Memo from Devon – 7

The people of Axminster are a tough and resilient lot. The town, named after its truly beautiful church, was not long ago threatened with the closure of its carpet factory, in spite of the Axminster name being world famous for precisely that kind of merchandise. What Axminster did was to get together and fight, and the factory remains open to this day, even if isn’t working to quite the capacity it was.

Now Axminster finds that its local hospital is in danger, and rather than give up with sheer weariness, the people are up and fighting again. To what effect remains to be seen. One of the arguments of this particular lot of ‘cutters’ is that caring for people at home is both better for them and more cost effective, and while there is a certain logic to that, one of the obvious reasons for having hospitals in the first place is they contain sophisticated treatment equipment which people’s homes don’t have. It’s also difficult to avoid the suspicion that the caring at home argument is just one more smokescreen and disguise for those whose real agenda is to squeeze public services to the point where people will pay for something else out of sheer desperation.

I am not a spokesperson for Axminster, nor do I have detailed knowledge of the political views of those who are seeking to keep the hospital open, but it seems to me symptomatic of the country’s increasing disillusion with the so-called ‘austerity’ agenda of the present government.  Even if there is a spectacular lack of politicians with the political guts to talk about raising taxes, or politicians willing to risk contradicting the current Europhobia by pointing out that almost every country in western Europe pays a higher proportion of taxes for public services than we do, another way of dealing with ‘austerity’ might be to take a decent slice from the £40 billion the private sector awarded itself in bonuses last year, or perhaps the £74 billion companies paid out in shareholder dividends.

As it is, eight hundred years after Robin Hood was supposedly taking from the rich to give to the poor, we’ve got George Hoodie taking from the poor to give to the rich. It’s not much of an advance in social justice for eight centuries, is it?

Apart from ‘austerity, austerity, austerity’, the other repeated mantra of the Conservatives, which we will no doubt be hearing a lot of in the months leading up to the election, is that the present deficit is the fault of the last Labour government. I’m not a member of the Labour Party, or any other party for that matter, but I know well enough that the 2008 financial crisis was a direct result of the Americans lending lots of money to people who were never going to be able to repay it, with the consequence that every single country in the western world, up to and including the U.S.A., was forced to run up huge deficits to re-finance their banks. To pin the blame for all this on the British Labour Government is so transparently absurd that it seems quite incredible that so many people do seem to believe it, but then, the Conservatives work on the basis that if you repeat something loud and long enough, people will come to believe it.  And our supposedly neutral political commentators are remarkably reluctant to question it. ‘Tell me, Mr. Cameron, if your party had been in power, what exactly would you have done in the American-induced 2008 world financial crisis?’ Do you remember ever having heard that question being asked of him? No, neither do I.  Odd, isn’t it?

One of the consequences of austerity, however, might not be so much to the Conservatives’ taste. History has shown, time and time again, that austerity leads to political extremism. This particular bout of austerity has given rise to UKIP, with the all-too-familiar identity of austerity-created parties which attempts to find people (other than themselves, of course) who can be blamed for economic and social problems – in UKIP’s case, immigrants and pro-Europeans, in spite of the fact that the former are probably the main reason why the economy in general, and certainly the NHS in particular, have not completely fallen apart, and the latter are attempting to preserve our prime business market. UKIP are now well on track to win their first parliamentary seat. From the Conservatives. Your austerity doggie has turned round and bit you in the bum, hasn’t it, George?

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