Friday, April 20, 2018

The "Windrush" scandal, racism and British identity: the real meaning of the "hostile environment"

Is it possible for someone to live in a "Fascist" state without realizing it?

It all comes down to a matter of perspective. Some talk of how societies in the same country can live "parallel lives", completely ignorant of the other's way of existence. In this way, those who have a law-abiding life free of everyday concerns can be blithely unaware of how the government creates hardships and denies basic rights to others in society who are equally law-abiding, but are for some subjective reason, targets for persecution.
In the most infamous "Fascist" state, Nazi Germany, the hate and withdrawal of human rights that the government held for some sections of society such as the Jews was overt. Partly, this was due to the extreme ideological conditions that were created out of the Great Depression; in such circumstances, people were susceptible to the easy blaming of scapegoats in society. In the case of Fascist Italy, the Nazis' ideological predecessor, the "hate" was somewhat more nuanced, and the withdrawal of rights from some in society was more gradual.
In both cases, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were regimes that had come about through "revolution", albeit via the ballot box. Thus, their extremist ideology was a known quantity, and an overt part of their motivation. In this way, the population knew what the regime was going to do to "undesirable" segments of society, and knowingly supported it. In a similar manner, Apartheid South Africa dealt with its black population by considering them effectively as (to use the Nazi term) "Untermensch", whose legal rights were automatically less than the whites. The separatist regime in white-ruled Rhodesia had a similar mentality, even if it went about it in a more nuanced manner.

The treatment of the "Windrush" generation in Britain is not on the same level as these earlier examples, and may not be overtly racist, but their treatment is discriminatory and an abuse of their rights nonetheless. There is no government rule stating that people of a certain ethnicity and circumstance will have their rights withdrawn, but rights have been withdrawn nonetheless. It might not be government design that has led to certain segments of society having their rights withdrawn; but some segments of society have had their rights withdrawn nonetheless. These are not people who have broken any law; they are people who are seemingly random victims of government "persecution".
The law, however, is never random; it is only the seemingly random nature of the "persecution" that makes it appear that way. When a government decides to implement a law that reduces the rights of segments of society, for whatever reason, its motivation is overt. When a government makes a rule that disproportionately reduces the rights of one segment of society, how is this not persecution?
The British government's "hostile environment", while overtly introduced to reduce illegal immigration, has also reduced the rights in an similar manner to those of the "Windrush" generation. Apart from that, many law-abiding foreigners now live "parallel lives" to those Brits unaffected by, and seemingly ignorant to, the reality of the "hostile environment". This is the new reality that has meant rights that were previously protected are now uncertain, where the authorities are more likely to trust the word of a crooked (or paranoid) native than that of a victimized foreigner. Equally, punitive visa rules now mean that those Britons who have non-EU spouses are exiled from their own country unless they have well-paid jobs.

The application of the government's malice appears random, but in fact targets the poor, the disabled, the non-white and the foreign. There is a reason why wealthy, educated "Aryan"-looking individuals are far less likely to be victims of the authorities' wrath, and why poor, illiterate "foreign-looking" people are disproportionately more likely to be victims. It is not "institutional racism" by law; it is the government allowing personal prejudice to determine how segments of society are dealt with. In such circumstances, government officials, public sector workers and others are left to subjectively determine if someone is "worth the risk" of being given the benefit of the doubt. With the "hostile environment" meaning people no longer have the "benefit of the doubt", prejudice and not wanting to take the risk means the law-abiding are losing their rights. This conduct is typical of that seen in authoritarian states, where rule of law is seemingly arbitrary, and human rights unequal.
This is certainly the case with how the "Windrush" generation have been dealt with by the British government, whose rights have been taken away arbitrarily, without the government even openly aware of it. They have literally become a "forgotten" part of society; in a Kafkaesque way, erased from government records. While the Nazis persecuted the Jews by design, the "Windrush" generation have been "persecuted" by ignorant neglect.

This ignorant neglect extends to all of the various segments of society mentioned before: the poor, disabled, foreign and non-White. It is a telling observation that many of those outside of Britain, in a stereotypical manner, see the country almost as a whites-only country. To outsiders' eyes, Britain becomes almost as "Aryan" as Germany was to the Nazi stereotype. This kind of lazy prejudice seems to now have infected the mindset of even those who live and were born here: British identity has become white identity. Anyone who is British and non-white becomes, by extension, not "really" British. Anyone who is British but has foreign connections or foreign interests is, by extension, not "really" British.
This mentality is what lies at the heart of Theresa May's insular, parochial and mean-spirited vision of Britain. This is what lies behind her criticism of citizens of the world being "citizens of nowhere". This explains her enthusiasm for creating a "hostile environment". While it is never overtly stated that the Britain she wants to restore is the one from her childhood, it is implied through all the rhetoric that her government uses. The point is that she doesn't need to state it overtly for it to be understood implicitly. It is an implicit hostility to the poor, disabled, non-white and the foreign. The "hostile environment" is a glimpse into the twisted, inner psyche of Theresa May.

It is this "implicit" culture of hostility that is what everyone in society has subconsciously registered. The culture of hostility that existed in the far-right regimes mentioned at the beginning was was overt and sanctioned in law. The "hostile environment" is not in the statute books written as such, because that would be too insensitive for today's times. Instead it is put in terms that make it seem simply a rigorous application of existing rules.
This is how the vast majority of society would be unaware even of its existence. As how those affected by its insidious effects can appear random and thus not actively "discriminated against", it is easy for those outside its grasp to think that nothing was wrong whatsoever.
This is why the question at the very start was asked. If nothing was wrong with how things appeared, how would the average person be aware of the reality?

This is where the media has a role. It is the media's role to report the news and issues of the day. But if those in charge of the media have an agenda of their own, how can the average person know the difference between "agenda" and a more objective truth?
The "hostile environment", it should be remembered, was largely a media invention that was then pursued by Theresa May and her government for selfish, political interests. She did not do it because she truly, deeply felt that foreign immigration was a threat to British security. She did it gain favour with influential media moguls and advance her own career.

One wonders when she was talking years ago about the "Nasty Party", that she wasn't really talking in some way of her own inner demons. Those petty, reactionary tendencies she once decried are the same ones that now guide her. But one suspects they always were, and that once she had a taste of power in the halls of government, it was impossible to restrain them. May's relationship with the hate-filled right-wing media and her elevation to the queen of the "Nasty Party" brings to mind the story of the protagonist in Klaus Mann's novel, "Mephisto".
In leading the Home Office in the way she did, and introducing the "hostile environment", she has sunk Britain into a kind of moral pit, with everything else about the administration she now leads falling into the same misanthropic mentality.













Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Psychopathy in politics: callous indifference versus deliberate harm (1)

It could be argued that there are two kinds of psychopathy, and two different manifestations of the behaviour.

First, there is what may be termed the psychopathy of "callous indifference". This is psychopath that has an aim, and will achieve that aim regardless of the cost to others. The aim is the only thing that matters, and those that get in the way only have themselves to blame if they get hurt. At the extreme level, there are historical figures like Stalin, who ruled the Soviet Union with complete callous indifference to the fate of its population. He had a plan for the country, and no-one would be allowed to get in his way; if that meant millions of Ukrainians dying of starvation, or millions of others being killed and imprisoned by the government during the "terror", so be it. This even extended to his own family.
At the more mundane level, there are criminal gangs and the mafia, who get rid of people who are a "nuisance". Similarly, there are "white collar criminals" who will break the law and ignore regulations in order to make a profit. These are all manifestations of "callous indifference".
When it comes to government, there are governments ruled by those who have an aim, and are prepared to carry out that aim regardless of the cost to any innocent individuals caught up the government's scheme. It takes a large amount of callous indifference from government when they are shown real-life innocent individuals whose lives have been wrecked by government decisions, to still continue with the same aim regardless.

Second, there is the psychopath that perpetuates deliberate harm. This is the psychopath who (to use the British legal phrase), with malice aforethought, deliberately decides to do harm to others. His aim of deliberate harm is to "punish". An obvious historical example of this is Adolf Hitler, whose hatred of the Jews led to his conscious decision to try and wipe them out.

The focus of this article is on the first type: callous indifference, and how this is manifested in everyday politics.
Below, we'll look at some examples of government policy in contemporary Britain that could be construed as actions of "psychopathic" callous indifference.


Britain's "austerity" government" - a modern "case study" in callous indifference

The British government's policy of "austerity", enacted since 2010, has been its guiding principle. The idea, on the face of it, was to bring Britain's finances back into an even keel after suffering during the financial crisis. Explained in straightforward terms of "balancing the books", this garnered a lot of public support, at least initially. But this simplistic explanation masked the hidden truth.

The austerity agenda has pervaded all aspects of government, from local government services to the police and armed forces, the welfare system and public services. With local government budgets cut by up to fifty percent in some cases, this has had a predictable and devastating effect on social care provision, with this having a cascade effect on mental health services, the elderly and so on. The surge in the number of homeless people is inevitably tied up with the fact that those in need of help from the state are simply being left to fend for themselves due to the lack of resources now provided by the state, with the predictable result that some have become the homeless "refugees" of the government's austerity agenda.
The "reforms" to the welfare system, enacted mainly under the watch of Iain Duncan Smith, have had a similar effect. From the introduction of Universal Credit, to the earlier changes to how disability was assessed, has meant that every reason humanly possible is being provided to withdraw funds from those in need. With a regime introduced that assumes that those asking for welfare are "fakers", coupled with one that creates an internal working environment where those working under the system not meeting targets under risk of losing their jobs, there is a culture of fear, both on those in need and those assessing that need. Those working for the state apply the rules rigidly for fear of official retribution; those who suffer the consequences of these rules can fear for their very future.
This culture of fear is deliberate. The fear created is systemically no different from that which has existed in authoritarian regimes; the only difference is the extremity of application. It is a fear borne of insecurity, that nothing and no-one is to be relied upon, and one small change can bring personal disaster. It has the double effect of dissuading some from even attempting to gain welfare that they are entitled to, while those who are on welfare live in constant fear of some small accidental event (like missing an appointment because of an unreliable transport network) resulting in a "sanction". The ultimate result of this can be being cut off from state support completely, regardless of the consequences.
While the government's aim of the austerity agenda may not be to punish sections of society deliberately, the "hidden truth" referred to earlier is that the idea is to deliberately reduce the size of the state. It takes a large amount of callous indifference to ignore the fact that this would have a seriously detrimental, even dangerous, effect on some segments of society. But the government doesn't care, because its aim is reducing the size of the state, regardless of its effect on society.


Theresa May's "hostile environment"

It takes a certain kind of willful ignorance of the lives of others to think that creating an immigration system designed with an inbuilt assumption of "guilty before innocent" is going to only punish the guilty. Whereas in the past, Home Office officials were allowed a fair degree of leniency about how stringently they enforced the rules, under Theresa May's watch as Home Secretary, this turned into the "hostile environment". This meant officials were to follow the rules to a tee, for fear of bring reprimanded or sacked. Those applicants who, for whatever reason, failed to provide the correct documentation, were to be denied. There should be no exceptions.
One early example of this was when the rules were changed around five or six years ago, so that only those British subjects who earn a high enough salary in Britain are allowed the right to live with their non-EU spouses and children in the UK. These rules are among the most punitive in the world, certainly in the developed world. This is a rule of such basic inhumanity that it has created "skype families", or has simply meant that there are a segment of British subjects with families that are forced into exile from Britain; due to government policy, some British families are unable to live in Britain.

Now the recently-highlighted status of the "Windrush generation" has shown the cross-over of the "hostile environment" and the "austerity" agenda. In the case of those who arrived to the UK from the Caribbean fifty years ago (around half a million, by some estimates), the only documentary evidence of their arrival was on their landing cards from decades earlier. But thanks to the Home Office's necessary "downsizing" in the first months of May's tenure, these documents were all thrown away for want of space in their new location.
Now these people can no longer prove when they entered the UK legally, as the documents were discarded by the very department that later on would need them to prove these people's rights. In this sense, the government has made them "non-persons", whose rights have been literally thrown in the trash.
You could call this sheer incompetence on a mammoth scale, but that would ignore the deliberate necessity for those in charge to assume that the people affected by this would all have other means to prove how long they had lived in the UK. But, in the absence of any national ID card system, the government itself only recognizes a small number of historical documents in such cases, as those in charge ought to know. This was why those landing cards, as anachronistic as they are, were so important (as well an indictment of the government's lack of proper systems). Because the government's own method of recording historical data is so haphazard and chaotic, without a British passport or UK birth certificate to properly declare your nationality, it's often difficult to prove your own identity over a period of decades. In this way, the onus is put on the individual to somehow have to hand a huge sheaf of documentary records proving his rights over decades, as the government itself simply has no organised historical system of records worthy of the name. This is nuts, but this is "the system". As said before, government officials would know this.
The fact that officials discarded those people's documents without question can only be seen as an act of callous indifference, that leaves the rights of those people affected up in the air. In effect, they have no rights, at least compared other British citizens, as they do not have the documents to prove it; the government threw them away. And being up against a Home Office that is no longer allowed to show leniency in special cases, how can they prove what rights they are entitled to?
Government assurances that these people will be treated fairly are facile and worthless, as the only way to ensure these people's rights would be to change the law on the government's "hostile environment", which is politically unthinkable. And this still does not magically bring back documents the government have destroyed.
The government has shown time and again it can never be trusted to "do the right thing", as the default setting of the system now in place under Theresa May is one of callous indifference that has aims and targets to be reached, regardless of the cost to those innocents caught in its trap, whose rights are removed arbitrarily. Just be thankful if you're not one of them, I suppose?

The callous indifference of the "hostile environment" also turns landlords, employers, hospitals and schools into virtual immigration enforcement officers in their own right, as they are now legally obliged  - under fear of government sanction - to check the status of who come under their orbit. The "hostile environment" has created a society of spies. What this means in practice is that those people even suspected of being illegal immigrants can be caught in this web of paranoia and prejudice. This is one way how those of the "Windrush generation" discovered their rights had been removed; by, for instance an employer or hospital checking their records and discovering (thanks to government actions) they're "not on the system".
The "hostile environment" has thus allowed basic racism and prejudice to re-emerge, where Britain is heading back to the hateful culture of "No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs". While the government might blithely state that only the guilty have something to fear, the realities of this involve wary landlords denying tenancy to people that "seem foreign", while more unscrupulous landlords house foreigners in unsafe (and illegal) tenancies, with the tenants too afraid to report them. The same is true for the public sector, where staff are now meant to check the status of anyone they suspect i.e. who "seems foreign". While Theresa May's idea was to create a "hostile environment" that made it almost impossible for illegal immigrants to live in the UK, the reality is that this now applies in much the same way to many foreigners in general, and even some Brits as well.

The British government's "austerity" agenda, coupled with its "hostile environment", are thus two examples of callous indifference that can be seen in politics. This is what happens when the mentality of the psychopath enters government: an unflinching bureaucracy of fear.









Sunday, April 15, 2018

Brexit, revolutionary parallels and the "Batman" analogy

Some commentators have called Brexit a kind of "revolution"; this blogger has referred to it in the past as a kind of "coup by stealth", and there is plenty of evidence to support this view. A small faction of one party, supported by actors outside of the official political process, hijacked the machinery of state to enact their own narrow agenda, regardless of the lack of popular support for it in the population. Under the colours of UKIP, what was initially thought of as a kind of "popular uprising" in the ballot box, has transformed into an agenda that seeks to destroy almost everything most people recognise about the modern British civilisation. In this sense, to use that common lamentation: the revolution had been betrayed! Those that saw leaving the EU as an opportunity to make Britain a more just nation were always bound to be left disillusioned in the face of much more powerful interests that wished to use Brexit for their own amoral purposes.

It was always bound to be so.
The author has long been a fan of the director Christopher Nolan, in particular his take on the "Batman" story and its symbolism. In the guise of the Joker, Nolan created a persona that was the archetypal anarchic, nihilistic psychopath. In the wider story of the "League Of Shadows" that appeared in the first and last of the "Dark Knight" trilogy, Nolan had created a narrative of a secret group that wished to use Gotham as a moral lesson on the rest of the world, where its moral decay would be "purged". In sense, as explained in the video here (talking about the character Bane in particular), Nolan takes the many historical lessons and examples from past revolutions such as the Jacobins in France or the Bolsheviks in Russia. Others have compared Nolan's narrative in "The Dark Knight Rises" to the contemporaneous "Occupy" movement, though Nolan himself said this was just coincidental; he simply uses characters like Bane to explain how revolutionary ideas and rhetoric have always been used as instruments against perceived moral corruption, and how the "cure" has always turned out to be worse than the "disease".
The story of the "The Dark Knight Rises" is also a case-study in how interest groups (such as the industrialist, Daggett) can inadvertently become vehicles for extremist agendas, such as Bane's. Brexit is simply a real-life example of the same commonly-found narrative.


"It doesn't matter who we are. What matters is our plan"

The anti-European movement in Britain had been a vehicle for political change since the Maastricht Treaty of twenty-five years ago. This had brought together a variety of people with different ideologies, and it should not be forgotten that when Britain first joined the then-EEC it was the Labour Party that was most skeptical about greater ties with Europe; this view only changed gradually, until the roles had been reversed with the Tories by the time of the Maastricht Treaty. This meant that, although it was usually right-wing Libertarians who were making most of the running on the anti-Europe agenda (and were the ones behind the creation of UKIP), there were still other elements that were attracted to the cause for their own reasons, who blamed the EU for their woes.
The rise of UKIP from a fringe movement twenty years ago to one that (briefly) dominated the political agenda can be explained by the deliberate diffuseness of its appeal. It was Nigel Farage's charisma that held the party together and saw it appeal to greater numbers of the disillusioned. At one point referring to his party as a "People's Army", Farage appeared as the ultimate anti-establishment figure, even though he was a privately-educated man of "The City" with a strongly Libertarian agenda.
The fact that Brexit's Libertarian agenda has outlasted the political fortunes of Farage and UKIP tells us about how the movement has become much more than about one man or one party. To paraphrase the Bane quote at the head of the paragraph, it doesn't matter who's in charge of Brexit; what matters is the plan. As long as the plan is carried out, nothing else matters. This is what makes Brexit seem more and more like an ideological kind of self-sacrifice, that ought to be implemented no matter what, regardless of the cost. For their moralistic version of purity to be reached, the corrupt status quo must be purged, even if they destroy Britain as we know it in the process. Maybe that's one reason why some wags refer to the ideologues as the "Brexit Taliban". They have a plan, and they can't be reasoned with.


"Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you"

Brexit was only possible because of years of political complacency from the establishment. David Cameron, in an act of supreme arrogance, assumed that he would easily win a referendum on the EU, and thus put the issue of Europe to bed for a generation at least. In being part of the EU for more than forty years, the pro-EU establishment had considered the arguments for being a member of the EU to be virtually self-evident. Since the defeat of the Tory "bastards" in parliament during the Maastricht Treaty debate, the issue of the EU had been settled for twenty years. They were thus were ill-prepared against an opposing side that not only had the better rhetoric, but also were better organised and had greater self-belief. Like the Bane quote at the head of the paragraph, the establishment had forgotten how to fight for their ideas.
In the "Dark Knight" trilogy, Bruce Wayne symbolises establishment values, but by the time Bane and his revolutionary agenda appear on the scene, he is unprepared, and is defeated by Bane (at least temporarily). This can be seen, on a one-on-one scale, as an analogy for all populist and extremist movements that have threatened the established order. In the past, they were movements such as Bolshevism and Fascism, but in the modern era, these movements have been personified across the world in different parts of Europe and Asia through populist "strongman" regimes and ideological agendas. They have only been allowed to flourish due to the weakness and complacency of the existing order.


"Do you feel in charge?"

Once the referendum was won, Theresa May took political control of the process by becoming an acolyte to the cause. After first of all taking the Conservative Party into the same realm as UKIP in the party conference, this then resulted in not long afterwards declaring that the UK would also leave the single market and customs union. It should be remembered that few of the leave campaigners actually were calling for this during the referendum campaign; they saw no reason to leave the single market in itself, as they saw it would damage Britain's economy. However, as Nolan's narrative in "The Dark Knight Returns" demonstrates, the agenda of one cause can quickly become mutated into a more extreme "pure" version. So, after the referendum May's government became enthralled by the agenda of "Hard Brexit", whereby the people with the real power behind events made their presence felt.
This is how interest groups like "Legatum" (and the ERG in parliament) have become the people really running the government's Brexit agenda. While how, using the quote in the heading above, Bane mocks Daggett to demonstrate who's really in control of Gotham, it is in real-life the "moneyed interests" in Brexit who have the final say, who look at those disparate, amateurish groups that naively supported the referendum campaign with such disdain. UKIP had its moment in the spotlight, but was really nothing more than a pawn, a vessel, that the "moneyed interests" could use to get what they wanted; once it had served its purpose, it could be discarded like political trash, and has been. Nolan demonstrated this point in the film with how Bane dealt so casually with Daggett, whose money and infrastructure had been so important for him, until they weren't. The Bolsheviks in 1917 Russia dealt with the short-lived Liberal Kerensky government in much the same way, overthrowing it once it had ceased to be useful.


"Take control of your city!"

In "The Dark Knight", Bane sees himself as Gotham's "reckoning", to put a definitive end to the city's moral degradation. As all revolutions may be called a sort of "reckoning", Brexit has been seen by some of its advocates as a similar kind of moral "reckoning". It is seen as an opportunity to reset the agenda and put right many of Britain's wrongs. The fact that such thinking is naive at best is immaterial. Britain has many things wrong with it, but a "reckoning" is not the right way to go about it, especially when there are so many opportunists who are more interested in using the potential chaos for their own ends. Some might welcome the possibility of the system collapsing around them, but most of those that do are not doing so for altruistic reasons.
The "reckoning" that Bane presents in "The Dark Knight Rises" is a false revolution, not with greater morality but with even worse immorality. He explains this to Bruce Wayne; how Bane would offer hope to poison the city's soul, by letting them doing absolutely anything they wanted. In this way, Nolan succeeds in getting to the core of all failed revolutions: they offer freedom but create even greater oppression than before; it is simply of a different nature. This is the hideous irony of the "Brexit Agenda", and how it simply seems to take the ideology of "austerity" to its logical, amoral conclusion. Libertarianism isn't freedom in the "civilised" sense of the word, but merely "freedom" in the sense that you are "free" to fend for yourself, thanks to absolute government indifference to your fate. It is a "freedom" that allows homeless people to die on the street, disabled people to go hungry, and health system to collapse. To outsiders looking on, it might look less like "freedom" and more like a descent to a moral abyss.

While the agenda of Brexit has rhetorically shifted ever harder, this has been matched with a populist rhetoric that has no modern parallel in Britain. The way that the Brexit rhetoric of "Take back control" (as well as how Trump's) mirrors with that of Bane is striking, and tells us how well Nolan as a writer can see the universality of revolutionary themes. To its advocates, Brexit is the instrument of Britain's salvation, to extract itself from the rule of a corrupt elite. To those opposed to it - "Remainers" - it is a false idol.
The kind of "freedom" that the Brexiteers advocate is one where Britain is an island legally "untethered" from cross-national commitments; not only the EU, but a swathe of other associated legal treaties that Britain needs to be signed up to in order to function as a 21st century global power. The image from "The Dark Knight Rises", where the bridges to Gotham are all destroyed (bar one), seems a startlingly apt metaphor for the "burning the bridges" rhetoric that the Brexiteers seem to have in mind. It would not only cut Britain off from its closest trading market, but also (thanks to losing all the associated EU trade deals) make it much harder to trade with most of the world. It would do huge damage to Britain's reputation as a reliable nation to do business with, as well as cause unprecedented disruption to Britain's own internal economy.

This is what the Brexiteers mean by "taking back control".


















Sunday, March 25, 2018

Brexit and the transition: the "vassal state", JRM's "purgatory", and its political consequences

The mutual agreement of the EU and the UK over the terms of the transitional phase of Britain's relationship with the EU provoked a surprisingly muted reaction from most of the Brexiteer fanatics, except for the farcical "Ealing comedy" that occurred on the Thames, symbolising everything wrong about Brexit in a microcosm.
The acquiescence of the fanatics was explained by Jacob Rees-Mogg in typically esoteric terms. Britain's status as a "vassal state" of the EU was the "purgatory" before the rise to heaven; a comparison that confirmed the quasi-religious belief (and state of mind) prevalent in this ideological sect that is in effect single-handedly deciding Britain's future, when not having to repeatedly cave in to the EU. So we go from "Ealing Comedy" to "A Comedy Of Errors". But this is what happens when Britain is ran by complete incompetents.

As the EU reminds us, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and so the agreement on the transitional phase is provisional; provisional on Theresa May being able to offer a solution over the Irish border by June. This uncertainty is what is driving businesses to despair, for although the agreement reached last week seems to give more hope to business (and more time to prepare), it still lacks enough certainty to provide any real confidence. For argument's sake, we could say the agreement reached last week increased "certainty" over a transitional deal from, say 60% to 90%  (as the remaining uncertainty over the Irish border is still very much a "killer" to the deal). But if businesses are able to relocate to the EU, where there is zero uncertainty, why would they bother to take the risk of even that 10% uncertainty by staying in Britain? What would be the point? This is something Britain's government seems to not have considered, like lots of other things about Brexit.
By June though, we should all know, one way or the other, if a transitional deal will truly happen, as the decision by the EU can be delayed no more than that.

As the EU also reminds us, Brexit is an unprecedented situation in the modern world. The EU and Britain are agreeing a treaty that, for the first time, diminishes links rather than strengthens them. In the same way, the EU's offer of the transitional agreement is equally unprecedented. To British eyes, what the EU proposes may indeed look a lot like a form of temporary "vassalage" (and legally-speaking, it is); but this was inevitable once Theresa May decided that Britain's future lay outside of the single market. As mentioned earlier this month, the EU's position was always going to be one of self-preservation once Britain's government declared its intentions to leave the single market and diverge from the EU's orbit. In this sense, Britain effectively declared itself as a large, economically-hostile neighbour to the EU. What did they think the EU was going to do in response?
The transitional deal (which Britain asked for, it should be remembered), was always going to be a unique proposal that protected the EU's stability as much Britain's. Britain would have to accept a situation of "pay no say" - vassalage - if it wanted to maintain its links with the EU after it formally left the institution (with Britain also refusing aligned membership of the EEA/EFTA).

Historically, this kind of  transitional "vassalage" has few close precedents, and the only ones that come close are ones that Britain would find humiliating to be compared with. As it stands, Britain's status during the transition would legally be one of the "worst of both worlds": having EU law and its remit fully applying to a non-EU member, but without Britain having any voice in the EU; meanwhile, Britain would no longer be signed up to the dozens of trade agreements that it enjoyed for years while being in the EU, leaving its trade status with most countries outside of the EU in a state of legal limbo. To use a colourful analogy, Britain becomes the EU's "gimp".


Hurt pride

While historical comparisons are not always fully applicable, the spirit of the comparison may well ring true for critics of Britain's emasculated position. The status of an emasculated power that was in many ways "managed" from outside was also the fate that befell Weimar Germany in the years immediately following World War One, and more recently Russia in the years immediately following the collapse of Communism. In both cases, the fate of their economies was tied to decisions made outside the country, due to either (in Germany's case) massive debts burdened on them by the victorious allies, or (in Russia's case) a collapse in the real value of the economy's assets leading to Western opportunism/exploitation.
I'm not suggesting that the EU is in the business of Britain's "exploitation"; as said earlier, its stance comes from self-preservation due to the British government's own self-defeating strategy. My wider point is what effect "vassalage" could have on British "pride" and its effect on British politics in particular. Hint: not a good one.

As we know from the examples of Germany and Russia, their experiences of economic emasculation led to political extremism. The fact that Jacob Rees-Mogg is so accepting of the transitional deal makes me wonder if people like him are playing "the long game" (and have been for quite some time). Knowing how humiliating the terms of the transition would be for Britain, his group in parliament (the ERG) quietly allow Theresa May and her close associates to dig their own political graves through their supine "surrender" to Brussels (in a modern-day "Versailles" treaty), meanwhile quietly waiting for the tide to turn against them and in their favour. The mood in Britain is already febrile from the emotive rhetoric used by the Brexiteers. It wouldn't be surprising if some of them would use Britain's uniquely-emasculated status during the transition (a "humiliation") for their own ends, using the selfsame emotive rhetoric as before to better bring about a Hard Brexit afterwards, free from Europe's "dastardly" hands. As said before, the situation is unprecedented in modern British history, so equally it makes sense that some might seek to exploit that unique position for their ends. Evoking the myths of British history and identity, it wouldn't be difficult to foresee a strong reaction to modern Britain's enfeebled status, manipulated by those who seek to benefit from it.
This narrative sees the Brexiteers, far from their agenda turned over by the EU in the Brexit negotiations, see the negotiations as actually a "win-win", so long as Theresa May is kept to her word of Britain leaving the single market. If Britain leaves with no deal by June, they win next year. If Britain gets a transitional deal, they could use the interim "humiliation" for their own political ends - blaming the EU (and, if necessary, the "collaborationists" in the government) - to ensure their extremist agenda is realised at the start of 2021.
In this sense, the transition would become a tool for destroying Britain's pride - a kind of purge of its collective psyche - with the EU both as the instrument and the scapegoat. This "psychological purge" of British identity thus provides a kind of "shock therapy" that would numb Britain to the vision that the "Brextremists" wished to implement - the logical conclusion of their "austerity agenda", a form of social engineering. They could then manipulate the situation to create support for their "bargain basement" vision for post-Brexit Britain. It would hardly be the first time that right-wing Tories have used a strategy that both uses a third party for their own ends, and also becomes their scapegoat.

Put in these terms, Britain's future seems to be in the Brexiteers' hands, come what may. Only time will tell if it goes so far as becoming a contemporary version of "Fascism with a British face".
























Sunday, March 18, 2018

Austerity, Brexit and the Conservative Party: An undeclared "war" on British society?

Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) was famous for his "war on poverty", designed to eradicate the conditions that led to destitution. At times, it feels like the Conservative Party have an undeclared "war" on Britain's poor, designed to punish those segments of society that they feel are unworthy.


"Fakers"

Perhaps the easiest way to explain the mindset that seems to exist in parts of the Conservative Party is this: their contempt for those unworthy of their pity comes from the belief that they believe that most people who are homeless, unemployed, disabled, or just poor are lazy "fakers".  In this mindset, there are very few people who are "really" homeless, or "really" can't get a job, or a "really" disabled, or are "really" poor.
This is the most rational explanation behind the government's longstanding policy of austerity and welfare reform. Those in government simply refuse to believe there is a "problem" that needs their attention; the only "problem" as far as they're concerned is the lazy fakers who have been stealing the government's money (and, it is implied, added to the myth of the Labour government's self-inflicted fiscal crisis). This is the pervasive attitude that has permeated the media for years, matched by the government's own rhetoric on benefit fraud.
This rhetoric has extended out to the whole gamut of social policy. Basically, anyone who wants any money or help from the government is a source of instant suspicion, whose motives are assumed to be suspect. From the degrading treatment that many disabled people must endure to get government help, to those simply trying to claim financial support while unemployed, the system is now designed to find any way possible to withdraw help. Part of this comes from the long legacy of "austerity", where saving money in any way possible, regardless of how inhumane it is, is the first priority. If it means that disabled people are left to fend for themselves, well it's just one of those things. If it means unemployed people having to skip meals to stay alive, well, so be it. If it means people being evicted and left homeless, it can't be helped.
In this way, it could be argued that homelessness is a form of government-sanctioned punishment on those who are unable to look after themselves, either mentally or financially. Psychological weakness is the worst crime of all, as far as the government is concerned. As the government refuses to accept that the reasons for homelessness often come from genuine social and familial problems, the government therefore sees homelessness as a "lifestyle choice". This view was shared by a local policeman in the town of Ely, Cambridgeshire, who stated that there were no "real" homeless people in the town; those on the street were all "fakers".


"Trained indifference"

This attitude of those in the lowest rungs of society being there through either psychological weakness or by choice is prevalent throughout the Conservative Party. Once this view is accepted, it follows that those who are "weak" or "lazy" must be either punished or cut off from access to official channels, as this is seen as the only effective way to alter their behaviour. Those at the sharp end of this inhumane policy are seen on the streets, with the soaring numbers of rough sleepers in the UK (by some estimates at ten thousand) making them look like modern-day "refugees" of the government's undeclared "war" on the lazy and weak-willed.
The "war" is always in an officially-undeclared state because the government would never openly admit that its actions are designed to "punish"; it simply cuts off government help whenever possible and lets nature take its course. That way, the victim's fate whether to "sink or swim" can be pinned on the individual, and not the government. As far its concerned, the government's own hands remain clean. If the homeless person froze to death in the winter cold, it was because he refused to take responsibility for his own poor decisions. Officially, of course, such situations would always be a "tragedy", but a tragedy of the person's own making. That way, the government can keep its hands clean.

The government's policy towards those deprived and vulnerable segments of society is officially one of help; it could hardly publicly claim otherwise and still be considered to be maintaining civilised society. But that "official" policy of help comes with the huge caveat that the government only believes a small fraction of those deprived and vulnerable people in society are in genuine need; the rest are liars who are there by choice.

The austerity agenda is also part of a wider aim to fundamentally change the relationship between government and the people: namely, to remove the idea from people's minds that government is there to help you. By cutting funding to social care services, and by the simultaneous "welfare reforms", the government is making the idea of getting help from them seem more and more onerous, to the point that people stop trying. To a Conservative, this idea seems entirely natural, as an encouragement towards greater self-sufficiency and individual responsibility. But this idea of course forgets the social reality, that no-one is ever completely responsible for their own fate from cradle to grave. No man is an island.
Austerity can therefore be seen as a tool of social transformation; a form of social engineering and psychological manipulation. It is about changing how British people think. One wonders if the government's indifference to, for example, the very visible rise in rough sleeping isn't implicitly a kind of psychological "shock therapy" on the British public; Britain's streets being turned into a kind of open-air laboratory for social engineering, where the sheer frequency of rough sleepers gradually creates a muted indifference in people minds, rather like how long exposure to pornography has allegedly changed the way that young men think about sex. This "trained indifference" would then be part of the agenda of "psychological manipulation", bringing public acquiescence to the Conservative Party's "war" on the weaker elements of society. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to see what the logical conclusion of this strategy would be.


Psychological preparation?

With the streets of "austerity" Britain sometimes bearing the atmosphere of an open-air theatre of the grotesque, there's a case to be made that this might also be a kind of psychological preparation for the real austerity to come after Brexit. If people think that "austerity" is bad now, this may just be the beginning, after Britain leaves the EU and the single market.
All the reasoned voices (including the EU itself) declare that leaving the single market would be disastrous for Britain's economy. The reason why is because Britain simply doesn't have the infrastructure or know-how to efficiently deal with the sheer amount of bureaucracy involved in trading with the EU as a country outside the single market; in short, when all the costs of the extra bureaucracy involved are added up, businesses may well find it no longer financially viable to trade with the EU. The logistical nightmare of crossing to and from the single market is only one aspect of this that could quickly see the economy seize up in a matter of days.

I've gone into some of the details about who could benefit from this chaos before, but as with "austerity", the ones who will be the victims first in this kind of Brexit scenario would be the vulnerable and deprived. The kind of "shock therapy" from austerity since 2010 has been more a "slow-burner", where social problems have accumulated only gradually, until the issue reaches public awareness on the streets in the form of mass rough sleeping, and in local councils going bankrupt through a combination of mismanagement and lack of funding. A "Hard Brexit" scenario would be sudden and on a scale hard to comprehend, given its lack of precedent.
This is a situation that has the hallmarks of a government willing to preside over a society where some parts of it almost resemble a "failed state". Except this is one where the government seems to want to fail.












Monday, March 12, 2018

Britain, the EU and the Brexit negotiations: a clash of cultures?

An article in the Guardian articulated part of the problem the British government has with its negotiations with the EU. Apart from not understand the nature of the EU (in spite of being part of it for over forty years), it doesn't even understand how it is seen itself by others. As the writer in the article explains:
"In Brussels, the British are viewed with suspicion – seen as hiding cunning behind charm, using manners as a cloak for ruthlessness, and, at their core, being strategic, stubborn and mercantile. These stereotypes of character are joined by experience. It is precisely because Britain has so successfully secured its interests as a member of the EU – shaping the evolution of the European project while securing opt-outs from key parts of it – that the other member states understand how ruthlessly it pursues its interests. One of the great ironies of the current impasse is that Britain’s success in the EU stokes fears of its conduct outside it "
Apart from that, it also seems that Brussels has a better understanding of Britain's own culture than even Britain has itself:
British politics is erratic, unstable, and irrational. British politicians are, therefore, not to be trusted. There is a belief that the British – accustomed to great power for centuries – are simply incapable of accepting any rules. Britons lazily project their domestic political model – where one side wins, the other loses, and the winner dominates the loser – on to a European politics that is very different"

In a nutshell, we have above a cultural explanation of why Britain's government is failing so abysmally in its negotiations with Brussels. Apart from Britain's government having the ingrained culture of seeing politics and diplomacy as a zero-sum game, coming from its long tradition of an adversarial style of statecraft, its ignorance in even its own self-awareness (let alone of the culture of "foreign powers") is dooming its fate.
This is just one example of the cultural disconnect between London and Brussels. The EU cannot fathom, for one thing, how Britain's government can be so ignorant of the rules of an organisation that it has been a member of for more than forty years. It cannot fathom how Britain's government seems to repeatedly set demands for its post-EU relationship that would break the EU's own rules; rules that Britain should have been well aware of for decades.


The buccaneer versus the bureaucrat

One explanation for this is "culture", and that Britain's ruling class has simply become utterly complacent in its relationship to Europe and its own intellectual competence. Britain's cultural default in international relations is the imperial power-play, where it plays off one "Johnny Foreigner" against the other for its own advantage. This is one method that was used to expand and maintain the British Empire, and the same methodology was used in its past European relations.
Brought forward to a post-Imperial setting, Britain joined the then EEC for its own economic necessity, as well as joining the power-play tussle of the major European states within the organisation. This worked well for the first ten years or so inside "the club", but by the late Eighties it was clear that there were elements within the British establishment and the media who saw "Europe" as the enemy, and bristled against the increasing regulation and bureaucratic centralisation. By this time, it was clear to Eurosceptics that the European "project" was turning into something they didn't sign up for, and this was the start of the series of "opt outs" that the British government negotiated with the EU to mollify its critics.
We know how this story ends: with Britain outside the Eurozone, with a Conservative Prime Minister (David Cameron) going so far to mollify the Eurosceptics that we have ended up leaving the EU completely, with the current Prime Minister promising to even leave the single market (EEA/EFTA) as well. The mythic image of Britain as a "trade buccaneer" is what helped it join the single market in the 1970s, and it is that same self-delusion that is leading many in government to believe that Britain can thrive outside of the European single market now.
In this sense, the negotiations have failed because Britain falsely believes in its own self-delusion as a trading goliath, where the EU "needs us more than we need them". This leads to the belief that the EU's stubbornness is merely a negotiation strategy (more on that later) where they will eventually buckle. The British government's fatal misunderstanding of the EU's necessary preservation of its own interests is what we'll look at next. And it is also this British "buccaneer" vision that is fuelling the EU's need for self-preservation: it doesn't want to have a super-sized free-trade tax haven right on its doorstep, without the regulatory means to protect itself.


Short-term versus long-term

Regarding the Brexit negotiations specifically, Theresa May's strategy (if she can be said to have one) seems to be to find a short-term fix to any problem that arises, that kicks the can down the road a little further, until it has to kicked yet further down the road again later.
This classic short-termist strategy is something that has been a part of British politics for decades, arguably centuries. In British government generally (and also often in industry), big issues that need to be tackled are often "fudged", relying on a culture of "muddling through": from in the modern era, things like HS2, Heathrow's new runway, investment, infrastructure planning and the approach to the economy in general (feeding a rapacious financial sector or voracious property bubble, for example) to historical examples like the wasteful use of North Sea oil revenue, selling-off government assets for the short-term boost to the treasury's books, and so on. The tendency within the British system is to find short-term solutions to problems - and if possible, ignoring the problem completely - creating a culture of "make do and mend" that feeds an atmosphere of institutional backwardness.
Theresa May, however, has taken this mentality to new depths. As her main priority seems to be focused on purely self-preservation (of her, and her government's unity), survival is continued by the necessity to "fudge" any issues of disagreement, allowing them to be dealt with later. Regarding the agreement her government made with the EU in December, the semantic "fudge" allowed her to both satisfy the different voices in her government, as well as the DUP who prop her government up in parliament, and also the EU.
With Donald Tusk's recent comments, we know now that the EU has called May out on this clear act of short-term deception. The EU cannot accept any "fudge" that fails to provide clear legal certainty (see the next section below). It is this reason that the negotiations appear stalled. Besides this, and even more importantly, the EU has a cultural aversion to short-termism. In fact, in its very inception, the then EEC marked itself out as a long-term "project" for "ever closer union". While its solution to the Greek crisis several years ago looked like a "kicking the can down the road" exercise, this was also a demonstration of how the EU are risk-averse, taking the longer view that it was better to have Greece under control and inside the club than a potential basket case out of its control on its edges.

With Brexit, the EU have taken the view that as Britain's government has decided it will leave all associated EU institutions completely, it must act for its own self-preservation and self-integrity. The EU accepts that there would be an economic hit to the single market from Britain's actions, but it cannot compromise its own systems (or its long-term future) for the sake of one non-member, even one the size of Britain. And as the EU has stated, it is precisely Britain's size and close vicinity that make its deregulation strategy potentially so threatening to the EU. In short, (among other things) having such a lax attitude to tax regulation, treating citizens with callous indifference, and its threatening language from its media, has made Britain the "bad guy":


So the EU is prepared for the consequences of Brexit, and takes the longer view. It's only Britain who doesn't.


Amateurs versus technocrats

The EU has often been derided as a technocratic bureaucracy of faceless cogs in the wheel, but it is in the Brexit negotiations that the EU's technocratic system is shown to have its uses. On the side of Brussels you have Michel Barnier and his technical team of legal experts, with supporting roles by Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. These are people who have an entire legal team of experts to support them, along with their own long experience of EU procedures. On the British side you have David Davis, supported by Theresa May and Boris Johnson. These are people whose grasp of technical detail is hazy at best; for example, you have David Davis not seeming to understand such basics like services not having tariffs, and so talks about removing tariffs from services to get better trade deals, to demonstrate his utter ignorance. There are a thousand and one examples like this.

In this sense, Britain's negotiations are led by figures who are literally amateurs. This is partly the result of how they came to get where they did; not through their expertise but their similar background, the ability to "blag it" and be on the right side at the right moment. They are all hopelessly out of their depth. With their personas formed from a political system that seems to run on the "Dilbert Principle", in this system what matters is having some degree of cunning and charm that masks your incompetence. That way, people lower down in the food chain do all the tricky work, leaving you to lord them around (while they clean up your mess). Related to this is the concept of "Mushroom management" (which Theresa May seems to best embody): giving out as little useful information as possible and keep everyone on their toes.
This system of "amateur governance" has a long tradition in Britain, and is one reason why the civil service was so highly-valued historically by comparison (as satirized so well in the "Yes, Minister" series); it was they who really ran the government on a day-to-day basis. But Brexit seems to be the "reckoning" on this system: most of the government's EU experts work for Brussels, not London, which leaves the few experts on this side of the Channel hopelessly outnumbered by all the special interest groups who see Brexit as nothing more than an opportunity for profiteering. This helps to explain why Theresa May's strategy seems strangely-similar to that of the Legatum Institute: out of her depth, she falls back on the voices of those who seem culturally closest to her, from the same background of elitist amateurs.
Brussels has no time for the kind of "blaggers" seen the the British government; it expects detail backed up by legal argument, while those supposedly "advising" the British government have their own agenda for seeing negotiations break down.


A haggle versus a checklist

Finally, Britain's government has from the start misunderstood what the negotiations are about.

Britain comes from its historical perspective of negotiations being a haggle where getting a deal means having something you can have to wave in exultation when you return home (a la Neville Chamberlain). Therefore, any "win" in the negotiations for Britain would necessitate a "loss" of some kind for the EU; the kind of zero-sum game that was mentioned at the beginning, and carried out every week in Westminster politics.
Brussels sees these talks not as "negotiations" in the traditional sense, but more like Britain deciding which one of several options Brussels offers it. And this latter analogy would be accurate, as it is incumbent on Britain to agree terms with the EU, not vice versa. This should have made it all the more simple in some ways, as it should have been about Britain "checking" which option "on the menu" it wants from the EU, giving both sides time to organise the agreed future relationship.
Because Britain's goverment has been in complete denial about this reality - thinking it can haggle in a "pick and mix" style over which bits it does and doesn't want, in spite of being repeatedly told otherwise, most of the "negotiation" has been about each side talking at cross-purposes. So, nearly a year on from the start of the negotiations, we're really little further on than we were on Day One, with the transitional deal that Britain asked for nowhere near being done, because Britain keeps asking for something that isn't on "the menu".

As far as Brussels is concerned, Britain just doesn't "get it". And on all the above evidence, it looks like it never did.











Sunday, February 25, 2018

Numbers of rough sleepers in the UK: a more detailed look at "Britain's shame"

A recent report that looked at the number of rough sleepers in England revealed a bleak portrait of this too-often overlooked side of British society. In many ways, it seems to be the national "shame" that many people would rather turn their eyes away from on the street.


A bleak picture

In general, the numbers of rough sleepers in the country are rising everywhere, and in some places at an alarming (and thus highly-visible) rate. A more detailed look at the national spread of rough sleeping in the country can tell us which towns and cities, and which parts of the country, have the highest proportionate numbers. This might also tell us something about the nature of those areas and what is happening beneath the surface.

London's levels of rough sleeping have been well-documented, so I'd like to focus on the areas of the UK outside of the capital. This is not to downplay the bleak reality that thousands of rough sleepers have in London; I simply want this article to focus on the rest of the UK (although what's happening in London may well be linked to what's also happening outside of it).
In England, the major cities that have the highest numbers of rough sleepers relative to their size are Bristol, Nottingham and Manchester. Birmingham also has at least several dozen rough sleepers, though given the sprawling size of the city (as the second biggest in England), the numbers are slightly lower than the even higher levels seen in the first three cities listed, that have markedly smaller populations compared to Birmingham (such as the shocking rates seen in Nottingham in particular).

Outside of the major conurbations, rough sleeping has rocketed in a swathe of towns and small cities across England, in the South in particular, and this is the most visible illustration of the problem. The interactive graphic in the BBC link highlighted at the top shows a picture of rough sleeping now reaching epidemic proportions in the south-east (i.e. surrounding the wider London conurbation) and along south coast of England.
Along the south coast towns, there are a string of places such as Hastings, Eastbourne, Brighton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth and even Weymouth(!) and Exeter that all are experiencing extremely high levels of rough sleeping.
Meanwhile, there are a whole host of towns in the wider South-East (within commuter distance of London) that have the same, shocking numbers of rough sleepers: going clockwise from the Thames estuary, places like Southend, Maidstone, Canterbury, Reading, Slough, Swindon, and Oxford, Luton and Bedford all have extremely high numbers of rough sleepers relative to their size. Even Cambridge. Of those, Bedford, Luton and Southend stand out as having the highest propertions of all, given these are only medium-sized towns. What makes this all the more shocking is that the numbers of rough sleepers in these smaller Southern towns are much higher than even in much larger cities elsewhere in the UK. For instance, there are far more rough sleepers in Bedford than there are in Newcastle. Why this might be the case will be looked at later.

There are some details that appear to defy easy explanation, at least to the layman. For some reason, Lincoln also has an especially-large rough sleeper population, given the small size of the city. On the other hand, there are parts of England like the North-East whose rough sleeper numbers, while they have certainly seen a marked rise in recent times, seem fairly modest compared to the disproportionately much larger numbers in the the towns in the South. This seems somehow anomalous (though of course in a positive way), especially given the long-term problems within unemployment and poverty that that North-east has suffered.

Like in all the UK, numbers in Wales and Scotland have increased markedly, but compared to Wales and Scotland, England seems to have a disproportionately-bigger problem with rough sleeping, especially in the South. The question is: why?


Sinking to the bottom

Traditionally, the reasons for rough sleeping, at least at an individual level, can be many, but the most common ones seem to be problems with mental health, drug and alcohol dependency. However, as any expert would tell you, the last two reasons mentioned are usually tied with the first: mental health.
People who become drug and/or alcohol dependent can reach this state for a variety of reasons, but again, experts will tell you that they often reach that state through issues of family breakdown (often at a young age), and all the horrid side-effects that come with that. Put another way, these are people who have resorted to drink or drugs - "self-medication" -  as the way to escape their real-life nightmare. The same is true in any "sink estate" around the country; it's simply that those who become rough sleepers are in an even worse state of affairs, where they feel they have nowhere to go and so decide to cut themselves off from normal society.
So we can say with some certainty that those who "self medicate" are people who use drink or drugs to deal with mental health issues of one form or another. Also, another reason that many of these refuse to stay in hostels is that they "cut themselves off" in order to break their dependency. As some hostels can be riven with other "dependent" homeless with a ready supply of drink or drugs, some rough sleepers fall into a cycle of refusing beds in these institutions precisely because they don't want to fall back into the dependency cycle. Whether or not this rationale makes sense, or works, is another matter.

Apart from the "traditional" reasons for homelessness (and rough sleeping), an increasingly-common reason these days is simply being evicted by their landlord due to financial hardship. And this is not because of financial mismanagement, but simply being unable to make the money coming in (from work or welfare support) pay for everything. These people may well not have mental health issues at all, and have become rough sleepers for other reasons - shame (at feeling the need to admit their own sense of "failure" to family and peers); perseverance (feeling that they are just experiencing a "temporary setback" which will soon be overcome); or simply lack of other options (no close family network or friends to fall back on).


A stripped-down state

But for rough sleepers who are there for whatever reason, the buck stops with the government, and the spike in rough sleeping can be firmly laid at the government's door, for a number of reasons.

The traditional tendency for rough sleeping to be something associated with those with mental health problems goes back to the government's failure on dealing with mental health. This has been a problem for decades - exacerbated with Thatcher's "care in the community" - but has got far worse since the government began its cutbacks to mental health services across the board under David Cameron. Now local authorities no longer have the funding for local care of those with mental health issues, leaving them to fend for themselves. It's not surprising that the result is a spike in homelessness, for all the reasons mentioned earlier.
The government's "reforms" to welfare provision have impacted the money received by those with mental health issues (see above), creating financial insecurity where before there was at least some kind of safety net. Now these people are finding they are slipping though the net, and left to fend for themselves. From the rough sleeping figures, we know where that can lead.
Likewise, other welfare reforms, such as Universal Credit, are causing a surge in financial insecurity, not only for those who are the most vulnerable in society, but those who are also in work. This insecurity is what is feeding the rise in evictions, and thus rough sleeping.
Lastly, the government's "light touch" attitude to regulation has meant that the nature of work and housing has become more insecure. With local government budgets slashed, there is not enough money for local councils to enforce the regulations on employers and landlords that do exist; meanwhile, the government is doing little to encourage employers and landlords to change their often exploitative behaviour. All this means that there is added financial pressure on workers and tenants, making it all the more likely that they are just one "crisis" away from losing their job and/or eviction.

This kind of environment also makes it more likely that people will develop mental health issues and/or a dependency on drink or drugs, and into the downward spiral that too easily leads to rough sleeping by the other route.


An "English dystopia"?

It is this environment of exploitation and government indifference that is causing the rise in rough sleeping.
One final issue worth exploring is looking for an explanation to the geographical spread of rough sleeping in England. One thing that hits us, from a sociological point of view, about where rough sleeping is proportionately the highest, is the type of towns they are. The three that seem to have the highest proportions - Luton, Bedford and Southend - are towns that have done badly since the "de-industrialisation" of thirty years ago and are in a part of the country with a high rate of inequality. In my view, it is both these factors (poverty and inequality) that have contributed, and both working in tandem that exacerbate the problem. These are places that feel ignored, exploited and cheated by the centre, and are politically ripe ground for extremism.
As homelessness is seemingly a result of mental health and/or economic factors (that cause a "collapse" in the person's mental and economic stability; see also "crime"), it would seem logical that it is the towns and cities in the country with people most subjected to these factors that are most likely to have high rates of rough sleeping.
The combination of the two factors above (poverty matched with inequality) go some way to explaining why London, the wider South-east and the South coast have the highest rates of rough sleeping. Places like the North-east may have smaller proportions because the levels of inequality are less than in the South-east, even if the rate of poverty is more. Although the picture is complex, it is possible that the social bonds in places like the North-east are stronger due to lower levels of inequality, and this may account somewhat for the differences in the rates of rough sleeping.

Apart from the sociological factors, and how much a local council's social services budget has been cut, there is also the sad truth that some of these towns in the South are within commuter distance to and from London, and therefore it is relatively inexpensive for overwhelmed London councils to simply "export" these homeless to more far-flung, relatively isolated, towns.
That way, it becomes someone else's problem, and another aspect of the "English dystopia" that parts of the country have come to resemble under Theresa May.