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.

Politics & Religion – A Dangerous Combination

Frank Field MP

Religion ought to be a personal matter, a matter of choice, and although many religions have a lot of commonalities, they also clash on a number of issues.  In the twenty-first century, we are a comparatively liberal society, but it has taken a great deal of work, and much bloodletting, to get us to this point.

I must declare at this juncture that as an atheist I don’t have a religion, but respect people’s right to choose their own faith.  I believe that in a tolerant society that is the way it should be.

Despite having the so-called ‘Spirit Lords’ in the House of Lords, our parliament is, by and large, secular and certainly our laws purport to be.  However, every now and then, religion creeps into the debate.

This is happening at this very moment.  Once again, women’s right to choose to have an abortion is being called into question.  This time it is being rebranded as a “Health Bill”, as women’s “Right to Know”.  Implicit in the proposed Bill, is the accusation that Marie Stopes and similar organisations have counsellors who “promote abortion” to pregnant women and that counselling should be provided by “independent” bodies.  The Guardian has a number of theories about who these “independent” bodies would be.

The two main protagonists behind this latest attempt to change the Abortion Act are the increasingly notorious Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and that well-known ray-of-sunshine, Labour MP Frank Field.  Both of these MPs would probably deny their religious views are behind the Bill but they seem to have taken a great deal of inspiration from the conservative and Christian movement of the USA in the way the Bill has been worded and presented to the House.  Furthermore, some months ago David Cameron already hinted that he would support lowering the legal-limit of the time-period of abortions (there was actually discussion of this during the last Labour government).  Thus, it looks like this time the fundamentalists might win.

Nadine Dorries MP

Am I wrong to think that religion has no place in politics or law-making?  Reason and the facts alone should decide how we are governed, not the chosen faith of individual MPs.  Abortion is a complicated issue and those who seek to simplify it on the basis of what the bible (or other religious text) says, are undermining advances society has made through intellect and tolerance of others.  Because that is as that the root of all of this – not the debate about when ‘life’ starts, nor the state of mind of women after having an abortion.  Marie Stopes and similar charities/non-profit-making organisations acknowledge all of those issues.  This Bill is about people who believe that they have access to some essential “truth” that only they, and others who share their belief, have.

For a woman to have an abortion, it is a hard and drastic decision; something that should be HER decision and not anybody else’s.  Putting more barriers in the way is cruel and inexcusable – no matter how holy the MPs responsible feel they are.

David Cameron’s Big Society Con Trick

Yes. We are expected to sacrifice ourselves for the wealthy... again.

The voluntary sector has always managed to function despite interference by government – particularly Conservative administrations.  David Cameron’s vocal support for the sector is only matched by his will to undermine it.

He and in his colleagues the coalition deliberately ignore the fact that such drastic cuts will result in the closing down of places where voluntary work is carried out, for example; libraries, day centres, and community centres.   Those who most benefit from the voluntary sector will be the hardest hit.  The disabled and the elderly, for example, will be further isolated at a time when they are overwhelmingly financially squeezed.

There is an additional affront to the intelligence of the British people in all of this.  The government claim that they are handing back power to the community, helping us control our own destiny; quite how we going to manage this with even less resources allocated to local authorities is deliberately unclear.  Furthermore, the more impoverished the community, the least financial resources given to it.  This is cynical in the extreme and ideological in its motivation.

The Conservatives have never believed in the Welfare State, the NHS or any of the reforms made by the post-war consensus, something that the Thatcher government was the first to break away from.  Margaret Thatcher was fond of espousing that the UK should return to “Victorian Values”, conveniently forgetting that such values resulted in workhouses, debtor’s prisons and child labour.   It is logical to conclude that the Cameron government are an extension of such Thatcherism and certainly this is reflected in their policy-making.  David Cameron doesn’t want to create a Big Society; he simply wants to shrink the state.

The local authorities in the most deprived areas of the UK are more often than not Labour controlled (proportionally, their budgets are cut the greatest).  They will not be able to function with such limited resources and this is already having devastating effect.  The coalition will blame these local authorities for any failures.  And what will happen when voluntary organisations are so cash strapped they can no longer function?  They will be also judged as failures and sold off to private companies.  That is David Cameron’s Big Society.  Big Profit-making for a small society of wealthy elitists.

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?

A Home, Not Just A House

Some friends of mine, like many other people in the UK, are finding it hard to buy their first home.  In some ways this makes me feel guilty because my wife and I were lucky enough to buy our home just before house prices began to go stratospheric. 

Nevertheless, there is problem with the British psyche I think; all over the world people spend most of their lives in rented property and think nothing of it, but here we feel we must own the roof over our heads and are quite often made to feel inadequate if we don’t.  My father used to call rent “dead money” which is a bit of a cliché, but like most clichés it has more than a sliver of truth in it.  Rent is very much dead money, unless one is charging it.

There has been much furore recently, generated by the coalition, regarding people receiving lots of housing benefit.  The general dialogue being used by the Conservatives at this moment uses their twisted definition of ‘fairness’.  David Cameron furrows his brow and tells us that it is unfair the “hard-working families” are unable to afford to buy houses while those are on benefits are living in rented accommodation that “hard-working people could only dream of living in” (I’m paraphrasing him here).  This is being used an excuse to put a 10% cap on claimant’s housing benefit if they are still claiming it after a year.  This will inevitably cause much unnecessary grief and hardship to many families, whom often (through no fault of their own) are unable to better their circumstances.  Nor does it take into account the fact that people’s circumstances can dramatically change owing to unforeseen events, such as bereavement, divorce, and so on.

Most people who have lived in rented accommodation know that it is their landlords who are abusing the housing benefits system.  Many of them charge extortionate rent for very poor housing in very deprived areas (often crime-ridden) knowing full well that the rent will be paid via housing benefit.  They set their prices accordingly (at the maximum allowed).  What makes this situation even worse is that many of these landlords don’t even live in the UK, therefore don’t pay their taxes here.  Will the coalition target them?  I think not.

Regarding house prices, I don’t have the answer and I wish I did.  One thing’s for certain, if more are built then surely the prices must go down.  The coalition point to the fact that New Labour didn’t build enough new council houses while in office.  This is a typically disingenuous argument because the Conservatives are completely aware that it was their administration that sold off most of the available council houses during the Thatcher/Major years.  They would also have been the first to criticise any attempts Labour might have made at new council house construction with complaints about over-spending and building on the UK’s ‘green-belt’ (this indeed happened when John Prescott made such proposals).

One of the main problems can be found in the language used.  The Conservatives speak of ‘property’ and ‘houses’ (that is, capital), whereas those who originally built council-houses as part of the welfare state understood that they were building homes.  Those on the centre-left need to re-focus the debate to re-establish the purpose of such homes, to ensure that the Conservatives are not allowed to begin asset-stripping them as they did in the Thatcher/Major years.

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.

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.