Last week, in his latest budget statement, the Tory Chancellor George Osborne unveiled a program of cuts in public spending. The cuts represented the most draconian of their kind ever embarked on by any British government since the World War II.
Some GBP 30 billion (USD 50 billion) in savings are to be wrenched from social welfare entitlements and other public services, such as health and education.
This economic blitzkrieg is on top of the GBP 80bn (USD 130 billion) austerity barrage that the dubiously-elected Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government had earlier rolled out two years ago (recall that neither of these parties has a popular mandate from the 2010 British election).
The result? Austerity is here to stay in the United Kingdom, lasting until at least 2018 and more likely beyond that year. It is a shocking peremptory order when you think about it. The people are being told, “Poverty is your miserable lot and don’t even question it.”
In turn, the grim result will be blighted lives. The bottom half of British society is being forced to carry the burden of Britain’s record national debt levels – a debt that was imposed by its financial oligarchy in order to pay for its decades of looting and parasitism.
It truly conjures up a callous image of modern Britain and its ruling class. The lower orders are being stamped on and kicked in the teeth by the privileged wealthy in order to buoy up the sinking ship that is the fetid British economy.
Permanent austerity is just another way of saying “class war.” The British ruling class has given notice, through its mouthpiece chancellor, that war is now openly declared on the majority of workers, unemployed, pensioners, infirmed, and students. To be fair, the so-called opposition Labor party offers no alternative as it too has become a derisory servant of the rich.
While the top one percent of wealthy and corporate elite is lavished with tax subsidies, the majority of people will pay for this largesse through enforced material hardship, sickness, and death. When pensioners, for example, are forced to turn off their home heating this winter in order to scrimp some savings to pay for basic food items many more of these elderly will die from hypothermia and deprivation. That is the heinous reality behind all the glib economic statistics articulated by Osborne in the British House of Commons last week as he pontificated, “It’s a hard road, but it leads to a better future.” (Yes, it’s hard road all right for the millions of poor who are cushioning the millionaires like Chancellor Osborne.)
Meanwhile, it was rather apt in the same week that a separate report showed that Britain and the United States military have together launched some 1,200 drone strikes over a five-year-long period to date. These strikes have occurred in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Undisclosed information may well show that Britain has also participated in known American drone attacks elsewhere, such as Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.
According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, British forces are playing an increasing role in assisting America’s worldwide drone assassination campaign. With countless thousands of deaths from such aerial attacks, it is a stark reminder that Britain – along with the US and other NATO powers – is in a state of permanent global war. A state of war that, like its economic austerity at home, seems to have no end.
The primary cost of these drone strikes and wars are the millions of innocent lives obliterated. Over a million in Iraq alone, 20,000 in Afghanistan, and countless tens of thousands elsewhere.
But let’s look at the financial cost of Britain’s permanent state of global war. In dollar terms and for the UK only, the bill for its 13-year-long illegal occupation in Afghanistan ending in 2014 is reckoned to reach USD 33 billion; while that for Iraq and Libya is calculated at USD 16 billion and USD 430 million respectively.
The total financial cost for just those three military adventures is approximately USD 50 billion. That sum is equivalent to the cost-cutting in public spending unveiled last week by the British government.
The brutal irony is that Britain’s reign of death and destruction abroad is to be paid for by a reign of death and destruction imposed through austerity on its own population over the next six years.
And just like the enforced economic austerity, there seems to be no end in sight to Britain’s warmongering around the world. While the British government claims that it has no money to pay for pensioner fuel bills or unemployment food stamps, it nevertheless somehow can find the financial wherewithal to fund armed groups in Syria to the tune of USD 80 million. These are the same groups that are trying to subvert the sovereign government in Damascus by killing thousands of Syrian civilians with no-warning car bombs and raiding villages to massacre women and children.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague has been one of the Western politicians calling most vociferously for increased foreign-backed criminality in Syria, although, the plumy-accented Hague does not put it in quite those stark terms.
Last week, Hague claimed that he was privy to secret information purportedly showing that the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad were preparing to deploy chemical weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, according to his twisted logic, Western powers must launch a military attack on Syrian immediately. Tellingly, Hague could not reveal any specifics to support his threadbare scaremongering and warmongering pretext.
But the point is that the British government is itching for yet another bloody imperialist adventure, in Syria, to add to its already long list of war crimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. And this is at a time when the British population is being bludgeoned with economic austerity.
The seeming contradiction in the British government’s policy is not a contradiction. It is entirely consistent. The military war on hapless foreign populations is but an extension of the economic war that is being waged against the majority of Britons. This is the function of capitalism – the exploitation of others for the benefit of elite rulers. It has always been so, but in this time of history, it has become transparently so.
This is not unique to Britain, of course. We see the same perverse logic and priorities being played out in the US and elsewhere in Europe. The French and German governments, for example, are crying poverty to their populaces, yet these same governments are readying to deploy drones in Mali and Patriot missiles in Turkey.
However, one thing is for sure: Economic and foreign policy run on the basis of inflicting suffering and death is doomed to fail. It is digging its own grave. Sooner or later the corrupt rulers will fall, or preferably be pushed, into the graves they are digging.