Thomas Frank’s look at the UK

Posted in Culture of Lickspittle at 12:12 pm by George Smith

Author Thomas Frank, primarily noted for Listen, Liberal, a book on the failures of the Democratic Party, the abandonment of its base, which turned the tome into a bestseller on the back of the Trump election, was tasked by the Guardian to tour England prior to the May snap election that handed a radical setback to the Tories and vaulted Jeremy Corbyn to the center stage of Brit politics.

It’s a long piece as Frank travels through places you don’t hear of — Wakefield, Barnsley, Grimsby, Scunthorpe — trying to get his arms around the entirety of the political wind in Britain, particularly from the point of view those who voted to leave the EU in the abandoned and deteriorated towns, the old places of rusted mills and abandoned mining, of de-industrialized England.

Frank discovered similarities with trends in the US but very stark differences. The British mainstream is much more comfortable with socialism. People know that it was the decisions of government and those in power who are responsible for their ills. In fact, they know deliberate steps were taken to destroy workers.

For example:

The ending of a way of life here was not the doing of the godlike forces of capital, but instead the deliberate result of a government campaign to destroy the power of workers – of ordinary people – and to put the country on a track that was more in keeping with the free-market ideology.

The viewpoint I just described is one you don’t often hear in the US these days. We think it is ancient and obsolete, and besides, very few American liberals sympathise with the coal mining industry. But there is also something refreshing and healthy and even populist about this perspective, emphasising as it does the obvious role of political struggle and human agency in economic developments – that it’s not just an invisible hand making all the decisions for us. This is an understanding that has proven increasingly difficult for Americans to grasp as the years have gone by. Maybe we all need to spend a few evenings at the Red Shed.

The British are also aghast at stories which are commomplace here:

hen I try to put my finger on exactly what separates Britain and America, a story I heard in a pub outside Sheffield keeps coming back to me. A man was telling me of how he had gone on vacation to Florida, and at one point stopped to refuel his car in a rural area. As he was standing there, an old man rode up to the gas station on a bicycle and started rummaging through a trash can. The Englishman asked him why he was doing this, and was astonished to learn the man was digging for empty cans in order to support his family.

The story is unremarkable in its immediate details. People rummaging through trash for discarded cans is something that every American has seen many times. What is startling is that here’s a guy in Yorkshire, a place we Americans pity for its state of perma-decline, relating this story to me in tones of incomprehension and even horror. He simply couldn’t believe it. Left unasked was the obvious question: what kind of civilisation allows such a fate to befall its citizens? The answer, of course, is a society where social solidarity has almost completely evaporated.

It’s a remarkable read.

1 Comment

  1. anon said,

    June 21, 2017 at 6:35 pm

    I’ve actually met a few millionaires, and none of them made their fortunes by collecting cans for extra cash. I could go on about this forever. I think one of the worst ongoing “becoming an adult” revelations I have had in my life is just how ruthless and greedy the average American can be, especially the fundamentalist Christians who look down on me.

    This was an interesting read, kind of on topic. It begins to explain why most of the time, poor people stay poor.

    I read it during slow periods on off-hours shifts at my job. I think one of my “I’ll do anything for overtime shifts” coworkers threw it in the garbage, probably because it had big words and no pictures.