We have 25 food banks here in the North of Ireland, because a significant number of people cannot afford to eat. (Stormont’s politics suggests that MLAs will probably debate having separate food banks for Protestants and Catholics)
OH dear, what happens now? David Cameron has gone home and the local parties have finally realised that instead of arguing about the flag on Stormont’s roof, they should have been checking that the institution had a solid economic fundation.
The flight of the English earls from the Belfast talks shows that what passes for politics here has little relevance in the real world of public sector finances and what was called the construtive ambiguity of the Good Friday Agreement has, inevitably turned destructive. The parties forgot to ask who would pay the bill. The agreement was signed in 1998 under a Labour government, which the political parties assumed would show a benign economic attitude towards our social and economic difficulities here. But by failing to include any social or economic references in the agreement, they apparently assumed that there would always be a Labour government and that it would always be benign. It was a huge error because it tied Stormont to the prevalent ideological model at Westminister. Since 1979 that model has been increasingly right wing. So the peace process effectively arranged to catapult us from a 1960s welfare state into what is now advanced Thatcherism. (They call it re-balancing the economy.) In fairness, no-one in 1998 could have foreseen the collapse of capitalism and the role of the Irish and British states in bailing out failed banks. The subsequent economic extremism of David Cameron’s government could not have been imagined then. However, it was increasingly clear that Blair would continue Thatcher’s (pictured right) abandonment of government’s responsibilites to its citizens. For example, seven weeks after the Good Friday Agreement, Tony Blair transferred the power to set interest rates from government to the Bank of England. No-one here cared much. It is a bit late to complain about Thatcherism at this stage. We now find ourselves hitched to a model of largely unregulated capitalism, in which Apple and Google pay practically no UK taxes, while 1,000 teachers here face redundancy. Of course, it is disgraceful, but by the time of the St Andrews Agreement in 2006, it was clear that British politics had swung significanly to the right. The role of government in society was declining. Few here noticed because, they believed, Stormont would always be wrapped in financial cotton wool. Anyway, few cared, because the economic boom had convinced us that we did not need a government if we wanted to own several houses. So the parties apparently believed that international capitalism would be the best driver of our economy, based largely on the fickle nature of foreign direct investment. They ignored the fact that capitalism produces inequality, which hinders economic growth, as evidenced by a recent report from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Greed is economically inefficient, but it is the basis for David Cameron’s economic policy. As a result we now live in a society in which our Attorney General has accused the Bank of Scotland of “criminal fraud”. Meanwhile, we have 25 food banks here, because a significant number of people cannot afford to eat. (Stormont’s politics suggests that MLAs will probably debate having separate food banks for Protestants and Catholics.) This echoes the one million people in Britain who now rely on food hand-outs. Tory peer, Baroness Jenkin, suggests that part of the problem is that the poor do not know how to cook. (With respect, your ladyship, a more shocking problem facing the poor is that, unlike, the rich, they do not have servents to do their cooking for them. Imagine that.) It is hard to know if the Stormont parties did not recognise the changing economic landscape at Westminister or just decided to ignore it. Either way, they are now paying the price for their sectarian bun-fight, apparently oblivious to the increasingly harsh financial conditions in the real world. Their main economic policies of anyone who will prop Stormont up financially. (The rest of us can go to food banks.) That is why the parties asked for more money. The time to ask for it was in 1998 or 2006, not in terms of simple cash hand-outs, but in terms of developing a sustainable economic model based on state investment in education, research and development, information technology and infrastructure. Stormont was built on what were called special political arrangements to take into account our special political conditions. It was the wrong call. What we needed were special economic (not just financial) arrangements. It is a bit late now because the British state no longer does that sort of thing.
With many thanks to: Patrick Murphy, The Irish News, for the orgional story.