I really dislike the whole concept of George Osborne. I don't dislike him as a man, I don't know him, but I loathe his entire context, and what he represents.
His latest outburst when discussing his trip to China that 'Britain has lost its sense of ambition' and his calling on the country to 'up its game', is precisely the kind of insultingly elitist bullshit that really alienates vast numbers of people, and which really irritates me!
He probably wouldn't like me very much, if he knew me, but he doesn't.
Osborne is one of the old Anglo-Irish aristocracy, known in Ireland as the Ascendancy. He is the heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy. He was educated at St Paul's School, London and Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a member of the elite Bullingdon Club, before working for the Conservative Party as a researcher, special adviser, speechwriter and strategist. In 2005, he ran David Cameron's 's successful party-leadership campaign and was made Shadow Chancellor.
His father is Sir Peter Osborne, 17th Baronet, who co-founded the firm of fabric and wallpapers designers Osborne & Little. His mother is Felicity Alexandra Loxton-Peacock, the daughter of artist Clarisse Loxton Peacock. His mother was a Labour voter, who worked for Amnesty International.
What I particularly dislike about Osborne's context is the fact that he represents a type and a class which we might have not unreasonably thought had died out of British politics.
In many ways, his whole 'raison' is a pastiche, a sort of cliché, a characterisation from a Bertie Wooster novel, a throwback to another era, a bit part in 'Brideshead Revisited'!
He has just got back from China, where he has been busily toadying up to the Chinese 'nomenclatura'!
Britain, as usual, has left it until the last minute to 'discover' the new China, - the Germans and other nations have been building strong ties with China for some years -, and we must now parade our rather tattered credentials to make ourselves their new 'best friend'!
Osborne has come back with all the Sino-zeal of the newly evangelised missionary. He says;
"... “You cannot fail to be staggered by the scale of the economic progress and the building that’s happening all around you. It’s astonishing,” he said.
“I feel both energised by a trip like this because there’s so much more Britain can be doing; I also feel a bit like, my God, we’ve really got to up our game as a country, and the whole of the West has to understand what is happening here in Asia.”
Benedict Brogan's piece in the Daily Telegraph today amplifies the new Osborne enthusiasms.
He describes a man who has observed the industrial and economic milestones that China has created in recent years, and who enthuses about them, using both the language and the idioms of the public school toff.
Suddenly, China is "...a country that left him “staggered” by its success, as he contemplates how Britain should rediscover its capacity for entrepreneurial dynamism..."
Note the emphasis on 'entrepeneurial dynamism'!
Brogan observes that "...His visit — which marked a thaw in relations after David Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama — produced a wealth of useful advances for trade, notably landmark deals for making Britain a global centre for investment in China’s renminbi currency..."
Predictably, the City of London will offer its dubious financial services facilities to provide an offshore centre for untold numbers of currency speculators to trade the renminbi, a currency that will in the future prove to be an increasingly important payment mechanism. Quite how the Chinese will respond after they have been repeatedly fleeced by the City's army of currency spivs and wideboys is not reported.
What this facility will provide however, is an additional offshore market outside Hong Kong for China's criminal money launderers to utilise to move their criminal profits derived from the proceeds of drug trafficking, product counterfeiting, people smuggling, software piracy, and of course, vast swathes of political corruption.
The City of London will predictably not turn a hair, and indeed, it looks as if this new deal has already been given a kind of official seal of approval, arising out of Osborne's visit. What he has done of course is to open the London market up to yet another source of vast swathes of criminal and black money, but then he and his fellow toady, Bo-Jo (Boris Johnson), seem less concerned about that as long as the money continues to flood in to EC3!
No, Osborne was "...evidently galvanised by what he had seen and learnt, and itching to take on those who caution against engaging with the world’s largest dictatorship. Throughout, it seemed, China’s success stood as a reproach to Britain’s loss of ambition..."
And this is what I truly resent about Osborne and his class!
There is, it seems, this received political wisdom that we in the UK have suddenly lost all our ambition, we have become anaesthetised against wanting to be commercially and financially successful.
Nothing could be further from the truth. There are countless good, well-educated, young men and women in this country who are aching to get jobs, trying desperately to find work, any work, which will get them off the benefits treadmill. Just trying to get through the week is a big enough hurdle, never mind starting up a new business, or building an entrepreneurial ideal.
The problem with politicians, and particularly the posh toffs like Osborne, who have never missed a meal in their lives; who have never wondered how next week's rent would be paid; who have never had to decide whether to eat or get their shoes mended; is that they simply cannot understand what it is like to be so potless, that you would do anything rather than live in the way you are forced to.
It is all very well pontificating about the way "...China teach(es) us that we have lost our capacity for hard work? He points out the obvious cultural and political differences. “I’m not sure anyone in Britain would want to have imposed on them the Chinese work ethic,” he sneers. “But I do think there’s an ambition in the country and a sense of optimism and 'can do’ which our country had in the Victorian age and had at other points in our history.”
Yes, he finally makes the point. China has now reached the same stage as that of Britain in the Victorian era, with everything that entails.
Osborne still, it seems, wants to live in a twilight world where Britannia rules the waves, where the humble but deserving poor doff their caps to him and his ilk as they trundle by in their sumptuous carriages, and the plebs know their place!
He is reaching back to an age when Britain was the sweatshop of the Empire, where there was no universal right to education; where women did not have a vote; where there was no National Health Service; no Industrial safety requirements; no efforts to make the workplace a more humane environment; where miners died in their hundreds in huge pit accidents because their owners were too mean to put in the necessary means of providing pit safety; where the ordinary working man and woman had no political voice; where the State could not be challenged; and the most usual means of penal sanction for any crime worth more than a shilling was death by hanging. An age when political corruption was rife, and the political class was bought and sold at the hustings.
This is an age which he and his Cabinet friends can yearn for, and clearly still do, and bear in mind, every single one of these conditions is relevant to modern day life in China.
China is still among the most corrupt nations on the planet, and its people are kept in their place in a straightjacket of political repression. China does not recognise human rights, and it is not a democracy within the real meaning of the word.
Watchdog groups believe that actual judicial execution numbers greatly exceed officially recorded executions; in 2009, the Dui Ha Foundation estimated that 5,000 people were executed in China – far more than all other nations combined. The precise number of executions is regarded as a state secret.
The level of corruption in public life is breathtaking. A report from the Carneigie Endowment for Peace reports that;
"...Though the Chinese government has more than 1,200 laws, rules, and directives against corruption, implementation is spotty and ineffective. The odds of a corrupt official going to jail are less than three percent, making corruption a high-return, low-risk activity. Even low-level officials have the opportunity to amass an illicit fortune of tens of millions of yuan.
The amount of money stolen through corruption scandals has risen exponentially since the 1980s. Corruption in China is concentrated in sectors with extensive state involvement, such as infrastructure projects, real estate, government procurement, and financial services. The absence of competitive political process and free press make these high-risk sectors susceptible to fraud, theft, kickbacks, and bribery. The direct costs of corruption could be as much as $86 billion each year.
The indirect costs of corruption (efficiency losses; waste; and damage to the environment, public health, education, credibility and morale) are incalculable. Corruption both undermines social stability (sparking tens of thousands of protests each year), and contributes to China’s environmental degradation, deterioration of social services, and the rising cost of health care, housing, and education.
China’s corruption also harms Western economic interests, particularly foreign investors who risk environmental, human rights, and financial liabilities, and must compete against rivals who engage in illegal practices to win business in China..."
Osborne seeks to deflect any reference to this phenomenon. Brogan quotes him saying;
"...What does he say to those who fear China’s dark side? “We’ve got to start by understanding that China is an ancient civilisation with a long and proud history. If you start by understanding that and treating that with respect that’s a good place to begin.” China’s growth has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, he points out. It is sometimes easy to forget that within our lifetime it was a country of famine. “China is what it is. And we have to either be here or be nowhere.”
That may be true, that may be what we have to do, but let us not pretend that there is any virtue entailed by reverting to Victorian standards of business conduct.
In Victoria's era, we may have run an entrepreneurial Empire, but it was not difficult because it was based on a complete disregard for human rights in exactly the same way that China's social model works today. We should not lose sight of the fact that in doing business with China, the Chinese Government benefits enormously as well, because by being seen to be happily linked to the UK, it gives China international credibility which she might otherwise not enjoy.
We cannot ignore China's shortfallings, no matter how much money she dangles in our faces. The bankers can hardly wait to start providing trading services for the Chinese currency, but it was ever thus. We started out by turning the Chinese on to Opium, now we are going to provide them with even more efficient money laundering facilities. Commercial imperatives may predicate that we have to sit down at the same table with the Chinese, but we would do well to use a long spoon!