The economy is growing, so why are we feeling poorer? | Crooked Media
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May 16, 2024
Pod Save the UK
The economy is growing, so why are we feeling poorer?

In This Episode

The UK is officially out of recession – Rishi Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have been banging the drum of the 0.6% GDP growth in the Jan-March quarter, but are things actually getting better?

 

George Monbiot drops into the studio to demystify Neoliberalism – the invisible economic doctrine that has influenced UK politics and policy since the Thatcher years. George also brings some fresh ideas for how citizens can move away from being consumers and recapture our democracy. 

 

Finally, Nish and Coco eviscerate Esther McVey’s campaign to ban that most dreadful example of civil service impropriety – the rainbow lanyard. 

 

Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.

 

Contact us via email: PSUK@reducedlistening.co.uk 

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Guest:

George Monbiot, activist and writer

 

Audio credits:

BBC 

LBC 

The Guardian 

 

 

Useful links:

Come to see Pod Save the UK live at Edinburgh Fringe!

The Invisible Doctrine: The Secret History of Neoliberalism (& How It Came to Control Your Life) by George Monbiot and Peter Hutchison

The Guardian – Latest GDP figures offer some better news – but boom-boom Britain it ain’t

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

[AD]

 

Coco Khan Hi, this is Pod Save the UK.

 

Nish Kumar I’m Nish Kumar.

 

Coco Khan I’m Coco Khan.

 

Nish Kumar This week the headlines are saying the UK is out of recession. But what does this actually mean?

 

Coco Khan And we’re joined by activist and author George Monbiot to chat about recapturing our democracy. Hi, Nish. How’s your week been?

 

Nish Kumar Pretty good. Coco. How’s your week been?

 

Coco Khan Yeah, it’s been pretty good. On your recommendation I have watched The Wire.

 

Nish Kumar The whole thing?

 

Coco Khan Well, I’m only at. I’m only like midway through season one. They’re fairly long episodes okay.

 

Nish Kumar They’re long episodes. No, I was actually expressing total surprise that you’d watched, I think, 50 hours of television in a week. I was about to say, that’s phenomenal going.

 

Coco Khan That would be my way of telling you that I’ve lost all my other employment. And actually, that’s a cry for help. Was it your recommendation or was it Susan Hall’s recommendation?

 

Nish Kumar Well, it was Susan Hall’s recommendation based on not having seen The Wire, and just mentioning it, just giving some free publicity for HBO by showing that she has absolutely no knowledge of what happens in the television program.

 

Coco Khan And she inspired me to goand watch someone. So I don’t often take my TV recommendations from conservative politicians.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah.

 

Coco Khan But as you know, my most conservative show that I watch is Homeland.

 

Nish Kumar Right? Sure yeah, yeah.

 

Coco Khan So that is what was your favorite right wing TV show?

 

Nish Kumar Well, I like a lot of action films.

 

Coco Khan Right. Okay.

 

Nish Kumar So there are arguments that you can make that something like The Enemy of the state or the Bourne films have a, left or left of center, ideology. But I think a lot of action films are intrinsically quite, quite right wing.

 

Coco Khan Oh for sure. Yeah, I’ve seen Independence Day.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. Oh, yeah. I mean, Independence Day is borderline propaganda for the military industrial complex, but fun movie. Great movie. What? The alien, when the alien comes out of the ship and he says, welcome to Earth and punches it in the face. That’s funny. That’s a funny bit.

 

Coco Khan That’s a funny bit is a really funny bit. Bridgerton. Have you watched it?

 

Nish Kumar No.

 

Coco Khan Right.

 

Nish Kumar Why?

 

Coco Khan I haven’t watched it either, but I’m told that when this episode drops, the new season will be out. And so some of my friends have been pushing that. You and I watch it so that we can talk about it on this.

 

Nish Kumar Talk about Bridgerton. Does it is it does it have a UK political news? But I do. All I know about Bridgerton is my girlfriend repeatedly just says, look how high their boobs are when she’s watching it. That’s all she talks about. All she talks about is how how high the boobs of the ladies are.

 

Coco Khan I mean, it is impressive, isn’t it? It must be some machinery, some scaffolding going on there. We respect it.

 

Nish Kumar Speaking of things going up, the UK economy is going upwards. It’s growing again. Which means that we are officially out of recession and you can really feel it in the air. You can really feel being out of recession in the air.

 

Coco Khan I feel buoyant. Do you feel buoyant? Always just a quick reminder for anyone that doesn’t have their ear finely attuned to financial lingo. Our economy is classed as being in recession when we have two consecutive quarters of negative growth.

 

Nish Kumar Yes. So the Bank of England announced last Friday that the economy’s GDP grew by a humongous astronomical 0.6%. And here is Chancellor Jeremy Hunt trying to take a positive spin on that incredibly large number on BBC Radio Four’s Today program.

 

Clip You’re not calling it strong, are you? That’s that’s not what it is. The economy’s barely grown for two years. Well, over the last quarter, it’s been, the joint highest growth in the G7. But of course, when you are tackling inflation at 11%, the Bank of England rightly has to put up interest rates. The government has to take difficult decisions, like not caving into public sector pay strikes, which would further fuel inflation. Hard as we know, public sector workers are working. It would be the wrong thing for the long term of the economy.

 

Coco Khan In an analysis piece for The Guardian, Larry Elliott points out that adjusted for a rising population, per capita growth has actually fallen by 1.2% over the duration of the current parliament, meaning this is on course to be the first Parliament in living memory to have seen a fall in living standards over the term.

 

Nish Kumar We also need here to discuss someone with a very depressing sounding job title. Michael Thackeray is the UN Special rapporteur on the right to food. Due to the increasing levels of poverty in food bank use, he requested to make a special visit to the UK. That request was made back in August 2022, and so far the government has stopped it from happening, saying it would not be feasible this year and meaning it won’t happen. During the current parliamentary term, 85 groups, including Amnesty International and the Food Foundation, have signed an open letter calling for a reversal of that decision. I mean, I guess if you’re refusing an invitation from a rapporteur on food bank usage that suggests you have a sense of what the results are. In last week’s episode, we had a great discussion with Ashling B about food poverty, and we highlighted the fact that in January of this year, 8 million adults in the UK experienced food insecurity. And that’s in the same time frame that the UK is said to have experienced. This unbelievable period of 0.6% economic growth also really annoys me when they brag about growth statistics, because growth statistics growth is a measure of how far an economy has grown. So essentially, if you start from a terrible position, of course you’re one of the fastest growing economies in the G7. That’s not actually a measure of success. It’s. She a measure of responding to a catastrophic failure, in this case, the brief prime ministership of Liz Truss and 14 years of conservative rule.

 

Coco Khan Yeah, it does feel like a level of kind of political gaslighting, doesn’t it? People keep saying it’s fine, it’s fine, it’s fine. Everything’s on fire. The potholes are there. The NHS is vast. You know, don’t go swimming in the lake, in the lakes. Your food is too high or electricity’s too high. You know, it’s just it. It’s shameless, really, for them to get up and say that.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting you use that term because it’s the exact term Rachel Reeves used this week. Economic gaslighting, speculation.

 

Coco Khan Very unusual for me and Rachel Reeves.

 

Nish Kumar I get this, I think that.

 

Coco Khan I feel about it, but.

 

Nish Kumar Okay. And a former guest on this show, Rachel Erica from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation said this week that politicians and policy makers who gauge economic well-being solely by GDP are like doctors relying solely on a thermometer for diagnosis. People’s bills don’t suddenly come down, or their incomes suddenly rise, with a single quarter of slightly stronger than expected GDP growth.

 

Coco Khan The one small silver lining would be that, you know, this additional bit of money means that hopefully labor will be able to commit to some public spending because they’re constantly saying, we can’t commit to that. We don’t know what resources we’re going to have. Perhaps that means that actually we might start to see from them some promises of something to be hopeful about, over the next five years.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. In the meantime, the Conservative Party look deluded as hell.

 

Coco Khan Consider this your exciting reminder that the UK is going on the road.

 

Nish Kumar That’s right, I’m going to be at the Edinburgh Fringe the whole month doing a comedy show, and then for two very special nights, Coco is going to join me and we’re going to do two live editions of this show.

 

Coco Khan So come and see us at the Monkey Barrel on Tuesday the sixth and Wednesday the 7th of August. Tickets are on sale now. Grab them while they’re hot and you can find the link in our show notes. Joining us in the studio now is journalist, author and activist George Monbiot. Welcome.

 

George Monbiot Thank you.

 

Coco Khan So how was the train today?

 

George Monbiot Georgetown’s freight train broke down. Britain broke down on the way.

 

Nish Kumar What?

 

George Monbiot How would the United Kingdom just ground to a halt, as per usual.

 

Coco Khan And it was quite funny. When you came in, you were like, oh, you know what a great way to kick off a chat about neoliberalism with the broken down train that you probably paid a lot of money for your ticket.

 

George Monbiot No. It’s perfect. I mean, it’s perfect. It’s like every single thing. They said that privatization was going to deliver the opposite.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. On to you today.

 

George Monbiot To me today and on every previous and subsequent day. You know, it’s like I it was it’s going to be cheaper. It’s going to be more efficient. There’s going to be more space. There’s going to be more trains running. You know, there’ll be an incentive to renew the rolling stock every year. And it’s like everything, every problem is just going to.

 

Nish Kumar I can’t drive and I’m my job requires me to so travel around the United Kingdom. So I sort of have spent a lot of time on a lot of trains and sort of watched the kind of continued descent of it. And there are some points where it’s like an out-of-body experience, you know, there is no other circumstance in my life where I’d pay 100 pounds to stand next to a toilet. There was just no other circumstance where that would happen. I’ve got amazing pictures of my friends and I coming back from, a wedding, in, in the southwest. And there was, there had been some sort of problem. So the train was overfull, as they always are, and we had reserved seats, but that had all gone out. There’s just a point where the train driver will declare it’s basically the purge. Okay. That’s not the laws of civil decency of all. God, we’re all we’re all sat in the toilet, basically.

 

Coco Khan Oh, no.

 

Nish Kumar Because there was no room in the kind of vestibule area around the toilet. So we were all stood in the toilet, and then we would literally have to leave the toilet so that someone could piss or shit. It was horrendous.

 

Coco Khan And then go back in the room.

 

Nish Kumar Oh, God.

 

George Monbiot So. So when all this kicked off, you know, we started reaching for metaphors. You know, this is like this. We’re like that. It becomes its own metaphor. Yes. You know, it’s like the rivers are full of shit, you know, that.

 

Nish Kumar Is, you.

 

George Monbiot Can’t make a metaphor for that. It is the metaphor.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah, yeah. That’s right. Yeah. Metaphor. Writers are running out of run.

 

Coco Khan Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, George, I do want to talk to you about your book. Of course, but just quickly. Obviously, you are one of the foremost environmental voices in the UK. You’ve been writing about these issues for a long time, and you never shy away from turning the lens to yourself. So over the years, you know you have ditched your wood burning stove. You are now a vegan. Except for roadkill. Previously you caught your own facial, though no longer. What’s your latest green revelation?

 

George Monbiot Well, I mean, yeah, I mean, I’m prepared to accept that everything I’ve ever done is wrong. Everything I’ve ever said is wrong. And that’s usually a pretty good starting point. So. So it’s yet to be revealed to me, but is it going to come? It’s going to come up. We find that bicycles are actually the greatest threat to life.

 

Coco Khan Are you doing the passive House thing?

 

George Monbiot Yeah. Well, almost. So. So, yeah, it’s it’s interesting.

 

Nish Kumar The passive house thing. I don’t like those.

 

George Monbiot That are passive houses. A house would.

 

Coco Khan Just sound like a German electronic.

 

Nish Kumar It. Oh, yeah. Yeah.

 

George Monbiot Yeah, actually, it is a German electronic genre. It genuinely is a German idea. It was a passive house originally, and, and it’s a house which basically runs on electricity alone. So. Yeah, it’s exactly what you say, but it requires no heating. It requires no heat. So fully passive house, you don’t have any heating source at all except your own bodies.

 

Nish Kumar Wow.

 

George Monbiot That’s all it takes. Now we are currently we’re renting an almost passive house where, in when it gets at its coldest in the winter, you might need to turn on one electric radiator in the house, but that is it. Really. Not quite a passive house, but it’s very close. In a true passive house, you just invite some friends around if it gets cold. Really all it takes and it gets up to 90 degrees.

 

Nish Kumar Is that just through insulation?

 

George Monbiot So well insulated windows are so good and and you’ve got this, heat recovery system. So that is well ventilated. But the they, the ventilation system captures the heat as the air goes out of the house. Right. And uses it to warm the air coming back into the house.

 

Nish Kumar Environmentalism is obviously a big key, theme of your work. And there’s critiques of how corporations have shifted the blame onto individuals and attempts to rethink how we think about corporate power. And it feels like, having read this book, The Invisible Doctrine The Secret History of Neoliberalism, which you’ve written with Peter Hutchinson, it feels like this is the kind of unification of a lot of what you’ve been writing about, really, for your whole career. Really. Like this feels like if if everything is. Coalesced around a single idea. Would that be fair to say?

 

George Monbiot Yeah, I think so. So I mean, I, I started off as a nature nut. You know, I just love the outdoors and I love nature, and I know a lot about it. And I just wanted to protect the living world. And as I began bumping into the constraints, I realized, well, that’s never enough. You have to understand why it’s being screwed in the first place. You have to understand what the political forces are, what the economic forces are. And I gradually began to realize that we have the worst possible dominant ideology at the worst possible time, because what neoliberalism says is we’ve got to strip away all the barriers to rich people making themselves richer, get rid of the tax and the redistribution, get rid of, well-funded public services, get rid of economic safety nets, get rid of the regulations that protect workers, that protect consumers, and above all, that protect the natural world. So, so the sort of the godfather of neo liberalism was this guy called Friedrich Hayek. This is economist who wrote one relatively sane but completely wrong book called The Road to Serfdom. And what absolutely off the wall bonkers book called The Constitution of Liberty, because by then he’d been massively funded by some of the richest people on earth, and he just wanted to give them exactly what they wanted to hear. And one of the things he said in that, among many other really, really crazy things, was, there should be no environmental protections at all. We should see any environmental resource, like any other resource which we exploit to exhaustion, make as much money from, and then move on. And this was a book which, according to to members of her shadow cabinet in 1975, soon after she became leader of the opposition in this country, Mrs. Thatcher, walked in on a meeting of her shadow cabinet, and they were already sitting down and discussing. So, well, what do we really believe in? Or what is the core principles of the Conservative Party at this moment? And the story goes.

 

Nish Kumar That’s a damn good impression of a 70s conservative. That’s bang on. We could add impressionists to your list of skills to it.

 

George Monbiot So she snaps open her handbag and she pulls out this totally ragged, dog eared book, clearly read 100 times and slams it on the table and says, this is what we believe, and this was the constitution of liberty. This completely insane book by Friedrich Hayek.

 

Coco Khan So fascinating because people on the left are often described as ideologues. You know, we’re obsessed with theory. But actually, what is what is more ideological than that moment? You describe that?

 

George Monbiot No, it’s really and it is not just that it’s actually Calvinist. This is a very Calvinist religious doctrine.

 

Nish Kumar Can you explain what you mean by that?

 

George Monbiot So, so, so Calvinism says, you know, there are the worthy and there are the unworthy. Those who have been by the grace of God and those who have no grace. And and God pours his mercy and his grace upon the deserving, who will go to heaven, and the rest will go to hell, literally and metaphorically. But this is exactly what neoliberalism says. But God is the invisible hand and the invisible hand of this thing they call the market, which is a euphemism for economic power, which is a euphemism for rich people. The invisible hand will bestow its grace upon the deserving and withhold its grace from the undeserving. So if you tax the rich, and if you redistribute wealth, and if you create strong public services to help people who are not rich, and if you create an economic safety net, a welfare state to help people who are not rich. And if you allow trade unions to operate and protesters to operate, or even effective politics to operate, then you are interfering in that natural order and you will therefore make your society weaker and you will destroy its enterprising spirit.

 

Coco Khan We see that rhetoric all the time, even today. Yeah. You know, Hunter and Mel Stride we’re talking about. What? Remember what language they use the skive as shirkers. Something that, you know, the the it’s that more realistic language around, like, you know, people who don’t have money are somehow unethical, impure, wrong, lazy, feckless. As you can see.

 

George Monbiot The worst thing of it is that because this doctrine has has been universalized, you know, it’s it’s it’s become so deeply impressed into our lives, we start to internalize that, you know, and the rich believe they’re responsible for their own good fortune, you know, forget the advantages of of their inheritance, their schooling, their background, their skin color, all the other things which give them a massive head start. They are solely responsible for being so rich. And the poor come to believe that they’re responsible for being so poor. You know, everyone internalizes this poisonous doctrine which says you are where you are because you deserve it.

 

Nish Kumar But that’s also that’s an important part of why you’ve written the book and why neoliberalism, the word is actually in the kind of title of the book, isn’t it? Because what you’re describing and what’s described in the book is a doctrine. But the problem is that it’s not perceived as being a doctrine. It’s not perceived as being a school of thought. It is simply we have to swallow it as economic fact.

 

George Monbiot Yeah, this is a problem. This is how the greatest success has been to claim that this really bonkers ideology is just the way things are, is just the natural order. It’s like a natural law. Like like natural selection or like gravity. It’s just the way things are and there is no alternative. This is what, as Thatcher kept saying, you know, so often that it was actually reduced to its acronym, Tina. There is no alternative. There’s no other way that this can be. Which was really weird for a doctrine which is supposed to be about choice.

 

Nish Kumar Talk to us about the bonkers nature of the ideology. What are the elements of it that you find most bonkers?

 

George Monbiot Yeah, it’s this belief that to be rich is to be worthy. And and in the Constitution of liberty in particular, it describes people who are like Trump. You know, he says, however grotesque their behavior is, that is pioneering behavior which lights a path for society. And in fact, the more grotesque it is, and the more outrageous and disgusting their behavior is, the better that will be for everyone, because there will be a sort of moral trickle down effect. And they light the path to social and cultural change, which is kind of true. I mean, they do, but whoever thinks that’s a good thing and needs a head examined.

 

Nish Kumar It is really? Yeah. It’s like people who describe themselves disruptors. You go that disruption is not inherently useful. It depends what the disruption is. Standing up in the middle of a church service and screaming, the F-word is a disruption. Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if it’s necessarily welcomed by the congregation, but it’s still a disruption. Yeah, but then the one of the most so powerful elements about this ideology is that because it was accepted as economic fact that the best way to run our economies was low tax, low regulation economies? That pill was then swallowed by center left parties in the Blairite government, Clinton’s government in America. Where do you see us in terms of the current Labor Party? Because obviously we’re talking about the Labor Party, I think with good reason as being the next government. Yeah. And there’s been a lot of rhetoric coming out of Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves that they will not be turning the spending taps on. Are we in danger of making the same mistake again?

 

George Monbiot Well, this is the amazing thing about it. I mean, because neoliberalism collapsed spectacularly in 2008, you know, the financial crisis was a direct result of the deregulation of the financial sector, which was exactly what they’d been demanding all the way along. And it collapsed financially, morally, intellectually, all the rest of it. But it just keeps trundling on. This zombie doctrine just keeps walking. So then Liz Truss comes along and says, right, we’re going to take it to the limit. She was like the most purely neoliberal prime minister we’ve ever had. She was going to do it by the book because here’s what the theory says. So how could it possibly fail? And she surrounded herself by these utter creeps from the dark money jump tanks, the Institute of Economic Affairs and the center for Policy Studies and the Policy Exchange and all these, these creepy, sinister people who refuse to reveal who who funds them. And she allowed them to basically write her policies for her to engineer this policy platform of hers. And we all saw the results, and yet still it walks and it walks in the trousers of the Labor Party. Now, this is the extraordinary thing. You know, if you listen to Rachel Reeves, this my, my lecture, for example, or so see in her comments, as you say, about spending, you know, this renewed commitment to austerity, to continuing to deregulate corporations. This is pure neoliberalism. And it has failed again and again and again. How many more times does it need to fail before people see that it’s just going to lead us towards disaster? So it’s actually profoundly depressing to see Starmer and Reeves committed to an idea which is completely bankrupt in every respect. It does does no good. Ultimately, it’ll do them no good. But the fundamental problem we face is that we have not produced a new story with which to replace it.

 

Coco Khan I think one of the most troubling examples of what you’re talking about here, in terms of the Labor Party and also going back to your, you know, your journey and your core love of the earth is the green investment pledge, right? So they they’ve they’ve rolled back on their original pledge of 28 billion. They’ve halved their commitment to being just under 15 billion pounds. I’m actually going to play you a clip. So here’s Keir Starmer announcing the changes earlier this year.

 

Clip What vote now happen is that we won’t make further or new investment decisions. And that means that we won’t reach the 28 billion pounds envisaged, and that affect that figure is effectively stood down. The reason for that is because since we announced the 28 billion, the Tories have done terrible damage to our economy, not just the Liz Truss budget, but also now the government briefing that it’s going to max out on the government’s credit card. Reckless. But I have to anticipate the circumstances as they are now, not as I would wish them to be.

 

Coco Khan George I saw you shaking your head in dismay hearing that.

 

George Monbiot Well, in fairness to him, it would be totally disorienting if we were to have a politician who kept their promises and didn’t blame the other side for the failings. Just oh my God. Okay. So, yeah, he’s trying. He’s trying to keep us in our safe space.

 

Nish Kumar But, you know, there’s a reason we don’t have all politicians do what you did by over to the interview by I maybe everything I think is wrong.

 

George Monbiot But, you know, this whole thing that it’s a credit card which you can max out.

 

Nish Kumar Oh my God, that.

 

George Monbiot Just shows a complete fundamental misunderstanding of the state budget.

 

Nish Kumar Please talk us through, because this is the this is one of the like, core tenets of my anger. Yeah. And it’s that 2008 happens is a crisis of neoliberals, a crisis of economic deregulation. The book goes into it in great detail. Then in this country, we treat it with austerity, which is, in effect, treating a disease with more of the disease.

 

George Monbiot It’s bloodletting isn’t it.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. That’s right. Yeah. But and then talk us through this idea of the national credit card, because we hear it all the time. We hear about the National, the there’s no magic money tree. The public finances is like a household. We’ve maxed out the national credit card. Just explain to us why that is horseshit. Sure.

 

George Monbiot Because if you spend money into public services, you stimulate economic growth. As simple as that. Now, as it happens, I’m very skeptical about economic growth because of its environmental impacts. But, you know, if you wanted to do what he claims to be doing, you would actually spend more money. You would, you would stimulate more economic activity by investing in public services, by investing in the Green New Deal, etcetera, etcetera. That would have the exact opposite effect of what he says it would have. You don’t run out of money there. You create money by that means, because a state is not the same as a household. They’re totally different entities and they run on completely different principles.

 

Coco Khan I can’t print my own money. Not yet.

 

Nish Kumar Coming soon. Cocobod. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. All right. I was talking to a young person, last week who was saying that they were at school in, the 20 tens and were doing A-levels in 2012, and their economics teacher actually said to them, I don’t know how to teach you economics at the moment because the things that the Chancellor is doing, I would fail you if you proposed that. I he said, you know, if an A-level student came to me and said, we are going to cut our way out of a recession, I would say you have not understood exactly. You have not understood economics.

 

George Monbiot Certainly I going to cut my way out of this broken. But, you know, it’s just it’s so bizarre, isn’t it? But, you know, of course, what the Tories wanted, they wanted to destroy public services, you know, because that is that is neoliberal ideology. You got to destroy the public services. They wanted to cut tax for the rich, etcetera, etcetera. The question is, why does labor want the same thing?

 

Nish Kumar [AD]

 

Coco Khan One more thing. I want to talk to you about as well. Really stood out to me is on a personal level in your book, and also some of your recent writing is the relationship between neoliberalism and mental wellbeing. This idea that you are to blame, your poverty, your poor health, you’re just lazy. You’re feckless. If only you spent more on beauty, if you’re a woman, if only you exercised harder and got up at 5 a.m. and did some squats, like you’d be a better person. I just wondered if you could, elaborate on that for our listeners.

 

George Monbiot So, I mean, it’s an extraordinary thing, and it was even more extraordinary that it was scarcely reported at all here in the UK. But there was a recent global survey of 71 nations on mental well-being, and we came worst for mental distress out of 71 nations equal worse with South Africa, and overall mental ill health. We were second from worst. We beat Uzbekistan just, out of 71 nations.

 

Nish Kumar Suck it Uzbekistan.

 

George Monbiot So you know what’s going on here? Well, you know, we’ve a we’ve been turned into neoliberal citizens more effectively than in almost any other country because we’ve had 45 years of it uninterrupted, you know, and people say, oh, but we had a labor government say, yeah, you know, there was some small amelioration of certain aspects, but they were, you know, fundamentalist neo liberals in other respects. I mean, the private finance initiative, which was which was still suffering from, you know, all schools and hospitals and stuff, prisons and the rest of it was basically bankrupt because of the private finance initiative and all of these crazy other neoliberal things which labor did. And it it whittles away at your mind, you know, this blame, this endless blame, which is at the heart of neoliberalism is all your fault. However huge and structural the issue might be, structural unemployment. It’s your fault for being on enterprising obesity. You know nothing to do with the junk food industry, nothing to do with the fact that they’ve turned all the playing fields into, development. You know, it’s it’s your fault for being lazy. Everything always is your fault. And even when I’m.

 

Nish Kumar Climate change is our fault, it’s. No. Yeah, it’s not corporations faults.

 

George Monbiot And we have to solve it individually. Because what neoliberalism tells us is we’re not citizens. We’re consumers. And, you know, this is a deliberate strategy because, you know, if we’re citizens, we’re effective. You know, when Margaret Thatcher said there’s no such thing as society, that was that was not a statement of fact. It was a manifesto. That’s what she wanted it to be. Because when you get together as a society, when you act as politically engaged citizens, you’re threatening to power. But as consumers sitting at home choosing a different brand of biscuits online, you know, you got no power at all. Absolutely zero. You know, you just a different kind of consumer. You might be, oh, I’m a green consumer. Fine. What does that change actually changes? Nothing. It has no structural impact at all. What it changes is to isolate you. It’s to mate you alone is to destroy your role as a member of civic society, as a democratically engaged citizen. And that is devastating.

 

Nish Kumar I want to talk about something you mentioned there, which is about us all being politically engaged. And we want to also bring some hope to the conversation as well. And one of the things that you’ve been an advocate for is different methods to re-energize voters in the book, because one of the things we should stress about the book is you do try and proffer an alternative story to fill in how we might reimagine the country in the systems by which we govern. And you talk a lot about, you know, local organization and local political action, but also coupling that with democratic action in a big political sense. One of the things that you’ve been doing, and we actually talked about it on the show a couple of months ago, is the people’s primary in South Devon. Can you talk to us about what that’s about?

 

George Monbiot Yeah, sure. So this is basically wresting political power out of the hands of political parties and bringing it back to the people. It wasn’t my idea, but I’m a supporter of it. A brilliant, small local group of people who said, you know, we’re just going to sit here and watch the Tory win again and we’re going to sit and watch the Tory win, because the vote is going to be split between the progressive parties or the more progressive parties. And I got to bicker among each other and each try to maximize their vote. And the way the polls are looking, Lib Dems are going to get 31%. Labor’s going to get 31%. The Tories are going to get 34% and the Tories are going to get in again. Yeah. So classic progressive tragedy as Neil Lawson calls it. And so what are we going to do about this? Well, we’re going to basically push the political parties out of the way and say, we’re going to decide who our candidate is going to be. So we’ll invite them, you know, they can come and talk to us at public meetings and say why they should be the one we should all get behind, but it’s not them who can make that decision. We as a local people are going to make this decision. And so we had a series of. Eight meetings around the constituency, labor had still failed to field a candidate. Unbelievably. I mean, they’re just in total disarray. It’s really depressing. You know, you think, you know, they’re preparing for government, actually. You know, they’re not preparing to tie their own shoelaces. It’s really it’s rubbish. And so it was the Greens and the Lib Dems, Lib dem headquarters saw the threat that this posed to their control and try to shut the whole thing down. But thank goodness they, the local candidate, was very strong minded, told them to eff off and just went ahead with it. And we had these eight really amazing meetings, fully attended, packed out, where people are just really sensible questions, you know? What you find is that when you give people more democratic opportunities, they become more democratic citizens. You know, it’s a sort of self-improving system. And we came up with, a clear result that the most likely to win the election was going to be the Lib Dem candidate. And so we decided, regardless of all prior political affiliations, that’s the one we’re going to get and get behind in order to get rid of the Tory who’s completely useless anyway. And, and so it’s it’s a way I mean, it’s by no means a fix to all our political dysfunctions, but it’s one small way in which you can start to, to reclaim politics from the centralized system which has been built around it. But we need to go much, much further further than this. I mean, we’ve got yeah, a really crazy system. It’s basically an 18th century system with a little veneer of democracy on top of it. I mean, you can see this just in the bloody symbol. They use it as a symbol of Parliament, right? There’s a crown with bold colors and chains. So centralized power exclusion and captivity. When it’s when a system tells you what it is, believe it.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah.

 

George Monbiot So yeah. And and it’s, it’s, it’s this crazy thing where, you know, you just say, right. The way the system works, right, is that these parties will vie for power. It’s a general election, an elitist, publish a manifesto with hundreds of proposals in it, and no one will read the manifesto. But you’ll all vote on 1 or 2 issues, or maybe not even an issue at all. It might even be a three word slogan Get Brexit done. People will just vote on whether they like that or don’t like that. And then the party would get in with a minority of the total vote, and will receive a mandate to do whatever it wants to do for the next five years, because people have got behind us. So we presume consent for everything that’s in the manifesto and everything that’s not in the manifesto that we wanted. We don’t accept the principle of presumed consent and sex. Why should we accept it in politics? And there’s all sorts of things we accept in politics. We don’t accept in any other sphere, like coercive and controlling behavior, you know, for example. So why the hell are we putting up with this in the 21st century? You know, there are amazing tools now for creating genuine participatory, deliberative democracy. But what you find in all these situations is that, bizarrely, it works much better in practice than it does in theory. And the reason for that is this transformation of people into democratic citizens. You know, people say, oh, the ordinary people could never make rational decisions, unlike the professional politician. And what you find is that ordinary people make far more rational decisions than the buffoons that we have in Westminster. Ordinary people will always just argue with each other and, you know, pursue their own self-interest. No, that actually describes the people that we’ve put in, as MPs in our so-called representative democracy does not describe the way that most people are. In fact, you could see society as a society of altruists governed by psychopaths.

 

Coco Khan Another great bad name governed by psychopaths.

 

Nish Kumar Altruist, governed by psychopaths, is a fantastic piece by the fantastic Van Dike. And out of his way too.

 

George Monbiot There are copyright laws for these.

 

Nish Kumar Papers as well. Yeah. It’s a fantastic bad of AD. It’s a fantastic way to round off this conversation. George, thank you so much for joining us. Such total.

 

George Monbiot Pleasure.

 

Nish Kumar It was such a pleasure to have you. The book is called The Invisible Doctrine, and it is available now, and I strongly recommend it.

 

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Nish Kumar Now. We had so much fun with our soufflé villains last week that we’re whipping up another serving right now. So in a week where, with the defection of Natalie Elphicke to the Labor Party, we’ve been questioning Labor’s values and worrying about drift to the right. More than ever, the conservatives have clearly seen this and felt insecure. So I’ve decided that no one lurches to the right harder than the Conservative Party of the United Kingdom. So they wheeled out the Minister for Common Sense, and I’m using the largest inverted commas possible for that. Esther McVey, who’s announced a crackdown on the most dreadful example of civil service impropriety. The rainbow lanyard. Listen to this clip from LBC.

 

Clip You don’t need, political activism in a visible way, because for every lanyard that you show, you’re therefore not saying about all the other things you do or don’t agree with. So you’re promoting one at the exclusion of other things you’re making. And hence I ask the question, why would you be wearing it? It is making a statement. You’re putting it on to make a statement.

 

Nish Kumar So what she’s saying, is that, civil servants shouldn’t wear rainbow lanyards. Why stop there? Esther McVey. Why not legally ban Skittles from the civil service? Why not announce the Ministry of the defense is going to bomb the sky next time that there’s a rainbow for promoting the homosexual agenda. But not only is this utter horseshit that’s just throwing red meat to the base. It’s also absolutely meaningless, right? Because after McVeigh said all of this stuff, the Downing Street spokesperson said the guidance was not going to be prescriptive and said it was an illustrative example and said that the speech was bringing to life the issues she’s been working on. So it’s not even coming into force as a rule. It’s just homophobia for homophobia sake. That’s all it is. And, you know. It is astonishing the level of stupidity and the depths of sheer idiocy that this government is capable of sinking to. I would say a broader common sense suggestion, if you’re really interested in common sense, is why don’t you all just fuck off? Like, why don’t you just fuck off and win the Conservative Party up as a political entity? Because at this point, it’s serving nothing of any use to people living in this country. All it’s trying to do is so harmony and division. So there’s my minister for common sense suggestion. Go fuck yourself.

 

Coco Khan I couldn’t agree more. So, listen, even though we need him to disappear, we do want to talk about everyone’s favorite. And by that I mean notorious. Spad turned Substack up. Dominic Cummings. He is trying another tilt to power through the form of a new political party with a working title of the start up party, although whispers suggest he’s actually going to go with the name People’s Action, which is maybe just bland enough to trick unsuspecting voters, although it does have a touch of the, you know, jackboot about it, doesn’t it?

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. People’s action is, you know, what makes freedom? Yeah, it’s all a little. It’s all a little. What makes freedom?

 

Coco Khan Well, you did say about voting accidentally for the racist party. So keep keep an eye out. People’s action. Politico is reporting that Cummings has been holding a series of focus groups to get the public’s view on a new anti-establishment party. I’m doing air quotes for anti-establishment there. And in his first interview since leaving number ten, he told the I newspaper last week that the start up party would be completely different, ruthlessly focused on voters unfriendly to all the amazing talent in the country. On his blog announcing the Startup Party in August last year, Cummings said that, it would take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights and he would massively cut the civil service, and that the goal is to win in 2028, governed for two terms and self-destruct as a legal entity. He is a bit like the sort of hinge, you know, designed to be deleted from Python. He goes on to say.

 

Nish Kumar It’s a dating app, but everybody’s got STDs. That’s basically what it is.

 

Coco Khan He goes on to say that the startup party should, immediately after the exit polls are live on election night 2024, have a plan to divert energy and money away from how to revive the Tories and instead be how do you replace the Tories? So what do you think? Just another populist party?

 

Nish Kumar Well, the only thing Dominic Cummings and I read agree with it, is that the Conservative Party should be wound up as a political entity. That’s pretty much the only yeah, yeah, only thing we have in government at this point, I think, I think any political party that is fronted by Dominic Cummings is going to have a serious credibility issue. I don’t think.

 

Coco Khan You could say it’s a bit shortsighted.

 

Nish Kumar There you go.

 

Coco Khan That’s why we do this job. It’s for puns like that.

 

Nish Kumar I think that I think the people like Cummings and Johnson have badly underestimated the extent to which the breaches of lockdown have angered the majority of people, regardless of their voting intention in this country. I, I don’t see either of those men being forgiven any time soon, by most of the people in this country. And, and also, I think there’s a serious credibility gap from the man who gave us. I drove to Barnard Castle to test my eyesight. I, I just think that that feels like the sort of thing, and a political operative who has a history of reading the public mood, the Dominic Cummings does undeniably have should probably be able to work that out if he thinks that the public is going to take him seriously. It’s not just his eyes. He needs to get tested.

 

Coco Khan I do wonder if he actually is doing this to, for the public. I think you know. Or is it his own revenge that he wants to take on the Conservative Party?

 

Nish Kumar Yeah, and it’s probably a preview of the next couple of years of the immediate future of the Conservative Party, which is sort of internecine squabbling between various different factions. There are a kind of group of one nation or centrist conservatives that are trying to rally behind Andy Street, who was actually just defeated. As the mayor of the West Midlands. They’re trying to unite behind him, to try and persuade him to run first as an MP and then potentially for later, the Conservative Party on a more centrist platform. There’s obviously the whispers about Penny Mordaunt from that same wing of the party. Then obviously there’s, Suella Braverman, on the kind of hard right of the party. Then there’s Lee Anderson and Reform UK that is trying to drag the entire conversation further to the right. And then there’s sort of everyone’s favorite kind of state smasher brackets, incredibly tedious bore Dominic Cummings. So there’s sort of various factions vying for the center right, right and far right of the British political spectrum over the next year.

 

Coco Khan But I think the only thing I would add is when you were saying earlier about, like, they underestimate the public, won’t forgive these the charlatan ism that was at the heart of, the Johnson. And that Cummings was part of. I completely agree. I mean, you just look at the Liberal Democrats and they still struggle because there’s a generation of people who will never forget what Nick Clegg did, like, you know, the public are very forgiving, but we do keep receipts.

 

Nish Kumar Yeah. Oh yeah, I also that’s ten years ago. Yeah. This is this is much more recent history.

 

Coco Khan I mean, what are they playing? So now, listen, some of you have noticed that we’ve had some heroes missing lately, and, you know, we want to mix it up. Something hugely important to us on this podcast, which we, we hope, you know, is that we want to celebrate the people making change. And we also want to hear about the radical ways that’s being done. So we do want to bring our heroes back, but we want you to help us. If you know of any grassroot campaigns that you’re working on or that you want to give a shout out to, then, let us know. Perhaps you’re doing some innovative volunteering work, or perhaps you’re doing a campaign that doesn’t get enough attention in the press. Just let us know.

 

Nish Kumar Yes. And we also want to let you know that next week we’ll be focusing on the rights and well-being of the trans community. We’re going to take another look at the case review with some very special guests. If you have any burning questions that you’d like us to answer or would like to share your own experience, please do get in touch.

 

Coco Khan You can send those grassroots shout outs or any other comments you have by emailing us at PSUK@ReducedListening.Co.Uk. We love hearing your voices, so if you’re feeling brave, send us a voice note on WhatsApp. Our number is 07494933444 internationally that’s +44 7494 933444.

 

Nish Kumar Don’t forget to follow at Pod Save the UK on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter. You can also find us on YouTube. For access to full episodes and other exclusive content. You can drop us a review too, if you like, but only if it’s positive.

 

Coco Khan Pod Save the UK is a Reduced Listening production for Crooked Media.

 

Nish Kumar Thanks to senior producer James Tindale and digital producer Alex Bishop, with additional production support from Annie Keates Thorpe.

 

Coco Khan Video editing was by Will Duncan and the music is by Vasilis Fotopoulos.

 

Nish Kumar Thanks to our engineer Alex Bennett.

 

Coco Khan Executive producers are Anushka Sharma, Dan Jackson and Madeleine Herringer with additional support from Ari Schwartz.

 

Nish Kumar Remember to hit subscribe for new shows on Thursday on Amazon, Spotify or Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts.

 

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