One Nation under CCTV

Now we’ve all known for some time that Britain is degenerating into a neoliberal version of East Germany, with its endemic surveillance and database wet dreams, and few things really surprise me any more, but every so often it manages to plumb an even deeper level of insanity. This time the thieving crooks and totalitarian freaks who run Britain want to install CCTV cameras in people’s homes:

THOUSANDS of the worst families in England are to be put in “sin bins” in a bid to change their bad behaviour, [AK: the aptly named] Ed Balls announced yesterday.

The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes. They will be monitored to ensure that children attend school, go to bed on time and eat proper meals. Private security guards will also be sent round to carry out home checks, while parents will be given help to combat drug and alcohol addiction.

What with all the unprecedented budget deficits, money printing and soaring debt, I’m sure spending more money spying on the population is an excellent idea. I’m not even being sarcastic here. As the government steps up its repressive and unpopular policies, resulting in ever more disillusionment and resentment, this actually constitutes an essential investment in state security. The accompanying expansion of the overgrown nanny state is aimed at making children of the population, incapable of resisting the state’s spreading, suffocating tentacles.

Around 2,000 families have gone through these Family Intervention Projects so far. But ministers want to target 20,000 more in the next two years, with each costing between £5,000 and £20,000 – a potential total bill of £400million. Ministers hope the move will reduce the number of youngsters who get drawn into crime because of their chaotic family lives, as portrayed in Channel 4 comedy drama Shameless.

Sin bin projects operate in half of council areas already but Mr Balls wants every local authority to fund them. He said: “This is pretty tough and non-negotiable support for families to get to the root of the problem. There should be Family Intervention Projects in every local authority area because every area has families that need support.”

But Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling said: “This is all much too little, much too late. [AK: what a freak] “This Government has been in power for more than a decade during which time anti-social behaviour, family breakdown and problems like alcohol abuse and truancy have just got worse and worse.”

Or how about you prune welfare, make at least a half-assed attempt at escaping the coming debt / hyper-inflationary spiral (take your pick) and actually encourage these chavs to work for their living.

Mr Balls also said responsible parents who make sure their children behave in school will get new rights to complain about those who allow their children to disrupt lessons. Pupils and their families will have to sign behaviour contracts known as Home School Agreements before the start of every year, which will set out parents’ duties to ensure children behave and do their homework.

The updated Youth Crime Action Plan also called for a crackdown on violent girl gangs as well as drug and alcohol abuse among young women. But a decision to give ministers new powers to intervene with failing local authority Youth Offending Teams was criticised by council leaders.

1. Its old industrial cities in the north, west and Scotland, once home to great shipbuilding, coal and car industries, have been transformed into urban wastelands by the dogmas of the neoliberal consensus. Ironically, far from leading to greater personal responsibility and enterprise, Britain instead experienced social breakdown, deindustrialization and paradoxically, a metastasized state with universal surveillance and databases, political spin, a burgeoning bureaucracy and ever expanding welfare rolls to support the demoralized victims of market fundamentalism. Consider ‘Soviet’ Britain swells amid the recession:

PARTS of the United Kingdom have become so heavily dependent on government spending that the private sector is generating less than a third of the regional economy, a new analysis has found. The study of “Soviet Britain” has found the government’s share of output and expenditure has now surged to more than 60% in some areas of England and over 70% elsewhere. …

Across the whole of the UK, 49% of the economy will consist of state spending, while in Wales, the figure will be 71.6% – up from 59% in 2004-5. Nowhere in mainland Britain, however, comes close to Northern Ireland, where the state is responsible for 77.6% of spending, despite the supposed resurgence of the economy after the end of the Troubles. Even in southern England, the government’s share of spending is growing relentlessly. In the southeast, it has gone up from 33% to 36% of the economy in four years.

The state now looms far larger in many parts of Britain than it did in former Soviet satellite states such as Hungary and Slovakia as they emerged from communism in the 1990s, when state spending accounted for about 60% of their economies. … One of the biggest public sector employers in the northeast is the Department of Work and Pensions, which employs 13,400 there, hundreds of them in jobcentres [AK: the bureaucracy is expanding to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy, etc].

Furthermore, southern England’s apparent dynamism came from the real estate bubble and “innovative” development of new financial instruments. We all know how that turned out… Then the article mentions a Liberal Democrat pinko blathering that “the state’s grip on the regions was likely to soften the impact of recession there”. Well, yes. As long as the state holds. But considering that even in comparison with the US, a) Britain is more deindustrialized, b) its imbalances with respect to the rest of the world are far larger as a percentage of GDP, c) it’s more burdened by government and consumer indebtedness, and d) it has far gloomier energy futures (to be explored in more detail below), the specter of state collapse will haunt the British isles over the next decade. Considering that Britons are older and rely on the state for their livelihoods to a much greater extent than Americans, the disintegration of the center will produce a far great social shock in Britain than in the US.

2. Out of all the big European states, Britain probably faces the darkest dark ages – quite literally. France will get by comfortably on nuclear power for a few more decades. Germany has one of the most advanced renewable energy sectors, a breathing coal industry and good relations with Russia, or more to the point Gazprom. So does Italy. Meanwhile, the UK is mothballing its power production capacities and its natural gas production is going into irreversible decline. It is indeed telling that the Economist is now condemning past British governments for relying on the vagaries of open energy markets!

North Sea gas has served Britain well, but supply peaked in 1999. Since then the flow has fallen by half; by 2015 it will have dropped by two-thirds [AK: looks like the Economist is at last beginning to believe that energy resources are finite after all, contrary to its earlier claims]. By 2015 four of Britain’s ten nuclear stations will have shut and no new ones could be ready for years after that. As for coal, it is fiendishly dirty: Britain will be breaking just about every green promise it has ever made if it is using anything like as much as it does today. Renewable energy sources will help, but even if the wind and waves can be harnessed (and Britain has plenty of both), these on-off forces cannot easily replace more predictable gas, nuclear and coal power [AK: and they have a low EROEI]. There will be a shortfall—perhaps of as much as 20GW—which, if nothing radical is done, will have to be met from imported gas. A large chunk of it may come from Vladimir Putin’s deeply unreliable and corrupt Russia [AK: the Economist is again behind the curve; give a few more years, and they’ll be sucking up to Russia for its gas].

Many of Britain’s neighbours may find this rather amusing. Britain, the only big west European country that could have joined the oil producers’ club OPEC, the country that used to lecture the world about energy liberalisation, is heading towards South African-style power cuts, with homes and factories plunged intermittently into third-world darkness.

In terms of energy policy, this is almost criminal—as bad as any other planning failure in New Labour’s 12-year reign (though the opposition Tories are hardly brimming with ideas). British politicians, after all, have had 30 years to prepare for the day when the hydrocarbons beneath the North Sea run out; it is hardly a national secret that the country’s nuclear plants are old and its coal-power stations filthy. Recession has only delayed the looming energy crunch… [read the lengthier article The looming electricity crunch: Dark days ahead for more detail].

Nuclear plants are being decommissioned and coal usage is being reduced, not only for environmental reasons, but also because coal seams are steadily becoming poorer in energy content. Plans to build 33GW of off-shore wind generating capacity are hot air. This would require the building of 5,000 wind turbines over 11 years, which is unrealistic in the present economic conditions, and this is discounting their extremely poor EROEI and weather fluctuations which cause 25GW of wind power on paper to be worth only 5GW in practice. By the mid-2010’s, Britain will be facing a big energy shortfall and will experience intermittent blackouts and brownouts. Its already heavy reliance on gas, which currently generates 46% of the electricity supply, will only increase.

Unfortunately, UK natural gas production peaked in 2000 and has since declined at a rate of 8-10% per year, so it is expected to import 80% of its consumption by 2020. (This will necessitate the expansion of LNG terminals, which is a very capital-intensive and time-consuming enterprise). Were it not for the recession and a warm winter, it is likely that the UK would have run out of gas in storage before the end of winter in 2009; as it is, we can expect this to happen once the stimulus-fueled recovery kicks in. So no wonder we are all socialists now, even the Economist:

All this leaves Britain in a hole. The lights are dimming, but green targets are an argument against new coal plants, security-of-supply concerns make gas dicey, lack of time rules out nuclear, and worries about practicality dog renewables.

The situation is so bad that many former fans are openly questioning Britain’s hands-off approach to energy, which it has spent the past decade trying to export, particularly to Europe. Lord Browne, a well-regarded former boss of BP who now heads the Royal Academy of Engineering, wants to see state-owned banks forced to invest in renewables and has spoken warmly of the dirigiste policies of Tony Benn, the hard-left minister who ran Britain’s energy department in the 1970s. Malcolm Wicks, who has twice been energy minister, warned Gordon Brown on August 5th that the reliance on “companies, competition and liberalisation” should be reassessed, and counselled state intervention to boost nuclear power.

All this assumes, of course, that the state will continue to function like business-as-usual. That is unlikely. As pointed out above, Britain is caught between the Scylla of hyper-inflationary fire and the Charybdis of a debt trap freeze. Its government may simply lose the fiscal capability to rebuild the energy infrastructure or buy natural gas from anyone.

3. Along with mounting economic difficulties, corruption and authoritarianism, the British state is likely to experience separatist tensions. The Scottish population is ambiguous about independence, but the rush to autonomy will accelerate as it becomes clear the ship of state is capsizing. Though the North Sea oil fields are in decline, they are still very valuable and substantial, especially when spread out over 6mn instead of 60mn people.

Benighted, state-dependent Northern Ireland will increasingly look to its dynamic southern neighbor. Though the Irish Republic is currently floundering and making deep cuts to its welfare state, in the longer run I believe Ireland has good prospects. Its healthy demography precludes the pension time bombs facing developed Europe and Japan, and as a newly-developed nation, the Irish possess a deeper level of communal tradition and ties with the land than is the case in most of Western Europe. This will mitigate the humanitarian impacts of a shriveling welfare state, and the rest will be washed away with Guinness. Its abundant land per capita makes a repeat of its 19th century Malthusian crisis unlikely, though if civilization really does collapse in a few decades it will be reconquered by the English.

Speaking of whom, in the here and now, even the English increasingly want out, because of the perception that Scots dominate the British nation. The Scots get many benefits that the English don’t, like lower university tuition fees and cheaper prescription drugs, despite paying the same taxes. If it hadn’t been for the Scots, then Labour wouldn’t have been in power for the last decade. Flying the British flag and toasting the Queen is considered quaint, as loyalties slowly shift from Britannia back to Albion.

It would not be surprising if within a decade we will see the following developments: an independent or very autonomous Scotland; a Northern Ireland reabsorbed into the Republic of Eire; and an independent England & Wales. Everyone benefits. England stop transferring resources to its poorer peripheries; Scotland gets lots of oil and a chance to wean itself off the state; and the Irish isles are again united. The numerous military facilities in Scotland will presumably be leased to England and there will be peaceful squabbles over the proprietorship of British assets abroad.

4. In tandem with its slide into societal and economic oblivion, Britain is becoming an essentially Orwellian society. Local councils use spy planes to identify persons guilty of energy wastage. The government prosecutes poets and bans political commentators. Teenagers can be served ASBOs, which can include imprisonment and other punishments, based on anonymous tip-offs. One news story I remember from when I lived there glorified a man who ratted out on his son for possessing a gun, who got 5 years in jail for his patriotic act. According to an intriguing admission from the Economist, “no policeman has ever been convicted of murder or manslaughter for a death following police contact, though there have been more than 400 such deaths in the past ten years alone”. Parliament has become a nest of corruption. 20% of the world’s CCTV cameras blanket Britain’s public spaces and there are all kinds of freakish schemes to expand one-way surveillance over the entirety of society:

Want to be an investigative journalist of the future? You’ll need a pen and paper, pay-as-you-go phone, and a motorbike. We’ll explain the motorbike later. But you may be an endangered species. New regulations that came into force last week – requiring telephone and internet companies to keep logs of what numbers are called, and which websites and email services and internet telephony contacts are made – have left some wondering if investigative journalism, with its need to protect sources (and its sources’ need, often, for protection), has been dealt a killer blow. …

“I would say that investigative reporting is desperately threatened by what this government is doing. I’ve been thinking a long time about how to stay one step ahead of the game,” says the Brighton-based investigative journalist Duncan Campbell (not the reporter of the same name on this paper). “The good news is that the surveillance methods that would close down what we do are still one step away. This isn’t the one that does the real harm.”

That will come, Campbell thinks, when the police put all sorts of information – vehicle licence plates’ movements, emails, phone callsinto a real-time system that anyone can access. But that’s not to say the new regulations will not have an impact.

Investigative journalists, and anyone with minimal concern for their privacy in general, will have to go “off the grid”, an increasingly difficult undertaking because of the state’s growing suspicions, authoritarianism and power. And abuse of the system won’t be limited to zealous anti-terrorism officers and tax officials. Even now, corruption is visibly growing at the highest levels: as soon as there is an economic collapse, it will spill over into the rest of society and become a societal norm like in Third World nations. Know the right people and reach an understanding with them, and you’ll get the unrestricted use of all these extensive government databases for yourself (even today the government’s data security is woefully bad). By “you” I don’t mean the ordinary man or woman, of course, but politically connected bigwigs, corporations and mafiosi. Facing no resistance from an apathetic population pining for the nanny state to protect them from terrorists, yobs, and responsibility in general, the British state is stealthily assembling an impressive apparatus for monitoring, controlling and exploiting the population.

Yet ultimately, as a wise guy once said, every country has the government it deserves. Britain is no exception. Respect for education is far lower than in Europe or the US (yes, the US, the usual British snickering to the contrary). University courses are shorter (3 years for a Bachelors, another 2 for a phD) than in Europe or the US, and are almost exclusively aimed at developing narrow and over-specialized, but marketable, skills. The development of a conscientious citizenry with a broader understanding of global issues is given short shrift, all the better for the elites. Creationism is making a comeback in the schools, most prominently in the “city academies” so prominently lauded by Blair and his goons. A recent poll showed half of Brits had cardinal disagreements with Darwin, and most disturbingly there were more evolution-deniers amongst youth than amongst the middle-aged. And such examples of cultural, social and economic decline can be continued ad infinitum.

I don’t seek to condemn, but merely to point out what I see as a panoply of unpleasant truths about Britain, truths which its media would rather spin away rather than tie together (tellingly, the media spin industry is one area where Britain really is unrivaled in its professionalism and sophistication – a pity the talent there is not doing something a bit more useful). Ultimately, Britain’s cultural decay is a symptom, not a cause, of underlying economic, energetic and civilizational stresses which I termed the Malthusian Loop in my article The Belief Matrix. The days of British rationalism and greatness are long gone; “Malthusian” problems have been in evidence since the 1970’s, not yet in terms of population stress but surely in the economy. Now we are heading into a world where “scanning” for solutions is going to be repressed, step by step, and where rulers impose rigid behavioral controls and promote self-aggrandizing propaganda. And this is common to the West and even the entire world. Britain’s dubious distinction is that it is one of the most advanced nations in this prelude to civilizational collapse.

To conclude, Britain faces a series of interlocking crises worse than in practically any other developed nation: a) unsustainable bubble economy & imbalances, b) an emerging energy predicament, c) separatist undercurrents, d) a metastasizing, opaque state, e) cultural decline and creeping spread of corruption. The stresses are growing and one day they will spill into the open, almost certainly within the next decade. You might want to skip island beforehand.

‘Soviet’ Britain swells amid the recession

If you like the words I write, and want me to write more of them, consider donating or supporting me on Patreon.