Shell's record profits and British Gas customers' cruel treatment risks creating a breeding ground for political extremism – Scotsman comment

In 2008, the recklessness, incompetence and greed of a relatively small number of wealthy people caused a global financial crash which ushered in years of austerity.

Eight years later, people in the UK and US voted, respectively, for Brexit and Donald Trump – both, to a significant degree, a response to public dissatisfaction with politics as usual in the midst of lingering hardship. For many people, life had become dramatically tougher and mainstream politicians did not appear to be offering a solution.

Six years further on, and the world experienced another global cataclysm when Vladimir Putin ordered his forces to invade Ukraine, sparking massive oil and gas price increases and a savage cost-of-living crisis in the UK and much of the world. The political consequences of this still have a long way to go before they play out, but alarm bells should be sounding.

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While many ordinary people have been forced to choose between heating and eating because of high energy prices and rampant inflation has dramatically reduced living standards, oil and gas firms have been racking up vast profits. Yesterday Shell became the latest to report eye-watering gains, amassing a profit of more than £32 billion in 2022, the highest in its 115-year history.

And while debt collectors working for British Gas have been breaking into the homes of vulnerable customers unable to pay their bills to fit prepayment energy meters, which charge a higher rate, its parent company Centrica made a £1.34 billion profit in just the first six months of last year. Asked about their contractors’ tough tactics, Centrica boss Chris O'Shea admitted: “There is nothing that can be said to excuse it.” Indeed.

Unimaginative, ‘managerial’ politicians who fail to realise the depth of anger this kind of injustice creates and blindly attempt to carry on with ‘politics as usual’ are storing up trouble. These are the kinds of circumstances that give rise to extremism. Brexit has made the UK’s fortunes worse, while Trump tried to destroy American democracy; the next lurch to the political fringes could be even more dangerous.

Capitalism has brought great wealth to the free world, but it tends towards inequality if unrestrained by democratic values. Our elected representatives need to strike a sensible balance and, right now, they are demonstrably failing to do so.



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