We need to talk about neo-liberalism’s Rawlsian pact with crime

For all Priti Patel’s posturing, the Tories are soft on crime – they prefer it to revolution

By Phil Hall

You think you are OK on your first world island. It is unrocked by social unrest because of decades of post-war investment into a functioning social democracy by Labour governments and one nation Tories. But now, because it is such a seemingly stable country, money from international criminal cartels and dictatorships flows into London to hide, and in particular, the dirty money flows into the London property market and British businesses. After all, great Britain has been a safe haven until now, hasn’t it? Britain is the unsinkable pirate ship. London is the top deck.

But is Great Britain really a stable country after all, despite the recent upsets we have had; after four decades of the harsh and constant impoverishment of the majority of British citizens? How has the neoliberal British state kept the boat steady in this stormy economic, political and social weather?

In order to provide a partial answer, we need to talk more about the Mephistophelian, Rawlsian pact global capitalism has made with low-level drug crime. As our first world pirate island begins to rock a little in the high seas, we start to understand: neo-liberals made a deal with the devil.

Just as most of the great corporations and some of the western governments preferred fascism to socialism and communism before WW2, they now prefer crime to social change and the redistribution of wealth.

So many Hollywood movies glorify crime, few glorify revolution.

Britain is the unsinkable pirate ship and London is the top deck.

It started with Callaghan and Thatcher. Callaghan set the scene for Thatcher. He was an extremely reluctant socialist. One suspects he could have been the first Blairite. Perhaps that’s ungenerous of me.

In the UK, once the thuggish Margaret Thatcher got into power and the state machinery was in the hands of vulture capitalists like The Mayfair Set, the British nomenklatura could indulge their greed. The City was deregulated. Money slopped about and was syphoned away.

After the miners were defeated, the wealthy in Britain saw that nothing could stop them now. They got greedier and greedier and greedier. First Thatcher (known popularly as the milk snatcher) sold off oil, gas, telecommunications, car manufacturing, the railway services, steel, coal, the energy companies, and even water distribution. Water was virtually free until that point. The Tories pocketed the lot.

James Callaghan, the start of the neoliberal rot. He was no socialist.

But that was not enough for them. The grown up, entitled, public school children wanted an even bigger cut. So they started selling off the affordable accommodation destined for the masses: 2 million council homes had been sold by the late 90s and the government made nearly £30 billion. The money was used to offset the tax burden of the very wealthy and pay for council and government services. In this way Thatcher saw to it that the very wealthy didn’t have to foot the tax bill. With her awful Ayn Randian logic, Thatcher was rewarding the rich and punishing the poor. Gone were the higher levels of taxation on the rich levied in the 60s and 70s with income tax at 90% for the wealthiest in the 60s and 75% in the 70s. The Tories cut it to 40% in 1988.

The sell off continued: it was all sweetheart deals between jolly chums in friendly tendering competitions, with the Americans as honoured guests at the table. It’s US shareholders who control British Petroleum now, not the British government. In this way, the public sector was slowly dismantled for the corporate vultures to feast on. The demobbed armies of the servicemen who had defeated Hitler and Mussolini were not there to make demands. The power of the unions was broken. The British people were bent over a barrel by their ruling class and continually rogered.

Rail tickets go sky high, the costs are cut to dangerous levels. Accidents happen and no one goes to jail. The levels of corruption and impunity have reached new heights. None of us are surprised by Tory corruption any more, and yet the electorate, in an enormous act of self harm, voted for Johnson over Corbyn.

The wealthy want more and more and more. They want a complete rollback of all social protection in the commons. So, the next weapon of choice is outsourcing. When people vote Tory, no one votes for outsourcing. They vote for the likes of Brexit and patriotism. They vote against immigration, and all that pigswill that the gobshite Murdoch papers and the TV pour into their ears and eyes. They didn’t vote for outsourcing, but what they got was outsourcing.

… government cronies shmooze. Work is outsourced and lobbyists shill for contracts. […] It’s so sinister, even the prisons have been outsourced.

NHS and school services, all kinds of public services, even the prisons are outsourced. Instead of the government providing services and building and fixing roads and making things with our tax money, government cronies shmooze. Work is ‘outsourced‘. Corporate lobbyists shill for contracts from the government. The lines of responsibility are conveniently blurred. When sewage is poured into rivers and the Tory government shrugs. It wasn’t us, it was the naughty contractor. Contractors are a perfect excuse.

Companies are now paid to provide services to almost all schools and universities, the use of agency work is rife. The NHS is slowly dismantled using the weapon of outsourcing. More and more money is creamed off in profits. Less and less money is reinvested.

There are so few full-time unionised workers compared to the amount that there were in the 70s and so the unions seem relatively powerless for the moment.-People’s labour rights are not well enough defended, they are eroded. Employees have less and less security of employment and there are far more low paid part-time workers. There are many more casual, hourly paid workers. More and more, to survive – as they do in less developed countries – people work for cash-in-hand, and avoid paying taxes. Poor migrants are paid the absolute minimum as unscrupulous employers take advantage of their dubious immigration status, and if that’s not enough then they have to find other, less legal ways to generate an income.

The dirty secret of mainstream political philosophy is that it has been weaponised by neoliberals and it is designed to stave off radical, progressive social change.

Even the universities have been affected, with whole departments staffed by contract lecturers and managed by only one or two full-time employees. The arts and journalism have been devastated. Only the people with sinecures have enough to survive. Now, instead of university being free, students pay for it. Students pay thousands a year and there is no maintenance grant, so they are borrowing more to live on and racking up educational debts of 60,000, 70,000, 80,000 – even more, depending on the type of degree, and all for the privilege of being able to contribute usefully to society.

The explosive situation gets even worse because now you have the Internet companies that pay by contract, by the yard, by delivery, through bidding systems, and the people who used to do their work for a pension, holidays and other benefits are stripped of all rights and now they have to fight for them all over again in return for ‘flexibility‘ and ‘choice‘. This was London in 2020.

Psychoative drugs, photo by Lifeartist

And then Covid hits and all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out. We begin to see our safe little island for what it is. We live in a powder keg of poverty and unhappiness and what keeps the lid on it is low-level drug trafficking. The poorest, potentially most explosive, least educated men, the ones most accustomed to violence, turn away from thoughts of bloody revolution as a path to social justice, and instead choose crime.

We live in a powder keg of poverty and unhappiness and what keeps the lid on it is low-level drug trafficking.

So that now, instead of organising collectively to overthrow an unjust government, the sans-culottes will only riot to smash open shop windows and steal electronic goods and clothes that they cannot easily afford.

Mainstream political philosophy, the philosophy that touts Rawls, can get off its high horse. It is not purposed for the social good of the many, it is weaponised and at the service of the few. PPE to you, too! The strategies developed through political philosophy have one main purpose: to stave off radical, progressive, social change, to prevent uprisings and riots and revolutions, to preserve social harmony and the status quo at all costs.

The dirty secret of The UK – and of the USA and Columbia and other countries, too – is that low-level drug crime is tolerated in order to allow a little trickle down to the hopeless. If Priti Patel, or anyone like her, actually did shut down the drug trade completely, the result would be a violent uprising. The sans-culottes would be at the front of the demonstrations singing the Internationale. We should be very careful what we wish for. Give me a democratic change towards humane socialism any day of the week. I don’t want to be led into violent social change by a bunch of lumpen bovver boys.

The thin, tattooed man standing at the end of our road is selling to passers-by. They are young customers, teenagers. The police are informed, but do nothing. They know.

So, in our modest section of a very wealthy suburb of London, neoliberalism hits. Brexit hits. Covid hits. The tide goes far out and reveals the scene:

.. a restaurant that no one ever goes to on the corner done up to the nines. A group of people take over the chippie and the hairdressers and refurbish them in marble. The corner shop sells marijuana under the counter with the crisps and chocolate and alcoholic drinks. The thin tattooed man standing at the end of our road is selling drugs to passers-by and scuttles off if you stare at him too long. These are young customers, teenagers. The police are informed, but do nothing. Yes, they do know. I’ve told them.

A gang of thugs occupy two houses on the street to our left and deal openly in marijuana. Their house stinks.

A man in the adjoining road sells laughing gas, the silver gas cannisters litter the road. A gang of thugs occupy two houses on the street to our left and deal openly in marijuana. Their house stinks. We see them exchanging wads of cash right out in the open. One of them patrols our block constantly on a scooter. He knows where we live. Where everyone lives.

Then let’s talk about the big money; the real corruption. At the end of our set of streets, around the corner, near the station, and where there used to be a pub, property speculators are building blocks of luxury flats in each place. But these are not for local people to live in, they are money pots and most will stay empty. London is moving away from European Union regulations. This is an invitation for dirty money, legal and illegal, to flood in.

Debates about what is really happening and about how to forestal social unrest with proper investment are avoided. Discussions about the legalisation of drugs and the negative effects of immigration muddy the waters. Immigration provides the perfect finger pointing distraction. ‘Look, a squirrel!’ These tactics make it difficult to talk about the real Kevin: we need to talk about capitalism. Immigrants are merely scapegoats.

Let’s stare at the truth in the Home Secretary’s smiling, vampiric face. Were it not for the partial toleration of low-level drug crime by the UK government, there would be a social explosion in the UK; one that has been primed to go off for the last 42 years, since 1979. Low-level crime and deregulation in the UK are consciously tolerated because the Conservatives, and before them the Blairites, much prefer crime to revolution.