Tuesday, 23 November 2010

The Tory Attack on Aspiration

spEak You're bRanes does a fine job of sending up the most absurd comments found on BBC's Have Your Say and the soon-to-be-switched-off Ceefax teletext service. But very occasionally a diamond shines out among the bigoted rough. This one, from yesterday's letters' page, skewers the Tories' latest plans on council housing:
So social housing tenants may be evicted if their finances are "deemed to have improved enough".

In other words if tenants get a job and come off benefits they'll stand to lose their home.

Not what I call an incentive. How lucky we are to have a government made up of thinkers of genius.

TW, North Yorks
Tories really do believe the root of benefit dependency is the "over-generosity" of the system. So even within their own terms this latest attack on the welfare state makes no sense. What's going on?


Boffy said...

When a Government makes one rushed badly thought out policy announcement, that might be thought to be careless. A second might be still tolerated, but when every announcement displays the same kind of lack of attention to detail you have to think that something bigger is going on.

Yesterday, there was a story on the TV about a Minister somewhere - I forget where - who had resigned because he'd stood up in front of a meeting and said his job was easy because he just had to parrot some stock phrases. Dick Crossman was more smart. He waited until he'd retired before his Diaries came out, in which he makes the comment leanred by every Politics student, that being a Minister is easy, because you just have to take the stuff in your In-Tray, and place it in the Out-Tray, which means leaving it up to your Civil Servants to deal with.

The reality of the capitalist State at both central and local level is that real power lies with the permanent bureaucracy. It is they who have the resoruces and knowledge to put together discussion papers, and policy suggestions, to knock-down suggestions they do not like, and to feed Ministers and Councillors with only that information they want them to have. The needs of Bouregois democracy simply impsoe the idea of "Ministerial Responsibility" so that the illusion that having voted you have made a difference, and those you have voted for can be removed if they make a mistake. Of course, you never get to vote to remove the top Civil Servants, the Judges, the Military and so on where the real power lies,a nd where the real decisions stem from.

Yesterday, the media were making exactly the same points about the proposals on Council Housing, arguing that it was a massive disincentive for people. A moment's thought would have shown that to Ministers, and its not clear what advantage they actually think they will gain from it. So, rather like Cameron's decision to put his photographer on the State payroll, that his CS advisers didn't warn him against, the question is why didn't they warn against this proposal?

Phil said...

The incompetence is truly staggering to behold.

The one thing that keeps sticking with me is how Dave has abandoned the practice of his 80s forebears. That decade contains plenty of lessons not just for the labour movement, but also for the ruling class. The most enduring of which is if you're gearing up for an assault on the working class, you pick off sections at a time. Thatcher did this. So did New Labour. But the Coalition? It's as if they're trying to take one everyone at once.

True the labour movement ain't what it used to be. Put picking fights with the entire public sector plus students plus jobseekers plus the disabled plus the arts ad infinitum isn't the smartest of politics. Even Thatcher in her current befuddled and senile state wouldn't make that mistake.

Paul said...

I think the parallels with Thatcherism have been overdrawn because of the economic policy similarities (and the understandable desire for the Left to advertise those). Cameron's Conservatism is a much more openly class project than Thatcherism ever was, and in keeping with David Harvey's analysis. Cameron's Conservatism is informed less by Thatcher, more by the High/Low political crudenesses of high Toryism, though mixed with a New Labour communitarian rhetoric to create this weird cocktail of high Tory arrogance and inept managerialism.

Phil said...

I think the parallels are there because Thatcher *was* an open project of class warfare. The key difference IMO being that the Coalition rely on their dominance of/support by the media to try and divide and conquer opposition to their plans. Thatcher used this too, but also actively worked to win over the consent of a section of the working class with material incentives such as council house sales and "popular" privatisations. Same shit, different means.

Vladimir said...

Well, speaking as an unreconstructed Thatcherite, I'd say that Cameron is a complete moron. He lacks Thatcher's intelligence and wisdom, and that's why badly thought out policies like this are constantly turning up. A left-winger couldn't ask for a better Conservative.

One further comment. Anything that is means tested must involve an arbitrary cutoff point, and that cutoff will always act as a sort of glass ceiling, discouraging aspiration. So, while Dave's policy is pretty stupid, it's no sillier in principle than any other means-tested benefit. Out of interest, what do you think of means-testing in general?

Phil said...

What do I think of means testing? Not much!

Short of the moneyless society of the future I am broadly in favour of a citizens income pegged at such a level to make the majority of benefits redundant. No humiliating disability tests, no dole office, no welfare bureaucracy beyond social services. Obviously how you manage such a sweeping reform is a complex task as it makes redundant a large number of jobs that administer benefits (I'd favour retraining and redeployment for those who wish to stay on), but overall it would be a much better set up than what we have now.