The Bottom Line


Who governs Britain? It was a question first projected onto British consciousness by the Heath government of 1974 in an attempt to garner legitimacy for its stance against ‘Union militancy’. Government battles against the Unions punctuated much of what remained of the 1970s and 1980s, with the who governs Britain debate dictating which industrial relations strategy (Conservative or Labour), would be chosen as best to work with (or against in the case of Thatcher) the Unions.


Mrs Thatcher’s ascension to the Downing Street Throne enabled the formulation of a somewhat different question with which to put to the British electorate. This question became: what governs Britain? And so we entered into, for the purposes of this article, an era I have labeled ‘the Era of the Bottom Line’.


The ‘Era of the Bottom Line’ is one synonymous with rugged individualism and middle-class pretensions. The watchword of this era? Profit. Under the auspices of Mrs Thatcher, Union ire was dissipated, traditional industry put in its place and the City pushed into the most prominent of foregrounds.


Friedman, Hayek, deregulation, free markets, the power of the individual and the destruction of the Unions are phrases and words that form a succinct summary of the ‘Era of the Bottom Line’. And let’s not kid ourselves. The era is not yet over. Today, heads of government exist as glorified arms salesmen, putting a premium on revenue from arms export over the need for international stability (see David Cameron’s prevarication over the suspension of arms export licenses to Israel). The UK-Israeli relationship is not an isolated example. We continue to forge extensive military ties with Gulf Arab states known to be particularly weak on counter-terrorism cooperation. The most prominent of these would be Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The Saudis remain our largest arms market.


Domestically too, profit takes precedence over social stability or need. See the ongoing struggle over rail fares currently taking place. The average fare has risen by 25% since 2010, yet the ‘Era of the Bottom Line’ dictates that private companies must battle it out for the largest share of the rail pie. This looks confusing in the light of the success of nationalized East Coast Rail. Profit continues to dominate over the angst of everyday commuters struggling to cope with hike after hike in prices. The government refuses to countenance future nationalization of the railways, ignoring the success of East Coast Rail in the process.


A further, more practical application of this obsession with profit can be seen in the example of Newcastle United Football Club. Owner, Mike Ashley, billionaire proprietor of sportswear giant, Sports Direct, recently took away the rights of Newcastle’s coaches to complimentary tickets for their families. In the grand scheme of a premier league football club, the money Ashley will now receive for these tickets is completely negligible. Yet, profit rules, not the morale of the staff that keeps his company running.


One more example needed? Energy. Reports today suggest that energy firms are charging a 300% markup on gas. When we’re seeing the greatest fall in real wages since 1874, and the public sector is seeing such a significant contraction, the average man or woman on a median income simply cannot afford this state of affairs. But, profit will always rule in the Era of the Bottom Line under the Coalition government.


As the Era of the Bottom Line continues unabated, its worst excesses have burned the majority. In an era- a direct product of the years of lite-touch regulation and profit-mania- where the architects of the 2008 crisis continue to be untouchable, the poor and the disabled are facing disproportionate cuts, and profit looms large. The financial sector has incredibly grown as a proportion of our economy since the pre-recession days.


Measures are not being taken to tackle the root causes of many of Britain’s major issues. The elite viewed the 2011 riots in the prism of mindless criminality. Poverty and unemployment can be explained by behavioral traits. For David Cameron, profit is the way forward. As a result, come in the Era of the Food Bank.