Broken Britain: How mainstream parties are dismantling the welfare state

(Reuters/David Moir)
Election coverage is an odd but predictable beast. While the electorate seeks clarity on key issues that matter to it, many voters have been bombarded with empty speculation, fluctuating polls and arcane details about politicians’ lives.

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Little has been spoken about the elephant in the room: the democratic crater at the heart of British politics that is dismantling the welfare state.

Analysis of the most divisive general election topics has been muted at best, while coverage of many defining issues has been virtually obsolete.

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Labour,the Conservatives, theLiberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party (SNP) may appear to clash over ideological divergences. But there was an unspoken consensus throughout the campaign race about which topics were worthy of debate.

The gaps in these general election narratives tell us more about Britain's democratic deficit than empty election pledges or City fear-mongering ever could. It is this black hole in the heart of British democracy that continues to compound inequality, undercut Britain’s economic recovery, increase poverty and erode the remaining fragments of Britain’s welfare state.

Corrupt and broken system

The first and perhaps most glaring omission from recent general election coverage is the fractured and corroded system under which Britons are expected to vote. Criticism of a tainted political funding system that allows gilded tycoons and firms to buy a system tailored to their interests has been sorely lacking.

And as polling day draws closer, calls for fiscal and financial reform are framed as dangerous populism, while corruption remains rife in the City, inequality continues to soar and Britain’s social fabric continues to collapse under the weight of ill-conceived public-private partnerships.

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As policy continues to operate in the interests of big business, little is spoken of the slow-burning social cleansing that rages through London’s pro-business pastures leaving single mothers and their children homeless in its wake.

Following a financial crisis that threatened to derail the nation's economy, mainstream parties’ rhetoric continues to gravitate between pro-business and business-as-usual politics. Some six years after the crash, impunity lingers in the face of widespread white collar crime and regulatory raps on the wrist continue to replace criminal prosecutions.

The City of London, the governance of which is enshrined in a medieval Magna Carta harking back to an era of serfdom, remains as unaccountable as ever. And then there’s a regressive tax system that continues to benefit the nation’s most wealthy individuals as Victorian-style poverty and inequality rage on.

Regressive taxes & tired narratives

While income tax levels in Britain are undoubtedly progressive, many dimensions of the UK’s tax system are not. The reality is that UK financial regulation is hardwired to aid wealthy tycoons in paying as little tax as possible.

The richest 10 percent pay 35 percent of the country’s tax take, yet the poorest 10 percent of Britons pay 43 percent. Critics warn this unjust situation plays out primarily because of regressive forms of taxation such as council tax and VAT.

An estimated 96 percent of Britons say they would like to see a more progressive taxation system. Yet such a system is yet to emerge, and Britain’s main political parties have failed to promise its arrival anytime soon.

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While Labour and the Greens highlighted the need for fairer taxation throughout the campaign race, neither party went far enough in laying bare the regressive nature of the status quo.

The mainstream contenders have also failed to adequately tax land and property. As the system remains firmly skewed towards the interests of a marginal elite, a pro-business, progressive economic climate has been sacrificed for a divisive two-tiered economy dependent upon Generation Rent and a steady upward flow of patrimonial capital.

Concerns about the kleptocratic nature of modern Britain have also failed to penetrate Fleet Street’s general election musings. And all the while, the power of elite executives to lay claim to vast channels of wealth they played no part in creating remains unchallenged.

As Britain’s mainstream parties play political football with the economy and National Health Service, the economic and regulatory fault lines that sparked Britain’s economic crisis have not been addressed. Economists’ warnings of another economic crisis in the face of volatile markets and economic uncertainty go unheard.

Climate crisis

Then there’s the most significant governance crisis of our times: the challenge of cultivating economic policies tailored to a finite planet with limited resources. Each of the major parties have committed themselves to unsustainable levels of economic growth, as the impacts of climate chaos become ever more apparent.

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Dwindling biodiversity across the planet, soil erosion, the prospect of resource scarcity and resource wars to come, the dangers of fracking and climate chaos, and the importance of transitioning to a low carbon economic model have been eclipsed by pro-business rhetoric bent on bolstering competition and attracting investment.

With mere hours left before the election, political debate has been confined to a neoliberal consensus that has dismissed progressive proposals for real change as hapless murmurings of the populist left.

Britain desperately requires a shift from the tired narratives that dominate mainstream politics, drive casino capitalism and entrench the boom-bust cycles that have coloured recent economic history.

But such a shift will not stem from banks, City boardrooms or business-as-usual politics. Rather, it will come from grassroots communities, campaigns and the revival of a collective political imagination committed to progress.

Once the election mayhem subsides on Friday, the real work of rebuilding Britain will begin.