Edition number 39; dateline 1 March 2011
Making trouble with Mervyn King
Are we bored with politics yet? I suspect not for we live in the most interesting of times. A new definition of how interesting these times are came as this issue of The Leisure Review went to press when the governor of the Bank of England (it’s Mervyn King) seemed to be urging people to protest against the damage the banks have done to the economy and the nation. He told the Commons Treasury select committee: “The price of this financial crisis is being borne by people who absolutely did not cause it. Now is the period when the cost is being paid. I’m surprised that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it is.”
I may be doing him a disservice but this statement follows a lengthy list of incidents that suggest we have fallen down a political rabbit hole. By way of example take the comments of housing minister Grant Shapp whose considered opinion following the announcement by Manchester City Council of the full impact of its revenue cuts, which will include libraries, leisure centres and public toilets among the facilities that are to be closed, was that this is an example of a Labour council making a political point with unnecessary cuts to frontline services. This struck me as one of the most egregiously offensive comments I have ever heard a politician make but then I am a naturally sensitive soul who currently finds himself in high dudgeon almost permanently. Another example might be the news item that explained how the Metropolitan police had advised one London council to bring forward with very little notice the meeting at which it was to approve next year’s budget. A morning meeting, rather than the traditional evening meeting at which protests were expected, was felt by the Met to be the safer option; that it also subverted the democratic process was of little concern to Inspector Knacker. Similar stories have appeared from around the country.
It’s time for some clarity. The current government is operating at unprecedented levels of deceit even for the murky world of politics and is arguably acting unconstitutionally, in so far as anything can be said to be unconstitutional when the constitution is defined by precedent, custom and practice, along with a good deal of traditional good manners. Nothing currently being enacted in the name of financial necessity was apparent in any manifesto (for example, the dismantling of the welfare state, the privatisation of the NHS, the slashing of local government funding) and many of the things that were not mentioned or were specifically ruled out by David Cameron before he became prime minister have come to pass (for example, top-down changes to the NHS, a VAT increase, the removal of universal child benefit). Elsewhere promises such as the removal of legislation that adversely affected civil liberties have been ignored or waved aside with laughably inadequate gestures. Or it would be laughable if it were not so serious. The issue of civil liberties is germane to the current debate, particularly when ‘kettling’ (AKA illegal detention without trial) is an accepted police tactic, when the police operate to suppress legitimate public protest and now when the police see fit to intervene in the local democratic process. The gates at the entrance to Downing Street have never seemed so apt a symbol of government.
So far, so angsty. What has this got to do with sport, leisure and culture? The assault on public services enacted by this government have served to illustrate the central role of sport, leisure and culture in public attitudes to what constitutes the concept of nationhood. Sport, leisure and culture are standing alongside many other services in facing cuts but it is often the cultural services that seem to serve as a catalyst, the final political straw, in motivating protest. Libraries are often the touchstone. Swimming pools, playgrounds , day centres for the elderly and all manner of services deemed essential to the quality of life of the community have all drawn bitter anti-closure protests. If nothing else this disgraceful, illegitimate and arguably illegal attack on the nation’s public services has served to demonstrate that the sport, leisure and culture sector stands alongside so many other areas of life as essential in the public mind to a civilised society intending to ensure a reasonable quality of life for all its citizens.
The myth that public spending cuts are a necessary function of a previous government’s legacy has been skewered by Mervyn King. While libraries close, pools are shut, education and health services are privatised and services for the elderly are being cancelled, it seems that we can still afford to wage war and contemplate our role in enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya with no thought to the cost. We can afford to bomb and bully foreigners whose status has been changed from ally to dictator overnight but not keep open the libraries that have served to educate our nation for centuries. It is interesting to note the cause of the redefinition of Gaddafi and Mubarak from ‘friend of the UK’ to ‘enemy of the people’. It is, of course, the people on the streets.
At The Leisure Review we add our voice to those demanding an immediate general election to allow the voters of the UK to decide what and what are not legitimate areas of expenditure for the public purse. Our bet is that libraries, schools, hospitals and meals on wheels will be chosen as preferable to illegal wars, military posturing, endemic tax avoidance and state-funded arms trading. And if the prime minister will not call a general election we hope to see everyone at the barricades, standing shoulder to shoulder with Mervyn King as he tears down those Downing Street gates.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial