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A Britain divided by class and wealth

Sometimes it takes a comedian to tell it as it is. Rory Bremner just about summed up the real state of affairs as he mused in the columns of the Financial Times.

“I heard of a country where they are capping benefit payments and charging single parents for access to the Child Support Agency," he observes. And, he notes, there is also a country which plans to spend around £100bn on transport and the Olympics. "I wonder, are these two countries related?”

He could have also pointed to the just-under £1m bonus payment offered to largely-state owned Royal Bank of Scotland head Stephen Hester. And while Hester has now turned it down, he won’t be short of money. He still has his salary of £1.2 million to look forward to. So he’s not likely to have to give up his chalet in Verbier, Switzerland or his 350-acre estate in Oxfordshire.

Bremner is right. There is the Britain inhabited by bankers, financiers, hedge fund owners and grandees of all kinds – and there is the rest. And as the dust settles, the only bleeping Labour can summon up is to claim credit for adding its voice to the complaints.

The reality is that the economy is deteriorating and that the issue of bankers’ bonuses will pale in comparison to what is coming up. Britain’s debt has now reached £1 trillion and the UK economy shrank by 0.2 % at the end of 2011. Unemployment is rising fast, with one million 16-24 year-olds (22%) now out of work in the UK.

School leavers, students and other youth in the UK are joining the 23 million unemployed in the European Union, and some 200 million world wide. Spain has 50% youth unemployment while in the United States the figure stands at 23%.

At the World Economic Forum meeting which has just ended in Davos, Switzerland, economic elites described youth unemployment as “a cancer in society”. The world is “sitting on a social and economic time bomb... not a crisis but a disaster”, they said.

They are right. As around 40 million young people globally enter the workforce each year, it doesn’t take rocket science to work out that massive, long-term unemployment amongst young people will have explosive political results. Most people are aware that it was the lack of a real future – combined with years of political repression – which sparked the Arab Spring and the downfall of tyrants in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere during 2011. The lack of a future for an entire generation, globally is what is at stake.

For all their wealth and power, the bankers, company bosses and politicians, the truth is that the so-called masters of the global capitalist economy remain at a loss and are deeply divided. While the IMF calls for austerity, financier George Soros said that the fiscal cuts, which Germany supports, could even lead to a "lost decade" of economic stagnation in Europe.

"This German insistence on austerity could destroy the European Union," he said. "This is reality, this is the harsh reality that we need to face. It is not written in stone, the future is not predetermined. We determine the future, so it would be well within the possibilities of the authorities to change it."

We have to agree, at least partly, with Soros. Austerity and cuts are not the answer and we can determine the future (albeit in a different way to what Soros imagines would happen if policy makers followed his ideas for reviving capitalism).

The top 1% rely on the rest to remain in their places and accept that the system is what it is and can never be transformed in a fundamental way. So developing an alternative outlook to that which views Britain’s class-based, class-divided society as impregnable is absolutely vital.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary
30 January 2012

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