Taking time out from dithering over the floods to rebut the soon-to-be Cardinal Nichols, leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Dave refused to accept that his government's cuts to social security have made life harder for those who rely on it. After all, IBS has ensured there will be no cumulative impact assessment for those hit by whammy after whammy of 1% "rises", the effective abolition of total council tax relief, the bedroom tax, and the chopping down of tax credits - no facts will rudely intrude upon Dave's caring reverie. Here is our caring, sharing prime minister in his own words:
Our long-term economic plan for Britain is not just about doing what we can afford, it is also about doing what is right ... Nowhere is that more true than in welfare. For me the moral case for welfare reform is every bit as important as making the numbers add up ... That means difficult decisions to get our deficit down, making sure that the debts of this generation are not our children's to inherit ... But our welfare reforms go beyond that alone - they are about giving new purpose, new opportunity, new hope - and yes, new responsibility to people who had previously been written off with no chance ... Seeing these reforms through is at the heart of our long-term economic plan - and it is at the heart too of our social and moral mission in politics today.How cutting public spending and keeping your fingers crossed makes an "economic plan" is something this LibDem-supported Tory government still hasn't explained two months short of its fourth anniversary. But let's park that up - we can go for a spin in it another time. What interests me here is the thin gruel that passes for high Conservative philosophy.
Essentially, people, or rather, the lower orders, are thick and lazy. And when below stairs people occasionally get bored living a brute existence, they have the potential to be dangerous. Hence the men and women Conservatism addresses itself to - the aristocrats, the rich, the business folk, the people who've clambered out of the herd - they are ultimately responsible for looking after them. They know the people's interests better than the people themselves. What is good for them is hard graft. It toughens them up, gives meaning to their lives. Forces them to "contribute". The devil makes work for idle hands, and all that. Underpinning this is an incredibly narrow view of human nature. We are acquisitive animals. Since we came down from the trees, our first acts were to barter and exchange, to compete and kill for the nicest caves or the plushest savannah. The herd with their tacky soap operas, footy fixations and binge-drinking still respond to material incentives above all else (an article of faith that must have had Osborne scratching his head after next to no firms, let alone workers, responded to his shares-for-rights wheeze).
People might be greedy. But they want to do the bare minimum for it. Which is why social security is so dangerous. Permanent mass unemployment that scars busts and booms is a social pathology. The contradictions of capitalism are not to blame, but rather the welfare state offers incentives to be idle. You've heard the rhetoric - the so-called "something for nothing" culture. If you believe the spin, the last Labour government was a golden age for living it up on the taxpayer. There were no sanctions regimes, no mandatory work programmes, no work capability assessment. Apparently. The thing is, despite the tenor of their baying hounds in the press, people who live on social security can't help it. Not because there's never enough jobs to go around - that never causes unemployment. No, their acquisitive, lazy natures mean they are powerless to resist the material signals the state are putting out. By taking its money, they're inviting bureaucratic interference into places where the state shouldn't go (a critique nicked from the left, actually). It's infantilising them, robbing them of responsibility for their own self-provision. It's a route to a consequence-free existence, which immediately problematises society's moral foundations. Single parenthood, promiscuity, and crime are just some examples of what welfarism unwittingly encourages.
This is why, for Dave, cutting social security is a moral crusade. Taking money from out-of-work support kickstarts the instinct for self-preservation. It's not about kicking poor people. It's the administration of unpleasant medicine that will, in the long run, make them better. Just like that, cutting dole, housing benefit and council tax support, can transform lives. From skiver to striver, the feckless start making something of themselves. They improve. Their communities improve. The moral rectitude of the social fabric improves. And the public finances um, improve. This is why Dave and IBS fight shy of the evidence that cuts are having. They don't need to know it hurts because they believe it works.
NB Nearly everyone with half a brain has spotted the great knotty loop in Tory thinking. If the poor respond positively to the negative incentive of cutting money, then why do the rich - who have plenty of cash anyway - squirrel their wealth away and dodge tax than rather hand it to the state? It comes back to different incentives working on different situations. Because the rich have (presumably) built their fortune themselves, it is just reward for their efforts. If society is to continue benefiting from their superhuman feats, they need unfettered access to the wealth they produce. Hence taxation, in which the state takes a chunk of their rewards legally but, morally speaking, unjustifiably acts as a disincentive to keep working. And not just for the entrepreneur, but for up and coming business people too. However well intentioned taxation is, it deeply damages the good society. This is why many Tory politicians are genuinely stumped by the real public anger toward tax avoidance, and are utterly blind to the political damage it causes them.
Hence different signals sent by government and society, which appear inconsistent, make sense within the terms established by conservative thought. Removing state support for the poorest forces them on to the normative path of success out of necessity. But when they do succeed, society will reward them by allowing them to keep as much of their money as possible.
Elegant, heartless, self-serving nonsense, is it not?