Tuesday 5 September 2023

A Note on Tory Carelessness

Speaking off the cuff while the mic was hot is now the least of Gillian Keegan's problems. As probably the most gaffe-prone Tory minister since Oliver Letwin was shut in the cupboard, in response to the crumbling schools scandal we have deflection (it's Local Education Authorities and councils' fault that classrooms are caving in), and we (reportedly) have the cynicism. Of the RAAC concrete crisis, Keegan apparently said "We just need to keep the lid on this for two years and then it’s someone else’s problem." I'm all for truthfulness in politics, and even telling lies about right wingers is bad. But at this point it has enough "truthiness" about it, whether she said it or not. Because this sort of devil may care attitude is not a bug, it's a feature. Remember, when he was Chancellor Rishi Sunak vetoed rebuilding money for half the schools on the emergency repairs list. And what do you know, those are the ones now presenting a danger to their occupants and disrupting children's education.

Mainstream takes on why this sort of thing happens time and again falls into two types. We have the idea it's "incompetence", which is a favourite accusation of Keir Starmer's and will no doubt get an airing at Wednesday's Prime Minister's Questions. The other is "ideology", that Tories are so blinded by their dogma that no amount of reality will make them change their ways. They are puppets in thrall to a set of propositions that sit in their heads. The idea of "shit state Tories", featured in the New Statesman to explain Tory actions, is a spin on this well-worn theme.

Neither explanation is satisfying because they don't take the Tories and their project seriously. The Conservative Party is a machine for inequality. It serves to protect and consolidate capitalist relations of production. That's its bottom line so the boss class can safely tend to their bottom line. This is how they manage British capitalism - policies that obviously undermine economic growth are preferred to GDP-enhancing measures if they keep labour dependent on capital, and work to disorganise it as a collective political subject. They employ a variety of strategies to varying effect to maintain this status quo. Of course, because this is politics this has to be continually performed and applied and is by no means guaranteed to be successful. Indeed, we're at a conjuncture where the Tory capacity to manage on these terms is increasingly exhausted and Labour are signalling that Starmer is ready to assume their task.

But because the Tories are exhausted doesn't mean they're going to stop trying. As explained here on several occasions, Tory strategy after the initial wave of Covid was to effectively put politics back in a box. Corbynism, despite its failure, managed to push the political envelope just enough that the the consensus around austerity realism was thoroughly punctured. And when Covid exploded in early 2020, despite the Tories dragging their feet, the state had to intervene to underwrite the nation's wage bill and reorganise public services to respond to the health emergency. It's no accident that no sooner were curbs on movement and Covid support packages in place that Boris Johnson and the right wing press started undermining their own efforts by talking up "freedom days" and, particularly, agitating for returns to work. They were conscious that the sudden expansion of emergency social security was completely at odds with the miserly class politics practised by the Tories since 2010, how they could raise political expectations and questions about how society should be organised. The situation could not be allowed to persist. Therefore, everything the Tories have done since, from winding down Covid mitigations to a vaccine-only strategy, and from there a no-vaccine strategy, to effectively ignoring striking workers, to refusing local government the money it requires, to refusing to bend to public pressure on environmental issues, and preferring that school children should have roofs fall on their heads than make available the money necessary to fix crumbling classrooms all come from the same place.

'Incompetence' and 'ideology' comprise an anti-Tory ideology in and of themselves because they distort what the Tories are about. They ignore other, most important I-word: interests. Without putting that at the heart of an analysis, mainstream commentators and politicians will never get to grips with them or the class relationships the Tories champion. Which, you might say, is precisely why they continue to push these limited and wrong arguments. They have an interest in not recognising these interests, because it means admitting that theirs and theirs are fundamentally the same.

Image Credit


Anonymous said...

Like Stalin's Terror, Ideologies spring from Interests but then assume a life of their own.

C.f. the hypothetical experiment in which monkeys are taught to fear approaching the fruit. Once off the leash, the slavering beast is self-perpetuating; it can continue to slaver and bite without any of its constituent parts being aware of what they are doing or why.

Whoever it was that first created the class warfare vehicle which now occupies almost the entire heart and nervous system of the British state, it's beyond any ordinary politician - regardless of rosette colour - to change its course. If you try, and achieve any visible success whatsoever, then what happened to Corbynism happens to you.

Anonymous said...

I really don't know how they expected to get away with their '50 new schools a year' headline figure. There are about 22,000 schools in England, so unless they're literally building them to last 440 years, then 50 a year is nowhere near enough.

(The original DfE bid of 300-400 schools a year would probably be about the right ball-park for a replacement rate.)

impressionist said...

The Guardian has "the price of fixing the school concrete crisis in England" as £150 million. Surely this is peanuts, isn't it? Especially when compared to the literally billions of pounds thrown away on useless PPE!

Blissex said...

«Once off the leash, the slavering beast is self-perpetuating; it can continue to slaver and bite without any of its constituent parts being aware of what they are doing or why.»

Only as long as it bites those who don't matter. When it touches the interests of those that matter the slavering beast is quickly and ruthlessly brought to heel.