The Conservative approach to social research – that way madness lies



I’ve written more than one lengthy critique of Tory notions of what passes for “research” methods (so I’ll make this one relatively short), and often criticised Tory refusals to accept the research findings of academics regarding, for example, established links between the Work Capability Assessment, increased suicide and mortality, the link between sanctions and increased mortality. The Tory plea for the universal and unqualified dismissal of whatever they deem to be criticism of their policies is often based on the claim that “no causal link has been established.”

As I have pointed out on many occasions previously, whilst correlation certainly isn’t quite the same thing as cause and effect, it quite often strongly hints at a causal link, and as such, warrants further investigation.

It is therefore inaccurate to say that correlation doesn’t imply causation. It quite often does. The tobacco industry has historically relied on exactly the same dismissal of correlational evidence to reject any discussion of an established link between tobacco and lung cancer.

The standard process of research and investigation doesn’t entail, at any point, a flat political denial that there is any relationship of significance to concern ourselves with, nor does it involve a systematic and deliberate withholding of relevant data, attempts at censoring democratic dialogue, and a point blank refusal to investigate further. Furthermore, the government claims that there is “no evidence of a causal link ” is unverified. There is no evidence to support government claims that there isn’t such a link, either.

I’ve observed more than once that when it comes to government claims, the same methodological rigour that they advocate for others isn’t applied. Indeed, many policies have clearly been directed by ideology and traditional Tory prejudices, rather than being founded on valid research and empirical evidence.

The fact that no cumulative impact assessment has been carried out with regard to the welfare “reforms” indicates a government that is not interested in accountability, and examining the potential negative outcomes of policy-making. Policies are supposed to be about meeting public needs and not about inflicting Conservative dogma and old prejudices in the form of financial punishment on previously protected social groups. How on earth can taking lifeline income from people who are already poor ever cure poverty or unemployment?

Where is the causal link between work and improved health outcomes? One confounder there is the effect of the ideologically-driven Tory welfare cuts that massively reduce the quality of life for those who need to claim social security. It’s not “worklessness” but rather, it is Tory “reforms” and a refusal to accept that sometimes people cannot work that lead to poor health outcomes, and all too often, the somewhat traditional Conservative habit of refusing to listen to the public they are meant to serve democratically results in premature deaths.

And what about the discredited theories that stereotype the poor – as a diversionary and scapegoating convenience – like the “cycle of deprivation,” “cycle of dependency” made-up words and pre-loaded concepts such as “worklessness” and “workshy” presented as a fictitious medical condition or personality disorder, or the deliberately divisive “culture of entitlement”? There is NO empirical evidence that these categories exist as the Conservatives claim.

Sir Keith Joseph researched the “cycle of deprivation” theory extensively some years back and found NO evidence to support it, despite his dogmatic assertion of its existence. Again there are confounders. How do you separate the effects of policies and ideologically-driven political decision-making, subsequently discriminatory socio-economic conditions and of course, pure bad luck from people’s politically constructed “innate” traits or maliciously ascribed character “flaws”?

People exist in structural contexts, no amount of political pretending that they don’t will ever hide the fact that every single Conservative budget has taken money from the poorest citizens and our publicly funded services and gifted it to the wealthiest. It’s inconceivable that ministers don’t recognise that such policies create economic enclosure, perpetuate crass inequality and extend poverty.

Where is the causal link between welfare sanctions and people getting jobs? Or between the Work Capability Assessment and disabled people being “supported” or better off? Or between workfare and people finding appropriate, secure, quality jobs with fair wages that actually alleviates poverty?

Where is the causal link between austerity measures and economic growth? Or between austerity and a reduced national debt for that matter? Or between tax cuts for the wealthy and “trickle-down” prosperity for everyone else?

Where is the causal link between privatisation and better, more “efficient” services? Not to be found in examples such as Atos, Maximus, G4S, A4E, Circle, Serco, City Link, and many more, that’s for sure. Private companies by and large make hefty profits by inflating prices, radically cutting jobs and the quality of services delivered (“efficiency”), whilst generating scandal after scandal.

As a vast social and economic experiment, privatisation has massively failed the British public, and has grotequely rewarded a handful of unscrupulous, greedy, wealthy people – grotesquely rewarded, grotesquely undertaxed – whilst ordinary people in the UK face spiralling living costs and the obscene, cruel limitations of austerity to prop up the fraternity of vulture neoliberals and perpetrators of a toxic rhetoric that attempts to justify decreasing public inclusion in a shrivelling economy.

From a government that has been rebuked many times for manufacturing and misusing statistics, making claims that are fictions, inventing testimonies regarding the fake impacts of their draconian policies, sneaking through controversial and undemocratic policies via statutory instruments because they KNOW that those policies won’t stand up to scrutiny, it’s remarkable that any member of the Conservative party have the cheek to claim “no causal link has been established” when confronted with empirical evidence and strong correlational links from meticulous academic research.

The inherent contradictions of Conservative discourse and the construction of ideological mythologies that are translated into stigmatising mechanisms and anti-humanist policies are seen at their most stark in Conservative anti-welfarism, and themes of social Darwinism.

Neoliberal mythologies are manifested in a narrative of meritocracy and in extended in notions of “deserving and “undeserving”, whilst rapidly expanding social inequalities and increasing poverty, and increasingly limited access to justice and remedy, reflect a broader political refusal to engage in democratic dialogue with the electorate and a dogmatic determination to pursue anti-progressive, neoliberal programmes, which empirical evidence informs us, are socially harmful and destructive.



I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you.


32 thoughts on “The Conservative approach to social research – that way madness lies

  1. Another great piece, I do look forward to them! The Conservative resistance to academic and other properly conducted research is now being replaced by the echo-chamber mutual affirming Think Tank reports. This one of the most worrying facets where factual and correct conclusions are batted away as of no consequence, also including the dismissal of the UN reports and findings. This govt has become a rogue state, ignoring the treaties and obligations we have as a nation, and becoming the arms supplier of choice for other rogue states and dictatorships. I cannot see how we can over come this, other than with a change in govt.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Florence. It may be my weariness today, but I can’t help thinking that if they get to remain in office for another four years or so, this country will be completely unrecognisable to the civilised one one we knew before. I don’t think that the wider public can see the contradictions and incoherence of Tory rhetoric, though, and probably won’t until they are directly affected by policy and a political stigma-drenched redefinition of their social status, by then it is too late.

      Liked by 4 people

    2. Kitty, I understand your weariness and your fear. It sometimes catches me, unaware, like a cold hand, grabbing hold of my being. I share your fear of another 4 years of this madness, and what will be left in the wreckage. I do hope that it will not be that long. Cameron is showing all his faults now with his escapade into European politics, showing him for the shallow frat boy way out his depth. So I think the will be making an exit this year, to be followed by a bitter battle for succession, with either Osborne or Boris as the front runners. Both are obnoxious snobs, so that could well pave the way for a backbench revolt, once the riots start. It seems impossible that there will not be massive unrest over the course of the year. But the one thing I do find the most comforting is that there are many many of our fellow citizens who are decent people, who do know right from wrong, even those who voted Tory in 2015 and now bitterly regret it. They do not have the support their arrogance and hubris lets them believe. We will find a better way. Don’t lose that thought, the hope, that we now have with the Labour party returning to real Labour values and growing so fast,

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this on wgrovedotnet and commented:
    “no causal link has been established.”
    A causal link may be determined if a study or research has been thoroughly explored. To date, no such research has been carried out so whether there is a causal link cannot be established. Given the number of deaths that correlate rather too closely with the limited figures available from the government the question becomes: Why would any responsible government refuse to advocate a study or independent research into whether or not their policies are killing people. I think it’s called abdicating responsibility.
    Kitty Sue explains it in her usual insightful tradition.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Why, when information is available which would seem to show a link between a government’s policy and thousands dead “probably” because of said policies, does that government shy away from advocating an investigation? The answer is likely that the figures “probably” indicate what so many have been claiming, contrary to the government spin. Such a government could and should be accused of morally corrupt and arbitrarily discriminating and causing the deaths of thousands of it’s citizens. Calls for a no confidence vote on this government would, therefore, be justified, unlike the policies they espouse.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi Kitty, I have posted this as a link in the following discussion because it so aptly illustrates the points about evidence and ministers in the discussion arranged by Francis Sealey on Alternative Democracy between economist Vicky Pryce and Matthew Taylor, CEO of the RSA (Derek Batess a scientist was also supposed to be in the webinar but his internet link did not work) :

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I would like to see a full and quality debate about why Nicky Morgan and Cameron think opening the door to private companies to run child protection is a good idea. Everything you have said, Kitty, applies here, and we are at the thin end of a very large wedge. It is happening, and it is invisible in the media. Why should the state want to delegate its legal parental responsibility for children when they have no one else? And what are the motives of companies who want this power?

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Pingback: stewilko's Blog
    1. There is no comparison, despite the Iraq war, which 140 Labour MPs voted against at the time. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Tories are busy repealing as many of the policies left in place by the last Labour government as they can – Every Child Matters has gone, for example, Poverty Child Measures, th Human Rights act, the Equality act are under threat, the hunting ban and many more are being dismantled. That’s because the policies are nothing like conservative ones. Here’s a handy compare and contrast list of policies of both parties –

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s