The recent story of the olympic Bell contract going overseas linked together several recent Friday room debates – olympic legacy, economics and globalisation for example. Neoliberalism, however, frequently emerges in our discussions as an overarching theme thwarting the transition to the good society. My view is we need to undermine the dominant discourse that the unregulated free market is the best route to wellbeing for this country. In fact it is the worst possible route; Tory ideology (and that of orange book liberals) poses a danger to the wellbeing of the great majority of the British people. Every opportunity has to be taken to expose the over-simplifying assumptions of neoliberalism. To this end this letter was penned and published in the Loughborough Echo.
It should come as no surprise that Conservative peer Seb Coe has “no regrets” about the sub-contracting of the casting of the Olympic Bell overseas, since, “we have a global economy now”. He is not wrong on the reality of globalisation but his attitude displays an ambivalence typical of Conservative ideology. Tories have a particular headstrong belief that the free market solves everything and the role of the Government should be minimised. This is why the influence of the private sector in our health service and state education is increasing and it is the idea behind the Government’s Big Society (read small state) agenda. Conservatives actually believe everything should be left to the chaos of the global market place.
As we enter the double dip recession Cabinet ministers argue until they are blue in the face that their purpose is not simply deficit reduction and that they are working tirelessly for growth. But so far all we have mainly witnessed from this Government is harsh public service cuts effecting the vulnerable – a term which could apply to anyone of us in a random twist of circumstances. We see a Government-abetted private sector take-over of public services which, instead of creating new wealth, merely converts tax-payers’ money into the profits of tax-avoiding predatory capitalists, much of which flows overseas. As people on low to middle incomes struggle to balance household budgets, George Osborne implements the granny tax and the pasty tax. Meanwhile job-creating green-growth industries are given an uncertain business landscape by a vacillating Government (witness Feed-in tariff shocks, Green Deal uncertainty, renewable heat incentive delay) and populist anti-renewable energy technology campaigns by Tory MPs. As the cabinet of millionaires removes the 50p tax rate for their wealthy friends even a Tory MP has dubbed Cameron and Osborne ‘two arrogant posh boys who do not know the price of milk’. Leaving aside arguments about an Olympic legacy benefitting all UK regions, in this context Loughborough’s lost contract is symptomatic of a bigger malaise which is the ongoing transition of the UK to a low employment and low-wage deskilled economy.
In Loughborough this is exemplified by the loss of companies such as Astra Zenica and a too heavy reliance on national retail establishments to bring about regeneration. The latter only serve to put established and locally owned businesses under pressure – a concept that our local conservative MP, Nicky Morgan, needs to grasp before supporting populist social media campaigns to bring yet another national fast-food chain into the town. The planned new supermarket on the Leicester Road will threaten local businesses employing local people in one of the most income deprived wards of town.
Of course, Coe’s retort is simply an obtuse way of stating that the job gets done where it is cheapest. This appears to be, on the surface, a harsh reality, but the Conservative focus on the financial bottom line in a free market society is far too simplistic. Life is more complex. Some may point out, for example, that the supermarket alluded to above may be cheaper than local shops and thus help low-income families, arguments which are seductive and need careful analysis but can be challenged. The complexity can be usefully separated into three key issues: social, environmental and economic. This so-called triple bottom line is too important to be left solely to the free market – let’s face it, the market cannot even get the economics right! The smart-state, with a democratic mandate, both locally and nationally has a key role to link the social, environmental and economic. This is what strong economies do and this is what failing ones do to get out of a recession. With their aversion to strategic planning and dogmatic adherence to free-market fundamentalism this Government is letting our country down, and Lord Coe has let Loughborough down.