By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
20 September 2012.
It is Party Conference Season
No, put away that shotgun.
Party Conference Season is typically an opportunity for chest thumping, self-congratulation, claret slurping and table dancing.This year, it is clear the Party Conferences will kick off the next general election campaign, arguably the first general election campaign in a post Apocalyptic Era.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for the economy or democracy.
The Liberal Democratic Party Conference convenes 22 September 2012.
It’s leader, Nick Clegg, faces a declared rebellion. Party fortunes are at a low ebb. Other than among die hard party loyalists Nick Clegg is most kindly appraised a Don Quixote. Some consider him a Chamberlain. The Party has been cast in public imagination as the Party that snatched irrelevance from the jaws of the historic moment, betraying its promises on every major policy position of interest to the public, for the sake of maintaining its place in office. The truth no doubt is more complex, but complex truths are like Shakespeare’s “the good men do” from Julius Caesar. Rebels move to replace Clegg with Business Secretary Vince Cable.
The Tory Party Conference convenes 10 October 2012.
It’s leader, David Cameron also faces a declared rebellion.
The Party trucked out former PM John Major and former Defence Secretary and Thatcherite darling, Ian Fox, to debunk on BBC the notion of replacing Cameron.
Tory Party Chairman Grant Shapps attacked London Mayor Boris Johnson specifically as unqualified to be Prime Minister. Although Johnson regularly denies the rumours, rumours persist he prepares the way to challenge Cameron. It isn’t clear whether Johnson or rebels or both fuel these rumours. But a recent poll produced interesting results. With Johnson as Leader of the Conservatives and Milliband leader of Labour, Labour only leads Conservatives by 1 point at a time when a Milliband-led Labour leads a Cameron-led Conservative Party by a solid 9-10 points minimum.
Is the rebellion really serious? Or is the Conservative Party positioning itself to jump ship and look out for itself? Conservatives deny they intend to jump ship. Conventional wisdom advises against it. But Conservative Party Chair Grant Shapps began actively recruiting potential Tory candidates, declaring openly on Twitter it is time to prepare for the General Election. Subsequent attempts to qualify the implications by reference to the scheduled election date have done little to dispel the speculation.
The Labour Party Conference convenes 30 September 2012.
Ed Milliband does not appear to face a declared rebellion. His party rides relatively high in the polls. A Times Poll this week shows Labour gaining 4 points, springing to a 15 point lead over its nearest rival.
One must hasten to remind anyone in eyeshot that this could be an “outlier.” Two subsequent polls are more in line with a solid 9-10 point lead.
But in any case it is clear the increased popularity of Labour does not spring from the magnetism of its Leader. The same poll shows that despite the Labour lead the majority of the polled favour Cameron over Milliband as Prime Minister.
Rather, the shift in the Times poll coincides with an apparent if unannounced change of economic policy at the Times. The Times recently warned the government in crystal clear language that the government risks a lost decade if it doesn’t change economic course. Just prior to the Times Poll, the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) issued a similar warning. The CBI represents major British business interests.
Where is “The City”?
Is business just nudging Conservatives or about to bail in favour of playing “kingmaker” with Labour?
If it is, it is not likely good news for the beleaguered British advocates for the disabled, poor, workers, education and the NHS, or their even more beleaguered constituencies.
“The City” playing kingmaker promises to skew Labour’s energies toward self-centered priorities that favour “The City”- fueled by panicked self-preservation. Panicked self-preservation doesn’t compromise or consider the greater good. Panicked self-preservation prefers a weak leader who will do its bidding.
A "post Apocalyptic Era"?
Whether or not the shifting loyalties bring Labour to power (and with or without Ed Milliband), Labour, the Times, the CBI & the country have an uncompromising challenge ahead. Political convenience & conventional wisdom do not change economic or social reality. Economic reality confounds simple solutions. All spin, all grand rhetoric, all betting on a rising tide if only one waits long enough, all falter and fail. Only results count. There is no appetite for wait and see.
The real economic challenges are staggering.
The supply of workers willing to work greatly outstrips the need for productive work to meet the actual demand for products and services. Real wages fall. Real prices increase. As real wages fall and companies shed Full Time salaried workers for Part Time hourly wage earners or “independent contractors,” aggregate wages shrink further. In short, no money no buy. No buy, no jobs.
One can argue this is the product of a bottleneck accentuated by the vast divide between wages in the developing nations and those in the developed, magnified by neo liberal “free trade” and “competitiveness.” The solution for the problem-- if indeed it is the problem-- is not cutting wages in the developed countries. It is raising wages in the developing countries while holding them steady in developed countries in order to generate increased demand. However, I can just hear the “yeah, that’ll happen.”
In this interrelated world the next simple solution, the reinstitution of trade barriers, falters against the realities of global economy and indeed global danger. Leverage has shifted to the developing nations. Whether or not some of this can be clawed back without triggering a major war, the fundamental nature of the shift in leverage will not change without a serious fight of uncertain outcome.
Sustainability and the Population Bomb?
It may be we all face a more fundamental issue than economic bottlenecks in a world capable of sustaining perpetual growth. The demand-- and indeed the need-- of the many outstrips the resources to provide. Population outstrips depleting resources. Malthus and Paul and Anne Ehrlich no doubt agree.
I don’t know whether I embrace inevitability, but sometimes it does seem we live-- without recognizing it-- in a “post Apocalyptic” world. We don’t recognize it because “the Event” is a slow motion implosion rather than violent & sudden explosion(s). Whether or not the outcome is inevitable, the challenge is real.
Keeping it real, keeping us democratic
Presenting the situation as post Apocalyptic may help us understand the stakes and challenges we face. An Economist’s classic “Competing for the scarce resources” hardly seems to cover the ground.
Political leadership must more than just manage expectations if we are not to descend into the much imagined post Apocalyptic free-for-all. Political leadership must manage balance. It will not work any better than “austerity” and “competitiveness” worked to find some other PR phrase, say “predistribution,” to keep the “little people” at bay while leaders preserve the position of a miniscule minority of “winners” in a vast sea of disillusioned, outraged “runners up.” The runners up already see themselves as having little to lose.
Whomever runs for office in the first true General Election of the post Apocalyptic era, they must present the public withhope they can trust, change in which they can believe. It would be a fundamental-- and possibly cataclysmic-- error to once again lead the public down a rose garden path, only to be proven to have misled them as to one’s intentions, policies, personal self-interest, associations, and capabilities.It will not work for the public to discover Labour in bed with, for instance, G4S or ATOS, or Rupert Murdoch.
It is my own view that we will not achieve the requisite balance in economic pain and gain, expectations, or security unless and until the political elite abandons the absolutist neo liberal paradigm to embrace the balanced and pragmatic pluralism behind the old New Deal. Details can be worked out, but a focus on the common good cannot.