In Part I today: where are we, and how did we get here?
The Slog examines the road from One Nation Toryism to Rule by Decree
The last four weeks here at Sloggers’ Roost have been something like a rollercoaster spinning down a helter-skelter before smashing through the roof of the Dodgems and then being shunted around by all and sundry.
This was less than pleasant while it lasted, and my head was still spinning yesterday when I posted a sort of lightweight hahaha thing of collected nonsense about daft cops, our disastrous economy, UK withdrawal from the EU (BoJo and his Big Plan) and more attempts to rubbish the Cummings and Goings of Dominic.
It didn’t get that many hits and almost no praise, because to be honest, it didn’t deserve either: multiple-issue posts are rarely a good idea, and at the end of the piece, the reader was left with the feeling, “Fine, but why?”
I toddled off to the garden feeling a little down, put up a half-hearted show of toddling about, dozed in the hammock for an hour, went for a swim (“Alright for some, eh?”) and re-read the post.
“Fine, but why?” I heard myself saying out loud.
Why are cops half-baked security and Covid cops now, rather than villain nickers? Why does the Times write rubbish these days? what is Boris really up to? And why does Cummings get no change at all out of the Whitehall/Leftie hate machine?
The trouble with ‘Why?’ is that it begs more whys: they hate Cummings because he’s a reformer, and that’s just what the mandarins and the Momentum ideologues don’t want. They don’t want it because it may well rob them of any raison d’etre. They have no raison d’etre because they’re philosophically lazy, and top-down dictatorial by nature. They’re like that because Daddy used to make them stand in the corner with a Dunce cap on. Or something.
Pretty soon, one’s into the ‘is it the species or is it the culture?’ debate – which is done to death frankly, because they are an interdependent dual-carriageway….minus only the Highway Code.
But this felt like a good end of the beginning to me. I began to scribble some notes.
When you seem about to have good ideas, have you ever noticed how the immediate reaction is to shut down the eternal screen, and revert to pen and paper? Ink lasts for months without fading, paper has moved on quite a bit from copper scrolls, and pens no longer leave your fingers covered in Quink…or Mont Blanc, if you’re upmarket like what I am.
Pen and paper don’t fail to save, they rarely attract the attention of the censor, they don’t update themselves just as you get to cracking electromagnetic Time continuums, and they let you join things with arrows immediately….rather than kicking off a long journey into the settings followed by a user forum dating from 2011.
But above all, they let you think without being invaded by mysterious panels of virtuality: “An unknown error has occurred” and so forth.
Thinking (or rather, it’s absence in any usefully constructive form) is absolutely central to Why the World is Like it Is.
End of throat-clearing. Let’s get to it.
Going backwards with ‘why’ is OK up to a point, but going forward something like sequentially from where we were is the best starting point. I choose The Seventies as my starting point, because they represent (in the West as a whole) the last time the Left went completely mad, and the fruition of Radical Right thinking that propelled Reagan and Thatcher into power by the time it became clear that the Left’s madness was the overture to Gotterdammerung.
I’m not talking about Parties here, or particularly about leaders; I use the names only to give your memory synapses a nudge into the historical context. Rather, I’m pinpointing the decade during which the post-war assumptions about social capitalism began to be questioned.
Reagan used the word “taxpayer” as his weapon, while Thatcher used “trade unions”. But in truth, their Friedmanite belief systems were very similar: stop the wreckers and bureaucrats from getting in the way of growth, and give “people” the freedom to use more of their own money to sustain that growth. The inverted commas around people signify that what they really meant was entrepreneurs, bourses and the highly skilled….with an assortment of token barrow-boys to highlight both the American Dream and Classless Britain.
It was one helluva sell: shrink the State, cut the taxes, grow the gdp, slash the sovereign debt. Simples.
Now we can argue up Muswell Hill and down Iain Dale about whether my personal interpretation of that turning point is fair, snide, naive or harsh, but that’s not the point. To be clear, it’s the lead-in to one of the greatest trends of the last fifty years: the transfer of cultural and political power from labour to capital.
I will now argue that several outcomes resulted. Thus, herewith a series of bold subheads employed as signposts on the winding road of my thesis.
The triumph of accountancy over creativity
Capitalism and the Arts have always been quintessentially about risk. The frontrunners are the first to spot change and opportunity. They ignore shibboleths, change the rules and create the right environment for the followers.
Since 1980, no genuinely new music form beyond technological ‘sound’ has arisen.
No radical new non-performing art ‘school’ has appeared beyond puerile pyrotechnics skewing valuations out of all sensible proportion. The biggest buyer of this stuff has been Charles Saatchi – a leading light in the promotion of globalist communications.
New plays in London’s Theatreland have largely given way to revivals, crossovers, or TV/Movie/Musical derivations.
Hollywood in turn focuses on action, violence, special effects, animation and bums-on-seats costume drama
Television worldwide has become dependent on ‘formats’ and genres open to sponsorship, high ratings and low costs: game shows, reality TV, gardening, second houses, property makeovers and soaps.
This has happened in line with huge cuts in State funding of the Arts, but primarily because our dominant economic form is both funadamentally risk-averse…and yet at one and the same time mentally deranged in its accrual of debt.
Financialised bourse Globalism is about growth, quick returns, bright futures and debt. You borrow to grow, you cut overheads for returns, you borrow to brighten futures with dividends. You need critical mass, you borrow to merge, you slash investor value, you play safe and cut corners for returns, you borrow again to pay the dividends. Running to stand still, you move labour offshore to the Third World (and cut product quality as well) launch variants with higher margins, borrow to buy off Asian tiger competition, drive labour costs down further with robots to pay the dividends, and borrow to merge again.
Then there’s a Black Friday and a Bust. Fear and doubt are created everywhere from the workforce via the shareholders to the Banks.
The only way to get by from here is Spin.
The destruction of bourse and business parallels
The old adage has it that there are lies, damned lies and statistics. For me, it’s really about the statistician’s motives…as Covid has proved only too well.
With bourse globalism, there are lies, damned lies and plc Annual Reports. The use of oddly titled columns, misnomered sums and corruptly derived models (with a bit of forward invoicing thrown in) ensure that there is frequently no link at all between actual performance and share price once the borrowing element is taken out.
We saw last week how incredible some of the Nasdaq PE ratios are. All of it clouds, muddies and obfuscates any sense of real value, and most of it offers no guide at all to the economy at large.
But there is a bigger factor, for the banking firms themselves have share prices, and poorly judged non-performing loans to explain away. Merger and Acquisition is ultimately a finite sector. And so banks have diversified into property, assurance, and above all intra-bank business involving pass-the-parcel packages that earn wonderfully Orwellian names like derivative and sub-prime.
We The People are no longer bank customers. Retail footfall has given way to electronic transfers, fees have risen and interest rates gone permanently Zirp. Today, the sovereign consumer is a mere creditor, to be bad-debted at the drop of a hat devoid of white rabbits.
Observe the unreality of it all: a ‘capitalism’ in which you can’t get return on capital, a cash system abolishing cash, a High Street customer of no value beyond nuisance, a world drowning in spirals of debt, economies that are bust once credit and QE are removed from the equation….and yet bourses that boom.
Sooner or later in this environment, those ‘running’ the show catch on to the obvious fact that they’re gliding via the use of a Jumbo jet, and getting away with it.
Hold that thought.
Globalism’s need for digital communication
In a way, the very need for endless growth and savage cutting pushed business further beyond Head Office than ever before. Calling it ‘globalism’ was little more than Ted Levitt post-rationalising an insane dash for infinite growth – plus cheap labour to drive up margins.
And equally, what had been a CIA tool was suddenly the right technology in the right place to grow the efficiency of bigger, cheaper, faster deals while producing new unit sales.
Enter the World Wide Web, the internet surfing paradise that was to give all of us free, universal knowledge. But what started as a means of learning something morphed quickly into selling us something….and then telling it not like it is, but how they’d like us to think it is.
It created new media, new ways of hearing old news, and a direct selling medium that was to devastate genuine local communities. In turn, it became a better and better silo in which the unaccountable could hide, a place where the Sale of Goods Act is a joke, where every kind of lie could be manufactured (and quickly forgotten amongst millions of others) and yet a means by which – ironically – consumers have been asked to spill every secret they have.
What started out as a virtual school has become an open prison used by the NSA, GCHQ, and every trace-tracker looking for the next person to vaccinate.
But with media expansion came billions in real profits, massive levels of acquisition, a fauchage of old media bankruptcies….and thus, concentration of ownership.
Users of these media, meanwhile, found themselves in a bewildering place where provenance in all walks of life was harder to discern, after sales service became frustrating and time consuming, where reality about ‘Truth’ was further and further away….but debt via plastic purchase seemed painless.
The rise of Blair, Spin, Bush and Targets
It didn’t take political communicators long to catch onto the prize to be grasped here. But needless to say, the Unelected ‘Shadow’ State (and their allies in various sectors) got there first.
Many would argue that 9/11 was the first multi-media psy-op, and they may well be right. I’m still open minded, primarily because none of the theories I’ve come across about the collapse of the Twin Towers take into account the behaviour of molten aeroplane aluminium in the mix.
But WOMD as the “reason” for the Iraq War is a much clearer example of how news-and-data-overloaded citizens could be snowed into supporting a war meant to kick off a planned Neocon State Department anarchy policy in the Middle East. It was designed to both protect NATO oil interests there, and potentially keep the price of US crude high based on fears of uncertain supply.
UK Prime Minister Tony Blair eased his way so naturally into the WOMD deceit because his brief but meteoric rise had been based on equally breath-taking mendacity. Selling himself to the electorate as ‘New Labour’, he promised business, bankers and the markets behind firmly closed doors that there would be no return trade union socialism, and no new borrowing under Gordon Brown.
A big part of his sell to parents and business was to not spend a fortune on education, but rather make it more efficient by setting targets for examination achievement. This went down well with all voters, but in fact only exacerbated the existing problem of public education becoming increasingly ‘correct’ politically. Right answers won prizes, wrong speculation didn’t; and when exam marks weren’t high enough, the bar was lowered until they were.
It was obvious quite early on that standards were now in accelerating freefall compared to the 1944 – 1965 period. But in a classic case of New Surreality, Blair told the Commons that education was “just as good as it had always been, only better”.
His key spin doctor Alastair Campbell wore the dishonesty charge as a badge of pride. When asked (on the top-rating Parkinson chat show) about his campaign to ruin the career of senior Tory minister David Mellor, Campbell cheerfully admitted that, “The best part about that was, I made it all up”. The audience hooted with laughter: lying for advantage joined those many political behaviours that were now “to be expected”.
Investigating received Truth thus became something that might lower your grades, and anyway – given “they all lie” – why bother?
This was fertile soil of increasing depth in which the near future would be explained away painlessly.
Increased time starvation for the average family
Deregulated labour markets and offshore production led to longer hours and falling wages in the West, and Gordon Brown’s full acceptance of monetarist economics was not about to change that – any more than Bill Clinton’s ‘Third Way’ would in the US.
More and more mothers were now doing part or even fulltime jobs to make up the lost disposable income as their partners or husbands submitted to longer and longer hours from fear of job loss if they didn’t conform.
Activism went out of the window for most parents partly because they had less time and higher priorities. Equally, they believed the tosh put out by Whitehall (and the payroll data in the US) in relation to real wage values, unemployment levels and the inflation rate.
There has been much hypocrisy handed down by the Establishment media about “fake news” over the last twenty years, but faked stats and manipulated inflation ‘baskets’ are longer established: between 1985 and 2015, real wages fell by almost the same on both sides of the Atlantic: a whopping 34%.
This was an important change, because it marked the start of now active involvement by the bureaucracy of the State in lying to the mass of voters about pretty much everything.
Getting less and less Real
Increasingly hooked by the involvement of 24/7 news in all aspects of politics, Party Conferences became fully scripted showpieces in which any and all utterances of “off message” ideas were crushed. It’s a short road from the showpiece to the show trial: ironically, the enforcement of rigid (often pc) Groupthink had its origins in New Labour: Momentum and their allies under Jeremy Corbyn merely took note, and learned from it….leading to the demise of socially democratic Labour after 2016, and the harassment or abrupt deselection of MPs with such leanings.
Discovering the real among the nonsense began to make life well-nigh intolerable for the investigative journalist. When the BBC raised doubts about WOMD and the connected ‘suicide’ of a senior civil servant, the pronounced bullying of the BBC by the likes of Peter Mandelson and Blair himself was (if you were anywhere near it) truly astonishing.
Further, the massive damage done to the print media business model by online news and 24/7 TV stations meant huge cost cutting, as well as caving in to pressure from advertisers and their political allies. Slowly at first but then at a dizzying pace, most MSM titles lost interest in the Truth behind the news, and did their best (with both musical and anchor styles of presentation) to persuade viewers that only ‘breaking’ news was worthy of their attention.
And so, things became less and less real, and increasingly accepted. Brutal enforcement of policy conformity and Groupthink was paving the way for NoThink.
Obama, Cameron and the Birth of NoThink
In 1971, Robert Redford starred as an increasingly bland Democratic candidate playing safe with the abysmally empty line, “There must be a Better Way”.
Satire became life when Barack Obama reached the Oval Office purely by saying “Yes We can”. He spent most of the next eight years proving beyond doubt that he couldn’t, but vast swathes of the increasingly delusional Democratic Party have been (and remain) convinced that he was a Great President. The cognitive dissonance is alarming, but over in Britain, new Tory Leader and Old Etonian David Cameron (with his Chancellor chum George Osborne in tow) were pulling off an even bigger stunt.
Cameron had reduced the Party’s slogan to one word – “Change”. Whether this meant of underwear, sex, direction or things that jangle in a pocket was not clear. But it was enough (with help from Instant Coffeeman Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats) to get the Conservatives back into Downing Street.
News overload and internet maturity
By now, satellite or cable TV had enabled most Western voters to choose low-cost packages that included BBC, Sky, ITV, France24, CNN, CNBC, Bloomberg and Fox News. On top of this was the newly democratised online blogosphere along with full time independent commentators on YouTube….plus most of the MSM offering online versions in which analysis was minimal and drama obligatory.
All of this allowed Rupert Murdoch to deny he knew anything about phone hacking, Cameron to deny he had discussed the Sky takeover at Christmas lunch with Murdoch’s son James, Osborne to claim he was repaying the National Debt and cutting sovereign borrowing, rising Tory star Jeremy Hunt to declare (after illegally redacting 230 emails from a takeover Inquiry) that he had done nothing wrong, and media buffoon Piers Morgan to claim he had never hacked a phone in his life and woudn’t know how to.
All of it was false. Overall, the austerity inflicted on Britain by Osborne was (with borrowing rates close to 0%) a Page 1 error.
But the mainstream media got nowhere near it. And in 2015 (to his own surprise) Cameron won the General Election without needing Nick Clegg….and without most voters grasping that Clegg’s Party had behaved more like neoliberals than the Conservatives.