Pluralistic: 23 Aug 2022 Tory UK is in serious trouble

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The Brexit 'battle bus' on a background of flames. In the foreground are two poor, filthy Victorian children. In the bottom right corner is the logo of the British Conservative Party, a tree with a Union flag.

Tory Britain is crashing and burning (permalink)

After 43 years of Tory policies (including the 12 years of Tory-lite Blairism), Margaret Thatcher has been vindicated – there truly no longer is "any such thing as a society." As Thatcher predicted, "there are individual [ultra-rich] men and women, and their families [whom they pass vast inheritances on to]."

To get a sense of just how truly fucked the UK is, start with Charlie Stross's dissection of the omnishambles ("omnishambles" is a Made-in-Britain forerunner to "polycrisis"):

In the midst of Europe's worst drought in 500 years, the UK is particularly hard-hit, with staple crops (carrots, potatoes, onions) facing failure – potato yields are down 50% (!).

Inflation is out of control. If you believe the Citibank estimate, it'll hit 18.6% by January. If you want a rosier outlook, follow the Bank of England, who say it'll be a mere 13%.

This has driven the pound to a ten-year low against the US dollar, which is driving up import prices from one of the few major trading partners the UK has left, thanks to Brexit.

Speaking of Brexit! The incompetent, lying philanderer who became PM after lying and backstabbing all of his Tory rivals sure "got Brexit done." He was spectacularly bad at it and eventually his own party had enough of him. Boris is a lame-duck PM, and he's popped off for a leisurely foreign holiday while his party decides who'll get the job next.

So effectively, the country has no PM – and it also has no one to serve in his stead, since Boris sidelined his deputy, the ghastly Dominic Raab, on his way out the door. It's not just the PM's office that rudderless – a wave of scandal-driven ministerial rejections have left key ministries without leadership.

Brexit is the gift that keeps on giving, lopping 6% off the UK economy. The promised red tape reductions haven't delivered good news for UK small businesses, which are failing at the rate of knots.

What has Brexit delivered? Well, it led to deregulation of the water system (which Tories had largely privatised), permitting water companies to flush raw sewage into Britain's rivers and coastal waters, rendering them unsafe to swim in. To be fair, even if they wanted to treat the sewage, they'd couldn't, because Brexit stopped water-treatment at the border.

There's runaway energy prices everywhere, but Britain's version is extra-special, with energy contracts coming in at 400-1000% higher than last year, triggering a wave of small business closures. Care homes are warning that they might have to turn off the heat this winter.

But even if they manage to keep paying their bills, it might not help, because energy experts are forecasting unscheduled, UK-wide rolling blackouts this winter. The Tories' backup plan is to import energy from France, Belgium and the Netherlands, these being three countries that are slowing or halting energy exports.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has proposed re-nationalising the energy companies (36% of Scots households are headed to fuel poverty by October). The Tories have categorically rejected this, which is great news for anyone hoping to convince Scotland to leave the UK.

Tory rule – starting with Thatcher's airdrop of the nation's stock of public housing – destroyed the nation's capacity to supply housing to working people, and what affordable housing remained was turned into deathtraps after it was sheathed in highly flammable cladding.

Conservative ideology has produced a country that can't provide shelter, or food, or water, or energy. But what about healthcare? The NHS is OK, right?

Yikes. England's NHS – a patchwork of underfunded public providers and hollowed out, private providers – has suffered from worsening annual winter crises for years. This year's winter crisis arrived early – in the summer, with overflowing A&Es and hospitals out of beds.

A key goal of Tory rule has been suppressing the wages of working people, smashing unions and coming up with wheezes like zero-hour contracts and wage-theft schemes like making up servers' pay out of their tips. British workers were already one bad beat away from losing everything, and 10% inflation has pushed millions over the brink.

Not all workers are broke! This year, average executive pay for FTSE 1000 companies has risen 39%, to £3.4M.

Unsurprisingly, this has precipitated waves of strikes: rubbish collectors are out in Edinburgh, as are criminal barristers, whose wages and staffing have been cut, starving the justice system to the point where criminal cases are taking 708 days to be heard in court.

Also striking: dock workers, London transit workers, and, maybe, everyone, as a general strike movement gains supporters across the country. A new generation of labour leaders, exemplified by the incredible Mick Lynch, are filling the void left by Starmer's Labour party:

What will the Tories do about this? Liz Truss is the presumptive next PM, who will attain that office thanks to the votes of a minuscule rump of registered Tory party members.

Liz Truss is a fucking terrible human being. As Marina Hyde writes, she's the perfect leader for "a country whose own sewage laps at its shores."

What will Truss do? Well, for one thing, she'll ban strikes, which will obviously do wonders for labour conditions. She's got an energy plan, too – she's going to make it much harder to install solar and wind.

Pensions are being devastated by inflation. A third of the country can't pay its monthly bills. The Tories have no answers. Their best answer to the polycrisis is drumming up culture war nonsense about "wokeism." That's actually slightly better than their main strategy, which is to suggest that poor people should just get better jobs:

Starmer's Labour has abandoned any kind of politics aimed at materially improving the lives of working Britons, firing shadow ministers who join picket lines, and refusing to breathe support for nationalisations, public housing provision, and deprivatisation of the NHS.

With or without Labour, working people and the left in the UK are rising up. It's not just picket lines, either. There's mounting support for a payment strike, with the Don't Pay UK organising a million people to refuse to pay their energy bills effective October 1. Hilariously, the Financial Times has warned these people that they will damage their credit ratings if they do:

The poorest people in Britain are forced into pay-as-you-go metering, paying the highest energy prices. Meanwhile, the private energy companies who were handed public infrastructure on the cheap by Tory leaders who promised "private sector efficiency" are making out like bandits.

For hard numbers on the UK cost-of-living crisis, check out Richard J Murphy's roundup in The Independent, whose headline tells the whole tale, really: "It’s now impossible for the average worker to live decently in Britain."

Murphy starts by noting that the Office for National Statistics's official after-tax income figure for average households is wildly inflated. The ONS puts the number at £31,383, but the true figure is £23,500, which has to cover £2k in National Insurance and £800 in "near-compulsory" pensions.

Rents in the UK average £1,100/mo (£13k/year), while Council Tax averages £2k, water is £400, and a family mobile service comes in at £1k/year. Add £300 for broadband and £2k for energy (a figure that is shooting up as you read these words).

Then there's a car (£3k/year), food (minimum £100/week for a family, or £5k/year), and you're at £26k/year. That leaves £5k/year for clothes, Christmas gifts, and a holiday.

No surprise that most UK families have no savings and carry heavy debt burdens. Tory voters were promised a better life for their kids. Instead, they've got nothing. Less than nothing, really, when you factor in debt.

Payment strikes are increasingly common around the world, proving Michael Hudson's maxim that "debt's that can't be paid, won't be paid." There are a lot of unpayable debts, thanks to the role of consumer debt in funding the past two decades of economic expansion.

From the capital classes' perspective, debt is a great way to fund expansion, since it means that the economy can grow even as wages stagnate, and consumer loans can be packaged as financial products that deliver a steady return, allowing people who have money to multiply it without producing anything.

So payment strikes are hitting China, home to a regional mass-scale mortgage payment strike, hitting 320 property development projects. 28% of China's top property developers have renegotiated their debts or defaulted altogether:

Meanwhile, in the USA, Biden steadfastly refuses to make good on his promise of unconditional student debt cancellation. Instead, he's dribbling out means-tested, complex, partial cancellations that no one loves – especially not the young voters who'll have to show up and vote in the midterms if the Dems are going to keep the House.

Abandoned by the Democratic Party, student debtors are organising themselves independently, with Strike Debt leading the way with their own payment strikes.

For more, check out Naked Capitalism's roundup of payment strikes by Nick Corbishley, who also notes surging support for Mexican water-bill strikes, amid skyrocketing water prices, accompanied by water privatisation and sweetheart deals for foreign companies like Coca-Cola:

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

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#10yrsago The Dictator’s Practical Guide to Internet Power Retention, Global Edition

#10yrsago China’s one-percenters make ready to take the money and run

#10yrsago German copyright trolls will single out cops, Arab embassies and clergy for accusations of porn downloads

#5yrsago Longread: what will it take to re-decentralize the web?

#5yrsago Jury would not convict white militiamen who aimed guns at federal law enforcement officers

#5yrsago Local council requires Grenfell survivors to bid against each other for new homes

#5yrsago Small town Uber driver quits, launches a one-driver rival

#1yrago The secrets of hospital bills: What do you call a "market" where no one chooses the services or knows the prices?

#1yrago What kind of emergency is our emergency?: Kim Stanley Robinson on the structure of feeling of this perilous moment

#1yrago The Unraveling: Ben Rosenbaum's stunning debut novel

#1yrago Podcasting "Disneyland at a stroll": Winding up my series on "amusement parks, crowd control, and load-balancing" (for now)

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

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