As people in the US start to see the bankruptcy of the ideas and philosophy of the Tea Party, right wingers in the UK are planning the creation of a similar group. The immorality of severe cuts in public spending with its detrimental influence on the poor, disabled and marginalized in our society, is now manifest and being rejected by ordinary citizens represented by trade unions, faith groups, and progressives on both sides of the Atlantic.
The BBC (14 May 2011) reported that about 350 people demonstrated outside the Houses of Parliament in support of "government spending cuts and want more". The Guardian (14 May 2011) quotes one of the organizers as saying: "We are into freedom, small government, independence of the individual and low tax and low spending". Contrast this small number with the half million who demonstrated in March against public spending cuts, organized by Britain's trade unions, demanding the government find another way to deal with the deficit.
It is encouraging to see that people have woken up to the cruelty and immorality of punishing the poor and vulnerable in our society for the greed of bankers who brought society to its knees with their casino type form of banking. Banks predicated on the principle of too big and too important to fail had to be bailed out by the taxpayer to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars. The taxpayer then had to watch in disgust and awe at the effrontery of these bosses awarding themselves billions of pounds in bonuses.
When the Tea Party and like minded groups talk about cutting government spending even further, they are not talking about cuts in spending on wars and its destructive machinery. Oh no, they are talking about cutting it from the meagre amounts given to the disabled, the poor, the unemployed, those most vulnerable in our society. They never talk about priorities in spending; they never talk about the obscene income gap between the ultra rich and the poor.
The British Independent on Sunday (15 May 2011) presents the findings of the High Pay Commission that comprehensively demolish the myths associated with such astronomical salaries, such as "Big money is needed to get the best chief executives" or "without big pay packets executives will be lured abroad" "etc. Even the argument that pay rises are related to business success is a myth; "What about bumper pay for bankers that caused the crisis? Over the past 10 years, CEO pay has quadrupled while share prices have fallen".
"Chief Executives of FTSE 100 companies (top 100 companies in UK) earn on average 145 times the average wage. By 2020 they are expected to be paid 214 times the average wage". Deborah Hargreaves, the chairman of the commission said: "this is the clearest evidence so far that the gap between pay of the general public and the corporate elite is widening rapidly and is out of control". She continues: "If current trends continue, by 2015 the top 0.1% of earners will take home 10% of national income and by 2030 Britain will have sunk back to levels of inequality not seen since Victorian times". These obscene salaries in the UK are "significantly higher than the rest of Europe -- it is less than in the US, but its CEO pay is 170% higher than the rest of the world".
On the US, even Alan Greenspan, the ex-chairman of the US Federal reserve, acknowledges that there are serious problems in the way income is distributed. In an interview on the BBC in the summer of 2010, he said:
"This winner--take-all phenomenon has been particularly stark in the US, where, between 2002 and 2007, 65% of all income growth went to the top 1% of the population. Our problem basically is that we have a very distorted economy, in the sense that there has been a significant recovery in our limited area of the economy amongst high-income individuals". "Large banks, who are doing much better and large corporations, whom you point out and everyone is pointing out, are in excellent shape. The rest of the economy, small business, small banks, and a very significant amount of the labour force is in tragic unemployment, long-term unemployment."
Back in the real world of the disabled, unemployed and poor, Karen McVeigh in the British Guardian (10 May 2011) reports on a couple where the 72 year old wife is severely disabled and needs constant care. Her illness was considered so severe that overnight care was provided three times a week, which now the couple has been told, will be cut to two nights a week. Her 80 year old husband said "it does not sound much". I knew that every couple of nights I'd have a break. I could get some sleep. I do not sleep when they are not here because her breathing might go". The report continues, quoting a survey conducted by a group of charities: "Nearly one in four disabled and older people have experienced cuts to services and increased charges for care, with families pushed to breaking point".
Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian (14 May 2011) quotes the well respected Institute of Fiscal Studies, predicting "that government policies will push another 300,000 children into poverty". The article continues: "There are no mysteries about poverty, neither its causes nor its cures -- which are more jobs, more money, more education and more Sure Start. What works has been studied by researchers for a hundred years. We know it all, and yet we grow closer in inequality to America and further from the rest of Europe. The government's astonishing trajectory of cuts means that, according to Professors Peter Taylor-Gooby and Gerry Stoker, by 2013 public spending will be a lower proportion of GDP in Britain than in the US."
The curse of the special relationship strikes again and Britain feels obliged to follow the US, no matter what.
Other public spending cuts include cutting 100 pounds from the winter fuel payment (Guardian, 24 March 2011) given to pensioners in the UK. How can this be acceptable when estimates give the number of deaths among the old from hypothermia at 20,000? How can it be acceptable that many poor pensioners have to make a choice between spending money on food or keeping warm?
A measure of a civilized society is in the way it treats its most vulnerable. By that measure, those advocating the abandonment of the least able to the vagaries of the market are callous and cruel, and their philosophy will be rightly rejected by the majority of decent folk in our society.