For the first time in two generations, Brits have real choice in the forthcoming General Election on June 8. On the one hand they can continue with business interests as usual, which threaten the liberty and even the lives of many people. Alternatively, socially progressive options are on offer, galvanizing a grassroots engagement seldom seen during U.K. elections.
Seven years of the incumbent government is killing Britain in numerous ways. Removing the society’s safety nets through austerity is leading to poverty, suicides, and even starvation. The Conservative Party is tearing Britain apart; its imposition of Brexit and other English-centric policies for the richest have pushed Scottish independence and Irish reunification as ever more attractive escape routes.
In a basic sense, the Tories have trashed the British economy for the majority. Public and private debt have ballooned in the last seven years, and along with them, widespread inequality. These factors sparked the last financial crash, and they could cause or intensify the next global crash.
Not only that, British democracy and liberty has withered as Britain becomes ever more authoritarian, shown by the erosion of freedom of speech, civil liberties and press freedom, and the rise in racism and inhumane responses the country shows its refugees and migrants.
In an ever more fragile global ecosystem, the Conservatives are also driving on the same oil consumption speedway as Donald Trump. They undermine the green energy revolution while pushing fracking and other dangerously dirty energies, such as lobbying for tar sands.
When it comes to global security, the story is again one of the Tories shooting themselves in the foot — or at least giving the bullets to their enemies. An example is their alliance with Turkey, not to mention Saudi Arabia. Turkey is actively attacking Kurdish Rojava, the strongest anti-ISIS force in the world. At the same time, Britain is aggressively moving away from Europe through Brexit. This is yet another cliff the Tories are trying to throw the country from.
A simple reason lies behind these complicated processes of self-harm: money. Conservatives work for the vested interests of the few, where destruction and even death, suffered by the many, are mere side-effects. They have created an economy that does not tax or regulate the super-rich, but allows them to profit whatever the social and environmental costs. Their economy amounts to death by a thousand cuts.
At their core, the Conservatives have intensified a class war against the majority, something interwoven through English history for nearly 1,000 years. The Tories stand for a small number of people’s direct interests. Amazingly, they are still a popular party even among those whom their policies threaten. Opinion polls and recent local elections project that they will command enough votes to win June’s General Election. But this is not the whole story. A grassroots resistance is growing.
The reality is that many people who are suffering, and will suffer, from Tory policies are still expected to still vote Conservative next week, just as they did in 2015 and 2010. Strong parallels can be drawn to Donald Trump’s base, where he found — and continues to find — support among those who will suffer most under his authoritarian version of cruel, hyper-capitalism.
A narrow explanation for how Trump got to the White House — and how other far right ideologies like Brexit have become normalized — is the rise of populism. But look closer and something else is even clearer: billionaires, more than anyone, has encouraged the trend. As Occupy.com reported last month, an interconnected web of corporate interests is behind the rise of racism and climate denial that laid the ground for both Brexit and Trump.
These divide and rule tactics could enable the economic and political system to continue in a more authoritarian direction. But what is interesting, and hopeful, is it that another world remains possible. A glimpse of this hope lies in next week’s British election.
The election differs greatly, of course, from the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It is what could have been, had Bernie Sanders run against Trump. Comparing the policies of those opposing the U.K. Conservatives, it is arguable that these far surpass Bernie in terms of rebalancing society for the many, not the few.
The main U.K. opposition Labour Party released its manifesto last month. Highlights include rebalancing inequality by increasing taxes on those earning over £80,000 per year, and making corporations pay tax. In turn this money will be used to rebuild welfare, rescue the National Health Service, stop punitive cuts to benefits — including attacks on disabled people — and fund other socially progressive schemes.
Labour pledge to re-nationalize the railways, energy and Royal Mail. To solve the escalating housing crisis, they promise to build 100,000 council homes. Student fees at universities will be scrapped. On the environment, they will ban fracking and pledge to make Britain run on 60% renewables by 2030.
When it comes to foreign policy, Labour have avowed to stop the policy of shoot first and ask questions later. Instead they will halt arm sales to Saudi Arabia and shift Britain’s direction as a key player in the global war machine.
Of course, this would not be the final word on bringing about social justice. But as an opposition manifesto, it is almost unprecedented in modern British history. The corporate media has attacked the plan, comparing it to the tumultuous 1970s. But perhaps it is more like 1945, when Labour came to power and built the NHS.
Another interesting element is that the Scottish electorate has already been offered many of these commitments, and some are already in place. Through devolution, the Scottish National Party has enabled free education. Scotland leads the world in renewables. It has curbed the worst impositions of Tory cuts.
This is not to say Labour will win on June 8, although the SNP are likely to maintain an overwhelming majority in Scotland. Alongside the ever-growing Greens, these progressive parties are fighting against the entire establishment, backed by the billionaire press and its control of the media arsenal. But what is striking is the polarized nature of this election. The harsh reality of five more years of Tory governance versus a socially just political transformation is galvanizing grassroots engagement. From alternative media to roadblocks, and from tweets to rallies, people are mobilizing to change the outcome next week. We shall soon see how well their efforts pay off.