We’re all in it together is the slogan of the Conservative Government, used by David Cameron almost as a motivational tool in trying to inspire the Great British Public, and trotted out by George Osborne whenever he feels the need to justify a particularly nasty piece of austerity legislation. The slogan aims to inspire a sense of unity in the face of adversity, to imply that anyone who questions either the need, or fairness, of austerity measures, is not for pulling their weight. Wartime speaking, and indeed the phrase was used by Winston Churchill, though sadly in peacetime, but also to argue for cutting the newly established welfare state and halting the nationalisation programme of the previous Labour government in the face of perilous economic conditions.
Set against a backdrop of mass worklessness, with approximately one job for every 55 unemployed people in the UK, a decline in the real value of the average wage and an increasingly low wage and flexible labour market, the idea that we’re all in it together is hard to believe. The rich appear to not be suffering, it’s their tax rate, not their incomes, that have been cut. In fact the top 10% of earners have seen their incomes rise by 123% since 1992, whilst middle earners have seen a rise of 69% over the same period, and the lowest paid a rise of 89%. We allow the tax practices of Amazon, Starbucks and Google, whilst vigorously pursuing the sick and disabled to ensure that they receive not a penny more than they deserve. We currently spend £994 million per year on tax avoidance and evasion (estimated at £96 billion), or £1 for every £96 we’re chasing. In 2006-7 we spent £154 million on chasing benefit fraud (estimated at £1.2 billion), or £1 for every £8 we’re chasing. The war on poverty has turned into a war on the poor, and all the while the media help to stir up a ferment of fear, portraying immigrants and the unemployed as bogeymen to ensure that the welfare state is dismantled with the peoples consent.
We’re all in it together is the title of the second of a series of three paintings I am working on (the first was Identity in Suppression). Inspired by the ‘Three Colours’ film series of Krzysztof Kieslowski, the paintings also reference the ideals of liberty (blue), fraternity (red) and equality (white). In each case I am using an image that suggests the opposite of the value attached to the colour, in reflection on a society that appears to be moving away from rather than towards these goals. Both the dismantling of the welfare state, and the rise in income inequality we have experienced over the past three decades could only have been achieved in the absence of fraternity, and one of the key acts of the 1980’s was the destruction of both the power and credibility of the Trades Unions. For all their faults the Unions were fraternal bodies that balanced the exploitative instincts of capital and helped create the post-war society that for a brief period really did seem to offer a semblance of truth to the phrase ‘We’re all in it together’.