Many working-class people have been encouraged to believe they have joined the bourgeoisie through various mechanisms employed by governments to promote homeownership. Their belonging is illusory, though, in those cases where the “ownership” involves a loan (mortgage) from a financial institution that can repossess their home if regular payments are not maintained. These people are now coming to terms with the hard reality that their stagnant wages no longer meet the increasing costs of food, energy and consumer durables. Most worryingly, with the Bank of England uselessly pulling the only lever it knows to control inflation and cranking interest rates up on loans of many times their annual earnings, their houses themselves are at risk.
The American Revolution began when George III determined that “the colonies” must bear the huge costs of the so-called Seven Years War followed by the war against Spain and France. He began to impose levies on goods sent to America and a range of punitive taxes felt by the Americans to be unjust, leading to widespread unrest and an increasing sense of American interests as separate from those of Britain.
The French Revolution began because France’s costly involvement in foreign wars (most notably the Severn Years War), coupled with the fecklessly irresponsible spending of King Louis XVI, left the nation’s treasury largely empty. The state’s habit had been to issue livre tournois, coins with no imprinted denomination, then declare their value by royal edict from time to time, arbitrarily changing the value of everyone’s cash holdings. At the same time living conditions for the masses were terrible. Drought had led to a scarcity of food, and the poor were expressing their dissatisfaction with a high-taxing government that provided them with no benefits.
Both these revolutionary case studies have a remarkable relevance today. This century we have fought wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya at vast expense. We have placed enormous strain on our resources in battling the SARS Covid pandemic – with at best mediocre results compared with other countries, thanks to political corruption and incompetence. Now we are expending vast resources to support Ukraine in its defence against Russia. Of course we don’t give Ukraine the money directly much of the time, so it represents a huge windfall to British arms manufacturers.
To depress the picture still further, the National Audit office recently reported that the government lost up to £58.8 billion to fraud in 2021 alone, almost 10% of the total tax take. Yet still the tax burden on the poor continues to increase, while the rich are treated ever more generously. This cannot continue for ever, whatever the Tories may think.
Britain claims to be a democracy (“a system of government by … all the eligible members of a state”), but relatively few of us actually feel well-represented in parliament. Given the above, and that the Prime Minister’s five priorities are transparently no longer those of the person on the Clapham omnibus, one is forced to ask the question, “In whose interest is the country being governed?” I’m reasonably confident a significant majority would have to answer “not mine.”
Ironically, the Tories are “taxing the poor until the pips squeak.” The British, even the traditionally tolerant (or, if you prefer, docile) English, can only be pushed so far. The pain is now rising up the economic scale, reigniting a sense of solidarity that has been conspicuously suppressed since Thatcher’s day. As Steve Bell’s “If …” might have put it, “Sell dead dogs, buy tumbrels.”