A couple of days ago I extended the hand of conditional friendship to David Cameron. This is what I argued:
Yes. I’m still prepared to give Mr Cameron the benefit of the doubt if in the next few months he not only continues the re-engineering of a society via benefit withdrawal but also proceeds to substantially reduce the cost of living by stamping down on his profiteering friends in corporate-land.
If he succeeded in being even-handed in this way, if he made Britain a much cheaper place for us all to live in, if he managed to reduce the cost of living so that the state found active intervention in people’s daily lives simply and totally unnecessary, we could I am sure, whatever our politics, all find it in ourselves to admire him in some way or other.
Maybe we might approve of a benefits society or not – but to excise the cancerous profiteers from the heart of a modern democracy like Britain’s would truly be a historic achievement for this extraordinarily complex Tory moderniser to take away as his indisputable 21st century legacy.
Only to conclude:
If his good intentions are now limited to unleashing a savage impoverishment onto millions, this extraordinarily complex Tory moderniser will have shown himself to be nothing but an extraordinarily simple sham.
Today we have some more rumblings from government circles which further complicate our judgement of the issues:
Senior Conservatives have outlined radical pro-enterprise policies designed to build an “opportunity society” and act as a blueprint for the party’s 2015 election manifesto.
These measures include the following:
[...] abolishing the retirement age, extending the school day by up to three hours and paying lower benefits in the North and other parts of the country where the cost of living is less expensive.
Other suggestions include encouraging more disabled people to work and obliging pupils who fail their exams to take resits during school holidays. In a wide-ranging report, the MPs also call for a “more entrepreneurial economy” that “re-legitimises wealth creation”.
Finally, one more thought (which for the moment will appear tangential) to throw into the mix on the back of another Telegraph report which came my way via Facebook yesterday – and to which I responded thus:
I wrote over a year ago that I thought a Slovenia-like gameplan was what the Tories were up to long-term. Happy to consolidate London and the Home Counties, to lay waste to the North of England and to engineer it so Scotland and its interfering majority of Labour MPs split off from the rump that would then be forever the Tory Party’s … It’s a thought, anyhow.
So it is that to me, at least, the aims, contradictions and paradoxes of these Tories become clear. Slamming as they have done in times gone by all attempts to devolve power to the regions, they now plan to create an opportunity society where those interested in creating monetary wealth are to be prized above all other kinds of human intercourse. And not only that. The opportunities to be thus taken advantage of will exist primarily in their strongholds of London and the Home Counties. And not only that. In all but name the United Kingdom will disappear: the Scots may achieve total independence or not but in the round they will no longer participate in or influence English electoral processes and divisions of power at Westminster. Meanwhile, the North of England – now an outpost of civilisation to be talked and taken down a rung or two – is described as and destined to be the British equivalent of the Skoda and Dacia factories: cheap Third World-like labour costs for those who would create personal and shareholder wealth above good jobs and sound communities.
For that is what this Tory opportunity society is all about. The opportunities they talk of – opportunities which verily exist, that is true – exist primarily in the Vatican City-like bubble that is the plutocratic City of London:
What is this thing? Ostensibly it’s the equivalent of a local council, responsible for a small area of London known as the Square Mile. But, as its website boasts, “among local authorities the City of London is unique”. You bet it is. There are 25 electoral wards in the Square Mile. In four of them, the 9,000 people who live within its boundaries are permitted to vote. In the remaining 21, the votes are controlled by corporations, mostly banks and other financial companies. The bigger the business, the bigger the vote: a company with 10 workers gets two votes, the biggest employers, 79. It’s not the workers who decide how the votes are cast, but the bosses, who “appoint” the voters. Plutocracy, pure and simple.
Coupled with the drive to get us all on to self-assessment of income tax – for, at least in my humble opinion, means-testing child benefit has far more to do with reconverting us all into potential entrepreneurs, and at the same time ridding us all of the soft cocoon that is PAYE, than saving the state any money at all in the process – it is clear these Tories are messianic figures who believe we need a kick up the backside for the world to have any chance of being set to rights.
And as they learned from Blair’s experience with Iraq, no matter the collateral damage that is generated in the process.
Still, however, the question remains: opportunity knocks – but for whom? The answer to the question defines my own perception of what the Tories claim to be trying to achieve: yes, if they truly were to reduce the profiteering their corporate colleagues have been getting up to over the past three decades at the same time as they reduced the cost of the benefit state, I could appreciate a degree of good faith and even argue in favour of some of their alleged goals.
But in reality these Tories are not looking to create a cheaper society all around. Rather, they are looking to cheapen society for corporate capitalism and for corporate capitalists. But as corporate capitalism and corporate capitalists become – more and more – synonymous of a wealth creation which serves to increase plutocratic wealth at the expense of sufficiently decent and dignified plebeian jobs, so the Tories are even less likely to understand that a real opportunity society would contemplate far more measures than simply plutocratic expansion for us to know whether progress had been made or not.
Which is why I’m afraid this opportunity society these Conservative MPs proclaim today is almost certainly also a sham. As much a sham as David Cameron is manifestly content to remain.
And where Labour should see its own opportunity is precisely in pursuing not the rhetoric of knocking the disabled, poor, sick and unemployed who through no fault of their own need support from society in general, but – instead – in arguing that the Tories are correct in one piece of their analysis: we need to reduce the cost of and unnecessary reliance on benefits.
Where the Tories are rankly wrong, however, and here Labour is still nowhere on the ball nor sufficiently appreciative of the error, is in not following up their initial analysis with a cogent and consequential train of thought: if we are to reduce the cost of benefits to the state, we also need to reduce the cost of living to the people (or, alternatively, increase the wages they earn); if we need to make cheaper a whole raft of processes, we need to ensure this doesn’t cheapen our moral take on society; if we want to convince people that opportunities are out there, success shouldn’t be defined only in monetary terms; and if society is to move forward in truly good faith, we must not only stop the corporate cancer of profiteering injustice – a cancer which incidentally the Tories currently depend greatly on for their funding – but also actively enable a proper and fair understanding of societal justice.
A blueprint, that is, not for a lazy and counter-productive corporate takeover but, instead, a proper and constructive empowerment of the intelligences of every future citizen.
And whilst the Tories refuse to address the fears of the former, Labour still has the opportunity to engineer their blueprint for the latter.