None of the major parties in the UK have had the courage to tell the electorate the unpalatable truth. They act as mere middle managers or public relations officers, somewhere between their masters in global banking, energy cartels and military-industrial establishment and the hundreds of thousands of minion bureaucrats in the UK`s non-productive public and private sector institutions. It takes relatively little research to expose their presumed facts and figures. Indeed what should surprise us is not their apparent disagreements on issues such as Britain`s adoption of the Euro or immigration controls, but their agreement on the continued need for economic growth by injecting more virtual cash into an economy that has long ceased to produce more than a small fraction of what it consumes.
Over the last 13 years Britain has experienced its biggest collective spending spree in history. We may look back nostalgically at the monuments and urban infrastructure of Victorian Britain, erected over a period of some 70 years when the country`s industry not only led the world, but could exploit the resources of a huge empire. Yet the UK`s national debt didn`t really figure until the great depression of the late 1920s. In the aftermath of the seconds world war, the US had amassed such a large surplus it could easily bail out much of Western Europe to fuel growth and give rise to a new age of mass consumerism. It may seem ironic, but without huge government intervention through fiscal stimulus packages, direct subsidies, nationalisation and social welfare, mass consumerism would never have spread beyond the affluent upper middle classes.
Unlike previous splurges, Britain has gained little in lasting infrastructure. We have literally squandered 1.3 trillion of the country`s personal debt on holidays in the sun, property trading and 60″ plasma TV screens. Most recent extensions to the country`s rail and rapid transit network were planned back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, yet owing demographic growth in the Southeast of England and increased commuting as people are forced to buy houses further and further away from their place of work, road and rail networks are bursting at their seams. To accommodate a rising population and smaller households, property developers have littered the countryside with suburban sprawl composed of compact houses designed to last 30-40 years requiring more roads, plumbing and wiring. Superficially, much of the country still has vast expanses of greenbelt, farmland and pastures. In reality it relies on natural resources from abroad to temporarily support current levels of aggregate consumption. Everything from vegetables to bottled water, electronic gadgets to coal, timber to steel, plastic utensils to fridges or cars to ships are imported to the birthplace of industrial revolution, in effect exporting pollution. Arm-chair human rights activists may bemoan the working conditions and exploitation of the Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese or Eastern European labourers who actually produce the goods we consume, but would they get out of bed for less than £5 an hour, let alone the derisory pay packets of the millions of virtual slaves who enable us to party like there were no tomorrow? Left-leaning Guardian-readers tend to live in a bubble, in which their non-productive service-sector earnings are exchanged for real goods labelled fair-trade, organic or environmentally-friendly and inspected by wishful-thinking corporate compliance officers.
The same government that bleats incessantly about climate change promotes economic growth and the globalisation of production. They may talk about investing in public transport, but rely on advertising revenue from automotive multinationals. The Blair years will be remembered as the final act of a 60 year experiment in mass consumerism, the age of 60″ Plasma TV screens, people carriers and 4×4 off-road vehicles in suburbia, cheap Ryanair flights ferrying young Brits to stag or hen nights in Eastern Europe as well as for the commercialisation of the Internet and a national obsession with re-enactments of warfare and gangster violence. An age when absurd thought-suppressing political correctness coexists with disrespect for the uncool and widespread moral depravity, drunken binges and deregulated gambling.
Rather than champion Blair as a great democrat or human rights activist, future historians will view his fervent support for US/NATO military intervention in the context of depleting fossil fuel resources. Whether the recent consumption binge will trigger catastrophic climate change or not, sooner or later we will be confronted with the harsh reality of limits of growth on a finite planet and will need to readapt to a more humble localised existence. New Labour left future generations with a cultural vacuum, unsustainable material expectations, a huge debt and a woeful shortage of practical hands-on skills.