Originally the wreckers were inhabitants of the costal regions of Cornwall, who during stormy weather would lure ships on to rocks, where they would kill the surviving crew members and loot the wreck of its cargo. While today’s wreckers are very different, in that they are politicians that inhabit Westminster, their motives are very similar to those of the Cornish wreckers. They want to break up the public service organisations and sell off the most profitable parts to favoured buyers. Parts of the NHS are sold to Virgin Care, prison and probation services to Care4, the list is almost endless. These politicians would never view themselves as wreckers, they instead are the new Neo-Liberal thrusters, breaking up the old complacent society to remake it as a dynamic free market society.
The recent privatisation of the Royal Mail provides a good example of this wrecking process. The Royal Mail was established in 1840 to provide a universal mail service at a fixed price to all customers. In Neo-Liberal Britain this in the words of one expert is an anachronism. The service could be broken up into its various parts and sold to for profit providers, who motivated by the need to make profits would provide a better service. What this means in real terms is that the customers of the most profitable parts of the mail delivery service would get a better service and the least profitable customers a worse one. Consequently the government first disposed on the profitable corporate mail shot business to private contractors, then permitted these same companies to cherry pick the profitable London mail delivery service, leaving the high cost universal mail delivery service to The Royal Mail. Now the now privatised Royal,Mail is requesting that it be relieved of the burden of providing a six day a week universal service. Inevitably its request will be granted as the universal service obligation is contrary to profit making. Soon Britain will,have an expensive fragmented mail delivery service similar to that in the Netherlands, where profit making rather than service delivery is the priority.
While a dysfunctional postal service may cause some problems it does not pose a major problem for British society. We can all learn how to manage with delays in post, however the wreckers in politics seem unaware of the damage that they are inflicting on the social fabric damage in their effort to create the perfect Neo-Liberal society. It is as if they have taken a ‘wrecking ball’ to the fabric of that society, they are on the same spectrum of political leadership as Chairman Mao. He was responsible for the death of millions, when he tried to impose a communist agenda on China with the ‘Great Leap Forward’. I guess we should be content that our current leaders are content with the remaking of society only involves the immiseration of the majority, and not their death in service the higher cause. Food banks, zero hour contracts, low wages, insecurity of tenure and homelessness are the price to be paid for the ‘Great British Leap Forward’. Our leaders as with Chairman Mao hope to recreate a new society out of the ruins of the old state. Any price paid is regarded as one well paid for the creation of the day new society.
The Real Price paid for the ‘Wrecking Ball’ of Westminster politics.
As with Chairman Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’ the real price paid by the people for this misguided reform is largely hidden from view. The losers are the poor, the underclass largely hidden from the view of the media, unless they are needed for examples for the purpose of scapegoating the feckless poor. Strangely enough for a political class that lauds the family as the cornerstone of society, it shows little concern about the destructive impact of its policies have on the family unit. It is recognised that financial stress in one of the main factors in family breakdown, yet successive governments have imposed more and more financial stress on the family unit.
Their Neo-Liberal or supply side side reforms require a labour force that is infinitely flexible, one that can and will move from one job to another, at a moment’s notice and one also that is so cheap to employ that high wages are no bar to employers wishing to take on extra staff. By removing employment protection laws, wage councils and emasculating the trade unions the government’s of the UK have achieved this flexible labour force so desired by businessmen and economists. Recently a think tank of Swiss millionaires lauded the UK for having the most flexible of labour markets.
The price paid for this free market in labour is high in terms of human suffering. A comparison is the family structure within the Victorian army, offers a useful parallel to today’s family. Then because of the high mortality rate amongst the soldiers a fluid family pattern developed. The loss of a male partner meant poverty for the family, so frequently the woman in the relationship had more than one partner so as to avoid the poverty that would be attendant on the death of the breadwinner. For the same reason serial monogamy was a necessity as women would need a succession of male partners, if the woman based family unit was to survive. Many middle class commentators saw army wives as little better than prostitutes, as they failed to recognise the financial stresses that made this a necessary way of life. Any reader of today’s papers will recognise this description of family life as that ascribed to the underclass. Stories abound in the tabloid press of the amoral underclass, not recognising that it’s the way the poor have of coping with the stresses of everyday life. Only a fluid weak family structure can survive in a situation of extreme financial stress.
There is the impact on the men in low wage insecure occupations, which impacts negatively on family life. As demonstrated in Wilfred Foote Whyte’s book ‘Street Corner Society’, there the men he interviewed had numerous liaisons and partners. What is he discovered was that it was not so much amoral behaviour, but shame that drove these men into having numerous sexual relations. What forced them to move on from one relationship to another was the shame of being unable to support a family properly because of their low income. Running out on the relationship was the only way to avoid the humiliation of not being able to buy one’s children clothes. This explains the prevalence of so many one parent families in the UK.
Family breakdown is not unique to the underclass, it is spread throughout society. A society that regards people as resources of labour to be used when and as the employer pleases is bound to be destructive of social relationships. Social change has made once secure jobs, such as the professions insecure. One comment strikes me as typifying today’s destructive society, a neighbour said that if she became pregnant she would have to have an abortion, as her partner’s salary would be inadequate to pay the mortgage and support a stay-at-home wife. A society such as Britain which has bought wholeheartedly into the Neo-Liberal agenda is uncaring of damage inflicted on its members if it boosts the bottom line.
What prompted this essay was the evident damage shown in our society from just a few years of the Neo-Liberal experiment. In primary schools there are an increasing number of children starting who lack social skills or in some cases language skills. (There are children of five who can only only communicate, with sounds lacking any language skills.) There are even children attending school who have rickets, the illness of poverty, once thought to have been eradicated. Blame for this is put on inadequate parents, but with the destruction inflicted on the family, it can be no surprise that damaged families produce dysfunctional, inadequate adults. Are these the people that made up the mob so feared by Victorian society?
There has been another warning sign, it has been estimated that societies where average income is less than $7,500 social discontent is endemic. Just recently recently our major cities were subject to a spate of rioting in which the police temporarily lost control of the streets. It goes almost without comment that the riots were the young on disproportionately low wages. If current trends continue with average wages continuing to fall, inner city violence may become endemic.
The Return of the Old Fear of Revolution
Strangely the best educated generation of British politicians has an appalling ignorance of the past. When at university in the 1960’s it was an age of optimism. My teachers in common with the rest of society thought that the evils of the Victorian cities were a thing of the past. Society had been remade along social democratic lines, so as to eliminate the evils of that time. Too many politicians could remember the horrors of the ‘Great Depression’ and wanted to ensure that they would never return. Yet our current generation of politicians seem to want consciously or unconsciously to return to the divided society of Victorian times. The Victorian middle classes had a constant fear of revolution and the masses. When the Chartists marched through London in 1848 to demand universal suffrage, the fearful middle classes turned out in force as special constables to police the marchers, such was their fear of revolution. Such was their fear of the masses that a series of murders in the East End of London, became magnified into the ‘Jack the Ripper’ scare. For a fearful middle class it was all to easy for to imagine that the poor areas of the East End, were the breeding ground for monsters such as Jack the Ripper. This fearful middle class fled the city and the mobs for the green suburbs. I now live in one such suburb created by the mill owners of Leeds who wanted to distance themselves from the city poor.
Now having started to create an divided and unfair society, politicians and the middle class have rediscovered their fear of the poor. Such is the fear that the rioters of 2011 that judiciary under pressure from frightened politicians handed out draconian sentences to deter future rioters. A practice common in the 19th century when hard labour and hanging were the punishments for rioting and offences against social order; however in such a divided society such punishments had little impact on reducing violence.
Today the East End of London is an area of new city blocks and affluence, yet in the recent past it was a place in which the well off feared to venture. I remember a professor telling me that when he ventured there in the 1930’s he was driven out for being posh. He was subject to stone throwing from the local youths.
Although it might be disputed by some but the fear of revolution has returned in the guise of Muslim extremists. Only today the Home Secretary warned that the likelihood of a terrorist attack was at the greatest since 9/11. It is from those areas of the ‘Other’ in which the fearful rich and well to do never venture, that they fear attack. They have declared a war on terror, they fear Muslim minority, regardless of the fact this minority has integrated well into society. While there is a justified fear of Muslim extremism, extremists are a minority and it was largely complacent policing that allowed them to thrive.
There is however a disaffection amongst the young, they see a society that is indifferent to them. It is a society that cares little for its young people, denying them good wages and housing, it is a society in which disaffection will grow. At least in the majority it’s protests that are legal, but in minority groups that are feeling oppressed a small number while turn to more violent means. Even history teaches us that this minority can be contained through good policing. The Fenians in the late nineteenth century were as dangerous as any modern Islamic terrorist and yet the police successfully contained them. Unfortunately the return of the ‘great fear’ of the dispossessed ‘other’ means that our political leaders will inevitably overact to a small disaffected group. The best advocates for the extremist cause are the politicians who constantly over estimate the power and success of them. They cannot see that Islamic extremists are as much a creation of their making, as of their religion. If a people are impoverished and brutalised through political and social change, social order and peace will be undermined, but our current complacent political class never realise that. They will instead resort to more and more repressive measures to control the simmering discontent. The 1950’s and 1960’s were an unusual period in British history, one of social peace, achieved because the vast majority felt they had a stake in maintaining the well being of society.