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Politics

2011: The Political Year. 2012: What Next?

2011 will go down as one of the most eventful, and perhaps pivotal years since the end of World War Two. From the Arab Spring, to the summer riots, from the killing of Bin Laden to the implosion of the European economy, a series of shattering events which very few commentators could have ever predicted, has seen us leaving 2011 both at home and abroad in a state of almost unprecedented uncertainty and flux. 

History shows us that unless Governments are prepared to take control and pump money into an otherwise moribund economy, then the only way for capitalism to fully reboot is through war. The prospect of Israel becoming surrounded by hostile and radicalised proto Islamic states which include a nuclearised Iran provides the terrifying prospect of Jerusalem being forced into pre emptive action a la 1967, leaving a vulnerable US President Obama with an impossible dilemma of whether to back Israel (the only mature and functioning democracy in the region) and risk the ire of the Arab and inevitably Muslim world, or allow Iran unfettered power and influence in the region by dint of joining the nuclear club. 

Maybe the flashpoint may come totally out of left field in the way that Libya did this year. No one would have forecast that Col. Gaddafi would end up dead in a ditch having been overthrown from within his own country, but happen it did. 

The biggest internal danger in Europe lies from technocratic, unelected Governments with no democratic mandate from their people, inflicting brutal and unfair austerity measures on working people whilst the fat cat Bankers and tax evading venture capitalists who are responsible for the economic disaster, get off scott free. It is far from inconceivable that severe social unrest, already fermenting in Greece and Italy, could produce a spasm of discontent that may drive one Government from office with a possible domino effect spreading around the continent. The potential for a conflagration is a frightening one. Unlikely but nevertheless a real threat. 

Cameron’s immature decision to wreck the EU rescue plan and his subsequent grotesque grand standing in the wake of the recent Brussels summit, was the biggest political disaster of 2011 (and there are a few to chose from), and the one with the most potential to do damage to the UK in the long run as we are now in a minority of one, and shut out from key decisions which will affect our economy directly. This is precisely the trap which the right wing head bangers in the Tory Party set for Cameron, and which he walked straight into. It is inevitable that the 26 will reach a new treaty arrangement and this will leave us with the prospect of a direct in/ out referendum sooner rather than later. Cameron will be forced either to totally disengage his Party from the EU in order to remain as PM, or campaign with Clegg and Ed Miliband for an in vote which would surely lead to him being ditched by his hard core, right wing back benchers. Either way, Cameron’s dash for cheap red top, short-term popularity will back fire on him in spectacular fashion in 2012. Don’t be surprised if Citizen Dave is not our PM by this time next year. 

If we leave, or are effectively kicked out of the EU by measure of self-imposed exclusion where does that leave the future cohesion of the United Kingdom? Scotland will hold a vote of whether to cede from the Union in the next couple of years and the prospect of isolation will only embolden the prospects of a Yes vote as access and full participation in the EU are vital to Scottish exports, notably oil and fish. If the Scots went into partnership with Norway as an alternative to working with England imagine the consequences for the economy south of the border. If Scotland were to make a success of independence then the clamour would grow in Wales and Northern Ireland for greater autonomy and possibly the UK would cease to exist by the next decade. 

The Tory led Government’s mistakes are many and varied but the unfathomable decision to ratchet VAT up a full 5% more than where it stood in December 2009 played a major part in wrecking the 1.7% growth in GDP that had been posted in May 2010 when the Coalition Government came to power. The effect has been staggering. Small business has been crushed, and confidence destroyed which has seen demand crumble. The VAT hike stoked inflation, which peaked at an eye watering 5.7% in the autumn whilst wages have been frozen across the board (unless that is, you happen to belong to the directorate of a top 100 FTSE company where your salary has increased by 49%). To add insult to injury the Tories are in the process of trashing public sector pensions, forcing a record 2 million workers to take strike action in November. 

Phone hacking has just proved what the rest of us already knew; that the Tories have ill disguised contempt for the majority of society. Cameron must think that we are all very stupid when he appointed Andy Coulson as his press officer, and then compounded matters by cavorting around with the likes of Rebekah Brookes and James Murdoch AFTER it had become abundantly clear that both were up to their necks in the brown stuff. 

There is now as clear a choice as there ever has been in UK politics. This means that the Labour Party now has, and is taking the opportunity to define themselves as radically different from the Tories. In my opinion we always have been diametrically opposed to the Tories due to our completely different values and principles, but when we became New Labour and got involved in disastrous dallying with the markets via PFI and the dreaded public/ private partnerships in public services, coupled with Blair and Mandleson toadying with the likes of Burlesconi and talking about being “relaxed about people getting filthy rich”, then the voters rightly started to perceive that political parties were all really the same. 

By effectively declaring “class war”, (Ed Miliband really said this, I heard it with my own ears albeit in a private meeting) Cameron has really badly misjudged the British voters. Thatcher realised that since 1945 the majority of voters have cast their ballot for left of centre, progressive democratic parties. Her genius was to make sure that the Tories always appeared to occupy the centre ground by making sure that she expanded employment in the public sector, made the right noises about empathising with the average voter and bound the public to voting Tory by encouraging home ownership. Margaret Thatcher, for all her obvious faults, had a fantastic instinct (until the poll tax debacle) of tapping into what white van man/ woman wanted from politicians. Cameron is clueless on this front as he has squeezed the core middle class Tory vote via cuts in family related benefits, massive hikes in the cost of living and having no regard for the aspirations of women and young people, both key swing voters. 

Labour was revitalised in the autumn and led on phone hacking, the response to the riots plus coming up with a credible alternative five point economic plan. 2012 can be Ed Miliband’s key year, as Cameron now has to sell a lie on deficit reduction, and concentrate on keeping his Party intact in the wake of his Europe disaster. 

I believe that we should embrace the radical economic opportunities on offer to us, which are unique to our economy. Firstly by introducing a one off windfall tax on land and unearned assets to eliminate the deficit, and then by using our new found flexibility to rebuild and expand our shattered housing situation, basic manufacturing and forge ahead on renewables including clean coal. 

2012 will see the publication of a seminal book on the Labour Party, which will put flesh on the bones to the points raised above, plus lots more. Watch this space!

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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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