One of the most spectacular examples of how ideology can triumph over fact is the current Australian Treasury head, John Fraser, who proudly announced that ‘austerity works’ citing the example of UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.
Sadly Fraser is still there although Osborne was sacked by Theresa May; took up a lucrative position with a hedge fund which had profitedy massively from some of his decisions; and is apparently also now editor of the Evening Standard. Of course he is still drawing an MPs’ salary to demonstrate that he totally understands the sacrifices society has to make to get the economy moving again and that he empathises with all those workers forced to survive on a portfolio of jobs.
The blog thought of all this while discussing ‘the state of the UK’ with Professor Anne Gregory during her recent Australian visit and the devastating effects spending cutbacks where having on local government, the National Health Service, aged care and many other services. Just in case anyone thought this was a product of old lefties talking to themselves it was about the time The Economist (3 March 2017) Bagehot columnist made a visit to Coventry – famous for its cathedral and its once strong manufacturing base. The Economist’s conclusion from the visit was: “The Institute of Government now talks of a ‘disastrous combination of failing public services and breached spending controls just as we exit the European Union in 2019.’ At best the coming years will be a rough ride. At worst they could buck the government out of its saddle.” Well not if Jeremy Corbyn has his way but it is possible. Roughly concurrently a Birmingham Mail journalist revisited the journey Orwell described in The Road to Wigan Pier and found that conditions today were similarly dire to those in 1937. Between Trump and others the Orwell estate is doing exceptionally well with reprints and increased sales of 1984 and other books.
Among the Bagehot observations were riots in the local prison, the NHS failing to meet demand, 50% increases in rough sleeping (homelessness), chaotic service provisions including unanswered phones and the closure of community facilities such as sporting fields, libraries and social programs.
The blog has written often about how Australian conservatives take their taking points from the US- ranging from how welfare for single mums are destroying the economy through the war in Christmas and the dangers of political correctness. For instance, The Australian business editor, prompted by a friend’s wicked sense of humour, asked the blog if it would contribute a piece on the ‘backlash’ against the CEOs calling for a vote on gay marriage. Unsurprisingly the blog declined – politely of course – while making it clear it wasn’t too keen on joining the Oz’s culture wars.
But Tony Abbott (and John Fraser) also have a point as many Australian Tory talking points are also derived from the UK – the other bit of the Howard/Abbott Anglosphere. As well as talking points, of course, they also adopt unsuccessful policies. The blog is a regular Private Eye reader, partly because of the cartoons but mainly for the investigative journalism in the great tradition of its late long-time contributor Paul Foot.
From just one recent issue (24 February 2017) the blog gleaned the following: a Law Commission report on consolidating legal measures “to protect official information from unauthorised disclosure” which will threaten journalism just as the various legal moves undertaken by Dutton & Co to prevent reporting on refugee treatment and off-shore detention do; and an energy crisis due to “the precarious state of electricity supply” largely due to privatisation, de-regulation and distorting subsidies to generators (the UK is providing massive subsidies to a proposed, but unproven, nuclear power plant which will dwarf proposed Australian subsidies for ‘clean’ coal). Other recent issues have highlighted the UK’s status as one of the world’s largest (through LLPs and various islands near and far from London) tax havens. Australia is not a tax haven but a complacent government has allowed many to use them and the government is currently proposing to subsidise the Adani coal mine despite it being ‘domiciled’ not in India but the Cayman Islands. Other bizarre examples are defence purchases of warships and the F35 fighters which cannot be fully serviced in the UK thanks to the contractual constraints placed by the USA. Homelessness is at record levels while houses throughout London are empty for but a few weeks a year as their owners – oligarchs, dictators, corrupt politicians – launder their ill-gotten gains in the UK property market.
And on lighter note, well that depends on how you see it, the same issue of Private Eye included a cartoon highlighting the current Royal Academy exhibition,Revolution Russian Arts 1917-1932, with the captions: “One of the most momentous periods in history…culminating, a hundred years later…in all those Russian oligarchs supporting the art market.” It also points out that the philandering fascist Oswald Mosley was the first to adopt the slogan ‘British First’ although it should be noted side by side with the view that the UK was a European ‘nation’.