Monday, 13 September 2010

Very Civil Disobedience

'Unrest on the streets!' cry the newspapers, discontent is the watchword of the day, and with a heavy heart I realise that once again, Britain is set again for a period of exceptionally civil disobedience.

Make no mistake, I am a union man and a very proud one. But when you hear TV channels spinning words like 'attacks' and 'militancy' (so very close to military, with all its attendant connotations) and you are subjected daily to multiple video slots of people stranded at airports, holidays untaken, it all becomes a little bit much. Trade Union Congress is underway in Manchester, and both sides of the domestic cuts debate are slinging mud at each other like there is no tomorrow.

The unions are handicapped somewhat by their close relationship with Labour, who are themselves handicapped by the fact that they cannot decide if they are Old Labour, New Labour or New New Labour. It looks increasingly likely that the next leader of the party will be named Miliband, but the ongoing saga of the leadership battle threatens to overshadow the union agenda, which can be summed up nicely with the phrase, 'Cuts? Not bloody likely!'

In place of grand schemes, there is rhetoric. The normally reserved general secretary of the TUC, Brendan Barber, compared the forthcoming spending review to a second poll tax. Dave Prentis of UNISON pointed out that working people were not responsible for the unprecedented situation that the country finds itself in. RMT leader Bob Crow, fresh from a stint irritating commuters on the London underground, insisted that unions needed to work together to 'face the same enemy'.

Meanwhile in Westminster, as the economy continued to run despite the best efforts of bankers to stop it from doing so, hooded coalition generals cackled and trimmed zeroes from already pared budgets. If the trains weren't running, people shrugged and went to work on the bus instead. Hospitals are still dirty. Social care remains underfunded and underappreciated. The welfare state continues to provide for those in need and for a reasonable proportion who aren't.

Somewhere in the midst of this, a Liberal Democrat peer is expected to declare later this week that if the Inland Revenue could only reclaim the amount of tax lost each year due to evasion and avoidance, the country would not even be running at a deficit. Most likely, no-one will listen. The modern British spirit is not one of resistance, but indifference.

I very much suspect that there will not be a winter of discontent ahead. The unions will agree plans to work together on key issues such as coordinating strike days, and those strikes will then take place. People will be inconvenienced, but despite the hysterics seen daily in our national media, the country will not suddenly come crashing to a halt.

A budget for austerity need not be a bad thing if it really does cut away the deadwood that seems endemic in key areas of our society. Equally, the prudent agenda should not be used as a stick with which to beat public services for purely ideological reasons. There is still a convincing argument for increasing the taxes of the highest earners, and also increasing regulation to ensure that the behaviour of banks is more carefully scrutinised so that reprehensible profit-chasing behaviour does not threaten our future prosperity.

Tomorrow the papers will once again be full of battle cries as the respective combatants wheel out new angles and quote statistics that support their viewpoints while simultaneously obscuring the real underlying issues. Both sides need to get perspective and realise that we have more to gain by working together to find solutions to our problems.

Truthfully, we should recognise that while some cuts are inevitable, there are other options for tackling the financial crisis and it is high time that these were explored. Sadly, opportunity may well be buried in newspaper headlines. It is perhaps the greatest shame of our time that a battle for hearts and minds is not fought on facts and well-reasoned logic.


  1. Hear hear to that last sentence OS

  2. Indy,

    Despite all evidence to the contrary I fervently believe we live in a country which is basically just and fair, and that Britons largely do a good job of living and working together. However, if there would be one thing I could change about this country, I would make it illegal to make public statements unless you could back them up with cold hard facts!