The Conservatives’ Thoroughly Bizarre Campaign

david cameronI’m not a fan of the Tories.  I thoroughly hate them if I’m being honest.  I can’t understand why anybody would vote for them, unless they are among the most fabulously wealthy and don’t happen to care about anybody else.

However, I can usually I can understand the thinking behind a Conservative Party General Election Campaign.  They’re usually extremely adept at them; they naturally appeal to people’s greed, need to feel superior to others and the general fear the British people have of everybody else.  They also highly attuned to Little England and its fundamental loathe of change and the unknown.  All of this is because these are kinds of people in the Conservative Party itself and they usually the ones running it, or at least know how to access the right people to run its advertising division.

This current campaign is a weird one and it’s coming unglued very rapidly.  I think this is for numerous reasons:

1) The Conservative Party is extremely spiteful.  I should back up that statement just in case you think I’m saying it purely out of my biased point of view but just check out how the Coalition’s cuts hit Labour-run councils the hardest, resulting in greater job losses. The party’s nasty streak has been even more visible since the Labour Party elected Ed Miliband as its leader; he has been portrayed by the Tories and their media cronies as ‘weird’, ‘red Ed’, not being able to speak properly, looking like a cartoon character, looking awkward and – most bizarrely – as being unable to eat a bacon-sandwich correctly.  Some of the remarks have even come across as vaguely anti-Semitic.  However, this is now resulting in a backlash; as people have got to know Ed Miliband better they have started to realise much of this derision was undeserved and that it was tantamount to bullying.  The Tories made the fateful error of not only underestimating Miliband but also lowering people’s expectations to the point that if he didn’t come across as some sort of alien life-form they’d feel the urge to be impressed.

2) The Leaders’ Debates were something David Cameron made a great deal out of during the General Election of 2010, trumpeting that they had a vital role to play in British democracy.  However, this time he not only seems to have changed his mind but developed a physical aversion to them.  He put his foot down and said that he would only attend one on the condition that all of the party leaders were present and would definitely not be willing to do a head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband.  He backed himself into a corner by insisting on this, since if he was persuaded to change his mind he would appear indecisive, but by refusing he would come across as cowardly, stubborn and unable to defend his record.  Cameron did one debate with the other party leaders and found himself outnumbered by all of them accusing his government of going too far with the cuts, too soon.  We have been used to witnessing Cameron’s bully-boy tactics during Prime Minister’s Questions but there was no way that such an approach was going to win him any admiration in this kind of forum, but he resorted to them anyway.

3) Some of the Tories’ campaign has been almost beyond parody.  This week they made an attempt to rebrand themselves as the party of working-class people in the Northern England.  This is the same North that fell prey to Margaret Thatcher’s epic industrial savagery during the 1980s, consequent inter-generational unemployment and been prey to greater cuts and austerity during the current coalition.  Oddly the people of the North proved resistant to this idea. Did the Tories imagine that they could get away with this rebranding? Maybe they thought that it would cause some form of cognitive dissonance and people would get confused by it?  Who knows?  It doesn’t look like it has worked though.

4) Cameron’s refusal to take part in the Leader’s Debates has had another unexpected effect.  The media, who would have benefitted from the PM appearing on them, seems to have become royally pissed off with him.  His interviews ever since the whole debacle have become noticeable tougher and Cameron has been unable to deal with the situation, becoming petulant and childish when asked an awkward question.  This is not really the sort of performance that people want from their Prime Minister – certainly not one who likes to pretend he is an Alpha Male anyway.

5) For some reason the Conservative Party have brought back John Major.  I think we can all agree that isn’t a great idea.  As Labour’s John Smith said back when John Major was PM, Major was so unpopular that if he was an undertaker people would stop dying.

6)  The Conservative appear to have developed an obsession with the SNP.  Their current line is that if one votes Labour, one will get the SNP in charge instead.  It’s difficult to understand the thinking that underpins this; do they imagine that a vote for Labour will result in angry, face-painted Scots invading England to force-feed us all deep-fried Mars Bars, or is it just more of that patented Tory xenophobia we’re all used to hearing?  Either way it all appears very silly, particularly coming from a man with the surname Cameron.



20130412-081146thatcherFirst of all I’m not going to pretend that this is an academic study of Thatcherism, this is my own personal take on what I recall of her government and it long-term effects.  I am writing this as my own contribution to the discussions being had about her legacy since her death.  It is also a reaction to a trend I see developing of some people now describing themselves as ‘Thatcherite’, some of whom may not realise the ramifications of appropriating such a tag.

To assess such a political figure as Margaret Thatcher it is problematic since it was never possible to be neutral about her; in many ways she was deliberately provocative in her pronouncements and always combative in her manner.  It was inevitable then that her death would polarise people as much as her political career had.  People either loved or hated her and in many ways I doubt that she would have had it any other way.

There is a tendency in British politics to laud those who display strength and grandeur and these are two qualities that many believe that Margaret Thatcher had.  But what is strength?  Thatcher was certainly brutally forthright about her opinions and bloody-minded but she also had a marked inability to listen to even her own ministers, let alone the people she was leading – stories about this were legion during her premiership but seem to have been forgotten now.  Grandeur?  Well Margaret Thatcher certainly has delusions of that.

Margaret Thatcher was famously a grocer’s daughter and never forgot it.  Proud of the fact and would often regale interviewers about the lessons she had learnt from her father.  Thatcher was grounded in the petite bourgeois and displayed many of the most stereotypical qualities of it.  This was highlighted by that phoney posh accent she had, something that even as child reminded me of one of my aunties utilising her ‘telephone voice’.  She was the absolute embodiment of petite bourgeois prejudices; the snobbish deferential voter; the I-vote-Tory-because-I’m-better-than-you-lot type; the mortal fear of anybody who works with their hands; the sheer terror of the ‘foreigner’; the pathological hatred of somebody being better off than you; the morbid infatuation with ‘hard-work’ and greed for its own sake.  Thatcher even went as far as joining the Conservative Party and eventually becoming its leader by ‘pulling up her own boot-straps’ (to coin a favourite phrase of hers) and marrying into money.  In fact her husband Denis subsidised her entire political career, and benefitted from it businesswise.

Margaret Thatcher’s background marked her out from the rest of the Conservatives who resented this upstart among their ranks, and this didn’t stop when she was elected Prime Minister – this was made quite obvious by the relish they displayed by tearing her off her pedestal.  However that relatively modest background did make her a remarkably astute politician; she had an instinctive insight into how people from those lower classes thought.  She was a born opportunist in the most opportunistic of British political parties.  The Conservative Party would support her for as long as those instincts were present, but for no longer.

The 1970s, we have been told, were a period of economic strife and this was all the fault of the Trades Unions who were always going on strike.  This, it will surprise no one, is a distortion of the way more complicated facts.  It was precipitated by a massive oil-crisis in 1973 and this not only had an impact on the UK but on an international scale.  For proof one only needs to look at the newspapers, magazines and even popular culture of the period to see how often this is referred no only here, but in the USA and Europe.  However we are still expected to believe it was old those evil TU’s fault for wanting too much money.

During Edward Heath’s Conservative government of the 1970-74 many fundamentally important things happened that would later prove influential to Thatcher.  Most famously her own profile rose during the ‘Thatcher The Milk Snatcher’ debacle and so she experienced for the first time the full glare of the spotlight.  Thatcher also witnessed Heath’s own attempts to curb TU power with the unsuccessful Industrial Relations Act of 1971 (repealed in 1974 by the Wilson government).  It was two Miners’ Strikes that would mortally wound the Heath government, the second of these led to Heath going to extraordinary measure of implementing the three-day week – Thatcher would never forgive the miners.  Heath is most remembered for leading Britain into the EEC and this decision has troubled the Conservative Party ever since.  He also oversaw the height of the troubles in Northern Ireland, most notoriously, the Bloody Sunday massacre.  All of these factors would indelibly mark out the character of Thatcher’s own leadership style.

Britain had up until recently been a colonial power, of course, and was only too aware that it wasn’t any more.  This fact traumatised the British psyche.  We are still experiencing to the long-term effects of this today but in the 1970s it was still raw.  People were brought up to believe that the UK was the ‘empire where the sun never sets’, maps of the world were still hanging in schools covered in the red of British colonialism..  To be born British was supposed to mean that were one of the elite, even if you were barely able to afford to eat and were treated like scum by your ‘betters’.  At least you were still from Blighty!  That had to stand for something, eh?  We won the war!  Could all of this have been a lie?

This was reflected in the politics of the time; the National Front was beginning to seem very influential.  This bottom-feeding political party tapped into those feelings of inadequacy some people were having and were only too happy to scapegoat immigrants and other marginalised groups for British woes, openly using racist terminology that would turn most people’s stomach today.  Let’s not forget that this was the era of Enoch Powell; his recent ‘rivers of blood’ speech still ringing in the ears like some cancerous tinnitus.

This was the environment that fostered the rise of Margaret Thatcher.  She told people we could make Britain great again.  Worried about those sweary punk rockers?  Well, don’t worry Maggie’s going to bring good old Victorian values, that will set them straight.  You hate all those ‘foreigners’ flocking over here and stealing your jobs?  Well, don’t worry Maggie’s not going to put up with that, she’ll  send them all home and then close our borders.  Sick of being inconvenienced by strikes? Those layabouts are going to get what’s coming to them as well.  What about those lazy bastards down our street who can’t even be bothered to wok but are living lives of luxury?  Well, they’ll have to get on their bikes and look for work or starve. Thatcher was lead us back into that fantasy version of what Victorian England was like, where everything was simpler, people knew their place and it was the richest place on earth.

This is the essence of Thatcher’s vision; a mix of prejudice, fantasy and – lest we forget – the dystopian economic philosophy of Friedrich Hayek and his most famous acolyte Milton Friedman.  Thatcher, the so-called patriot, would use Britain as a laboratory to try-out Friedmanism and although some would profit from it – mostly in the short-term – the interests of the vast majority would be sacrificed.  This was economics at its most psychopathic and even though Thatcher was warned about the dangers, she ploughed ahead regardless.

Thatcher broke away from the Post-War Consensus but didn’t replace it with anything meaningful or constructive.  Her own period of government didn’t successfully result in any grand designs neo-liberal, Keynesian or otherwise; that was left to the governments that followed (even New Labour).  Her own attempts at Friedmanism were eventually scrapped, hampered by her own destructive impulses, which merely resulted in near economic meltdown.  She did unfortunately succeed in making ‘socialism’ a dirty word on this side of the Atlantic for the first time.  This is an example of Thatcher’s gift – if it can be called that – for the negative.  Thatcherism is really about negation, being defined by what it is against than what it is for.  All of the things it claims to support fall apart when analysed too deeply.  Thatcher’s government achieved nothing.  Style over substance

Tory election posters trumpeted that ‘Labour isn’t working’ in 1979, but Thatcher’s Tory government tripled unemployment to three million in just four years (and even that figure was famously massaged down).  The resulting welfare bill meant that her entire tenure in government was marked by a persistent economic deficit, which was not even alleviated by her desperate selling off of state assets like British Telecom, or the profits generated by North Sea Oil.

It comes as no surprise then that her government’s other promises were never met either.  While in opposition her party had derided Labour’s inability to seize control of inflation which was as at 10%, promising that they could if given the chance.  This didn’t happen and in fact inflation continued to increase in the short term.  By the time Thatcher left office it was nearly back at 10% (9.7%).

Her period government was bookended by riots.  Her tenure as Prime Minister began with riots caused by unemployment, heavy-handed policing, housing shortages etc and ended with riots inspired by the Poll Tax.  Today’s praise of Thatcher has to be counterbalanced by the acceptance that this was not a popular or successful Prime Minister in any real terms.  This was the first Prime Minister whose government understood and mastered the art of popular culture – her political career resembled an ad campaign and had as much basis in reality.  The real legacy was the personality cult that British politics has become.  That and her divisiveness.

For the rest of us, growing up working-class in the 1980s was depressing.  Everybody you knew seemed to be unemployed.  Margaret Thatcher claimed to be on the side of people who worked hard but seemed hell-bent on making those who were working redundant and those out-of-work unemployable.  We were told jobs were out there but the reality couldn’t have been more different.  Thatcher also claimed she was on the side of the entrepreneur and this also rang hollow.  Shops were being boarded up, factories and other businesses closed down on a moreorless constant basis.  If you wanted to start a business you could go on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme of course, but you had to have a grand in the bank to secure your £40 a week from the benefits people (yes, the same people who supplied your income support) to do it.  If anything illustrates Thatcher’s tenuous grip on reality that does.

The old apprenticeships were replaced the crass cynicism of Youth Training Schemes or Job (later renamed Employment) Training Schemes, both of which left you only qualified to join another training scheme in six months, but allowed your labour to be exploited by the deeply unpleasant charlatans who ran such things.

All of this was part of the plan of course.  Thatcher was declaring all-out-war on the working-class.  This was the one thing they were successful at; by the time she and her colleagues left government the image of the working-class had – at least in the general public’s perception – changed beyond recognition.  It now conjured up visions of an ‘underclass’; Wayne and Waynetta Slob, the family from Bread.  A fictional caricature that eventually fed into itself.

No politician has showed more contempt for people who work with their hands than Margaret Thatcher.  This is the true ‘British disease’. It was therefore inevitable that those she hated the most were the ones whose hands got the dirtiest, that is; the miners.  As we have seen the Conservatives had already sworn vengeance on them.  During the riots earlier in Thatcher’s premierships the public had grown used to sights of the ‘tooled-up’ coppers, with riot-shields, batons, visored helmets.  These paramilitary police were used mercilessly against the miners and their families.  Margaret Thatcher did more than other Prime Minister to blatantly politicise the police.

The media built a hate campaign against the miners, particularly Arthur Scargill who was merely telling the truth about the government’s plans and doing the job of fighting for the people he was employed by.  Those of us who were properly informed knew that the strike was about pit closures that would (and have) destroyed communities but it didn’t seem to matter.  Margaret Thatcher saw his as a war akin to the Falklands; propaganda, triumphalism and contempt for the truth was the order of her day

The miners were merely the most visible of her hate figures.  Practically every industry that had created wealth for Britain was dragged under by her policies, causing vast unemployment to be embedded deep in many communities.  This was not only economically damaging, the societal damage has been long-lasting.

One of the most repeated Thatcher quote has been her claim that ‘there is no such thing as society’.  Let’s look at what this revealed about her.  Certainly it reveals that had little ability to perceive of something external to her immediate experience.  It also exposes Margaret Thatcher’s weird isolationism, her belief that she alone could be right.  To her, individualism went only as far as herself and by the end of her premiership she was even identifying herself as the embodiment of the nation in the same way that absolutist rulers used to, in her use of the royal ‘we’.  Margaret Thatcher could not perceive there being any such thing as society because her own limited experience was all that mattered to her, and informed her every action.

If only Thatcherism could be have died along with her.  If only people realised what an empty construct it actually was and is.

Grotesque Governance

Not all in this - least of all together

This is one of the grotesque periods in modern political British history. 

Am I being a bit over the top?  Well consider the following:  The rallying cry of this government from its offset has been to proclaim that “we’re all in this together” as it begins to dismantle the British welfare state, the NHS and state education all under the cover of paying off the deficit.  These white, very wealthy males (and all but a few of them fall into this category) have rarely, if ever, depended on the state for anything and so therefore have very little understanding of the value of the state.  This makes them the exception rather than the rule.  To watch David Cameron on the Andrew Marr show yesterday still repeating the lie of “we’re all in this together” is absolutely grotesque. 

Too many members of this government share the same very narrow background of public/private school and Oxbridge university and this is why I feel that in order to prevent such a government achieving power again it is time that ‘public’ (really?) and private education needs to be banned once and for all.  Do the children of relatively wealthy parents deserve better education than others?  Surely the answer has to be no.  It merely leads to elitism, something this government displays in its cavalier attitude during every parliamentary debate.   Public schools are notorious for promoting the “born to lead” scenario and this has no place in a democracy; it bears more relation to feudalism.  Furthermore how can equality of opportunity ever flourish while these institutions still remain, making a mockery of the whole concept.

I truly hope that this government is an anomaly and that Cameron and his ilk will soon be consigned to the dustbin of history, but unfortunately this is very much a British government and could genuinely only happen here.  By holding on to such remnants of the past like the Royal family, the House of Lords, public schools, Oxbridge etc, we remain captives of our history and are doomed to keep making the same mistakes over and over, all the time expecting different results.   This is one of the definitions of insanity.  Is it about time we stopped?

The Deficit Myth

Osborne with his suspect deviceGeorge Osborne’s comprehensive spending review of Wednesday 20th October 2010 demonstrated that this government is hell-bent on destroying the Welfare State. 

 There is plenty of evidence to support this; for instance, the aggressive shrinking of the public sector, the £87bn of funding cuts, the cancellation of many important (Labour) initiatives and the cuts to benefits.  Furthermore, they are going to deliberately make many families homeless. 

For a supposed coalition, this government is more Tory than Thatcher ever dreamed of being.  They are belligerently targeting those least able to carry the burden of the deficit, for example; the poor, those on lower/middle incomes, welfare, the disabled – even women and children.  Most commentators agree on this.  None of this was present in either the Conservative manifesto, nor was it indicated in that of Liberal Democrats.  Who voted for this?

The coalition’s constant use of the deficit to excuse utterly irresponsible policy-making is objectionable and the argument of there being “no choice” is unacceptable.  The Attlee government of post-war Britain had a greater deficit to contend with but still managed to start the Welfare State and the NHS, thus the only conclusion one can reach is that the Osborne budget is ideologically driven and to argue otherwise is disingenuous. 

The government’s general line is that the last Labour government created the deficit and are now offering no solutions in how to deal with it.  The very fact that the deficit was caused by the worldwide banking crisis, which began on Wall Street but sent most economies into a tail-spin seemed to escape the Conservative’s notice  (it was in all in the newspapers and on the television).  They also seemed overlook the fact that Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling made sure that the economy was beginning to improve again under Labour.  During all of that time the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats voted with the Labour government and so I imagine they must have agreed with what they were doing.  Were they lying then, or are they lying now? 

Of course the ever-opportunistic George Osborne has been quick to accept the credit for the growth during the last two-quarters (the recently announced 0.8% of the last quarter), but it will be interesting to see if this is maintained following the frankly stupid cuts he announced last week.  Yes, I do mean ‘stupid’.

I call his ideas stupid because that’s what they are.  If you put ½ million people out-of-work deliberately you should have more of an idea about where they are going to find re-employment other than a vague idea like “it will come from the private sector”.  The government has not provided satisfactory evidence to substantiate this claim.  Won’t these people– who will at least for a time be unemployed – be claiming benefits?  They will certainly not be paying taxes.  If they unlucky enough to be unemployed for over a year their housing-benefit will be slashed, so the odds are they’ll be out on the street – which includes their children.  Won’t this lead to crime?  Don’t we need more police to deal with such crime?  It worries me that most of us in the public are asking questions like these but we have a government that seems incapable of asking them.  It’s almost as if they announce such measures willy-nilly and don’t bother editing their own thoughts.

What about the rise in VAT?  I know it will discourage me from buying more goods and I can hardly imagine such a measure to be a boon to retailers or manufacturers either.  Will people be rushing out to buy more consumables with 20% value-added-tax on them?  I think the answer to that is pretty obvious when one also bears in mind the fact that most people have had their wages frozen, will lose their jobs and inflation is rising (didn’t that happen under previous Conservative administrations?).

Of course, some readers will dismiss all of this because I’m a member of the Labour Party and a socialist too, but I think that when one proposes policies one ought to think of their consequences.  I’m not an economist but even I can see that George Osborne hasn’t thought his plans through and nor have his colleagues.

You Don’t Need No Education

I had the privilege of attending university as a mature student, prior to that much of my education came via my own huge appetite for books.  There was much attention paid by the previous Labour government directed at encouraging more people to attend university – famously the aim was 50% – and to a large extent the party achieved a great deal through that policy.  Certainly many more people attended universities from a far wider variety of backgrounds than ever before. 

I personally know many graduates whose families are proud of their achievements.   Many were the first of their families to have attended a university let alone graduate from one.  Such achievements set precedents in a person’s family which lead to ever greater educational achievement.  One graduate in a family can encourage others to take the plunge, since it proves that educational attainment is possible despite a sometimes poor experience in education at the beginning of one’s life.

It can sometime hard for people from a more advantaged background to appreciate the importance of this, since educational achievement is often taken for granted.  Neither my mother or my father went onto further education, let alone higher education, they simply didn’t have the opportunity.  My mother was offered a place at highly esteemed local institution (Mabel Fletcher’s) but was unable to take it, whilst my father, despite being highly intelligent also, failed his eleven-plus, despite being entered for it from the age of eight-years-old.  Both were sent out to work by their families as soon as they were old enough – their families simply couldn’t afford delaying it.  My father went onto take an apprenticeship in maintenance engineering and became a highly skilled engineer.

In education there has been a lot of debate over the past twenty-years (or more) about the UK skills shortage.  The most famous influential report to address this was Leitch’s.  In that he identified that the UK has a staggering problem with illiteracy and innumeracy, and stressed that the UK must focus on creating ‘World Class Skills’ in the UK.  Leitch emphasised that in order for the UK to be competitive people should be ‘up-skilled’ to attain a target of Level 2 (GCSE) skills.  At the time, Leitch’s report was welcomed by the Labour government who then went onto to introduce many (some would say way too many) initiatives to enable this to happen.  Peter Mandelson much later headed an initiative to reach on Level 3 targets.

The operative word in all of this was of course was targets.  The consequence of an emphasis on targets is that it creates an artificial approach to teaching and learning, since sometimes the very activity of learning is unquantifiable.  Educators and students understand this but bureaucrats don’t.

Of course, the new Conservative government, like all Conservative governments before them make a great deal of noise about being very anti-bureaucracy.  The problem of course is that they are also very anti-education, at least for ordinary people and marginalised groups.  Much as the Labour government was way too over-keen on paper-work, at least there was a well-meaning intent present in their education policy.

My worry regarding education in the near future is the cuts.  The Conservatives talk about wanting to make the UK competitive but fail to understand that in order to be competitive the people of the UK need to be skilled.  Education begins at school and if investment is taken away from schools this makes the UK less competitive.  Governmental removal of financial help from community education (often the first step back into education for out-of-work people) further downgrades the UK skills status. The government cuts to college funding, often a source of vocational training today, are destroying the UK economy.  Put up financial barriers between ordinary people and further/higher education and the UK’s economy will inevitably suffer.

The greatest resource of any economy or business is the people in it.  This is the first lesson that one learns in economics and this government’s policies spectacularly fail to pay heed to that fact.   It utterly baffles me why the government cannot understand the logic of this argument.  Perhaps it is owing to the educationally privileged backgrounds of the front-bench, or maybe it is simply that they are intellectually incapable of understanding it.  Personally, I believe that they just choose to ignore it.  Whatever the case, we are heading into disastrous territory if Government educational policies aren’t reviewed.

Who Are The Real Class Warriors?

During the General Election, David Cameron accused Gordon Brown of using the language of the class war.  What has emerged since is that there are two sides to class war.

Personally I think that it is only natural that a government with a front-bench mostly composed of white, upper-middle class males have a lot to prove.  Certainly the government doesn’t in the slightest bit resemble society in the twenty-first century.  Surely it is only right and fitting that there should be an open debate about how they can claim to accurately represent the people of the UK.

I wouldn’t bring this up but the government’s policies seem to indicate that they are engaged in a class-war against anybody who has to work for a living:

1)  Want your kids to go to university?  Sorry, they can’t because you can’t afford it.

2)  Want Child Benefit?  Sorry you can’t have it because we, as millionaires, have decided that you have too much money.

3)  Want a decent school for your children to go to?  Sorry, tough luck unless you pay for it.

4)  Where’s that school you were promised?  Michael Gove doesn’t think your children are important enough.

5)  Want disability benefit? Sorry, you’re not disabled enough.

6)  Can’t find a job?  Tough luck, you live in the North.

7)  Where are your public services?  Sorry you live in a part of the country that didn’t vote for us.

8)  Want to keep your job? Hard luck, you work in the unprofitable public-sector and/or it contributes nothing to the GDP.

9)  Want to keep that roof over your head?  Sorry, we’re going to sell off your council house.

10) The NHS?  We’ve decided that Labour wasted money on it and it’s no longer practical.

The list goes on. 

My feeling is that, who are these people to treat the electorate this way?  Add all of these policies to the right-wing and misleading language of ‘benefit cheats’ and ‘illegals’, and their true aims are clear.  This is revenge for their 13 year exile from Government – it is as petty and spiteful as that.  For that reason, we need to remove this government from office – and mark my words we will in 5 years.  Once we succeed in that we have to make sure these anachronistic con-artists are never allowed in government again, and this time we need to do the job correctly.

David Cameron’s Weird Definition Of ‘Fairness’

The English language is odd isn’t it?  People learning it for the first time often refer to its pit-falls, the fact that the spelling of words is not intuitive and even that the meanings of them can be different depending on their context.  Even though I have lived in the UK all of my life, I can often find the English language confusing.

For instance, I often wonder if people who attend public schools use different dictionaries to the rest of us.  Is there such a thing as an Etonian Dictionary, for example?  The reason I’ve begun to think there might be is that I became utterly dumbfounded by David Cameron’s definition of the word ‘fair’ this week.  It is certainly not a definition that I am aware of, and everybody I have asked about it doesn’t seem to recognise it either.

Right-wing people often do this.  They go out of their way to alter the meanings of words without due consultation with the rest of us.  People have written a great deal of academic work about neo-con Donald Rumsfeld doing that with his use of terminology like ‘collateral damage’ and ‘friendly fire’, but you’d expect an egregious monster like him to behave in that way.  David Cameron – a self-proclaimed patriot standing in front of a union-jack – should have more respect for the English language.

Cameron seems to be trying to convince us that ‘fairness’ means that only those who are hard-working deserve any standard of living at all.  His belief is that ‘the poor’ can be split into two definable groups; those who work for little money and those who are unwilling to work but receive a little bit more money from benefits.  The problem with this half-baked concept – if indeed it has ever been baked at all – is that it doesn’t really stand up to any close scrutiny.

There are large communities throughout the UK where unemployment has become the norm over three generations.  The origins of this began during the Thatcher years when those communities were deindustrialised.  Ask any Conservative supporter about this and they’ll tell you their heroine did this because those industries were running at a loss and had to be swept away to make the UK more competitive.  Even if one accepts this argument (and I certainly don’t) those industries were not replaced with anything economically viable and therefore there are no employment opportunities in those communities.

If Conservative MPs made some effort to understand the challenges that one faces in such communities I might have some respect for their opinions on the matter but they don’t (and if anybody mentions the Iain Duncan Smith paper I’ll get annoyed).  Imagine if your grand-parents were made redundant and have spent the rest of his/her demoralised life on benefits.  Then imagine that your parents, too, have been unable to find employment – when they have it has been on government training schemes. Consequently, you have spent your entire life in a household where there was never enough money and never any hope of the situation improving.  Imagine the pressure in such a home.  On top of all of this, you then leave school and find yourself in precisely the same situation as your grandparents and your parents.  There are no employment prospects anywhere in your local area.  Firstly, would you feel there was any point in learning anything in school?  Would you feel there was any point in looking for employment if everybody you know is unemployed and living their lives on benefits?  Is any of this ‘fair’?

Are you then expected to put a hold on your life?  Are you expected to carry on living with your parents, never having a home of your own, never settling down with anybody and having children?  Is that ‘fair’?

Areas where this is the case have many social problems because of it.  Traditional socialisation models don’t happen because young people continue to hang around with the same peer group as they did during their time at school. The workplace fulfilled a vital role, one would learn from adults who become role-models and in the absence of such a workplace, the behaviour of the school-yard is unchecked and it can often spill over into the community.

After eighteen years of Conservative rule the problems became deeply ingrained in such communities.  Despite New Labour’s thirteen year tenure in office the administration never quite managed to undo the damage done during those years.  Is it any wonder when one examines the scale of the damage?  Industries that had taken scores of years to grow were allowed to wither and die during ten years or less.  As a direct consequence of this, the UK became over-reliant on the financial sector and look where that has led us…

Cameron’s attitude is disturbing for many reasons.  He has reawakened the phrase ‘the undeserving poor’ with all its dangerous connotations.  It certainly pleases the likes of The Daily Mail, and the coalition seem to delight in using the same language as such papers; benefit scroungers, etc.  An example of this is the government’s new proposal to cap benefits, to allegedly make sure that those on benefits aren’t receiving more money than those who are working.  It doesn’t seem to have occurred to the government that wages may be too low rather than benefits being too high. 

Not only that, but there is an even stranger component to Cameron’s argument.  To illustrate this he has used the standard media-cartoon of families with something like fifteen children.  This evokes images of the kinds of unfortunate people Jeremy Kyle undoubtedly trawls council-estates to find (Kyle even hosted a fringe-event, which speaks volumes about this government).  Cameron’s argument seems to be that people shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford it.  This is a typically rather stupid thing to say since it avoids issues like divorce, bereavement, redundancy and domestic violence – all of which can happen to anybody without much warning.  This is particularly insulting in light of the Camerons’ own flaunting of their new-born baby before the conference started.  Who are the government to tell people how many children the public can and can’t have?  Aren’t the Tories supposed to be the supporters of ‘the family’ (as long as it conforms to the ‘traditional’ model of course) and don’t they talk about individual freedom all the time?  There isn’t much ‘fairness’ going on here.

Even if one accepts Cameron’s argument and agrees that people shouldn’t have children if they can’t afford them, it is difficult to defend capping the benefits of those that do.  A policy like this would punish only children, and it’s not as if they had any say in the matter.  The Conservatives have been critical of Labour’s actually rather good record on child-poverty – surely even they should realise that capping benefits would make matters infinitely worse.  Again, is that fair?

I suggest that David Cameron should invest in a new dictionary and throw that Old Etonian one away.  It really isn’t doing him any favours and is simply making him sound like a retired colonel during Dickens’ most prolific of periods.  The only one who is ‘undeserving’ is him, to be honest.  He doesn’t deserve to be Prime Minister.