Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1514      17 August 2011

British riots spurred by “greed is good” society

London Mayor Boris Johnson opens his mouth so often that it is inevitable that he will make sense once in a while. That is the case with his statement that now is not the “time to think about making substantial cuts in police numbers.” Johnson is an ardent backer of the government’s cuts program, but even he can see that slashing police numbers demoralises staff and public alike.

However, his support for so-called “robust policing” shows the same Conservative Party, or Tory, lack of imagination over how to deal with the current wave of unrest in many English cities. Where robust policing gives way to police brutality is a moot point, although it is a detail to which the London mayor will pay little heed since his class will not be in the firing line.

This minted politician, who has basked in the lap of luxury all his life, has the temerity to claim that young people have been accorded an “endless sense of entitlement.” That might well apply to young people of his background and that of the multi-millionaires who clutter up Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, but it does not correspond in any way to those rioting, looting and fighting the police in city streets.

Johnson’s comments indicate his utter ignorance of the current state of the country and the extent of social division. Over 30 years of neo-liberal policies have eroded the postwar consensus, accepted by Labour and Tory parties, that government had a duty to avoid any return to the mass poverty and deprivation of the 1930s.

That consensus was laid down by the 1945 Labour government, with the establishment of the National Health Service, a welfare state, progress to comprehensive state education, modern local authority housing and a commitment to the goal of full employment.

For sure there were political differences between the parties on issues such as public ownership, but even the Tories felt obliged to defend jobs and communities by nationalising the Upper Clyde shipyards and aeroplane engine maker Rolls Royce. This consensus was shattered by ruling class demands to reverse the declining rate of corporate profits, by reducing welfare spending and giving tax breaks to big business and the rich.

While Labour opposed many aspects of the ruling-class offensive carried out by Margaret Thatcher’s Tory administrations throughout the 1980s at the time, the party’s capture by new Labour secured a new political consensus behind neo-liberalism.

The “greed is good” years did not solely infect the London dealers, bankers and company directors who became incredibly rich as a result of speculation. Similar attitudes – without the same rewards – were expressed by other sections of society, reproduced so grotesquely by the needy inadequates who try to pass themselves off as ruthless entrepreneurs on TV shows such as The Apprentice.

We are told that selfishness and dog-eat-dog competition are human nature.

Quite simply, this is rubbish. Humanity could not have survived and prospered on the basis of ruthless individualism. Progress has been achieved through co-operation. That was exemplified by the collective efforts of communities to stand together to defend shops and homes from attack in recent days.

Similar unity of purpose is ever more necessary to thwart the combined assault on public services and workers’ living standards by the current Conservative Party-Liberal Democratic Party coalition government. Strengthening the public sector and collective solidarity is the way to rebuild the economy and provide the jobs and hope that alone will prevent future social explosions of the kind witnessed recently.

Morning Star  

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