There is a shameless article by Blair in the Observer in which he says the riots were the fault of a very specific group of families, not of society in general. Society in general is jolly good, thanks to one T Blair. In fact, what could possibly be wrong with a society in which Blair has amassed £28 million to date? I love the bit where he says:
I agree totally with the criticisms of excess in pay and bonuses.
This from the man who gets payoffs from corporate America in $100,000 fees for a one hour lecture, then charges corporate executives $400 a pop to be photographed shaking hands with him. Blair agrees so much with criticism of excess pay and bonuses that he did absolutely nothing about it in three terms of office, and presided over the widest ever and still widening gap between rich and poor in this country.
I agree with Blair that we should not excuse individual responsibility for looting and should acknowledge exactly how undesirable and anti-social is the milieu of the rioters, and seek to eliminate that sub-culture. But we have also to understand what generated it, and eliminate those causes.
What caused it was not just poverty. There are plenty of decent poor people. A factor is indeed the deliberate destruction of UK manufacturing capacity on ideological grounds by Thatcher, an ideology carried through by Blair. But it was still more directly the deliberate destruction of social capital by Thatcherism and Blairism, its antipathy to any manifestation or instrument of horizontal social solidarity, and its manifest anti-intellectualism.
Through Thatcher and Blair, education, knowledge and intellectual analysis became valued only if they tended to economic productivity, not as goods in themselves. This attitude still permeates every ministerial statement on education.
The all-pervasive idea that economic productivity was the only good and material consumption the only purpose, relentlessly promoted in media and advertising, left no place for those who could not find a job to produce or funds to consume.
But what these alienated classes could pick up in full from Thatcherism and Blairism was the anti-intellectualism and the desire to consume. Thatcherism and Blairism inevitably produced an entire callous, desocialised and proto-criminal class. It was their inevitable consequence.
These are Thatcher’s and Blair’s riots.
A week ago I published this start on the process of designing a remedy to the social ills that Thatcherism and Blairism have brought:
There is an excellent article by Simon Hughes on response to the looting. He has in many ways the same position as me in seeking radical solutions to the malaise of our hugely unequal society, while in no way sympathising with criminal looters.
The direction of all of Hughes’ proposals is correct, but his proposed action does not go far enough and is not specific enough. In both public and private organisations, the earnings differential between the highest and lowest paid should be limited by law to a factor of four, including the effect of all non-salary perks and benefits. Hughes does not give specifics on his desire to limit this gap, but Will Hutton has been promoting a factor of ten in the public sector – that is far too wide an equality gap.
Similarly Hughes’ pious wish to promote worker partnership and cooperatives needs to be given concrete form by legislation forcing all companies to give truly significant – I am thinking around forty per cent – shareholdings to employees.
If Simon really wants to roll back the excesses of the last thirty years, then natural monopolies like the utilities companies and the railways need to be returned fully to public ownership. PFI should be discontinued and all PFI assets nationalised without compensation.
Housing Association properties should be taken over by local authorities as traditional council housing, and massive new public funded mixed home building programmes should be begun that include the demolition of the ghastly huge sink estates of sub-standard housing. That would help boost the economy out of recession.
Hughes’ diagnosis is correct. But the reversal of the incredible and dangerous expansion of the gulf between rich and poor requires truly radical use of the power of the state with measures along the lines of those above. Anything else is just tinkering.
There is of course much else, of which limiting banking transactions to the actual funding of purchase of property, goods and services, rather than gambling on future values of those things, is perhaps the most important.
But we must repudiate Blair’s assertion that there is little wrong with our society. One very good start would be to send Blair for war crimes trial at The Hague, to demonstrate to all that crime does not pay.