Professor Stephen Haseler died in July, 2017 (see this blog’s tribute to him: The man defined his work, 18 August, 2017). Dr Haseler was a prolific author, writing on issues of law, politics and political parties, international relations, democracy, economics and inequality, powerful and wealthy elites, and, increasingly in his later years, the UK’s role in the European Community. A year on and he is still remembered and appreciated by many.
Prior to his death, Stephen Haseler was the Director of the Global Policy Institute at the London Metropolitan University. He was a social democrat and a republican. Professor Haseler’s literary output was impressive, as was the content of his lectures. The extent of his knowledge is clearly visible in the book under present review, Meltdown UK: There is Another Way (2010).
The contents of this book had their precedents in Stephen Haseler’s previous two publications, The Super-Rich (2001) and Meltdown (2008). In many ways, these two books were prescient warnings of what was to come. The central focus of the book under review, therefore, is the great financial crash of 2007-8, an event that had world-changing implications for the British nation – and others.
Professor Haseler tells the story of “how Britain’s leaders – from Thatcher to Blair – through arrogance and recklessness, turned Britain into an ‘island experiment’ for global finance and ‘market madness’. It all came crashing down in the great banking crisis (of 2007-08) – and we are now paying the price.” Stephen Haseler considers that the UK was the laboratory for the whole global neoliberal revolution.
Despite government action in 2008 following the Wall Street crash, emerging changes in the financial system – including bail-outs, part-nationalization, initial stimulus packages – though necessary at that time, have not worked. Banks remain largely unreformed and recovery is proving to be elusive, even to the extent that, at the time of the publication of the book (2010), the West stood on the brink of another, the ‘double-dip’, recession – a consequence of the fact that the 2008 measures did not break sufficiently with the thinking of the governing market consensus at the time.
Professor Haseler’s view, argued in the main body of the book, is that Britain’s contemporary economy is unbalanced, service-based, financialized and highly globalized. The UK is a low-tax-haven, servicing off-shore economies. Further, and precariously, Britain’s political and financial class is ill-prepared to deal with the new and oncoming crisis.
The argument of the book leads from the unbounded power of the City of London, through the route of free trade and global capital, to the attractions of these directions to the British political classes, especially the Conservative Margaret Thatcher and New Labour’s Tony Blair. As Professor Haseler views it, following the great financial crash of 2007-8, the British faced a crisis in jobs, disastrous financial debts, a broken British capitalism, and a ‘socially useless system’.
In a sobering conclusion to the book, “Can Britain make it? Little England in a dangerous world”, Stephen Haseler indicates that the end result of all of this is that “the UK would enter a self-defeating and self-lacerating downward spiral with higher and higher unemployment, threadbare welfare services, dashed expectations and low morale – possibly even social conflict”.
Generally speaking, Stephen Haseler’s predictions are quite accurate, even if a possible exception can be made for ‘higher and higher unemployment’. He suggests a bundle of remedies for the situation.
The British government should use public spending in order to eventually eradicate national debt, even if this presented a financial threat to British public life. The solution to this threat would be to re-engage, re-embrace, social democracy – rejecting the neo-liberal model of economic management – with the objectives of job priority, growth and the extension of wealth in the West. This will require a stronger state that grapples with inequality, as well as radical democratic reform and, as expected of a strongly pro-European, deeper European coordination.
It is also a reforming movement that will need to look at issues involving the continued existence of the British monarchy, the state financing of public (independent) schools, and the system of elections and methods of governance in the UK.
Indeed, Stephen Haseler was a convinced European and passionately believed that the UK leaving the European Union would be a huge mistake. Sadly, he did not live long enough to experience the current debate over Brexit – a debate he would have relished. It is my personal belief that Stephen Haseler was of the view that the UK would eventually hold another referendum on the Brexit question – a second referendum that would overturn the result of the first.
Furthermore, Professor Haseler was convinced that Wall Street and the City of London are no longer in the position where they can lecture on financial management. Both seem to be oblivious to the damage they have caused, and are still causing, to the world economy – the UK including. They should make way for a new course to be charted and followed.
A central contention of this book is that the UK’s economic crisis is the result of the obsession of Britain’s elites with a ‘global role’. Allied to market extremism this becomes a ‘pathology’. There are those within the institutions of the British establishment who still harbour imperialistic illusions. These illusions have not diminished during the thirty year period, under the successive leaderships of Thatcher, Major and Blair, a period of increasing British weakness and vulnerability.
This is a book that clears away the haze of those years. It is a book that shows there is, indeed, another away. It is a book that deserves to be read.