39 UP, UP AND AWAY
Without the edgy direction of David Fincher the movie Se7en would have been recognised and perhaps dismissed as familiar stodge. The plot even had the cool yet cynical detective visiting a library and searching for clues. Bring back Agatha Christie, all is forgiven. In Se7en, the director Fincher used endless and heavy rain to suggest modern nihilism. This summer we have the option of another metaphor for human folly. Around the world, people and the poor in particular endure exceptional heat and record temperatures. Brits loyal to the modern world soon stripped down to t-shirts and shorts. Couples put on matching baseball caps and carry into the nearest air conditioned and energy consuming shopping mall their exposed and often ruined bodies, all courtesy of their devotion to a ruthless food and drink industry. The alternative Fincher lashings of heavy rain still have a place. His definitely effective metaphor will return in the increasingly wet British winters. The problems with climate change and the environment are worth mentioning if only because the issue has been neglected by all the candidates for the leadership of the Tory party. Their bodies may be melting in the heat but neoliberal dreams persist in their steadfast hearts. No break then from an unregulated economy and pumped up consumerism. And no surprise. Without it how would the rich scavenge interest off the debt that the poor need to fill the cash tills.
Ex-leadership candidate Penny Mordaunt has something about her that suggests a no nonsense plain speaking and perhaps old-fashioned Tory. The steely grin does not persuade us that she is blessed with compassion but Mordaunt looks like a competent matron willing to intervene and sort the problems of others. Her politics may be just as dangerous as her rivals but somehow she is more likeable. If unwilling to accept the economic cost of addressing serious environmental issues, Mordaunt was the only candidate prepared to acknowledge that a wrecked planet was the price of maintaining a neoliberal economy. Asked to consider this dilemma the others just stared into polluted air.
Kemi Badenoch used to be a banker although she prefers to talk about a teenage student job when she worked at McDonalds. Whatever she used to be, Badenoch has been affluent all her life and remains a woman on the make. Badenoch is too busy living the neoliberal Hayekian dream with her banker husband to worry about anything. But the direction of the Tory Party is such that in the future she might be offered the opportunity to implement the full Hayek vision. Friedrich Hayek was the economics professor that said it was not important for a government to maintain democratic freedoms. The objective of politicians was nothing more than to ensure the market operated unhindered. The market would provide a functioning economy and that would be enough for the ordinary folk. It makes a certain sense. With right wing economics the only game in town, what is the point of political freedom? Leave it to the masters, said Hayek. Just how would a government ensure an unhindered market? Well, one could crush the socialists for a start and after that you could shut up the people that in 2022 think 9.4% inflation and an average rise in house prices of 12.8% deserves at least wage increases to match inflation. And rental charges are increasing faster than house prices, so full marks to Pritti Patel and her efforts to create a police state.
Hayek and Ayn Rand are the gurus or couple of nutcases that shape the modern Tory party. Anyone expecting the present floundering economy to raise doubts in these devotees will be disappointed. Forty years of neoliberalism in the UK not only failed to make British industry competitive as was promised, it halved the annual rates of growth in productivity and wrecked the infrastructure that supported the British economy. If anything, the followers of Hayek are as devoted as ever. Badenoch will continue to be a rising star. Mordaunt for a while looked a threat in the leadership contest but Paul Dacre, the owner of the Daily Mail, is not a fan. Penny Mordaunt became Dormant Mordaunt. The Tory party appears to be heading for the next nightmare scenario, party members choosing between anything but convincing Tony Blair soundalike Rishi Sunak and the empty headed Liz Truss, a woman more interested in tanks than Lamborghinis and dangerous in both.
The Hayek vision that has destroyed any common sense and Burkean responsibility within the Tory Party has inspired disenchanted non-Tory voters to promote an electoral alliance of the centre and the left. That way, they argue, the next election will at least provide a half sane alternative to the politics of Batman imitators. Yet in an odd way there is also a form of Hayekism in the Labour Party. Those in charge of Labour are more than willing that party members and even the voters sacrifice political freedom and hopes of economic and social reform. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves may spout the same neoliberal nonsense as Sunak but the good news, we are told, is that with her in charge we will not have a Tory chancellor. The alternative label will suffice. Blair preached the same message, and without ever being given the credit helped create the disenchantment that led to Brexit.
After two years of delay and hoping that a heatwave and a Tory leadership contest would be a distraction for the British media, Starmer has released the Forde Report. The findings confirmed that the supposedly pragmatic moderates of the Labour Party exaggerated the influence of anti-semitism within its ranks. They also resisted the attempts of the Corbyn administration to implement processes that dealt with the small numbers of anti-semitic incidents that had occurred. And if that was not enough, the right wing of the Labour party sabotaged the electoral campaigns led by Jeremy Corbyn. On the day the report was published, the Labour leadership was briefing the media with phoney conclusions that were the opposite to those outlined by Forde QC.
Thus the anti-democratic spirit of Hayek and the less than privileged position that he advocates for ordinary people has spread beyond the Conservative Party. Blair and Brown did not resist neoliberal economics, and Starmer has adopted the second Hayek principle. Trust the economy to feed ordinary people but deny them a voice. Labour Party members are entitled to a membership card but little else. Since Starmer was elected more Jews have been expelled from the Labour Party than ever before. The charge against them is antisemitism. Jews are welcome into the Labour Party of Starmer but not those that refuse to be uncritical of the existing bad-news and right-wing Israeli government. The Forde report recommended that Jewish Voice for Labour be involved in developing anti-semitism training. Starmer had sight of the report two years ago, His response has been to expel members of Jewish Voice for Labour whenever he can.
The impulse behind an electoral alliance has many causes but it is now popular on the left because some hope it is the only way a government and the British people will even hear left wing opinions. After the disasters of the last twelve years an electoral alliance of the left deserves the opportunity. But we should not be too optimistic. The Tory Party resists proportional representation for general elections but saves the best for its own leadership contests. Majority right wing votes from Tory MPs with the help of a form of proportional representation in the early rounds have ensured the redistribution of right wing support and the elimination of Mordaunt and Tugendhat. The support from Tory MPs for Liz Truss was modest. A decent majority of MPs do not rate the woman but the right wing swell that had supported other candidates has lifted the boat of Truss. She has also the backing of the Daily Mail and the bookies make Truss the favourite to be the next prime minister. No doubt the heat is having an effect but it feels like UK politics is trapped in a conservative cul-de-sac. Rather than provide escape routes Vacant Starmer is leading us into a never ending neo-liberal loop that resembles groundhog day. No wonder there is apathy. Nothing in the political system is attracting electoral participation like votes for strike action.
Never to be forgotten and future senior statesman Pfeffel has, though, mentioned the heatwave and future environmental catastrophe. He compared the atmosphere that surrounds the earth to a tea cosy. Why search for a metaphor when banal similes are on hand. The remarks of Pfeffel were never likely to be taken seriously, especially as he added the compulsory rider that the environmental efforts of the UK were, like everything else done by his government, world beating. The legacy of Pfeffel is being defined by the soundbite that he ‘got the job done.’ The truth is that he has left Britain in a much reduced state. His remark about the supreme efforts of his government to improve the environment choked more than the fishes in British rivers that are swallowing buckets of sewage. The concern of Pfeffel for the environment also followed a jaunt high in the sky in a RAF Typhoon fighter jet. Inside the cockpit, wag Pfeffel took a photograph of himself giving a thumbs up to his mates and the people he had failed as prime minister. And so it goes. The appetite of the British for public school oafs has to be fed. We have just seen from Pfeffel what must be the ultimate in selfies. The best Jeff Bezos could do was a photo and an interview after his return from being fired into space, an experience that made Bezos put on a cowboy hat and pretend he was John Wayne. Back to British minimalism. Seeing that familiar English thumb erect against a clear British blue sky, the behaviour of Pfeffel as prime minister now makes sense. Blessed with power and authority, some rule and are inspired by a vision of a better world. Pfeffel had different ambitions. He posed for endless photographs and stored selfies. How gratifying it all must have all been for a man compelled to satisfy excess vanity.
Howard Jackson has had thirteen books published by Red Rattle Books including novels, short stories, travel books and collections of film criticism. His latest book Long After This is now available here.