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  • The Last Dance of the British Monarchy? by Heiko Khoo         The grand celebrations for Queen Elisabeth’s Diamond Jubilee were a splendid success. Despite miserable weather conditions on the day of the flotilla on the river Thames ...
    Posted 6 Jun 2012, 11:10 by heiko khoo
  • What is behind the Royal wedding?  By Heiko Khoo There is nothing like a Royal occasion in Britain to bring out the underlying character of its society and state. A vast army of television crews and ...
    Posted 1 May 2011, 11:51 by Admin uk
  • Royalty or Republic – a reckoning  By Michael Roberts The weekend in the UK was dominated by the ‘Royal Wedding’ of Prince William (grandson of the current monarch Queen Elizabeth).  Around 20 million Brits apparently watched ...
    Posted 1 May 2011, 11:20 by Admin uk
  • Report from March 26th Demo by Iain Case  Around half a million people marched through London yesterday in the biggest demonstration seen in the UK for many years. This was the first protest against the ...
    Posted 1 May 2011, 11:18 by Admin uk
  • TUC March For The Alternative Report from a teenager TUC March For The Alternative      by Ryan Bygrave  I am a 14 year old school student. Today I attended TUC’s March for the Alternative, my first march. My mother ...
    Posted 27 Mar 2011, 08:36 by Admin uk
  • UK election: The end of an era Article by Heiko Khoo, published first on China.org.cn The British elections produced a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party and Labour the second largest party ...
    Posted 1 Mar 2011, 07:18 by Admin uk
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The Last Dance of the British Monarchy?

posted 6 Jun 2012, 03:04 by heiko khoo   [ updated 6 Jun 2012, 11:10 ]

by Heiko Khoo        

The grand celebrations for Queen Elisabeth’s Diamond Jubilee were a splendid success. Despite miserable weather conditions on the day of the flotilla on the river Thames, huge crowds turned out to wave at Her Majesty. There followed a star studded pop concert in front of Buckingham Palace, and a parade through the cheering streets to St Paul’s Cathedral for a religious service, then back to the Palace for a balcony wave. This rounded off the events. Flags were waved, songs were sung, copious quantities of food and alcohol were consumed and we remembered 60 years of the British nation through the enduring presence of our Queen.  

 

Karl Marx once wrote: “The tradition of all generations of the dead weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” These Regal occasions act as a central emotional reference point in the formation of national memory. The general socio-historical context is internalized through the personal experiences and circumstances of people at the time of these events. This proliferates everywhere in the brain by the firing and wiring of neural cells, the process that generates long-term emotional memories. Queen Elisabeth’s Jubilee celebration retrieved 60 years of episodic emotional states in the living memories of the nation. In this way she literally got inside everyone’s head.

 

When looking back at personal and national life, nostalgia is the dominant sentimental response evoked by the retrieval of these memories. But, sadly, being human entails death, and Her Majesty is slowly treading her weary path towards this fate despite her good health and the excellent physicians at her disposal. The big question after the Jubilee celebration is, can the institution of the Monarchy survive the death of its Queen? Or to put it another way, will King Charles III sit firmly on the throne?

 

The marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 produced the biggest monarchical spectacular the world had ever known. This fairy-tale wedding was to turn into a nightmare for the Royal family as Charles and his entourage was accused of callous mistreatment of the young Princess. Global media empires exposed the lurid details of their miserable marriage and divorce. This Royal celebrity drama succeeded to an unexpected extent. Diana’s weepy-eyed work for the poor and the sick captured many hearts, as rampant material acquisition dominated the world in the boom of the 1990s. When Diana was killed in a car crash in 1997, this unleashed a perverse sense of global tragedy. Huge crowds adopted the role of mass mourning as their mode of expression and turned in anger at the Royal Family for their cold-hearted response. Oceans of tears flowed from many millions of people watching this TV show.

 

At one moment this peculiarly idiosyncratic drama appeared to imperil the monarchy itself as the bitter crowds gathered expecting an emotional expression from the Queen. The masses wanted a common display of tears and sorrow and demanded that the upper lip should twitch a bit, so as to look human. The man of the moment was the then Prime Minister Tony Blair. His ingratiation with media and celebrity culture made him the perfect candidate to produce a spectacular funeral, one worthy of the madness that the media and circumstances conspired to create. At the funeral Diana’s brother spoke rebellious words claiming that Diana was a symbol of ‘selfless humanity’, ‘classless’ and a ‘standard bearer for rights of the truly downtrodden’, a preposterous exaggeration of the aristocratic charity work of this so-called ‘Queen of Hearts’. 

 

However, the Royals did try to modernize as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton revealed. But, simultaneously, there is a social process of bringing back the aristocracy and the privileged to the centre of power. For example, recent research indicates that the traditional disproportionate influence of Oxford and Cambridge graduates on politics and power has made a big comeback. Pomp, ceremony and the magic of the Jubilee and the Olympics will bring Britain to a new high where the nation unites in a way not seen for decades.

 

One cannot but feel that, although romantic-revolutionary concepts of a glorious regicide, or the storming of Buckingham Palace are but comic dreams – the internal systemic cohesion of British capitalism will be far more profoundly shaken by the death of Queen Elisabeth than many imagine.

 

The BBC has been lambasted in the Conservative newspaper The Daily Telegraph for its coverage of the Jubilee events. Their reporting was said to lack a sense of occasion, be puerile, vacuous and focus too much on celebrity. The issue of presentation certainly is a problem when an institution supposedly ‘above emotion’ becomes the emotional focal point of the nation. Sing-songs by pop stars (some, like Cliff Richard are nightmares in their own right), might seem good ideas at the time, but simultaneously serve to further undermine Monarchal mystique.

 

It should be admitted that Queen Elisabeth has splendidly performed the art of being ‘Her Majesty’ as the incarnation of the Monarchy. Her distance from politics, indeed from ‘opinions’ and the sense of above-ness that she encapsulates, structurally supports the existing order in the widest sense, though reinforcing tradition and incorporating and controlling impulses for change.

 

Robbie Williams chose the song Mack the Knife to perform at the Jubilee Concert. Its lyrics are the haunting description of a notorious murderer and villain who stalks the Streets of London dressed as a gentleman. It comes from a Theatre play by Bertolt Brecht called the Three Penny Opera, which is a satire of Karl Marx’s Capital. In the play, the poor of London take to the streets to disrupt the Coronation of the Queen, an act that destabilizes the entire system. Collective memory not only recalls the unity of Royal celebrations, but also reconnects these memories to emotions of injustice, at the loss of innocence and misplaced trust, when a people, or the ‘lower-orders’, feel wronged.

 

The Monarchy acts as constitutional centripetal force unifying order in key institutions of the state with conservative moral and intellectual values. The British police, army, judiciary, church and government, all remain formally subject to the hierarchy of this mystical authority and tradition, and surrounding the formal hierarchies are psychological patterns of traditional authority and respect, associated with this. Are these systems really so robust that their internal cohesion will be unaffected by constitutional transformation? I suspect not. The era of profound unrest that will follow the dawn of this age of austerity will leave few stones unturned.

What is behind the Royal wedding?

posted 1 May 2011, 11:22 by Admin uk   [ updated 1 May 2011, 11:51 ]

 By Heiko Khoo

 There is nothing like a Royal occasion in Britain to bring out the underlying character of its society and state. A vast army of television crews and photographers are swarming around the epicentre of joy, Westminster Abbey. Days in advance, people desperate to be part of this historic event arrived in tents at the scene, waving Union Jacks (made in China) and wearing a certain glazed look — the look of the happy servility of village idiots.

The awry-eyed subservience that is so keenly generated by "so touching" an event as the marriage of Will and Kate, conceals behind it societal power relations. When Prime Minister David Cameron heard news of the marriage, he and his cabinet burst into applause and thumped their fists on the table. Cameron and the other MPs hope the event will distract from the social chasm that opens up, as austerity is imposed on the working class to pay for the financial crisis.



Constitutionally, Britain remains a nation stuck in time. It retains an ossified compromise between the bourgeois and feudal powers. When King Charles 1st was beheaded in Whitehall during the English revolution in 1649, the power of the rising bourgeois class was not deeply enough engrained to sustain republican rule. Thus the monarchy was restored in 1660 following the death of Oliver Cromwell, even though many of the foundations of capitalist rule were entrenched.

This bourgeois-feudal compromise remains incarnated in rituals and laws from medieval times. These serve to sanctify a social order based on unearned wealth, privilege and power. The British aristocracy owned nearly half the nation's land and derived obscene wealth from its feudal titles.

The existence of the monarchy as the head of state is by definition exclusive of all egalitarian rights and principles, for no-one except a member of the Windsor family can become the head of state. Unless you swear allegiance to the monarchy and their family, you cannot serve in the armed forces, the police, the judiciary, the Church of England, or as an elected member of parliament.

The British monarchy and their Lords maintained dictatorial control over their own people for over a thousand years. Rule by the sword backed by the mental tyranny of religious mania, ensured that kings, queens and their entourage of titled hangers-on, treated their serfs as sub-humans. It was therefore natural that the much-revered Queen Elizabeth the First had no qualms in offering her direct support to the birth of the English Slave Trade led by Hawkins and Drake. The British Empire, based on sea-faring plunder, robbery and enslavement of peoples and nations, provided a financial cushion that sustained the enrichment of merchants and monarchs alike.

The British monarchy stems from 18th century German royalty. Naturally, the "foreignness" exacerbated animosity towards the royal family. Eventually their German ties forced them to change their name from "Saxe-Coburg" to Windsor in 1917, as a precaution against republican revolution. The millions who were sent to die by their monarchs in trench warfare in the First World War developed a healthy disdain for their "natural superiors". In Germany and Russia, monarchies fell in the revolutionary wave that ended the war.

Britain's inegalitarian state structure is based on an unnatural pre-modern ideology. It requires monarchical "mystique", extravagant rituals, pageants and traditions to ensure its perpetuity. Most of these "ancient traditions" were invented over the last 150 years and were foisted on the populace, who simultaneously were made to pay all the bills in gratitude.

The jittery reaction by the state to anything that might disrupt the wedding reminds one of the class-struggle comedy in Bertolt Brecht's "Three Penny Opera". In the play the beggars of London demonstrate their misery at the royal coronation. Peachum, the beggar king, warns the head of the police, "You've forgotten what an immense number of poor people there are. When you see them standing outside the Abbey it won't be a festive sight."

Any mood of national celebration generated by the royal wedding circus, will soon give way to grumbling from below at the contradiction between the ostentatious extravagance of the privileged few, and their demand for frugality and sacrifice from the majority.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:

http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/node_7084903.htm

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn

Royalty or Republic – a reckoning

posted 1 May 2011, 11:18 by Admin uk

 By Michael Roberts

 The weekend in the UK was dominated by the ‘Royal Wedding’ of Prince William (grandson of the current monarch Queen Elizabeth).  Around 20 million Brits apparently watched the ceremony on TV, but that was probably because there was nothing else on all day on a special public holiday!

What was striking about the occasion was the dress of all the male appendages of the ‘royal’ Windsor family (formerly called Saxe-Coburgs – as they are German in origin – they changed the name to remove any association with Britain’s enemy in World War One, their cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm).  All the men wore military uniform of a particularly archaic nature – all red, stiff and with lots of medals and swords.  It should remind you that the British monarchy has ruled over a militarist empire for hundreds of years.  And of course, the original role of a monarchy, rulers by birth, before any form of bourgeois democracy, was to act as the head of the state and that meant, the armed forces, the latter ensuring the wealth and property of the ruling class.

British capitalism never threw off the anachronism of a monarchy – although the bourgeois revolution of 1641-60 did achieve it for a while.  The monarchy (a ruling family) was used by the elite to try and cement the people behind the ‘nation’ as a ‘neutral’ force above politics.  Of course, this was an illusion, but the monarchy was made ‘constitutional’ and ‘pomp and circumstance’ were promoted, particularly in the hey-day of the British capitalism in the 19th century.  Nearly all the ludicrous military uniforms and protocols were invented in that period to suggest some sort of stability for the nation to be embodied in a ‘royal family’ and a House of Lords.

Those who support the idea of the monarchy in Britain like to make two economic points to back it.  First, they argue that all the property, lands and income of the royals are actually owned by the state, the democratically elected government.  So the royals are just serving the nation and are not wealthy.  Second, that the cost of the British monarchy is worth every penny, especially given all the tourist revenue it pulls in.

It’s true that most (not all) royal residences are owned by the state.  But they are maintained at taxpayers expense.  The whole Crown Estate encompasses about 360 buildings including Windsor Castle, Clarence House, St James Palace and parts of Kensington Palace. Many of these properties are occupied on a ‘grace and favour’ basis by the Queen’s private secretaries and other staff ie. for nothing or at low rents charged by the Queen.  Often monarchists claim the royal family selflessly ‘surrendered’ this property back in the early 19th century.  But these properties were never ‘owned’ by the royal family but were properties of the ‘monarchy’ or the feudal state.  Indeed the Queen’s great grandfather, George III, ‘gave’ this royal property to the government only to get taxpayers to pay to maintain them.

The Crown Estate is a huge portfolio of property in London like Regent Street, Piccadilly and the Park Lane sites of The Four Seasons and Intercontinental hotels. 12,000 tenants are paying rent on 560 square miles of land across England and Wales. The estate even includes all UK coastal waters within 12 miles of land, where energy companies are increasingly paying to construct wind farms. Valued at $12 billion.  Last year the Crown Estate alone generated $342 million. But, as with virtually all these royal assets, that cash went straight to the UK government. In return, the taxpayer pays the Queen and other royals a fixed, annual allowance.

There’s one exception. The UK government still hands the Queen income from the smaller of the two property portfolios. Last year she received $21.8 million from the so-called Duchy of Lancaster. Taxpayers also give Elizabeth Windsor an annual allowance of $23.3 million for performing 360 engagements a year as Head of State.   Taxpayers also pay the Queen $25.9 million in expenses to maintain her palaces. $6.4 million towards the Royal Train, helicopters and jets. And an additional $6.4m towards other costs, like State Visits.  In total, each year the Queen gets $83.8 million from the government and the estates.  It’s widely assumed Elizabeth also receives a multi-million dollar income stream from her private portfolio of stocks and bonds.

And that’s just the Queen.  Her son and heir, Price Charles is much richer.  As Elizabeth’s first male son, Charles instantly became heir to the throne at birth and inherited a property portfolio currently worth over one billion dollars: 200 square miles of land known as the Duchy of Cornwall.  Last year, that estate generated $28 million in cash for Charles.  The government does not own this estate. Charles actively manages it. The Queen can lay personal claim to a country house in Sandringham, a few stud farms, Balmoral Castle in Scotland and her father’s stamp collection. Forbes says that’s worth $500 million.  So the Windsors are billionaires in their own right and yet receive handouts from the taxpayer every year.

Still if the cost of the British monarchy to the taxpayer is about $85m a year, that’s just $3 per household.  That sounds cheap, considering the supposed benefit to the UK economy from people visiting Royal palaces from abroad and spending dollars in the UK and royals like Prince Andrew acting as ‘ambassadors for Britain’ abroad (ho,ho).  But that cost is a serious underestimate.  It excludes the loss of revenue that the state incurs from forgoing various taxes and the cost to local authorities of policing and other administration for the royals.   If you include the lost revenue from the estates that the royals receive income from directly, the total annual cost is closer to $300m a year, or $10 per household.   That more than matches the likely extra tourist revenue raised from foreigners coming to gawp at the changing of the guard in Buckingham Palace.

Monarchists argue that this cost would still have to be incurred if Britain were a republic as you would need a president or head of state and they don’t come cheap either.  Look at the cost of presidency in the US.   The official budgeted cost of the White House is $110m a year, only slightly more than the British monarchy but with five times the population and eight times the GDP.  But the Brooking Institution reckons that excludes lots of other costs, including helicopters, the press and communications operation, the secret service etc.  If you include all this, you can tot up an annual figure of $1500m, or about $10 an American household, similar to the real cost of the British monarchy.  But it’s not like for like.

Even so, I’m sure the founding fathers of the American republic, those great bourgeois revolutionaries, would blanche at the cost of the American presidency, but even more at the venality of Congress.  They stood for cheap government.  At least the bourgeois republic had that aim even if the development of American empire put paid to that.  But the British monarchy has stood as an expensive and unnecessary excrescence on British people for centuries.

And it remains with hidden constitutional powers.  Supposedly, the British monarchy is constitutional ie it cannot say or do anything political and on behalf of the state unless directed by the government of the day.  But that is not entirely true.  The Queen still has the constitutional power to dissolve the British parliament and could rule on her own through what is called the Orders in Council, a council made up of appointed politicians.  And the monarchy is still the commander-in-chief of the armed forces (like the elected US president).  In theory, the British monarchy could rule and enforce its rule without parliament.

Of course, if the Queen were to dissolve parliament unilaterally, it would provoke a major constitutional crisis.  It would propose dictatorship.  But that does not mean it could not happen.  In 1975 in Australia, the governor-general of Australia (the Queen’s representative in that county, which still recognises the Queen as its monarch) dissolved the Australian parliament without consulting the then Labour prime minister Gough Whitlam.  This constitutional coup was designed to get more amenable conservative government into office in an election, a purpose that succeeded.

The wealth and income of the British royal family is one thing, the hidden dictatorial power of the British monarchy is more.

http://www.thenextrecession.wordpress.com

Report from March 26th Demo

posted 27 Mar 2011, 08:29 by Admin uk   [ updated 1 May 2011, 11:18 ]

by Iain Case 

Around half a million people marched through London yesterday in the biggest demonstration seen in the UK for many years. This was the first protest against the Coalition Government that brought together workers and students, and exceeded all expectations in the turnout.  There was a massive presence from rank-and-file trade unionists and young people. 

Another feature of the day’s events was a further development in the militant consciousness of young people and students. Walking round the West End of London through the afternoon and evening, I was struck by the anger and fearlessness of these youth, and the development of their class awareness and tactical approach. 
At first Banks and businesses identified with the financial crisis and tax avoidance were targeted, including TopShop, CitiBank, multiple branches of HSBC and so on. As the afternoon developed, targets became more class-oriented: The Ritz hotel was attacked, a Porsche showroom, and finally the Queens Grocers Fortnum and Masons was occupied and ransacked. 

The Youth have developed a highly mobile strategy in response to Police ‘kettling’ tactics, moving at high speed through the town with the Police trailing behind trying to keep up. The evening ended with a stand-off in Trafalgar Square, where the Police kettled a large group of angry students and youth, making over 200 arrests.

A feature of these events is that the anger and fearlessness of the youth, and their increasing self-organisation. The sects and ‘official’ left have no answers for these young people, who increasingly feel they have nothing to lose. The danger is without leadership and direction they will be dissipated and defeated. The Left must rise to this challenge, build bridges to these groups, address their concerns and rapidly adapt to fast moving events.

TUC March For The Alternative Report from a teenager

posted 27 Mar 2011, 08:26 by Admin uk   [ updated 27 Mar 2011, 08:36 ]

TUC March For The Alternative  

   by Ryan Bygrave 


I am a 14 year old school student. Today I attended TUC’s March for the Alternative, my first march. My mother is a member of Unison trade union. My father joined the labour party at the age of 17 and has always been a dedicated socialist. He wrote for a Socialist newspaper, The Militant. He was on the previous largest union organised march (as well as many others) and he accompanied me today. As my Mother works for the NHS she has already experienced first hand, the damaging blow of the cuts. I followed the student protests very closely and was very inspired by the uproar from the student community over the rise in tuition fees. If the government continue with these cuts, I fear that this will have a detrimental effect on my further education and my ability to find work. The cuts are hitting hard on training schemes, therefore making it a lot harder to get a job.

I wanted to go to March For The Alternative today to stand and be counted, against the Con-Dem government. I wanted to be part of the half a million strong crowd to show my anger and frustration with the government and how they are planning to deal with the deficit. Today there were more people than I have ever seen before, all marching for a common cause. Men, women, children, whites, blacks, Asians, pensioners and disabled people all filled the ranks for our march on Hyde Park. Despite heavy police presence, people walked with great confidence. The general mood of the march was like a carnival. The deafening roar of vuvuzelas showed the positive and vibrant mood of the march. Past Trafalgar square, many protesters changed the scene of this historic monument. The lions of Nelson’s column were surrounded by many thousands of singing protesters, completely changing the iconic location of London. The weather started off quite warm along the embankment, reinforcing the positive mood of the march, however as the day went on the heavens began to open. Yet even not rain and wind could dampen the hearts of the workers united! In Hyde Park there were a variety of speakers, however I believe that Dave Prentis was the most effective of the speakers. He made it clear how the rich and the bankers were to blame for this deficit and that they should be the one’s paying for it. Also he was the only speaker that managed to touch on the future. He described what was next for the movement. He said that marches shall continue and grow and strikes will begin to appear nationwide. Talking about what was next was something Ed Milliband failed to touch on.

Today’s actions have inspired me to see the next chapter in the working class’s struggle and I shall definitely be attending the next march.

Overall I believe that today was a success. It sent out a clear message, the British working class shall not stay silent. They shall not mindlessly go along with something that is so blatantly unfair to the working class and above all, they shall not be stopped.

UK election: The end of an era

posted 8 May 2010, 03:52 by Admin uk   [ updated 1 Mar 2011, 07:18 ]

Article by Heiko Khoo, published first on China.org.cn

The British elections produced a hung parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party and Labour the second largest party. The expected rise of the Liberal-Democrats failed to materialise despite opinion poll forecasts. The election marks the end of an era of 13 years of Labour government.

On the plus side, Labour devolved power to Wales and Scotland, and secured an end to violent conflict in Northern Ireland. They introduced tax concessions for working families and significantly increased public spending on healthcare, childcare and education. However, they did this in a happy, upward phase of economic expansion. Tony Blair, who led the Labour party until 2008, attempted to "modernize" the party in a branding campaign that emulated the marketing of soap powder. New Labour replaced Old Labour; socialist ideals of public ownership and egalitarianism were jettisoned in favour of appealing to the aspirations of the middle classes and the interests of the financial elite. The working classes represented by the trade unions remained largely passive throughout Labour's period in office. The economy expanded, employment levels were healthy, and a sense of confidence exuded from the new elite.


The new millennium was used to place Britain at the centre of the new optimism, "Cool Britannia" represented fashion, music, tradition, progress, humanitarianism, modern caring and entrepreneurial capitalism tinged with social democratic welfare values. The era of New Labour was also the era of the Internet as a new mode of communication. Simultaneously we saw the birth of new television formats, aimed at entrancing mass audiences in the voyeuristic observation of peoples behaviour in enclosed and stressful environments. Some were locked in "the Big Brother house", or on a "tropical island", or placed in scenarios where a rich person lives with a poor family. Often the TV audience was asked to "vote for someone" to be kept in, or expelled. This was also the era of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Fantasy worlds gripped the attention of millions, till the attraction of the format wore thin, audiences dwindled, and a new style had to be found.

Britain fought three major wars; Yugoslavia 1999, Afghanistan 2001, and Iraq 2003. The Yugoslav war was the least controversial. It was both an air-war and a media war, in which the British government systematically embellished the tragedy of Kosovo to implicate Yugoslavia in "genocide" and "mass murder". Opposition to the war was muted. A "bad guy" had been beaten, so the ends justified the means in public perception. The war was presented as a new form of humanitarian intervention. Many disagreed, arguing that a NATO "spin machine" was concealing a new form of imperialism.

Internet investments promised untold potential through realising smart ideas. Venture capitalists threw billions at operations that had zero sales and zero assets. The economy wandered into fantasy terrain. The dot com crash in 2000 was followed by a massive expansion of low cost credit, fuelling further investments in mythically valued products. Although the attack on New York in 2001 caused intense anxiety, the US government relaxed credit to sustain confidence and continue the economic boom. The rapid conquest of Kabul and the dazzling technology deployed, seemed to reinforce faith in the leadership of the USA and Britain.

Bank lending lost its connection to real assets. For the much of the general population in Britain, salaries and expenditure were no longer directly correlated. Property ownership seemed to function like a magical cash machine fitted into the walls of your home. People bought houses because prices were rising, prices rose because people bought houses, a perfect bubble was pumped up and floated hypnotically in the air. From morning till night television programmes reinforced the vision that every British subject starts as a property owner, goes on to become a developer, and then flourishes as a speculator. Those who said the king has no clothes were laughed at and disparaged.

The war in Iraq was profoundly unpopular in Britain. Tony Blair faced huge demonstrations in London, one of which was more than a million strong. To neutralise opposition to the impending war, a dazzling array of threats was woven into a plot that linked the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, to Bin Laden and to imaginary chemical, bacteriological, biological and nuclear weapons. When the war broke out, victory appeared to come rapidly and protests dwindled. However, over years, the insurgency in Iraq whittled away at the illusions generated in the first days of conquest. Bombs in London in July 2005 reinforced the sense of failure.

In June 2007, Blair resigned as Prime Minister and anointed Gordon Brown as his successor; in doing so he handed over a poisoned chalice. Brown's reputation was based on his role as finance minister. He tried to appeal to disillusioned Labour party supporters, claiming adherence to "Old Labour" values. But his dour public persona, his unwillingness to call an immediate election, and the economic Tsunami that was the great recession of 2007-9, all conspired to undermined his position. He was never able to produce a genuine smile during his entire tenure as Prime Minister.

When British mortgage lender Northern Rock was found to be insolvent, the wave of property speculation ended as small investors queued up to withdraw their savings. Fearing a run on all banks, Brown nationalised Nothern Rock. Soon afterwards he played a key role in the rescue of the international banking system following the collapse of Lehman Brothers. But the public anger caused by the economic collapse meant Brown received no electoral credit for his interventionism.

Then news broke that politicians had been claiming expenses from the taxpayer for such things as pornographic downloads and fictitious housing costs. The public were enraged. An economic era had come to an end, house prices began to fall, salaries and pensions became more important than the resale price of houses, and credit became hard to get. Employment prospects worsened, so people cut back on spending. Television stations ceased commissioning programmes that encouraged everyone to engage in speculative housing investments. The great recession engulfed British life.

The 2010 election campaign appeared at first to take on the character of a television spectacle. The leaders of the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats held three debates in a format to designed to suit the era. Endless polls predicted a huge surge in support for the Liberal leader, Nick Clegg. He claimed to represent "change" in the mould of Barack Obama. However, on the day, the electorate voted primarily for the Conservatives or the Labour party. "Old Labour" in the form of urban working class voters, thwarted an outright Conservative victory.

All three parties advocate cutbacks to clear the huge deficit caused by the bailout of the banks. But none has prepared the public psychologically for the scale of cuts in social spending that will be introduced. We will certainly see bitter resistance from public sector trade unions. Despite an "in principle" acceptance of the need for austerity measures, the reality of a fall in living standards over several years means any government will struggle to maintain social peace. Britain is entering an era of austerity, increasing class divisions and social discontent. The era of "Cool Britannia" and the rising middle classes seems like a distant memory.

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