How did the super-rich get away with flaunting the extreme and disgusting excesses of wealth for so long, without hardly a ripple of disapproval? And why is the issue now being propelled to the front of the political agenda, first by the August riots and now only 2 months later by Occupy LSX?
Perhaps the reason is that when the economy is booming, contentment is widespread, even if some people are doing vastly better than others. When the economy crashes as it did in 2008-9, everyone takes a knock and the reaction, however hurtful, is experienced as generally applying to all. But when, as now, it is perceived that a few have bounced back to where they were before or even more and are gorging themselves off the fat of the land while the vast majority are feeling the pinch and are seriously squeezed, then the anger erupts. And it won’t go away. If the St. Paul’s encampment is swept away, it will only start up again elsewhere, and next time the rage will burn even more.
The truth is, the worm is on the turn. With youth unemployment poised to exceed 1 million and tomorrow’s growth figures likely to be negative, showing the economy has not only been flat for a year but is now actually contracting, Cameron-Osborne are being forced into a U-turn they always vowed they would reject. Social tensions are rising everywhere, from the challenge on the streets to the silent pain endured by those bearing the burden of the benefit cuts and the slow-motion deterioration of the NHS.
In these circumstances the hyperbolic self-interest and heedless extravagance of the ultra-rich will be targeted. No more Mandelson being intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich. It is being said that whenever Fred Goodwin, utterly disgraced but still with a pension from RBS of £730,000 a year, ventures out to a restaurant for dinner, his food is spat upon by those incensed beyond words by his arrogance and unapologetic lack of remorse. I expect that others will be targeted: the recent announcement that the average FTSE-100 chief executive has now received (largely self-awarded) a 49% increase in pay over this last year, so that on average they now get £129,800 a week, will be one of the triggers. And this at a time when child poverty, fuel poverty, both youth and adult joblessness, and housing evictions are all rising.
The sheer flagrant greed of the super-rich has only itself to blame for what is now about to unfold over the next 6 months.