‘Bloody Nasty People: The Rise of Britain’s Far Right’
SINCE THE GOVERNMENT of David Cameron came to power in 2010, the United Kingdom has been subjected to a brutally masochistic economic joke—“policy” is too kind a word—for which, the prime minister confirmed in an October interview, there is no end in sight. For Cameron and George Osborne, his chancellor of the exchequer, austerity is always the answer: any bit of good news is proof that austerity works, while the more frequent bad news proves that deeper cuts are the only way forward. They have hit everything from hospitals to the civil service, and the result has been a sharp double-dip contraction worse than most other OECD countries, with the prospect of a third one near. The British economy, even without the straitjacket of the euro, is performing worse at this point than it did at the equivalent pass in the 1930s. Welcome to the depression, chaps!
In just a few years Britain—which last decade could call itself the most dynamic country in Europe—has simply accepted mass unemployment, stagnated growth, and a ravaged urban landscape one Tory columnist called “Detroit UK.” And the economic disaster has far-reaching social consequences: far more than the United States, Britain is now suffering from a crisis not just of finance but also of institutions. The four-years-and-counting News International phone-hacking scandal (which reaches all the way to Cameron’s desk) is only the largest: from the giant Libor scam to the recent upheaval at the BBC, what may once have elicited democratic anger now only prompts Italian-style acceptance of establishment rot.
And still it comes, for Cameron’s Britain is a land where ideology can be so strong that its defenders are willing to burn money in order to preserve their convictions. The 1980s this is not. The old Thatcherites wanted to cut the state mostly in order to get rich, but Britain’s new austerity enthusiasts have left the poor poorer and the rich poorer, too. Outdated fantasies about soaring interest rates (in fact, borrowing costs are at a 300-year low, essentially free) keep getting trotted out, while clueless intonations that the country has “no more money” continue to appear in respectable newspapers and magazines; the case for Keynesian stimulus remains far afield. At the Tory party conference in October, Cameron used the notion of government spending as a laugh line. And a traumatized nation mired in a preventable depression keeps calm and carries on.