The story: An experiment in inequality that became an accepted version of events.
Britain, over the last 37 years, has been the subject of “the most amazingly interesting natural experiment… Some country had to go and do the thing of saying ‘what happens if we go from being one of the most equal countries to the most unequal country in Europe'” according to Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography.
In the UK, we’ve been subject to an experiment in free market capitalism dating back to the Thatcher and Reagan era.
Described as “Thatcher’s market revolution”, this story “emphasised individualism, consumerism and the importance of the corporate sector to the extent that, far from returning to Victorian notions of social responsibility, the paradigm for all relationships became competitive individualism, consumption and the commercial contract, fragmenting social solidarity at many levels,”, according to the Church of England’s House of Bishops (not known for their radical outlook).
It’s rare to hear inequality talked about, “rather than speak in terms of generating more inequality, policy-makers have always favoured another term, which effectively comes to the same thing: competitiveness” – Will Davies
This experiment has been borne along, and prolonged, by a carefully manufactured story, designed for mass consumption:
“Today the dominant narrative is that of market fundamentalism, widely known in Europe as neoliberalism. The story it tells is that the market can resolve almost all social, economic and political problems. The less the state regulates and taxes us, the better off we will be. Public services should be privatised, public spending should be cut, and business should be freed from social control. In countries such as the UK and the US, this story has shaped our norms and values for around 35 years: since Thatcher and Reagan came to power. It is rapidly colonising the rest of the world.”, writes George Monbiot.
A failed experiment
Now that Britain is some years into its “free-market” experiment, more and more research about it, is appearing.
Such as: “Margaret Thatcher’s policies of privatisation, light-touch regulation and low income tax failed to boost growth, according to a new study that casts doubt on the merits of free market economies.” – Cambridge University analysis.
Or: The more unequal your society is, the more your laws will favor the rich.
Or: “opposition to austerity is actually mainstream economics, even backed by the conservative IMF”.
Or: Osborne plan has no basis in economics
“There Is No Alternative” – so it doesn’t matter if the story isn’t true
For a wide range of reasons, including the grip of newspapers and TV channels on mass communications, and the rise of politics as a profession, the Conservative party’s stories about the importance of applying the “ideals of the free market to all sorts of areas in society” have been largely unchallenged by other British political parties. The “New Labour” party is often described as “Tory-lite”, in that it posed little fundamental opposition.
Adam Curtis, in 2011, described this situation as: “quite simply There Is No Alternative”, “since 2008 there has been a rolling economic crisis, and the system increasingly seems unable to rescue itself. You would expect that in response to such a crisis new, alternative ideas would emerge. But this hasn’t happened.
“Nobody – not just from the left, but from anywhere – has come forward and tried to grab the public imagination with a vision of a different way to organise and manage society.”
Fast forward to 2015, and this dearth of alternative ideas was handily illustrated by the Labour leadership contest. For example: “Corbyn becomes only Labour leadership candidate to vote against [the government’s] welfare bill”.
Or as the comedian Frankie Boyle put it:
“Much of the [Labour leadership] contest so far has involved the candidates fretting about how the party can be more pro-business… I’m reduced to imagining that “pro-business” is simply a rhetorical code for “rightwing”, and that we are watching leadership contenders wonder aloud whether they are being rightwing enough.”
But Jeremy Corbyn is not sticking to the script
Corbyn’s prominence in the leadership contest gave him the opportunity to air his views on BBC TV, The Andrew Marr show, 26th July 2015.
He talked about policies that would benefit the majority of British people, rather than enriching a privileged few.
Instead of putting forward a watered-down version of the Conservative’s austerity programme, he said: “[Labour’s] been too close to big business, it’s been too close to economic orthodoxy. It’s been incapable of offering Labour voters and the majority of the electorate a real alternative and that was the fundamental problem in the last General Election.”
Austerity “lowers income, lowers wages, lowers income tax, increases demand on welfare because of the levels of poverty in Britain, and so it actually is a cycle of decline. Surely it’s better to invest in an economy, to grow income and grow prosperity?”… and more.
Corbyn then won the contest “with nearly 59.5% of first-preference votes, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who trailed on 19%, and Yvette Cooper who received 17%. The “Blairite” candidate Liz Kendall came last on 4.5%.”
After his victory, he said: people are “fed up with the injustice and the inequality” of Britain.
“The media and many of us, simply didn’t understand the views of young people in our country. They were turned off by the way politics was being conducted. We have to and must change that. The fightback gathers speed and gathers pace,” he said.
So Jeremy Corbyn must be stopped, discredited and ridiculed
With Corbyn’s rise, for the first time in many years, an alternative, democratic, story about British society was receiving some attention. Or at least it was, before supposedly mainstream media outlets ramped-up their campaign of misrepresentation.
It’s fascinating to watch Corbyn’s messages of democratic “social solidarity” being misrepresented by supposedly mainstream media outlets. Especially as “his views are so popular with the UK public”.
For example: “Front pages are dedicated to manipulating and misrepresenting any positions he holds. ‘Corbyn: Abolish the army’ and ‘Corbyn snubs queen and country’ were some of the first to come out. The Daily Mail and The Sun in particular are both on furious rampages; the rest of the clan not far behind.
“Corbyn was immediately slammed by The Sun, in an article that was later labelled false by its quoted expert, for being a republican hypocrite – ‘Corbyn WILL join privy council and kiss Queen’s hand for £6.2million,’ that headline read.
“Just hours later, Corbyn was being savaged for upholding his republican principles by not singing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain service. This time it was ‘National disgrace!’” etc etc.
A new story is a threat to established interests, it cannot be heard
Simply, a story of Britain that doesn’t emphasise “individualism, consumerism and the importance of the corporate sector” is a threat to established interests.
In other words: “our news media — notionally ‘free’ and ostensibly ‘feral’ — actually function as the obedient mouthpieces for a complex of state-corporate interests whose priorities and preoccupations have nothing whatsoever in common with yours or mine.”
The people politicians refer to as “low information voters” rely on these stories when casting their votes. Which is why, as the Telegraph headline shouts: “Jeremy Corbyn must be stopped”.
But it’s also why Corbyn says: “British people do not have to accept what they are given… certainly not from Cameron and Osborne”
There are alternatives. It must be possible for an alternative story to be heard.