Any Spare Change?

10th October 2010 Published in GUU’s Magazine

It was good while it lasted. We grew up in the age of Cool Britannia, effortlessly entertained by Tony Blair’s grin. The sun shone and the economy bounced along like a happy child. Life was good. Then the child fell flat on his face. It turns out that we can’t live happily on property prices, banking bets or britpop. It seems like only yesterday that mournful Northern Rock customers were politely queuing in light hearted despair outside those large empty piggy banks – ending our idyllic age. Yet it was three years ago that this nostalgia ended. We are now engulfed in an unavoidable tragedy: the ramifications of the banking bankruptcy.

It’s easy at this time of writing to attempt a brave face – I am unaware of the full scale of our collective debt disaster. VAT is up in the new year, Child Benefit is no longer universal and I’ve cleaned my windows with a sponge – all in the name of mini-austerity. This is only the beginning. By the sense of fear awaiting George Osborne’s spending announcement on the 20th of October – which will represent the main course of cuts – it seems as if society is about to be swallowed up and chewed into little pieces. We’ve got no money. No one is quite sure where it went. And whether to shrug or moan is, as ever, the inspiring contribution of many.

I sincerely hope we’ll avoid starvation and suicide as a result of all this bad news: one can never be quite sure how bad an appointment at the dentist is until you’ve been. There is, however, a rather rotty oral sensation surrounding this economic check up. Firstly, those in power – both labour and tory – have been pulling out the warning phrases for a while. ‘Cuts tougher than Thatcher’ said Alistair Darling on Labour plans. Alan Johnston then ironically described the Tory cuts as ‘worse than Thatcher’. So on the ‘horrible Thatcher scale’ it looks grim.

But what does this mean? Billions of pounds re-appearing and disappearing…blah blah blah. Well public services wont starve, but they’ll struggle and suffer. Transport, Defence, Policing, Welfare, and crucially Education, will likely be turned upside down and sliced up. It wont all be bad. Spending billions on weapons or for mass benefit entrapment has long been questioned – and will change. However, most cuts will certainly be distressing and divisive. The outcome of Lord Browne’s report into Universities is likely to recommend higher fees and more debt for English students. The incompetence of successive British Governments, and of the financial system itself, is set to take a heavy toll on students.

The feelgood factor of Cool Britannia is long gone. This is a new, apprehensive era. Sarah Dunant, commenting on student funding, said “this could be a seismic political moment…politicians have spent so much time hand-wringing over the political apathy of youth. But this may be the moment when that changes.” Revulsion, reform or revolution: let’s wait and see.

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