Politics and its priorities governed by neoliberalism

Posted By: August 03, 2019

Pope Francis is one of the few outspoken critics of the neoliberalism which Sinn Féin and others participate in.

Patrick Murphy.Irish News.Belfast.Saturday, August 3, 2019 

THERE is something shamefully wrong with our society when a Westminster Committee reports that our schools are in crisis and our two main political parties give the problem the same attention they gave to the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

The Committee’s findings were supported by the Department of Education’s statement that schools here face “significant financial challenges”.

So while 90 MLAs have been paid for doing nothing for two-and-a-half years, many parents are bringing anything from pencils and pens to toilet paper to keep their children’s school functioning. (Shame is a concept which has not yet registered with the Stormont political system.)

And what were our political parties doing this week?

Sinn Féin had two priorities. The first was demanding a forum for Irish unity. Some might politely suggest that a more urgent forum would be one for stopping SF’s MLAs’ salaries and giving the money to schools.

Their second concern was Boris Johnson’s initial failure to phone Leo Varadkar, which they portrayed as a national catastrophe, surpassed only by the Famine. Meanwhile, their former partners, the DUP, were dining privately with the same Boris Johnson.

The SDLP and Alliance commented on schools’ insolvency and both missed the point.

The SDLP said it showed we needed a return to Stormont, even though such a return would not necessarily generate more money for education.

Alliance said it illustrated the need for reforming the education system. (Er, no—it just shows the need for more money.)

So why are our schools financially broke? The answer is that our society is governed by extreme Thatcherism, which is now called neoliberalism. It is a political ideology which believes that the government should allow business to largely run society.

It involves reducing state spending on education, health, and social welfare so that government can play a smaller role.

When Donald Trump visited Britain recently, he argued for the right of US businesses to take over the NHS. That’s neoliberalism.

So too is Boris Johnson’s refusal to intervene to save Harland and Wolff, calling it a “commercial matter”. The EU adopts the same approach.

Leo Varadkar also supports neoliberalism. Primary school funding in The South, excluding salaries, is now running at less than one Euro per day, per-pupil for teaching materials, heating and lighting.

Many parents there have to raise funds to support state schools, while the government gives €20 million to private schools annually. (In the area of under-funded schools, we already have a united Ireland.)

Pope Francis is one of the few outspoken critics of neoliberalism. He says it is “unjust at its root”, leading to massive inequality and the marginalization of sections of society.

Why he asks, is it not news when an elderly homeless person dies, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? He says that the dominance of the market denies the right of democratically elected governments to exercise vigilance for the common good.

More recently, neoliberalism has extended beyond economics. It now pervades social behavior by arguing that humans must compete, not cooperate (which is why schools have competitions for entrepreneurship, but not cooperation).

An advanced society might expect our universities to oppose neoliberalism. But in their last restructuring of government departments here, Stormont’s five main parties placed our universities, not in the Department of Education, but in the Department for the Economy.

Thus they believe that a university’s role is to service business and industry in the interests of private rather than public investment.

Our political parties complain about cut-backs, but none of them is willing to challenge the theory behind them or even to encourage universities to do it for them.

Both in the UK and the EU, the fundamental humanity of society is being replaced by an ingrained belief that government is bad and commercial greed is good.

Which is why parents will continue to bring pencils and paper for their children in school and why, apart from Pope Francis, few will try to explain why.