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British politics

Our political chaos didn’t start with Brexit

Police in London during the 2011 riots. Dan Istitene/Getty

Many people see Brexit as the “starting gun” for Britain’s political chaos, says Aaron Bastani in Novara Media. They’re wrong: “things have been growing increasingly strange” since at least 2010, when we had our first peacetime coalition government in nearly a century. Riots broke out across England the following year. In the 2015 general election, the SNP reduced Labour to a single seat in Scotland and Ukip amassed almost four million votes. Labour then elected as its leader Jeremy Corbyn, “the party’s most radical figurehead since the 1930s”.

The primary explanation for all this is economic growth – “or rather its absence”. Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget tax cuts weren’t, in themselves, that unusual, but without the strong growth of the 1980s they would have had to be funded by borrowing. Likewise, in the absence of economic growth a Labour government would find it hard to pump money into public services “without a programme of serious redistribution” (i.e. tax rises). Both parties used to use growth “to reward their respective constituencies”: the Tories gave big business and homeowners tax cuts; Labour under Tony Blair put “huge infusions of cash into schools and hospitals” to please public sector workers. But Britain “is becoming a steady-state economy”, a reality our politicians have yet to engage with. While low growth and high inflation persist, “normal” politics – the “halcyon” 1990s, for many pundits – will remain a distant memory.