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The 1930’s Echoes of History

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

As 2012 dawns the ensuing second global economic meltdown in four years has the potential to unlock a myriad of underlying social problems, and could end up producing a spasm of epic proportions, changing this country forever. 


The prospects for the economy are dire. Although when Labour was in power Gordon Brown managed to secure some wriggle room for us regarding borrowing (in 2009 our debt stood at 39% of GDP compared to a G7 average of 60%) the truth is that the first Banking Crisis had a far greater impact here because our economy was far too reliant on the housing market and the resultant personal debt accrued, than any other developed economy except Ireland. 


In addition the absolute reliance that the UK had on foreign investment in the financial sector meant that if there is another collective loss of confidence on the scale of that which occurred in October 2008 when, if you believe the former Labour Trade Minister Lord Davies who let it slip that we were hours from going bust, then a total meltdown is not off the agenda. 


The Tory led Coalition Government, initially emboldened with a strident deficit reduction programme became paralysed by a flat lining economy and having to admit in November 2011 that the plans to eliminate the deficit in one Parliament were dead in the water. Chancellor George Osborne was befuddled and his autumn statement contained nothing to instil confidence due the absence of an alternative to savage cuts in the public sector allied to a demand sapping VAT rise which has crippled small business and choked off the recovery that Labour had achieved (1.7% GDP growth in May 2010). The Coalition did not know what to do next as it seems the inherent flaws in the Market and unfettered Capitalism in general has taken us to the brink of a Depression. 


Depression. That word would have seemed unbelievable in 2010, but it is well and truly on the agenda now as, if you take the economists definition we are on the fast track to that state. 


The characteristics of a Depression include a collapse in credit, shrinkage of private investment, numerous bankruptcies, a sharp rise in unemployment, very low rates of interest and deflation caused by a fall in demand. 


That’s radically different to the recessions of 1979-81 and 1991-92 during which rampant inflation and crippling interest rates caused economic recession. 


Measures can be taken in such circumstances, but when the ingredients for Depression are there, Government, unless it is prepared to take a controlling method to direct the economy as US President Franklyn Roosevelt did with a huge stimulus package on coming to power in 1933, seems powerless to do anything about it. 


And therein lies the danger. The political vacuum. The ‘Thirties. A lesson from history. 


In 2007 Gordon Brown issued his now infamous, and impractical statement that of promising, “British jobs for British workers.” The reaction was stunning, and very worrying for progressive democracy. 


We had foaming at the mouth responses from the Red Tops, this from the Daily Star in 2009; 


Britons are sick to the back teeth of losing their jobs to foreign workers. Two years ago Gordon Brown promised British jobs for British workers. 
But he has finally been exposed as the liar he is. Hordes of foreigners are being given plum roles while thousands of home-grown workers queue at the dole office.”


This basically reprised arguments we’ve heard before from the Far Right, but these weren’t the rantings of boggle-eyed racists. This came from a paper that although not to the tastes of many, is pretty mainstream with a readership of 681,268 daily as of September 2011. When you compare this to the Guardian (232,566), which garners more “respect” and coverage on newspaper reviews, then you realise there is a seam of UK society that has the potential to be mined by more extreme Parties. 


But then you have this type of statement from former Europe Minister Denis McShane in the Guardian on the same day as the Star’s quote that displays nothing but contempt for those raising genuine concerns over oil company Total’s decision in February 2009 to employ imported labour at a construction site in Lincolnshire which prompted wildcat strikes by the UNITE trade union; 


So instead of following the Daily Mail/Tory/Ukip line that Britain needs less Europe, we should be saying out loud that a vote for Labour can help deliver policies that will defend worker’s interests.Now it over the Unite and other unions; Let them put their weight behind a campaign to deliver core Labour votes.” 

The implication is clear. To hell with the Trade Unions sticling up for their members, they should be providing lobby fodder for the Labour Party, shut up and concentrate their fire on the Tories. 

The 2011/12 financial crisis and a moribund Coalition Government means the Labour Party has to up it’s game. If it fails to engage the concerns of the electorate not just on the economy but yes, that unspeakable of words in Labour circles, immigration, then it could leave the way open for a new force in politics, and if we aren’t careful this force will galvanise an electorate which isn’t even sick of politics, because if they were it would imply they were interested in the first place. 

The disengagement with electoral politics amonst the under 30’s is truly stunning as less than half bothered to vote in 2010, meaning there is a vast resource of un tapped votes on offer and the 2011/12 economic meltdown could be pivotal as these voters have no historical, or it would seem familial loyalty to bind them to a mainstrean party, and if some of the mass media decided to reject the traditional Parties, then the possibilities are there for a lurch towards short term, solution based politics based on an appeal to self interest and xenophobia.

Then there is the looming problem of what to do about the Monarchy when the Queen dies. The rush to be wrapped in the flag by politicians will be a gift for the rising tide of nationalist protectionism. 

We have ready made scapegoats in the guise of “foreign” workers, which could easily be extrapolated to other minority groups. 

In addition the latest report of behalf of the Children’s Society confirms that the Judge in the Shannon Matthews case was referring to more than just her Mum when he described Karen as, “being incapable of putting the needs of her children first”. 

It seems that we are reaping the whirlwind of the “No Such Thing as Society” mentality whereby a significant minority of parents think that their own happiness comes first. 

Karen Matthews is but an extreme example, but when parents give up relationships at the drop of a hat because hey! I deserve to be happy, what are kids meant to take from that? It leads to a lack of respect for self, and others which turns into hedonism, binge drinking, drugs and a cycle of dysfunctionalist behaviour in a minority which has a disproportionate impact on Society. 

Again it’s extreme but worth bearing in mind as there is a hard core of people out there for whom casual disrespect, often leading to violence is just a way of life. 

There is no regret, witness the laughter in court from the families of those responsible for the murder of Rhys Jones when the risible sentences were handed down. Never mind that the Jones’ had lost their son, in the eyes of some on the Croxteth Estate the perpretators had been “grassed” on, and that, it seems was the real “crime”. 

If a political movement with a smidgeon of credibility from the media could reach these people it would not be a vast leap to the destruction of a free press and trashed civil liberties for those who are percieved to be a drain on Society. 

 The “solution” to the last Depression was war. The cost of repairing economic demand and refloating the Capitalist ship was 56 million lives. A warning from history indeed.


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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