Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Fed up with austerity Britain? Sadly, you ain't seen nothing yet

The canny chief executive, on reaching the top of the greasy pole, makes the shock discovery that he has inherited a total disaster.

The company’s profits are immediately trashed by massive write-offs, its workforce slashed and expectations comprehensively lowered to a level from which even a halfwit should be able to engineer some sort of recovery - for which the new boss will naturally be richly rewarded.

This Year Zero strategy was surely the only sensible option available to whoever was unlucky enough to win the UK General Election of 2010: a vote that any sensible politician should have done their utmost to lose.

Losing: something to smile about properly at long last

Incredibly, the incoming Coalition did not seize the golden opportunity to make our lives an utter misery straight away, in the admittedly faint hope that we would have forgiven and forgotten by the time of the next election in 2015.

They have now been in power for almost three years, and the confiscation of my family’s child allowances has only just kicked in. Wealthy pensioners continue to trouser unneeded winter fuel payments, while whole swathes of Government expenditure on health, education and overseas aid remain ring-fenced against cuts.

Small wonder that the deficit remains stubbornly high, the national debt continues to climb, and economic growth remains a fond memory. But not to worry, because our leaders are fixing the things that really matter: imposing yet another reorganisation on the NHS and restricting the freedom of the press (which, in the current state of the industry, seems about as meaningful as slapping a preservation order on a snowman).

Our collective memory is short, and any reminder that this Government is dealing with problems not of its own making is now the cue for loud jeers. Hence the likeliest outcome of the next election is the return to power of those who did so much to create the mess in the first place.

Balls. Nothing more to be said

No wonder that electorates elsewhere in Europe, faced with similar choices, tick the “none of the above” box by voting for comedians instead.

Despite their failure to grasp the nettle in 2010, it is increasingly hard to see what the Government hopes to gain by continuing to pretend that “the medicine is working” and things are going to pick up any time soon. It isn’t, and they aren’t.

This week’s confiscation of bank deposits in Cyprus (an island that still drives on the left but foolishly abandoned its pound for the euro in 2008) could well be the taste of things to come for all of us as the mad European project continues to unravel, with potentially dire consequences not only for prosperity, but for the very peace that idealists proclaim as the European Union’s crowning achievement. 

A typical Cyprus ATM

Retrospectively imposing a 110% tax on all bankers’ bonuses, and perhaps hanging a few of them from lampposts, might help relieve our feelings, but it won’t actually get us out of the economic mire in which we find ourselves. Nor will trying to borrow even more money in the hope that we can somehow spend our way out of the hole.

Sadly we all need to adjust our fond hope that life is going to get steadily cushier. “Living standards” across the board need to come down until we have settled the bill for the criminal folly of the debt-fuelled artificial boom of the Blair years.

That is not necessarily a bad thing. Our material expectations have risen massively in my lifetime. We are warmer, fatter, longer-lived and more richly entertained than ever before in human history. But I see precious little evidence that we are any happier as a result.

It will come as no comfort to a better-off Cypriot saver to be reminded of this, but life is extremely short and the important thing is to try and enjoy it to the best of our ability. People can be blissfully happy working for a pittance for a cause they believe in, while even billionaires can fall prey to suicidal misery.

I for one would appreciate the Government finally admitting that we all are going to get considerably worse off for the foreseeable future, so that we can focus on learning how to smile with gritted teeth.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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