The Star published a letter from George Osborne recently in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer promised the people of Sheffield and South Yorkshire a better future as a result of his interest in our affairs.
Through the medium of a new regional authority, (Sheffield City Region), and an elected mayor with ‘a whole host of powers’, we’ll soon be experiencing the exhilaration of ‘forging ahead in the Northern Powerhouse’ while doffing our caps to a government that believes ‘in giving power to working people’.
George Osborne’s fantasy on a theme of empowerment has so far elicited no response from the Star’s readers. Perhaps such silence points to a collective sense of awe. If chutzpah could be quantified and sold by the bucket-load, the Chancellor would have eliminated the deficit by now.
George Osborne is the government’s frontman for the neoliberal project begun by Margaret Thatcher and continued with greater or lesser intensity by every subsequent British government. A core belief of neoliberalism is that the power of organised labour and the traditions of social and economic solidarity that go with it must be destroyed in order for modern finance capitalism to sustain itself.
The cohesion of working-class communities that underpinned the industrial strength of Britain for a century and a half has largely been replaced by aggregates of insecure and poorly-paid individuals. Such atomisation has not been the outcome of an economic system so much as a precondition. Any ‘power’ the Tories give back to us is a fraction of what they’ve taken away.
It’s no surprise the government does nothing to save steel jobs in Redcar. To a neoliberal such work and the social forms and traditions it represents are anathema. Mrs Thatcher hated and feared working-class solidarity almost more than anything else. Her heirs in the Tory Party and elsewhere would sooner see Britain damaged than lift a finger in aid of large-scale unionised manufacturing.
George Osborne has the whip hand for now, and councils have little room for manoeuvre. Nevertheless, his offer to cede political power will almost certainly come with economic strings or worse – that’s the way neoliberals operate. To those signing up to the Chancellor’s golden future, I say caveat emptor. And sup with a long spoon.