Why is the UK in the state it is today?
I was born in 1953, so I've experienced the roller coaster of the left-right power struggle and the compilation of of one mistake in judgement on top of another. Whichever party is in power, none get it right. There is no disaster management system in place, and no way of tackling unexpected outcomes.
So why are we where we are today?
1 Loss of the Empire
Britain had built a commercial and military Empire over the previous centuries, and by the 1950s ruled half the world, or so it seemed according to the vast pink swathes of Britannia which covered the maps on my primary school walls.
But the country had been all but bankrupted by WW2, but we were still an Empire then, and could rely on support from the Commonwealth. Through the 50s to the 70s, this life-support system was lost, as successive governments bowed to perceived nationalistic democratic people power of the member states of the empire split off to go their own way. The British Empire lost Egypt and vast swathes of Africa; and also lost India, Pakistan, many Polynesian countries and the Bahamas, Jamaica, and slices of South America while Canada, Australia and New Zealand are for all practical purposes, autonomous.
2 Wilson and Nationalisation
But before the decline of empire had fully set in, Harold Wilson's landslide Labour government in the early 1960s stuck it to big business on behalf of the workers by nationalising the coal, steel, telecommunications, power and railway industries, much to the hussahs of the working classes, who stood to benefit hugely.
However, these newly created nationally owned monoliths proved to b
But Wilson, like so many broadly-thinking socialist idealist intellectuals, had not considered the somewhat less than altruistic attitude of its rank and file supporters.
The Labour Party was and is the political arm of the Trades Union movement.
The Unions, unsatisfied with Wilson's grand plan, got greedy. Their members were aspirational, which is a simple human condition. We all want better for ourselves, our children, our grandchildren. Union members wanted to own their own houses, colour TVs, and more than one family car, and so individually had borrowed more than they could earn in order to pay for these items.
I worked in retail in the 70s. I saw couples throw money at aspirational furniture using the cheap credit available. It's probably no different today. HP was and is a powerful lure, but it's part of the uncomfortable mix between capitalism and worker aspirationalism. Spending power creates desire for goods, which must be supplied, which creates jobs, which creates 'wealth', not just for the fat cats, but for the employees. Or at least, it should.
So the Unions, perceiving the weakness in the Quango system, used their most powerful weapon, the Strike. During the 70s and early 80s, we had strikes which resulted in power cuts, the three day week, disrupted rail and public services, huge piles of uncollected, unsanitary waste in the streets, and we found ourselves chopping and changing one ineffective government after another.
3 Heath, Callaghan and the rise of the Unions
One such government was the Heath government of the 1970s. Edward Heath took us into the Common Market in a bid to improve the trade deficit. The embryonic European Union worked well for the UK in those days, with Britain getting a more than 10% share of the Euro vote in council and a hefty say in the proceedings.
Heath, however, could not cope with the continual strikes led by firebrand Union leaders such as Joe Gormley and Jack Jones.
But Heath's weak majority fell to a populist vote and Callaghan's Labour Party took the helm. Completely under the thumb of the TUC, none of Callaghan's policies bore fruit and he was finally ousted by Thatcher, perceived by a public weary of the Unions posturing and the constant strikes, to be a strong leader who could take on the Unions in a head to head struggle.
4 Thatcher's Civil War
Regardless of the Labour Party itself, in the 70s, the Left was governed by the Unions, and the General Secretary of the transport & General Workers' Union was a man with incredible power. Jack Jones has recently been declared a Soviet agent who, amongst others, tried to transform the UK into a USSR-inspired soviet-style republic.
Thatcher, however, was having none of it, and on an increasingly violent national stage which included police charges on rioting minors and the so-called poll tax riots, her government finally won out, destroying the union movement as it was to be replaced by the apparently toothless union system we have today.
5 John Major, Tory Sleaze and New Labour
Thatcher eventually fell, not to a strong Labour Party, but by an internal coup led by the so-called 'grey' John Major, a former chancellor and education secretary whom Thatcher had sacked more than once. Thatcher had pushed her luck and Major, a more moderate Conservative, became Prime Minister in her stead.
Major found himself fighting for economic and political stability in a mire of debt and mistrust, and eventually, just as his policies were starting to work, he fell to Blair's apparently middle ground New Labour.
Blair was a brilliant manipulator of the media, a clever negotiator, friend to the TV screen and a total dictator in private. His line was: 'what the Tories have done isn't all wrong' with the inference that things just needed tweaking. And of course, he would put an end to what his press secretary, the notorious gamester Alistair Campbell, had termed 'Tory Sleaze', after Tory MP Hamilton had been caught having a threesome with his wife and a prostitute. Not much in the grand scheme of things.
With sidekick Gordon Brown to back him, and Campbell running the soundbites from the cabinet room (he was the most powerful unelected government official for centuries), Blair kicked policy around like a football, without making any true socialist reversals to Thatcherite revisions.
Thatcher's flawed educational policies (the fact that she had appointed some six or seven education ministers in her time proved that there was no clear steerage) were compounded by Blair's policy to create Catholic-faith based schools which taught fundamentalist anti-science. And why? Because one of his party's single biggest cash supporters was a fundamentalist Catholic.
Blair wanted complete political and financial union with Europe and he
was involved in taking us into Iraq, once again, responding to media pressure about the Iraqi 'super gun', rather than a considered political and economic decision based on policy. This has proved to be a complete disaster wand has created a political vacuum in the Middle East and has led to the rise of ISIS.
6 Blair's escape strategy
Blair didn't fall. As things started to look tough, he cheated his way out of government the way he cheated his way in. Blair took the Chiltern Hundreds, a position usually reserved for an MP too old or infirm to continue as a constituency MP. Shorty after his 'retirement', I met Blair in Portofino while I was on a holiday tour. Apparently, he had just bought property there which an internet search revealed that the minimum he could have spent was £4m.
7 Gordon Brown
Brown, in my opinion an honest man, took the reigns, and unfortunately, inherited all of Blair's financial and international cock-ups and, found himself facing a complex international financial debacle which ruined several banks. To be fair, he was Chancellor during Blair's premiership, and so was instrumental in creating the environment in which such disasters were likely to occur.
In order to save the pensions of millions of people, Brown then (and typically for New Labour) mistakenly bowed to pressure from the media, and took the rash and ill-considered option to rescue a privately owned bank with public money despite there being other options on the table.
8 Why is the NHS in so parlous a state?
Blair and Brown's rule was signatured by several hasty, media-led decisions. One of which was the previously mentioned pensions crisis, and another, the ill-conceived blanket-bomb law banning pharmaceutical and medical supplies companies from advertising to the NHS. Ther had been a minor scandal involving a tiny handful of Doctors- maybe only one or two- and as many pharmaceutical reps. Asked 'What can I do so that you prescribe my products by brand rather than generically?' one doctor suggested that the rep gave him his laptop. And so the deal was done. This escalated so that a rep actually gave his car, reputed to be a new BMW, to one doctor, and the story was picked up by the media. Instead of merely getting the doctors struck off, and the pharma companies involved fined and the reps fired and sentenced for bribery and misrepresentation, a law was passed which affected all honest medical professionals and many others not directly associated with the medical profession or medical supplies industries. I was such a person, I lost my house and my livelihood.
As much of the banned advertising was in the form of branded stationery items, the NHS today faces an annual bill in the millions because it needs to buy its own post it notes, staplers, USB sticks, and pens, previously given to it gratis! And did Cameron reverse that? No. Although the rules have relaxed, the situation is much the same. Meanwhile, advances in medical technology and protection against cross-infection (prompted initially by the AIDS epidemic) means that the NHS is also spending millions each year on disposable products, which, back in its early years, would have been re-usable.
9 Cameron's Brexit gamble
Cameron and Osborne are both very pro-Europe and, it is believed, wanted to take us into full partnership including joining the Euro. Bowing to a perceived popular pressure created by the newly-formed UKIP, led by the perceived threat to our country's security and resources by the seemingly endless stream of illegal migrants and refugees created apparently by the crisis in the Middle East, and added to by xenophobic rhetoric from the far right newspapers, plus his apparently disastrous talks with EU heads of state regarding Britain's future position in Europe, (some say that he secretly promised a full EU bonding once he had put the issue to the country, thus proposing a Euro-deal on which he subsequently couldn't deliver), Cameron threw us the EU referendum, another ill-conceived posture-led move designed to give his government a mandate to push us into Europe.
His gamble, however, catastrophically failed, and once again, the country finds itself split down the middle, and this time, not on party lines. And potentially Cameron may have lost us Scotland.
10 Theresa May and the current farce
Cameron resigned, leaving a pro-Europe Theresa May to pick up the pieces of the Brexit debacle. This is ironic, to say the least. Let us not forget that May was a leading light in the Cameron cabinet which brought us the referendum in the first place. May is now gambling, as have many of the prime ministers before her, that the voting public will back her. In my opinion, she is using Brexit as a political lever to gain a clear majority in the House, in order to push through other Conservative policies which could slip in unseen under the wire while Brexit takes the spotlights. Of course, it could be argued that pro-Europe May actually wants to lose the expected lion's share of the vote, so that she can claim that the country has not, in fact, given her government a mandate for Brexit and therefore, with such a tight referendum split of almost 50/50, will backpedal big time and renege on the slim majority referendum vote, appeasing the SNP divisionists and trying to gain the sympathy of the left-of-middle Euro-supporters.
11 And so to the polls. Again.
Once again, we have a prime minister who has inherited a mess, and, like Brown before her, she was instrumental in creating it. May and her cohorts have had limited time to figure out plausible solutions for the Brexit strategy and once again, it seems to be 'Take it to the country!' in a bid to gain time.
12 Firefighting disaster after disaster
Every government since WW1 has been fire-fighting one disaster after another, all with the best of intentions and all, eventually or immediately, failing. Whoever you vote for, should they get into power, wish them luck. They're going to need it.
Because, democratically speaking, it's not their fault, but ours.