“Traditions are not killed by facts” – George Orwell.
The Conservatives are creatures of habit rather than reason. Traditional. That is the why their policies are so stifling and anti-progressive for the majority of us. It’s why Tory policies don’t meet public needs.
There’s always an air of doom and gloom when we have a Tory government, and a largely subdued, depressed, repressed nation, carrying vague and fearful intuitions that something truly catastrophic is just around the corner.
I can remember the anxiety and creeping preternatural fear amongst young people in the eighties, and our transcendent defiance, which we carried like the banners at a Rock Against Racism march, back in the Thatcher era. We always witness the social proliferation of fascist ideals with a Tory government, too. It stems from the finger-pointing divide and rule mantra: it’s them not us, them not us. But history refutes as much as it verifies, and we learned that it’s been the Tories all along.
With a Conservative government, we are always fighting something. Poverty, social injustice: we fight for political recognition of our fundamental rights, which the Tories always circumvent. We fight despair and material hardship, caused by the rising cost of living, low wages, high unemployment and recession that is characteristic of every Tory government.
I think people often mistranslate what that something is. Because Tory rhetoric is all about othering: dividing, atomising of society into bite-sized manageable pieces by amplifying a narrative of sneaking suspicion and hate thy neighbour via the media.
The Tories are and always have been psychocrats. They insidiously intrude into people’s everyday thoughts and try to micro-manage and police them. They use Orwellian-styled rhetoric crowded with words like “market forces”, “meritocracy” “autonomy”, “incentivisation”, “democracy”, “efficient, small state”, and even “freedom”, whilst all the time they are actually extending a brutal, bullying, extremely manipulative, all-pervasive authoritarianism.
The Conservative starting point is control of the media and information. All Conservatives do this, and historically, regardless of which country they govern. (As well as following the hyperlinks (in blue) to British and Canadian media takeovers, also, see the Australian media Tory takeover via Murdoch, from last year: The political empire of the News Corp chairman.)
As we saw earlier this year when the Tories launched an attack on Oxfam, any implied or frank criticism of Conservative policies or discussion of their very often terrible social consequences is stifled, amidst the ludicrous accusations of “politically biased.”
When did concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens become the sole concern of “the left wing”? I think that casually spiteful and dismissive admission of indifference tells us all we need to know about the current government’s priorities. And no amount of right-wing propaganda will hide the fact that poverty and inequality rise under every Tory government. And how is it possible to discuss poverty meaningfully without reference to the policies that cause it? That isn’t “bias”: it’s truthful. Tory policies indicate consistently that when it comes to spending our money, the Tories are very generous towards the wealthy, and worse than parsimonious regarding the rest of us.
Then there are the Tory pre-election promises, all broken and deleted from the internet. And valid criticism of their spinner of Tory yarns and opposition smears, also deleted. This is not a democratic government that values political accountability, nor is it one that is prepared to bear any scrutiny at all.
The Conservatives are attempting to intimidate the BBC (again) into silence regarding its candid commentary regarding the autumn statement made by Osborne, exposing the vast scale of cuts to come for the British public. I’m pleased to see the BBC hitting back, for once, with a robust defence, declaring that: “We’re satisfied our coverage has been fair and balanced and we’ll continue to ask ministers the questions our audience want answered.”
It was BBC assistant political editor Norman Smith’s description of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) response to the autumn statement document as “the book of the doom” and his suggestion that the UK was heading “back to the land of Road to Wigan Pier” that provoked Osborne’s outrage.
But whilst journalists are hardly unknown for hyperbole, Smith certainly can be cleared of this charge. Because many agree that the figures contained in the OBR blue book are truly remarkable and worry-provoking. Many of us have concluded the same, from the OBR and Institute of Fiscal Studies (IFS) to an army of quietly reflective bloggers, who have collectively anticipated this purely ideological outcome for some time.
The BBC are absolutely right to point out to the public that there will be severe social repercussions as a consequence of the scale of cuts that Osborne is planning, especially given that sixty percent of the cuts are yet to come.
The judgements of the OBR, which Osborne set up, and IFS, were at least as damning as the BBC’s, but it’s worth noting that the Chancellor doesn’t publicly attack either report. Because he can’t.
Instead the Conservatives have accused the BBC of “bias” and “systematic exaggeration,” David Cameron and George Osborne launched an unprecedented attack on the coverage of the Autumn Statement. However, the Conservatives have been openly policing the media for a while. (See: Tories to closely monitor BBC for left wing bias ahead of party conference season and: Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late.)
Senior Tory MP Andrew Bridgen suggested there was a risk that unless the BBC was “scrupulously fair” in its reporting, it may “drive voters into the arms of Labour”, adding the threat “and may even find its future funding arrangements affected.”
A blatant threat.
On Thursday, Bridgen wrote to Rona Fairhead, the BBC Trust’s chairperson, to complain “about a pattern of systematic exaggeration in the BBC’s reporting of the Autumn Statement”. It’s not his first complaint about alleged bias, either: he whined when the TUC’s senior economist Duncan Weldon became Newsnight’s new economics correspondent earlier this year.
Mr Bridgen said he wanted “to seek assurances that in the remaining six months until the general election your coverage will demonstrate the impartiality and balance that the public, and indeed the BBC charter, demand”.
He added: “Over the last four years the entire nation has pulled together to achieve something many said could not be done: we are now the fastest growing advanced economy in the developed world. The sacrifices and hard work of the British people are ill-served by pessimistic reporting which obscures our economic success with the language of fear and doom.”
I don’t think this is about “impartiality” or what best serves the British people. This is about the Conservatives not getting their own way, so they resort to bullying and attempts to discredit people who have simply told the truth.
The Chancellor responded angrily to the references to Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier in the Today report on BBC Radio 4. He said: “I would have thought the BBC would have learned from the last four years that its totally hyperbolic coverage of spending cuts has not been matched by what has actually happened. I had all that when I was interviewed four years ago and has the world fallen in? No it has not.”
Well, that all depends George. For many people, the only genuine growth we’ve seen is in poverty, inequality, destitution, hunger, suffering and referrals to foodbanks. And deaths. So yes, for growing numbers, their’ world has fallen in.
A BBC spokesman said the BBC was satisfied that the Today programme’s coverage had been “fair and balanced and we gave the Chancellor plenty of opportunity to respond on the programme.”
And the comments were justified because the Office for Budget Responsibility had itself said that nominal government consumption will fall to its lowest level since 1938, the BBC said.
Both the OBR and IFS said in their responses to the autumn statement that Britain has not seen public spending reduced to this level as a proportion of GDP since the grim days of the 1930s.
The public sector spending cuts over the next five years set out in the autumn statement may force a “fundamental re-imagining of the state,” the Institute for Fiscal Studies said in their report.
The warning from the IFS – Britain’s public spending analysts – came only hours after Osborne had angrily rounded on the BBC, accusing its reporters of “totally hyperbolic” reporting about his spending plans and “conjuring up bogus images of the 1930s depression”.
The IFS confirmed that the scale of cuts to departmental budgets and local government would reduce the role of the state to a point where it would have “changed beyond recognition.” The government’s spending watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), also said yesterday that Osborne’s statement indicated that with the cuts set out in Treasury assumptions, we would see the state reduced to its smallest size relative to GDP for 80 years – since the 1930s.
It was about this era, the Great Depression, against which Orwell set The Road to Wigan Pier, in his account of the bleak living conditions, social injustices, suffering and misery of the working class in the Northwest of England. Norman Smith made an apt comparison.
Scenes from the Jarrow Hunger March, 1936, Marchers from Jarrow in the North East of England, walked to London where they handed a petition to the House of Commons in a plead for more work as the depression and starvation of the 1930’s hit hard
Osborne admitted to John Humphrys two hours later, that “difficult” decisions on welfare would include freezing working age benefits for two years and lowering the welfare cap on spending from £26,000 for a family each year on benefits to a maximum of £23,000. But he maintained his glib assurances that the outlook was not as grim as Smith and Humphrys were claiming.
With the cost of living rising sharply year after year, and with the catastrophic consequences of the first wave of welfare “reforms” now clearly evident, it is difficult to envisage how the outlook for the poorest can be deemed anything other than enduringly, grindingly bleak.
If any evidence was needed that the Conservatives fear the political consequences of the cuts to come, the assault on the BBC’s coverage of the autumn statement has certainly provided it. The Conservative responses are strictly about discrediting the BBC as a means of pre-election damage-limitation, and not about the accuracy or “bias” of the reporting, because Osborne had not anticipated that the real consequences of his budget plans would be shared with the public. Most people don’t, after all, read the OBR or IFS forecasts and reports. As it is, Osborne had set out to mislead the public, and was well and truly exposed.
The IFS director, Paul Johnson, said: “The chancellor is right to point out that it has proved possible to implement substantial cuts over this parliament. One cannot just look at the scale of implied cuts going forward and say they are unachievable. But it is surely incumbent upon anyone set on taking the size of the state to its smallest in many generations to tell us what that means.“
It’s also worth bearing in mind that Clegg has claimed co-authorship of the budget statement. Clegg’s absence from parliament for the third Wednesday in a row suggests he is farcically trying to distance himself from David Cameron and Osborne in the run-up to the election.
However, he attempted to take credit for the central policies of the statement, including the stamp duty overhaul unveiled by Osborne, when questioned on his LBC 97.3 radio show by Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor.
“Everything in that autumn statement is there because we’ve agreed it and I fully support it,” Clegg said.
The BBC exposed the chasm between what the Tory-led Coalition plan and what they are prepared to disclose and discuss publicly. That’s because of a chasm that exists between Tory ideology and a genuine economic problem-solving approach to policy: Osborne’s autumn budget statement was entirely about political gesturing, designed to divert attention from the sheer extent of social and economic damage wreaked by five years of strictly ideologically-prompted policy.
This is a Chancellor who rested all of his credibility on paying down the debt and has borrowed more than every Labour government combined.
It must be abundantly clear that the Tory aim of much bigger and destructive cuts after 2015 is not about deficit reduction, but the destruction of the public sector, our services and social safety nets, the undoing of a century of our the hard-won achievements of civil rights movements, and all in favour of greedy, elevated, unbridled market forces.
Conservatism is centred around the preservation of traditional social hierarchy and inequality. Tories see this, erroneously, as an essential element for expanding economic opportunity. But never equal opportunity.
Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.
It is these core beliefs that fuel Osborne’s stubborn adherence to austerity policies, even though it is by now patently obvious that austerity isn’t working for the economy, and for majority of the public. It never will.