The Dawn of A New Age of Plutocracy
Number 10 must have been wishing that nobody was listening to Radio 4 this morning. Or, at least, that nobody was paying attention.
On a dreary Virgin train up to Manchester, using my phone as a radio, I listened to the Today programme. This was followed by The Jam Generation Takes Power – a relatively light-hearted exploration by Anne McElvoy of the effect of growing up in the 80s on today’s politicians.
Our Chancellor chose to speak about Geoffrey Howe’s 1981 Austerity Budget as a key moment. This is what he had to say:
Could the man really be this dense? Could he really see 1981 as the beginning of “two decades of prosperity”?
The period to which Gideon refers includes not one, but two recessions – one of them the longest since the Great Depression. It includes the Falklands War, two long periods of unemployment above 3 million, the creation of ghost-towns in the Northeast, Northwest, Midlands and Wales. It includes Black Monday, Black Wednesday, an enormous sell-off of public assets, the poll tax riots and the single biggest concentration of mortgage repossessions, filings for insolvencies and personal bankruptcies since records began. Millions of people’s lives were left in ruins, in some cases irreparably.
The point, however, is this: The 80s and 90s were, in fact, two very good decades for a select few. People with ready cash made a killing in the property market, buying repossessed homes. Private corporations bought public utilities and railways for peanuts. George Soros made a very cool $1 billion out of the devaluing of Sterling on Black Wednesday.
And so, Osborne reveals something quite fundamental with his statement. It is not pure incompetence or stupidity that is driving this government’s economic policy. It is also the fact that its aims are plutocratic in nature. They stem from a radically alternative experience of two whole decades.
He wants to emulate Howe (or at least emulate his perception of Howe) – a brave Chancellor making difficult decisions which will mark the start of two decades of prosperity. Prosperity, that is, for Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and the rest of the millionaires in the cabinet; for their rich families; for their Bullingdon Club and public school buddies. Not prosperity for you and me.
To paraphrase Dickens, it will be the best of times and the worst of times. Depending on how much capital you have tucked away to begin with.