Despite the yawning chasm between the haves and have nots and the perpetual gaslighting of the poorest in our midst, why do the poor keep voting against their interests?
In 2006, not long before the subprime mortgage episode and fourteen years before the global pandemic, Three employees of a major bank had written an internal equity strategy report entitled ‘Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Are Getting Richer’. In this document, the authors argued that global wealth was polarizing, not merely a little or a lot, but in an unfathomable way that would eclipse anything seen in history.
In the intervening years, we had the biggest implosion of the banking system — subprime mortgage crisis — which led to the biggest bailouts of several banks in the United Kingdom, of which, Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyd's Bank were among. Quantitative Easing (QE)was introduced to ensure liquidity and lending carried on as usual to small to medium enterprises. Between 2009–2013, a total of £375 billion was injected into the system — all of which went to saving the banks and not to the SMEs, who needed it the most.
These bailouts and the ensuing recession inevitably led to the ousting of Gordon Brown’s Labour government in May 2010 and the installation of the conservative led coalition with the Liberal Democrats, promising to revitalize the British economy.
Despite the pronouncements of Gideon Osborne, the Chancellor of the exchequer of ‘us being it together’ the conservative government went on to implement the biggest cuts to public spending in over a generation, increase in value added tax (VAT) and cuts to benefits(or in american parlance, welfare) which led to the highest rates of youth unemployment in Europe — bettered only by Spain and the stagnation of wages despite the rising costs of rents — which in London, effectively priced out a generation of renters, who could barely afford to feed and rent in the nation’s capital.
There also was the trebling of the university tuition fees from £3,000 to £9,000 pounds, which meant that tens of thousands of young people would be hamstrung by debts well into working lives, unable to afford a property in London, where the costs of house prices soared much higher than Barack Obama’s oratory.
This is all in stark contrast to my time at university, when fees were only a thousand pounds and my monthly salary as a McDonald’s manager easily paid my tuition fees, rent and transportation.
The Biggest Prize of all
As if the cuts to public services and stagnating wages weren’t bad enough for the British taxpayer, The conservative led government went on to announce the mother of all gaslighting policies — The bedroom tax — which was a penalty for under occupied social housing — a policy which saw the poorest and most vulnerable members of society being evicted from their social housing to make way for the demolition of a great number of council flats and in their place, luxury apartments.
You would think that the systematized and systemic gaslighting of the most vulnerable and poorest in Britain, would lead to change, once the time to vote came in the 2015 general election?
The conservatives, in contradistinction to 2010, when they needed the liberals to govern with a majority, won outright in 2015, with a majority of twenty three. This meant that infinitesimal restraints that the liberals had on their Tory partners were completely off and they were free to asset strip the middle income earners and the poor to their heart’s desire. And asset strip they did.
This was made possible by the votes of working class and the poor, who were convinced that the Poles, Romanians, Latvians, Hungarians, Africans, Asians and asylum seekers were the biggest claimants of benefits and were undercutting them, in every way imaginable.
Meanwhile the wealth of the 0.001% had simply grown exponentially.
Next up was Europe.
Europe had become the major point of division in the Tory party since the late 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher went head to head to Jacques Delors on spending rebates, opposition to the exchange rate mechanism and further European integration, thus irritating the pro-Europeans in her party, such as Nigel Lawson, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine. Her uncompromising stance on Europe, led to her downfall and has haunted every leader of the conservatives, from John Major to William Hague and from Iain Duncan-Smith to Michael Howard and of course, David Cameron.
On the 1st of May 2004, eight countries acceded to the European Union from the east. These changes meant that Hungarians, Romanians and Polish people could move to west to work and live without restrictions. The skills that these new migrants had, made them an instant hit, with new home owners, who didn’t have to pay huge sums to British builders, for half the quality of work, when they could get so much better with Polish plumbers.
David Cameron, in 2013, had promised his back bench members of parliament, in the event of a conservative victory, he would hold a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of a union. Understandably traumatized by his party’s perennial internecine warfare and its destruction of his predecessors, Cameron was keen to bring an end to this by getting to the country to decide on his behalf.
The conservatives won the 2015 elections and a campaign promise had to be fulfilled — a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union — yes or No.
The date for the vote was fixed for the 23rd of June 2016. This question would pit family members, longstanding friends, neighbours and the beneficiaries of the worst austerity policies in recent memory against each other, in ways, never seen before.
On the side of those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU, there was the likes of Nigel Farrage, an city broker, who had made his name of the back of attacking Europe and all things European, conveniently forgetting to mention to the poor voters that he was married to a German. Mr. Farrage, who led the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) alongside the likes of Michael Gove, David Davis,Iain Duncan Smith, Peter Bone, Jacob Rees Mogg, William Cash and the rock star of the contingent — Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson — would make the case for Brexit.
The remain side had three former prime ministers —John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — in its ranks, supporting David Cameron, who thought that victory was an absolute given against the Brexit screaming demagogues on the other end.
What happened next, certainly, should be taught in schools of political science, the world over.
The Brexiters ran an insurgent campaign, targeting those who had been most affected by the cuts to public expenditure and bedroom tax, stating that leaving Europe will free up £350 million pounds weekly, that should go to the national health service and that Brexit would help bring an end to the longstanding issue of immigration of those “dreadful foreigners” from Czech republic, Poland, Hungary and Romania, who have done nothing but scrounge off the benefits system and undercut British workers.
The poor, from the north of England, who have been worst hit by the closure of factories, the outsourcing of jobs and the privatization of utility companies, under the premierships of Thatcher, Major and latterly of David Cameron, were all too happy to believe the subterfuge of their political masters and blame the asylum seekers, Poles, Romanians and the Germans for their poverty.
While the insurgent campaign was gaining so much traction with the poorest and most vulnerable in and around the country, Crispin Odey, Britain’s most prominent hedge fund manager, was playing his part with the capital markets, by shorting the pound, in anticipation of the Brexit campaign winning the referendum. An incredibly wealthy hedge fund manager became even wealthier, the next morning.
True to form, on the 23rd of June 2016, the most deprived cities in the north, middle and south of England voted overwhelmingly to leave Europe, embracing the xenophobia and jingoism sold to them by Boris Johnson and his right wing mates, hook, line and sinker.
No sooner had the dust settled than it emerged that the £350 million pounds weekly savings was nothing more than campaign rhetoric, It was completely false.
Evidently, the poorest still hadn’t learnt any lessons from the Brexit debacle.
The 2017 Elections
By now, David Cameron’s premiership had ended in ignominy — the most crushing and resounding defeat meant that his position as Prime Minister was untenable and the Vicar’s Daughter, Theresa May, was selected as the party leader.
Theresa May, in her time, as Home Secretary, was known as a strait laced, no nonsense politician, qualities, which her colleague believed will serve her well in her new job.
The Labour party, in 2015, had gone for a left wing candidate of four decades standing — Jeremy Corbyn, who was essentially, a Bernie Sanders, without the growl — a known anti racism campaigner, tireless social justice warrior to help make the case for a fairer, more equitable society.
Theresa May, wanting to stamp her authority on her party as well as increase her majority, decided to call an election in June 2017. Curiously underestimating Jeremy Corbyn led to her losing her majority in the house of commons.
The general elections of 2017 took place on the 8th of June 2017. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to rectify the errors of 2010 and 2015, yet it wasn’t fully grasped, in the way that it should have been, as events of a few days later, would show.
Less than a week after the elections on the 14th of June, Britain awoke to the Grenfell Tower Fire, caused by poor cladding of the Conservative led housing association, leading to the deaths of seventy-two people, seventy people injured and countless others, psychologically traumatized from witnessing a life changing disaster.
Let’s make no mistakes about this, years of systematic cuts to public services by the conservatives got us to point — Grenfell isn’t a one-off — there are several council apartments fitted with flammable external cladding all over England, which could go off at any moment. This could lead to a collective change in the mass psychology of the poorest and vulnerable in England, in understanding who their real enemies are.
The Final Straw
Deadlocked by its inability to resolve the Brexit mess, the conservatives resorted to their old habits of defenestration and out went Theresa May and in came the Supreme opportunist, renegade philanderer and serial liar — Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, as Prime Minister. It didn’t matter that Boris had referred to Black people as ‘ piccaninnies with water melon smiles’ and Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’, or had fathered a few children outside of wedlock, Boris was chosen by his conservative peers to deliver Brexit.
Once Jeremy Corbyn had got his MPs to vote for a general election in November, parliament was dissolved with her majesty’s permission for elections to take place on the 12th of December 2019.
Once again, all sorts of lies were told by the right wing media and the poor simply forgot who their enemies were and decided to go with the Tories and the results were the very worst in living memory for the Labour party.
It seemed despite all the information at hand, the poorest seemed willfully determined to vote against their interests and cut off the collective noses to spite their collective faces.
2020, certainly was an extraordinary year in the life of the United Kingdom; If we are lucky to live for a full century just like the recently deceased Captain Sir Tom Moore, we would regale our descendants with the events that brought the country to the precipice, using the events of the great war as a reference point.
Only in this case, we didn’t go to war; we didn’t fight in the trenches, we didn’t fight in the beaches, we didn’t fight in the air, we didn’t fight in the seas. Not one bullet was fired; yet a great many thousands died, the country ground to a halt, the roads fell silent, the shops were closed, the publicans, which serve as the cultural barometer of a people wasn’t open to take the last orders for those pining for the traditional pint. Life as know it, had ended.
Despite the knowledge at the government’s disposal on the dangers of Covid-19, in January 2020, it chose not to do the right thing and thus far, over 100,000 people are dead from the dreaded virus. The government of the day deliberately led the British people down the dark alley.
Nurses and Doctors have been stretched to breaking point all over the United Kingdom; At the peak of infections, there were no hospital beds and yet our medical personnel continued to put their lives at risk to save the lives of the sick. So much so, the government announced a public appreciation of our NHS Doctors and Nurses — public clapping at designated times.
But when it truly mattered, what did the government offer by way of reward to the selfless women and men of valour?
1% pay rise
Yes, you read it correctly. A one percent pay rise to say thank you for risking their lives on the front line for several hundreds of thousands of people to recover from this once in a lifetime virus.
As far as episodes of gaslighting go, from this current government, this is the prize winner.
Since the lock down, the collective wealth of the richest in the world has gone up by several hundreds of billions and yet, we are constantly being told that it is the Kosovan or the Congolese asylum seeker, the Polish plumber, the Romanian sweeper and the Czech barista that are responsible for the ills of society not Jeff Bezo’s amazon or the other tech giants such as Google and Facebook, who fail to pay their staff a living wage or their fair share of taxes.
I am sorry that I have to say this, for as long as the poorest continue to vote against their interests, they aren’t worth saving — they should watch as the NHS is being dismantled and privatized to silicon valley, post Brexit or see how much smaller their world is about to become without the ECHR acting as a bulwark against the insatiably rapacious excesses of the tech giants.
The poorest in our midst, simply haven’t learnt from their mistakes and they are not worth saving.
Thank you very much for reading.