After the 2008 global financial crash, it was clear that Britain was going bust for a generation. Bankers caused it by exploiting loopholes created by New Labour’s deregulation of the financial markets. When the immediate solution was to shore up the assets of the banks, the government should have left the banks to fall while guaranteeing savings of individual investors. This is what Iceland did after it experienced the worst of this global crash – now the country has fixed its problems, is in a stronger financial position than ever and, importantly, has jailed the bankers for defrauding the nation.
In the June 2010, much to the surprise of everyone, Nick Clegg chose to form a coalition with the Conservatives, not New Labour. It sealed the eventual annihilation of the Liberal Democrats in 2015, but at the time Clegg seemed cheerful he could best deliver his party’s policies with the Tories. Apart from temporary blocks on certain legislation such as the ‘snooper’s charter’, the Lib Dems were an utter failure. Tuition fees increased, although Clegg promised they would not. Austerity was David Cameron’s main policy to deal with the failures of the banks – going against the advice of the IMF and leading economists. In fact, austerity was always going to make matters worse, further dividing a battered Britain reeling from the consequences of 30 years of deindustrialisation and neoliberalism. The 2011 English riots that lead to looting and unrest in numerous towns and cities is a testament to the lack of awareness of what is really happening in communities.
The recent EU Referendum in Britain – known as Brexit – has reflected the angst of vast swathes of Britain who feel their ‘left behind’ status has become unacceptable. It came as no surprise the older members of the population voted out, not just the middle-aged but also pensioners. Meanwhile, the young, when apathy did not drive them away altogether, voted in. The ramifications will be unprecedented, but it is clear that a deeply divided nation went to the polls – split between young and old, northerner and southern metropolitan borough dweller. Chances are that the result not only sees Britain leaving the EU in two years or so, but Scotland and Northern Ireland will break off, as they want to remain in the EU. Cameron’s premiership will be remembered for this most catastrophic failure – gambling it all on a win, with absolutely no plan for a loss. The irony is that the very people who voted for out as a ‘kick’ to the establishment in London will find themselves in a worse off position when the country will be led by the likes of Johnson and Gove – two journalists-cum-politicians – both without the intellectual and political nous to govern in reality. The Tories are tearing themselves apart because no one has clearly thought through the implications of Brexit. Labour is also in disarray as members of Jeromy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet resign in droves, baying for his blood. The only saving grace will be if the UK Parliament does the right thing and votes against the sharply-divided national opinion poll that Brexit really is.
It was time to leave Britain in the summer of 2010 – and I chose Istanbul as my destination – the cultural capital of Turkey, a country averaging 5% GDP for a decade and with an encouraging outlook in relation to Islam, capitalism, and democracy. Istanbul is also one of those places in the world where there is no comparison – a bit like New York, London or Paris. The situation in Turkey has changed since then, largely due to civil war in the southeast, regional challenges in the form of ISIS, and pressures from the EU due to the ongoing trials facing the Eurozone as the EU maintains its own austerity programme. After six years of teaching, researching and travelling across the country, it is now time to leave Istanbul, and move back to research in London, this time at a think tank. The last time I worked in research in London it was for the government before the events of 9/11 changed everything.
I return to a much more divided Britain, where the questions of Islamophobia, violent extremism and radicalisation, my research areas, are in the spotlight more than ever. Much of this is because of the politics of the moment – the intolerance, bigotry and selfishness that characterises the idea of the self or one’s nation by political elites who are underqualified to fully appreciate the nuances of community-level divisions. Moreover, what they say and do only makes matters worse. The ‘Big Society’, as predicted, was a bogus concept, borrowing much of its thinking from a similarly spurious notion, ‘community cohesion’. Structural inequalities result from the unfettered workings of capitalism. If those who own the means of production do not pay their taxes, there is no ‘trickle down’. As the Panama Papers have revealed, ‘hiding’ is more the policy of transnational corporations and wealthy individuals, rather the redistribution to society. A kind of English ethnic nationalism has now become the dominant paradigm in Brtish politics. Sadly, we all know what eventually happens to all forms of ethnic nationalism. They end in disaster. Is this where Britain is heading to next?