Friday, 4 December 2009

Stoic Britain in 2009?

I think we all need a pat on the back. 2009 has to be one of the worst years in terms of crises for many a long time, yet the average person in the street, young or old, took it all with a traditional British stiff upper lip.

We have endured 6 successive quarters of GDP contraction. We have endured 4 years (and more) of serious decline in household income, with 2009 being by far the worst. We have added well over 1m to the dole queue and there are still more to come on that. We have seen major companies try to impose draconian cuts on staff at banks, the Royal Mail and BA as good examples; we have seen the loss of major household names like Woolworths, MFI, Threshers, Borders. We have seen the near collapse of the financial system, with 5 household named high street institutions falling largely or wholly into public hands. We have seen the exposure of long term, systematic abuse of the taxpayer by MPs on their expense claims with some stepping way beyond the point of common decency and into the world of crime. We have seen more deaths in Afghanistan in one year than all the previous years of that engagement added together - and totalling now as many as those lost in the Falklands conflict. Even as we watch with horror as that seemingly pointless engagement continues, that still our troops are not being given the right support, numbers and equipment to do the job they are asked to do. As the official inquiry into Iraq starts, it is already clear that the public were grossly misled into supporting a war that had no legal grounding - making Britain no better than a rogue state intent on imposing its will on others because it wants their assets.

Why have we put up with it all? Even in the Glasgow East by-election, the status quo was endorsed. During the year there was much talk of discontent amongst workers and potential riots in the streets as Britain suffered from the depths of the recession. We have seen that wile private firms have suffered badly from the effects of the recession and the credit crunch, the public sector has enjoyed an unscathed path with hardly any job losses, no major cuts, good salaries and fantastic pension rights as more private firms close their final salary schemes.

For many we have seen our assets corrode at an acidic rate - the stock market has regained ground but most of us look at our pension and savings statements with fear and depression. Our homes have lost some 25% in value and although they are back on the rise, many people are now in the mire of negative equity or under the cloud of delayed payments. Many firms have deferred their tax under the government schemes and face a big cash call soon that may yet send more companies under. The VAT reduction to 15% will be reversed as of the end of this month and prices will rise sharply.

And perhaps most depressingly, we have been shielded from the true cost of the massive bank bail outs we have been party too. The National Audit office have now fixed the current running total as £850 bn and rising - a spend totally unanticipated by anyone and we are still worried about further liabilities as now the next wave may not be sub-prime mortgages but sub-prime national debt as whole states or countries like Greece and Dubai start to falter on debt repayments. The result is that we are likely to be paying for the huge borrowing on all this until 2032 although Government calculations seem to be wrong each month as the borrowing requirement keeps exceeding estimates.

In amongst all this bad news - terrible news - the population seems to be unfazed and carries on regardless. Even terrible disasters like the Cockermouth floods seem to move us little anymore as we become numb to the pain around us. Perhaps we are in denial - all this bad news is being locked out so that we can focus on existing in our way. After all, there are no food shortages, we still have credit and we still have means of getting what we need. Indeed, the travel industry, with the exception of BA, reports that holidays have not fallen off at all - for most of us, life goes on.

One theory why we have not been up in arms and rioting in the streets is that we have a focus for our fury. The one benefit of the bizarre banking drama has been that we can collectively and unreservedly hate the people who caused the mess we are in - the bankers. The issue just won't go away. Even as the money still pours in from the taxpayer creating an artificial market condition where every bank in the world can make vast profits quickly with little investment and cost, they are demanding bonuses for effectively just pocketing our cash. They are not even demanding it - they are blackmailing us for it.

At one point in the year, I advocated that we do not pay our tax as enough was enough - why should we give our money and see the direct result as being MPs cheating us for cash and bankers queuing to buy shiny new sports cars? Why can't we see more care homes for the wounded returning from Afghanistan or better equipment and transport for them so that they can be protected against the unseen enemy? If money was so easy to be handed out, why did we have to pay so much tax before, if debt was so good for us?

I can only put it all down to the old spirit of survival and stoicism by the British people. At the direst moments we had the surreal moment of an open racist on prime time TV telling us that Hitler had a point in so many words. And still we carried on.

I think as the year closes, we should all pat ourselves on the back for our courage, fortitude and downright ignorance of what is going on around us. By putting our heads in the sand, young kids in Afghanistan will continue to die and rich people in the City will continue to earn a fortune off the back of our mindless handouts and behave as if they earned and deserved it. Why, when history is rewritten, we will find that the likes of Goldman Sachs, RBS and the other banks saved us, not we them.

And we will believe every word of it, just as we did of the rewritten history in the TV program, 'The Blair Years'. The one thing that Mandelson and Brown got right in the last year is that the public was stupid - the rest they got totally wrong.

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