Breaking Point

Everyone has one. Everything has one. People, objects, companies, societies. The important thing is not to go past it. If a person goes past the breaking point, it generally results in a nervous breakdown, unemployment, or prison. If an object goes past it, you’ll need to find the superglue or similar. If a company goes past it, one of two things has usually happened – either their business model was flawed enough that it couldn’t handle changing conditions and they’ve gone bust, or they’ve been treating their employees like shit for too long and now there’s nobody there who actually knows how and why things work. When a society goes past the breaking point, it pretty much only means one thing – that those in charge have been caught being fuckwits, bastards, or both, once too often, and the people who cop the fallout (usually the majority, and never those in charge) are not going to take it any more.

Syria. Libya. Egypt. Yemen. Tunisia. Bahrain. Some of them ended quickly and (fairly) peacefully, others led to civil war. The causes, many of which were common between them, included lack of freedom of speech, lack of political freedom, high unemployment, government corruption and cronyism, food poverty, and oppressive authoritarian action by the state. Where have we heard that before? Ah yes, in France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Ukraine, and Brazil in 1848. Those didn’t result in wholsesale change to the way things were, but they did have a lasting effect on the effected societies.

What other commonality is there? The fact that mainland Britain appears to be unaffected. There is a difference, however – in 1848, Britain, being the first industrialised nation, and the first modern nation with an effective parliament, was ahead of the game. It was leading the way in voter reform, parliamentary regulation and openness, labour laws, and so on. The Reform Act of 1832 and the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 served to lessen the peak of indignation at the inequality permeating Europe, and the only “revolutionary” activity of 1848 in Britain was a large and peaceful protest march from a park in South London to Parliament where they presented a petition for parliamentary reforms which the people of modern democracies now take for granted.

However, there is a bloody big difference between 1848 and 2010 onwards. The difference is that Britain has not been a world leader for some time. In 1848 Britain was at the heart of the world’s largest Empire, was the richest nation on Earth, and the major religious values of the day were charity and honesty, which were seen as positive and in need of propagation by rulers and ruled alike.

In the last few years, Britain has had one of the slowest economic recoveries in the world (compare Iceland, which had much worse problems caused by the financial meltdown, and had one of the fastest recoveries due to the fact that the government refused to bail out the elite who had crashed their economy), the government has enacted legislation (often hiding the relevant clauses in amongst minutiae and small print of draft Bills) that has enabled the rich to get richer at the expense of the poor getting poorer (the “Bedroom Tax” is basically a subsidy to landlords), has either arranged or done nothing about backroom deals that artificially inflate the price of essential infrastructure and services (re-privatising the east coast main line, agreeing to fix electricity prices for power generated by a new nuclear reactor at vastly over the odds for 20 years), has ignored laws that it doesn’t like and decided that they never existed in the first place (workfare), has ignored scientific evidence it doesn’t like (bees vs insecticide, badger culling), has ignored reports from respected independent international bodies that state many of the systems they have enacted are unfair and/or unjust (Work Capability Assessments, “Bedroom Tax” again), enacted legislation to silence critics (“The Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill” – it should be called “The Protection of Corporate Lobbying and Silencing of Legitimate Political Debate Bill”), and systematically pruned the welfare state with the excuse that it was welfare spending (increased by fraudulent claims) that caused the financial meltdown in 2008 rather than bankers lending money they hadn’t got to people who couldn’t repay it.

It’s elementary logic that if you need to pay off a debt, you don’t cut the ability to pay. The government is heavily in debt, and is claiming to be trying to pay it off, but their policies are having the opposite effect. Instead of creating jobs with a living wage, so that more people have more money coming in, so that more people can be taxed, so that that tax can be used to pay off the debt, the government have implemented policies which necessitate companies cutting jobs and wages, so less people can be taxed, and cut out-of-work and in-work benefits, so that the people with not a lot of money coming in have even less of it, which means that there are fewer people able to be taxed. And they have done nothing to balance the books by raising taxes on those more able to pay, or close tax loopholes, or ensure payment. Benefit fraud and overpayment total just over £3bn, and there are 3,000 people employed to investigate this. Tax avoidance and non-payment, particularly by companies, runs to something like £120bn, and yet there are only 300 people investigating that.

This country is close to breaking point.

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