The coalition’s radical right-wing economic agenda flouted basic norms and inflicted immense harm in the processby Chaminda Jayanetti / July 30, 2019 / Leave a comment
There has been much talk since 2016 about how Brexit has wrecked Britain’s political norms—with the disregard for truth and evidence, the conspiracist attacks on democratic institutions, the lack of concern for the national interest, and the support by leading politicians for a policy they know will cause harm.
It is true that the post-referendum attacks on judicial independence by Paul Dacre’s Daily Mail were well outside the norms of British politics, and sought to drive public discourse to increasingly extreme paranoia. The executive and legislature resorted to increasingly chaotic chicanery as Theresa May attempted to drive through her Brexit deal, with parliament’s procedural conventions contorted beyond precedent by activist Speaker John Bercow.
There is a risk, however, that declaring 23rd June 2016 some kind of Year Zero of British political disintegration obscures what went before—indeed, such declarations smack of a view that everything was going swimmingly until the Leave vote.
It was austerity, not Brexit, that first tore up the accepted norms in British politics. We don’t know exactly how many people have died as a result of austerity. We know of suicides by people who’d had their benefits cut or refused. We know that life expectancy in the UK has stalled for the first time, though nobody is quite sure why. A study linked austerity to 120,000 deaths between 2010 and 2017—although such bold assertions have their critics.
The exact number of people who have died primarily due to austerity is unknown, and impossible to measure. But people died because of austerity. And it was predictable, and predicted, that cuts to benefits and to local government—the product of policies the government trumpeted from the rooftops—would have that effect.
This sort of talk is often dismissed as “shrill” by a certain kind of smug insider, who finds talk of poverty and death a noisome intrusion on the important business of gossiping about Westminster intrigue.
But the shrillness is warranted. Government policy came with a domestic death toll, complete with numerous publicly documented examples as the benefit system imploded. Many of the deaths were the result of the suffering that these cuts and sanctions imposed, as a supposed incentive to encourage people into work.
Previous governments had of course demonised and targeted particular sections of the population—immigrants, miners, single mothers, the unemployed. But for a British government to…