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Last updated October 2016

A Leap in the dark

Taking sides: poverty and inequality lead to political unrest.

Arriving at an all-boys boarding school at the age of nine taught me to make my own entertainment. Every now and then the boys organised games that usually culminated in a mass brawl. I clearly remember a mods v rockers clash. News about the bank holiday shenanigans in Brighton must have filtered through the Christian Brothers permanent news blackout.

Motivation was key, there had to be another side, an enemy to make it worthwhile. Perhaps generations before played at being roundheads and cavaliers. This did not appeal to our blood lust. Rockers could employ a fearsome set of imaginary weaponry such as knuckle dusters and heavy chains. The mods amongst whom I counted myself could only look fey, pat down their hair and run fast.

Our playground fights came to mind when considering the recent referendum campaign. The vote for Brexit was won narrowly, suggesting the reality that we are once again a divided nation. We have a new government. The last days of David Cameron's short-lived second spell as prime minister resembled a Shakespearian battlefield with cabinet ministers knifed in a bloody orgy of political violence.

Meanwhile the scene is being upturned by the "new politics". This is an international phenomenon. People are angry. They want their country back, they want sovereignty, and they want to make America great again. Donald Trump has already concluded that defeat in November is an establishment plot. An important feature of his campaign is the almost visceral hatred between the Republican Party and its presidential candidate.

The recent power struggle in the Labour party has left commentators gasping for breath and shows a deep-felt distrust of the establishment. Jeremy Corbyn, on track to continue as leader, has successfully rebuilt party membership but does seem, either by design or otherwise, to be gifting power to the Conservatives. The possibility of a split remains and other parties are manoeuvring to gain the status of Her Majesty's opposition.

The public distrust of politics and the subsequent political divide has been apparent to those with eyes to see for many years, and the establishment, the powers that be, have blithely carried on with business as usual, ignoring the fact that disposable incomes for a large proportion of the working population have been flat-lining for the better part of 10 years.

And to remind ourselves that poverty is absolute as well as relative, one ACO member says in their blog: "Let's be honest, would a single mother with three children really care about visa-free travel around Europe, when she is living in a damp and grotty hostel in Middlesbrough, waiting for a council flat after fleeing domestic violence?"

Andrew Sentence, an external member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England from 2006 to 2011, speaking about recovery since 2008 says: "when it comes to asking 'Whose recovery?', the answer is reasonably clear: those living in London and the South-East, those earning higher incomes, those aged over 50 and those owning their own home. This has been a recovery for the few, rather than the many".

He goes on: "Dividing-up this income pie - regionally, socio-economically, and inter-generationally - paints an even more nuanced, and uneven, picture. For example, at present there are only two regions across the UK - London and the South-East - where GDP per head currently exceeds its pre-crisis peak. In others words, in all bar two UK regions, there has been no real recovery even in GDP terms."

What we are seeing is substantial sections of the population in both the US and the UK in revolt against the status quo. For some it is poverty and inequality which without doubt in a globalised world has reached extreme proportions. It is also about feeling hard done by. The 'hard workers' see their wage bargaining reduced, property becoming out of reach of their children.

Karl Marx, ever handy with a sound-bite, said, "history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." The biggest economic crash in living memory occurred in 1929. The Roaring Twenties, the decade that followed World War I and led to the Crash was a time of wealth and excess. People, in vast numbers migrated across the seas and to the cities in search of work and prosperity that seemed in their grasp. Sound a bit familiar?

None of these things will be improved by Brexit and depending on your point of view, will either forge a new national identity or make things considerably worse. The crash of 1929 led to a decade of economic instability and gross inequality that led to political instability and radical extremism.

We have taken economic growth for granted, entered into a Faustian pact that if most people benefit, the costs to those left out is worth it.

In an unsecure world we are taking a leap in the dark.

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