UK in search of its own Mandela

UK in search of its own Mandela

Much has been said about the “statesmanship” of Nelson Mandela. It is a word few would dream of applying to the narcissistic western politicians who appeared so grotesquely eager not just to attend but to be seen to be attending the late South African leader’s funeral.
Nowhere perhaps is there a sorrier sense than in the United Kingdom that this is an age of political dwarfs pathetically unequal to the towering challenges of the day. At Christmas 2013, the UK is a land more riven by inequality than at any period in modern times, with a shaming upsurge of poverty and homelessness that, coupled with invidious “reforms” of its welfare system, is tearing at the social fabric. Yet in Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, British people possess a shallow leader who often seems less concerned to address the plight of the disadvantaged than to signal his affiliation to Britain’s celebrity culture.
With no particle of statesmanship in their make-up, Cameron and his cabinet routinely conduct government on the basis of diversionary tactics and outright fabrication. Cameron’s self-satisfied colleague, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, boasts that Britain is enjoying the fastest growth of any advanced country; he exults that the economic damage done by the previous Labor government is being reversed thanks to his unswerving commitment to fiscal austerity. Yet almost certainly the main cause for Britain’s recent growth is that the chancellor has stimulated a boom in the housing market with a government-backed “help-to-buy scheme,” which has precipitated a spurt of consumer spending. Not a few independent analysts believe that Osborne’s “recovery” is founded on little more than the resumption of the reckless lending that plunged the British economy into crisis in the first place.
In truth, the boom in the housing market is largely confined to the south east of England. On top of this, first-time buyers in London whom the government purports to wish to help are being priced out of the market by overseas investors who are amassing property holdings in the British capital on an unprecedented scale. The deepening housing crisis is bound up with the gung-ho commitment of successive British governments to the free market. It is decades since Britain had what could be properly called a national housing policy. While London property values have been allowed to shoot up to ever- dizzier heights there has been little more than a token effort to build the 300,000 new homes per annum the country needs. The housing shortfall has become all the more severe because Britain has received 4 million immigrants during the past 15 years and because, in addition to a property market boom, it is now also experiencing an enormous baby boom, much of it comprising children born to immigrant parents.
These fears are more than usually acute at present, with Britain, under EU free movement of labor legislation, facing an influx of imponderable numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians in 2014. Cameron is especially mindful of the issue because the hard-right United Kingdom Independence Party led by the smart populist politician, Nigel Farage, is proving hugely attractive to disillusioned Conservative Party supporters who warm to Farage’s determination to press the government to hold an early “in/out” referendum on British membership of the EU.
Following the 2015 UK General Election, a Cameron-led government or a successor government will almost certainly be obliged to vouchsafe a referendum on Europe. A referendum on whether the people of Scotland wish to remain part of the UK will in any event take place in September 2014 — one in no small measure inspired by furious resentment in the northern part of the UK at being ruled by a high-handed London political establishment. It is even possible that before long the UK will not just cease to be part of Europe but also break up internally, with its core nation, England, reduced to being the biggest part of a political entity otherwise composed of Wales and Northern Ireland.
It is ironic that pro-EU British politicians in the 1960s believed that entry into Europe would stop their nation from drifting into peevish, self-defeating insularity as it parted company with the worldwide empire over which it had long presided. In many ways, Britain’s involvement with Europe has had precisely the unhappy effect such politicians were anxious to avert. Still, many young men and women are far from sharing the xenophobic mentality of older Britons obsessed by the Second World War and paranoid that Germany might once again seek to subjugate the rest of Europe.
Maybe its recent settlers will one day shake the UK out of the poisonous cynicism and negativity that is engulfing it. It is from among them if anywhere that there might yet emerge the fresh intelligence and imagination that its present political culture so abysmally lacks.

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