Monday, 3 May 2010
Right now, if you are British you will be bombarded by a mood of election fever. Unless, that is, you are in Outer Space with no communications whatsoever back to old Blighty. This is the week, chaps and chapesses, when we all have to wrestle with our souls and vote. That long-awaited election is fast approaching and our leaders are repeating words like ‘difference’ and ‘change’ every three seconds. The televised Leaders’ Debates, new to us in the UK, have spiced things up no end, speculation is rife, and Mr Cynical Voter, what with his ability to comment on social networking sites this time around, is having a blast. There’s nothing like a juicy old election in the UK to get us all grumbling and moaning, hurling insults and even the odd tomato, and generally harping on about what annoys us most.
Of course, it turns out that ‘what annoys us most’ is several things...not just the one. And quite a few of them are the same things that are currently annoying the Norwegians.
Immigration is a huge issue, with 1 million immigrants arrived in the UK since the last election in 2005...now, however, the rate of immigration is slowing down, but the issue remains a crucial concern for many. Then there’s Afghanistan, where the UK currently has over 10,000 men and women in one of the most dangerous areas of that country. Unemployment is rife, and particularly amongst young people. UK manufacturing appears to be suffering from a massive sell-off to foreign buyers, if not disappearing completely. Our precious National Health Service, social services and education systems appear to be straining at the seams. Things have not been easy.
But the over-riding concern amongst all of this is something else. The issue that is seriously alarming the electorate, the real biggie that people are genuinely afraid of, the subject everyone suspects no politician will be utterly truthful about because the cure is too painful, is THE ECONOMY and in particular, the eye-watering size of the UK National Debt.
This National Debt is growing violently...it is well over £900,000 billion at the moment, and is forecast to soar to £1.1 trillion by 2011. As it grows, it makes life more uncomfortable for us now, and represents a future millstone around the necks of our children. Global recession has been extremely painful for the UK. Everyone knows someone who has lost their job, often as a result of the banks not lending money to perfectly respectable businesses with full order books and a skilful and dedicated staff. Countless households in Britain have had to make drastic cuts to make ends meet, while at the same time taking pay-cuts to ensure they have a job at all. So when Jo Public hears about the over-inflated salaries and out-of-all-proportion bonuses paid out to certain top bankers, it ‘sticks in the craw’ like nothing on earth.
It’s very hard to understand how we reached such a state. The gap between the highest and the lowest UK salary is larger than it has ever been. It has been proved over and over again that the larger this gap is, the more social unrest is likely to occur. I hear that this gap is widening in Norway too, but it seems the Norwegians have a long, long way to go to catch up with us Brits.
There is a tradition in this country of ‘everyone being equal’. Naturally, this is almost impossible to achieve, and as always, some are ‘more equal’ than others. But in the 1960’s the Norwegian poet Aksel Sandemose voiced this tradition in his writings. His work lived on as the Jante Law, a rule which embodies an anti-elitist principle. It states, ‘Do not believe you are better than anybody else.’
Now there have been two sides to this. On the surface it sounds marvellous and very fair-minded, but over the decades it was suspected of keeping development back, of restraining brilliant ideas and achievements, of hindering growth and stifling talent. However, Norway realised the problem with Jante Law in the mid 1980s and there was a shift in the balance of how to orientate the young. So nowadays, while everyone is nurtured intellectually and physically, talent is encouraged to reach its full potential. The idea of everyone being equal persists, but if you are inclined, you are given every opportunity to excel.
But there’s another difference over here. If I was very nosey, I could pry into other people’s business to an amazing extent. Everyone’s salary is a matter of public knowledge in Norway...I can choose anyone in our street, any colleague, any friend, and simply by typing their name into the Internet, I can discover their salary and tax liability. Imagine that in the UK?
Now recently, I had an argument about what this did for a society...does this level of transparency mean that the salary gap is less likely to widen at the rate it has in the UK, and therefore the ludicrously over-inflated salaries and tax-avoiding habits of the super-rich would not be so common, leaving the rest of us less disgruntled......OR, does it mean that employees in Norway become jealous, unsettled, and de-motivated more readily?
And while doing so, be gentle towards any Brits you may happen to meet this week. They’re trying to make a decision.
Posted by Returning Scot at 12:42