Monday, 7 June 2010

Cameron's Cuts and the Big Society

The Old Beards thought it was always a good idea to capitalise on divisions in the class enemy. Since the Dave 'n' Nick love-in was signed and sealed the Daily Telegraph have had it in for the coalition, providing lefties a bit of cheer. They've brought down one of the LibDem's brightest stars over dodgy rent arrangements. And now they're pouring cold water over Dave's programme.

Cameron's speech
today promised cuts to public sector pensions, wages, jobs and services. He said these "tough decisions" were unavoidable because Labour had left the state's finances in a much worse state than he feared. Unfortunately for Dave this claim is total piffle, as their erstwhile allies point out.

Edmund Conway notes,
the figures nonetheless look horrible of course ... But if anything the picture has actually improved in recent weeks. For one thing, the latest public finances numbers show that Britain’s deficit last year was actually considerably lower than previously calculated. For another, the interest rate on the average 10-year gilt has actually fallen considerably since the eurozone economic crisis took hold. Both of these factors are reasonably encouraging. They support the argument that one has to provide decent, credible plans to cut the deficit, since in Britain’s case that is precisely what the markets are recognising, by charging the Government a lower rate of interest.
He goes on:
So why does Cameron feel it necessary to use scare tactics instead? One presumes it’s because he’s aware of the political difficulty of imposing those cuts. Canada may have done pretty well in cutting its spending, but the process was extremely gruelling. Perhaps Cameron is still haunted by Mervyn King’s reported warning that the austerity that the election-winner would have to impose could make them so unpopular that they would ultimately find themselves ejected from power. But whatever his rationale, he has no excuse for misrepresenting economic reality.
While a smooth operator like Cameron cannot be unaware of the likelihood of a backlash, I feel there's more to Dave's rhetoric than covering the Tories' backs.

Like my friend
Boffy I think when politicians make pronouncements of a more (political-) philosophical character, they shouldn't be dismissed as cynical rationales of their activities (though they do have the effect of justifying them, to themselves as much as anyone else). Instead politicians' beliefs should be approached as a genuinely held set of ideas, even if they are self-serving, overly ideological and completely barking.

As we know, the Tories' great wheeze is the 'Big Society' - a nebulous concept positioned as a response to New Labour's authoritarianism, the "nanny state", and the "broken society". It emphasises the balancing of rights with responsibilities, preserving time worn institutions, rebuilding social solidarities, and scaling back the influence of the state - all in all pretty standard Conservative philosophy with bolt-on extras (though who could have foreseen the Tories
encouraging same-sex civil partnerships?) Since Dave stepped out of the margins of 2005's leadership contest his liberal Toryism hasn't deviated from the Big Society script.

For Dave and co the crisis in public finances is an
opportunity for social engineering. He can dress the cuts up how he likes, but in his heart of hearts the slashing and the burning will cleanse society's soul and make it "Big". Taking an axe to the welfare state will force people out of necessity to build ties of mutual support independent of it. Hiving off benefit assessment and provision to private firms can be spun as the state enabling "society" to look after its most vulnerable members. Making life more difficult for JSA claimants is about the hand up, not the hand out.

So don't let the handwringing fool you. The Tory cuts to come have as much to do with their fundamental beliefs as their perception of economic necessity.

7 comments:

TGR Worzel said...

What we should be cutting of course, are things like Fertility Treatment on the NHS, the free patching up of drunks in Casualty, the 2001 Census, wars in Afghanistan, benefits & free houses for non-UK citizens...

Phil said...

Besides the war in Afghanistan, what is the economic case for cutting the rest when they amount to a hill of beans? Far meatier is Trident, tax avoidance, etc. etc.

SamG said...

So the right want to deny people the chance to have kids, what a vision of the future!

"the free patching up of drunks in Casualty"

Doesn’t this just sum up the mad drivel of the raving lunatic right?

How is it to be determined who is drunk and who is not? Will everyone admitted to hospital be breathalysed? Who will carry this out? What impact will this have on waiting times? How will it be determined whether being drunk is related to any injury? What if someone is glassed in the face for no reason whatsoever? Will they be denied treatment because they went for a night out and were unfortunate enough to meet some yob? What if someone is stabbed by thugs after a night out, like what happened to the brother of the former Eastender’s actress? Will they be denied treatment?

Honestly, how is it that we cannot win against these cretins?

nickoli.name said...

Trident and and tax avoidance are far bigger, and far more expensive, issues than fertility treatment (though I don't think that should be on the NHS either) or patching up drunks.

TGR Worzel, how exactly does a non-UK citizen go about getting one of these free houses? I did look at council houses, but non-citizens aren't eligible. Who does offer them? All the benefits seem to be the same - is there a special set of benefits for non-UK citizens somewhere?

Arthur Bough said...

The Tories have said they want to involve the Public in deciding what to cut etc. I'd say take them at their word. Let's organise Labour Movement Conferences, and Constituent Assemblies to democratically discuss how to proceed. I'm sure we could put forward a whole range of options for "The Public" to get behind.

1. Scrapping Trident - after all the Liberals are supposed to support that.

2. Bring all the troops home from abroad wherever they are.

3. Work towards scrapping the standing army with a Workers Militia that really could act to defend British workers, in which case we won't need all those expensive ships, planes and other pieces of hardware which could be sold off and bring in billions.

4. Similarly scrap the Police to be replaced by local Committees of Public Safety. If the bosses or the rich want someone to defend their property let them pay for it themselves.

5. Reduce the wages of all Public functionaries, MP's, Judges, Top Civil Servants, the Military Top Brass and so on to the average workers wage.

6. Open the Books on the Public sector so we can see where the money really goes, how much private pharmaceutical companies are ripping off the NHS, how much PFI companies are getting in interest payments, how much private consultants are ripping off the Civil Service and Local Government and so on.

7. Let's employ more Tax Inspectors to chase down the reported £120 billion in unpaid tax by the rich- again something the Liberals said they supported.

8. Open the books of the big companies to see how much their top bosses are getting in Bonuses and expenses so we can decide how much they should be taxed.

Sarah Ditum said...

I think the ideological character of the cuts is underlined by the insistence that they have to be tough, because economic conditions are so much worse than anyone knew - whereas, as Tim Harford pointed out on Today, all the debt information had been available for ages. But the idea of extraordinary circumstances helps to justify the extraordinary actions the govt wants to take.

Chris said...

Reminds me of Naomi Klein's disaster capitalism. The Tories tell us the ecomony is worse than they feared despite the data telling us it is actually better than we were led to believe.

Welcome to 1984.