Tag Archives: David Cameron

A Druid economy

Of course these days as a Druid you do not get to talk sense to those in charge in any kind of structured way, so I’m just going to vent theories on the blog.

Austerity. It doesn’t work. The UK is still borrowing a lot of money and not paying off its debts, and at the same time the poorest are suffering. Apparently millionaires are poised to get tax breaks, because we all know how much those folks are hurting… (gah). Now, the poorest people in the UK are not just unemployed or too ill to work, but also include a lot of people in part time and low paid employment. Rising rents and council tax, rising fuel costs and amenities (while companies make profits) put the squeeze on incomes that are not rising. People pay for the essentials, and they buy cheap because they have to, in order to survive. The more pressure you put on the poorest in society, the less economically active they become. Oddly enough, high streets are increasingly dominated by pound stores and charity shops, while big chains close an average of 20 stores a day across the country. Every store closed represents more job losses, more people needing a hand, and having less money. And so the squeeze extends.

The way things are set up, economies depend on movement of money. GDP is simply a measure of movement. The faster the money moves the more everybody appears to have. It’s a funny old world. However, reduce the incomes of the poorest, and they stop buying those luxuries like books and music. They stop going down the pub, for a night out. When enough people stop doing that, pubs close, and ooh look, HMV has just folded. (Music, for anyone unfamiliar with them.) In this climate, only bargain basement stores selling dodgy horse burgers are going to thrive.

There’s no political will to cap rents. We hear a lot about how people on benefits are scrounging off the state, and nothing at all about how much public money ultimately finds its way into the pockets of private landlords. So run that past me again about who is scrounging here? People in work get tax benefits because in the current climate, the minimum wage is not enough to live on. We’re not talking heady luxuries, we’re talking bare essentials. No one is talking about how private employers ought to be paying workers a living wage rather than the state picking up the tab. Remind me about who the scroungers are, please. In the last decade or so the private sector has not invested in growth or jobs. It’s just paid fat dividends to shareholders and ever more obscene bonuses to management while the people who do the work struggle on a not-living wage. Then, thanks to that lack of investment, business in the UK does not thrive, jobs move overseas, businesses fail to pay their fair share of taxes. The rich underpay the poor, decline to pay their own taxes, pay themselves huge bonuses… Meanwhile those with no hope, no prospects, no opportunities and no money sink into despair, and when the government notices the total apathy out there, they ascribe it not to depression or futility but to laziness.

If we had a level playing field and all you needed to do was work hard and you’d succeed, then berating the poor for not making an effort would be fair enough. That’s not the score. But it’s not at all clever, because the more money you take out of the pockets of the poor, the less money you have moving around. Those people sat on huge wads of cash are not spending it to drive the economy. Squeezing the poor does not make for a healthy economy. How about paying a living wage, providing work opportunities, having business invest in business rather than creaming off the profits all the time… we could have something that works passably well.

Perhaps David Cameron wants to bring back feudalism, picturing himself as mighty ruler of Great Britain. The trouble is Mr Cameron, go on this way and you will have total power over all your serfs, but all you’ll get is to be King of a pile of dirt, dressed in a ragged and filthy robe of state, with a crown made out of rusty spoons. We got rid of feudalism for a reason – we were tired of the Dark Ages. Go back there if you want to, get into re-enactment or something, but for pity’s sake, stop trying to take the rest of us with you.


Confessions of compassion fail

Forgive me blogosphere, for I have sinned. It has been 24 hours since my last confession. Give or take. I have failed to hold a compassionate attitude towards my fellow human beings. I have allowed myself to feel anger and resentment towards my government, and to assume that their behaviour represents the prejudices of the rich against the poor. Am I any less prejudiced than they? I cannot begin to imagine the burdens and trials that immense wealth must bring, or how hard it must be deciding to cut benefits rather than going after corporate tax dodgers.

This morning I have succumbed to anger, and considered writing a class-war tirade against those who have so much and begrudge the smallest generosity to those who have almost nothing. But am I any better? I, who would take away from those who enjoy the fortunes they have inherited, the educational advantages of rich parents and a leg up from the Old Boys Network. I would, if given the power, cut them down to size a bit and require them to have standards of living more commensurate with that of some of their less affluent neighbours. I do not wish to see them suffer, I would not wish them the poverty of benefit dependence.

And of course they must have good reasons for removing housing benefit from the under twenty fives. I’m sure they’ll make an exception for the ones who have no living parents to run home to, the ones who have been in social care all their lives, have no family they can safely return to, and whose educations have probably been undermined by being moved about a lot. They don’t mean those people under the age of twenty five, do they? Only the undeserving ones. So who would those be? The ones who didn’t get to go to the top school or get the best results and cannot find jobs? The ones who selfishly went to university and are now burdened with debt, and unemployed, and want to live somewhere they might find work? Inconsiderate swine, scrounging off the people who never had to lift a finger to get their head start in the world. Despicable! Or all those girls who went out and got themselves pregnant (stop a moment consider what that phrase means) and only got pregnant to get a council house and more benefits. Because we all know when you’re poor, undereducated and female, the only way you can get on in the world is through pregnancy and benefits. Living the high life on a few hundred pounds a week. Doing outrageously self indulgent things, like eating, and buying clothes for your child. Everyone knows that poor children don’t really need shoes. It’s character building for them to go without. Wouldn’t you agree, Mr Cameron?

Oh, guide me, wise ones, how do I feel greater compassion for the rich and spoiled men who want to ush in a new Victorian era? I admit, I like steampunk, I have worn a corset, I own some George Eliot novels. But the Victorian era illustrates so well what happens when the only way to make ends meet legitimately, for the poorest, means long, exhausting shifts, or multiple jobs, because the wages won’t pay the rent. Sound familiar?  It means families crammed into too small spaces, and children sent out to work. Chimney sweeps, at all, Mr Cameron? When being poor and decent means a life of drudgery, slavery and misery, people consider their options. The Victorian era was not a crime free period. It was also a time when prostitution rates were terrifyingly high. Forgive me, blogosphere for I have imagined that spoiled, wealthy rich boys might enjoy the idea of there being more prostitutes. Just because historically they were the ones paying the most to use women, boys, children, doesn’t mean that’ll hold true now, does it?

In the Victorian era, Christianity and its values still had a lot of influence. We have generations who have grown up being told that materialism rules, that wealth matters, that they are entitled to health, education and a job. What are they going to do when you pull the rug out from under their feet, Mr Cameron? Perhaps you don’t know that wealth is not created by the rich, it is derived from the labours of the poor. Real wealth, that is, not the kind of imaginary money games your old school chums and buddies are playing in ‘The City’. What happens, Mr Cameron, when people can no longer afford homes, and can no longer afford to feed their children? Perhaps you think this century’s people are sufficiently tamed with ciabatta and television. What progress we have since the days of bread and circuses! Perhaps you think a host of magical pixies will come and make it ok. Maybe you’re hoping for a pandemic to kill off the weakest ones and cut the running costs. I notice you’re closing hospitals. I guess the more people just do the decent thing and die, the easier it will be for you to balance the books. How hard this must all be for you!

But I think you’ll find this isn’t a nation of sheep, and that even sheep will fight back if they think you’re going to kill them, or harm their offspring. The future you are making, Mr Cameron, is not one in which people generally are likely to love or respect you. There’s nothing like desperation to make people do unpleasant and antisocial things. Remember Marie Antoinette? Mussolini hanging from a lamp post. The fate of those who betray their people is not always a happy one. I really hope we don’t end up there. Perhaps I can feel just the teensiest bit sorry for you after all; maybe that fine education of yours didn’t cover the causes of revolution.


The hardworking people

Apparently David Cameron was on Radio 4 this morning telling the UK how much he cares about ‘the hardworking people’. At first glance, that seems fine, but it stands a poke. First, as soon as you say something like this, you are probably also saying (especially if you’re a Tory), by implication that there are people who are not hardworking and you aren’t in favour of them. You are also saying that hardworking is the only measure of a person. Let’s take that further.

A hardworking person is putting in long hours, pretty much by definition. They probably live to work, rather than working to live. But there’s no call to quality here, only to look busy. A hardworking person may have meticulously re-ordered the stationary cupboard today. They might spend hours diligently folding socks in the best possible way. They might spend several extra hours in the office every day, appearing to be very busy, afraid they will lose their job if they don’t appear to be working long hours, and working hard, but not actually doing anything useful. What they will be doing is reducing their own quality of life, having a terrible work-life balance, and neglecting other aspects of being human.

Hard work and long hours happily contributes to a process of making things we neither need nor can afford and then convincing each other to pay for them anyway. This is one of the things that underpins the inherent instability and unsustainability of our culture. Working long, hard hours contributes to the rising epidemic of stress, anxiety and depression related illness, which in turn costs a lot of working hours every year and a lot of time spent on doctors and drugs. That is not a win in any sense. Long, hard hours at work undermine family life, means parents have less chance to be involved in bringing up their own children, and puts an obscene amount of pressure on our planet. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently the pattern our Prime Minister is cheering about. Never mind that most of his overpaid, over-privileged, under-worked friends have probably never done the kinds of things we’re talking about here.

As a Druid, I care about nature. I see human beings as part of nature, and I see what is natural continually being overruled by this pressure to be good little producers, forever busy selling and consuming. Why are we so obsessed with creating and wasting far more than any of us need? Because idiots stand up in public and suggest there is a moral high ground to working yourself to death for the sake of ten more sales of a thing that is destined to sit in a garage and gather dust, or go into the bin barely used. Of course the more caught up we are in frantically working longer and harder to be good little citizens, the less time we have to think about moral and ethical issues, the less energy we have for questioning governments. What a strange coincidence!

Let’s not cheer over people working twelve hour days, and six and seven day weeks. Let’s gently encourage them to live, and facilitate their doing so. Let’s not demand the quickest, cheapest, least humane option at every turn.

I could work really hard today. I could write thousands and thousands of words until my hands are in agony and my mind is in meltdown. I might even be able to sell it to someone. And then I would have contributed to the great pile of ill-conceived, throw away reading material in the world. Whoopee. Forgive me if I don’t think that’s clever. Or I can move slowly, take the time to think. Which project is most important and relevant? Which topic most needs airing? Where can I say something profound, or something that will improve peoples’ days by making them smile?

From a purely economic perspective, ten thousand words of any pap I can think of, will not make me the next Neil Gaiman, or the next JK Rowling. Quality matters. Better to work lightly and get things right than expend a lot of energy flapping, flailing and messing things up. You can work very hard and end up with total rubbish. You can also work smart, at the right speed, with care and integrity. Maybe it doesn’t look as though quite as much is getting done, but getting it right the first time should mean going home early, not three hours of overtime. We’re too collectively focused on the idea that time is money, and that working – any work, no matter what it achieves or ruins – is morally superior to no work. Remember the guys checking train lines for dangerous faults, overpressured, with not enough time to do the job? Someone died as a consequence of people being asked to work too hard, and being unable to do the job as a consequence. This is not the right way to do things.

In nature, most things do only what is needful. The rest of the time, they rest, play, sunbathe, groom, sing, socialise. Humans are not very natural. I’m not advocating an ethic of total laziness here, I work, and I work most days, but I do not believe in work for the sake of it, and I do not think anyone should be martyring themselves for the cult of overtime and the gods of GDP.