would need to reopen as usual on Monday, unlike those in most other London boroughs, despite their high infection rates and a hospital in Greenwich declaring a major incident just a couple of days before that.
Then, on Friday evening, Williamson led the government in its first U-turn of the year to announce that these schools would be closing from Monday after all, giving parents and teachers precisely zero opportunity to plan.
on Friday evening, Williamson led the government in its first U-turn of the year
The PM declared that all primary schools are ‘safe … very, very important to stress that’
Therefore, on Monday most schools went back, the very same evening Johnson called a lock-down. Net result, tens of thousands of children had a whole day to mingle and return home as super-spreaders.
This could and should have been avoided. This is the latest example of Williamson’s breath-taking incompetence. At every turn in this pandemic, he has made missteps that could affect children for the rest of their lives.
Any half-decent education secretary would have:
- Worked with teaching unions to set in train a staged reopening of schools last May when infection rates were falling,
- They would have put on a programme of structured outdoor activities over the summer holidays for children who had missed months of school.
- They would have properly invested in equipping schools and homes for distance learning in the event of the second wave everyone was expecting.
- They would have introduced a school-wide test, track and trace scheme run by public health experts, rather than expecting headteachers to organise and oversee volunteer-led mass testing with virtually no notice.
- They would have stumped up for a tuition fee rebate for undergraduates and asked universities to move to distance learning rather than encouraging students to spread the virus across the country
None of this is rocket science. It just takes a little imagination, competence, and compassion for children and teenagers.
What did Williamson do? Last May he picked a fight with the teaching unions via the tabloids rather than working behind the scenes to get schools reopened as quickly as possible. The opening of Pubs and bars was more the governments priority.
More recently, he succeeded in driving the headteachers’ union into launching a legal action against the government for requiring most primary schools to open this week.
Mortality rates in the most deprived communities were about twice as high as those in the least deprived
However, there is more to this disaster than his incompetence. This is the result of the populist takeover of the Tory party, which isn’t solely about Brexit.
Populism has caused the Tories to purge the party of any resemblance of governmental competence replacing them with insipid loyalists, and a style of politics that favours culture wars over what is in the national interest. Williamson is the norm not the exception.
This shower, aided by the Machiavellian electoral genius of Dominic Cummings, tricked those left behind into believing that this bunch of neo-fascists cared about their well-being.
A lie that was again exposed this week in a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (the ‘IFS’) showing that the most vulnerable in society, those on lower incomes, such as the young, the least educated, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (‘BAME’) backgrounds, have been hit hardest by the crisis.
The report said that C-19 has ‘cruelly exposed huge variations in how easily we are able to weather threats to livelihoods, to educational progress, to physical and mental health.
These disparities have been closely correlated with pre-existing inequalities between groups according to their education, income, location and ethnicity – in ways that are often hard to disentangle, but depressingly familiar.’
The report noted that:
- Mortality rates in the most deprived communities were about twice as high as those in the least deprived. BAME groups were more likely to die than the white majority, in part reflecting their occupations.
- The better-paid and more highly educated had found it easier to cope financially with the crisis. Among graduates, there had been a 7% fall in the number doing any paid work; among non-graduates it was 17%.
- Children from poorer families found it harder to do schoolwork during lockdown, received less online teaching, and have been more likely to miss school since September.
- Elderly people have suffered high mortality rates from Covid-19, but the young have felt the economic consequences, with the under-25s more than twice as likely as older workers to have lost their jobs.
By comparison, the world’s 2,000 or so billionaires got $1.9 trillion richer in 2020 as financial asset prices soared on the back of government largesse supporting markets. 50% of the US stock market is owned by the richest 1%.
This divides society between haves and have-nots. A divide that is an old as time itself, but one that started with industrialisation and successive world wars, this change was arrested in the 1980s due to the policies instigated by the Thatcher and Reagan administrations.
The culmination of this reversal is that even the so-called middle class are impacted. This can be partly explained by the fact that developed countries have aging populations meaning that they cannot support the state pensions of yesteryear.
This is further exacerbated by low interest rates meaning that pensions and savings in general produce little in the way of income.
Markets have effectively been supported by a central bank put option
Their children leave university saddled with debts, there is no-longer anything resembling a job for life, and property prices force them to rent or stay at home. The bank of mum and dad can sometimes help, but many are stretched funding their own retirements.
I have believed for several years that asset prices are artificially high, fuelled by central banks cutting interest rates to record lows, and further exacerbated by quantitative easing juicing-up markets still further.
With C.$16tn of debt trading with negative yields people have chased equities irrespective of market conditions.
Markets have effectively been supported by a central bank put option, which has led investors to believe that if asset prices wobble there will be more support.
Like any strategy this works until it doesn’t. Which is clearly what Jeremy Grantham, the British co-founder of the US investment firm GMO thinks.
In a letter to clients he wrote, ‘The long, long bull market since 2009 has finally matured into a fully-fledged epic bubble. Featuring extreme overvaluation, explosive price increases, frenzied issuance, and hysterically speculative investor behaviour, I believe this event will be recorded as one of the great bubbles of financial history, right along with the South Sea bubble, 1929, and 2000.’
Grantham, who called the market peak in 2008, said that the US central bank would be unable to prevent an eventual crash.
Grantham cited shares in the electric car maker Telsa as an example of the market bubble. ‘As a model 3 owner, my personal favourite Tesla tidbit is that its market capitalisation, now over $600bn, amounts to over $1.25m per car sold each year versus $9,000 per car for General Motors. What has 1929 got to equal that?’
‘And when this building is on fire
these flames can’t burn any higher’
- I regard Populism as an alternative name for fascism, used by those wishing to feel better about themselves
As trailed in a recent post ‘Beginning to see the Light: A new column for a new era’ we’re really happy to welcome Philip back with a hard-hitting start to the New Year; whilst so many would be happy to consign 2020 to the rearview mirror, the words of Jim Steinman, delivered by the inimitable Marvin Lee Aday, may resonate.
We want to move on, we have to move on, but at the risk of launching a subversive alternative lyric competition, there’s always something there to remind us; Trump has clearly got bats in the belfry and Mayor Khan has declared a major incident as daily Covid deaths hit a record 1,325 – yet still Grant ‘Two Planes’ Shapps prevaricates about closing the borders.
In his covering note Philip said ‘disappointingly, this doesn’t feel like a different column, but I will push on and try and maintain the focus on inequality whilst keeping the commentary relevant’; however, far from the ‘difficult second album’, what he highlights is the fact that in almost every respect his nightmare scenarios have come to pass – witness the bearded fascist with a ‘Camp Auschwitz – 6 million wasn’t enough’ t-shirt storming the Capitol and, without wishing to draw any kind of parallel in terms of significance and impact, those having a lorry park slapped on their doorsteps on the symbolic white cliffs.
As the froth of Trump and Brexit are scraped away, there’s some pretty thin gruel; where the column comes alive is in highlighting the fact that all of the inequality, all of the incompetence and all of the frailty, if not downright deceit, remains.
No longer is there the possibility of a ‘special relationship’ with the US, and there is every likelihood that recent events will accelerate China’s ascendency to the top of the global economic heap; meantime, I’m not sure how many of those charged with defeating the virus, kick-starting the economy or running education you’d want in your pub quiz team, let alone to pack down next to.
In the meantime, students are being charged full-whack to stay at home doing lessons on Zoom, whilst still being charged for accommodation they are not allowed to travel to, and the young and the poor are being disadvantaged in every imaginable way; I think this column will be just fine, and look forward to it immensely.
Just two lyrics this week, and whilst we seek to close a deal with a very exciting headline sponsor, prizes will remain virtual; 3 pts apiece for a staple of the column(s) Sir David of Bowie with ‘Always Crashing in the Same Car’ and New Order with ‘World (The Price of Love)’. Enjoy!
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s