Tag: Big Society

There is no such thing as a ‘one nation’ Tory: they always create two nations

CnUOm0-WYAIa-NE Tomorrow is cancelled

Cameron has announced that he will not seek a third term of office as Prime Minister. He named three of his senior colleagues – Home Secretary Theresa May, Chancellor George Osborne and London mayor Boris Johnson – as possible replacements for the conservative leadership when he stands down. It doesn’t matter who leads the Tory party: they all share the same despotic tendency.

I’ve often thought that Conservatism is an enclave for those with socially destructive dark triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy). Tories share the same regressive social Darwinist ideology, so they will always tend to formulate the same policies that divide society into steep hierarchies of wealth and privilege, resulting in massive inequalities, suffering and poverty, lies, corruption and indifference to the majority of the publics’ needs. No matter who is in the driving seat of the Tory tank, it will still knock most of us down and drive over us.

Cameron’s soundbites, such as “we are all in it together” and concepts like “the Big Society” hark back to a traditional paternalist Conservatism that had an element of communitarianism to offer. But without a “big state.” One nation Conservatives are often seen as being less harsh and a tad more “cuddly” than New Right Conservatives. Whilst one nation Conservatism is sometimes hailed as “progressive,” (but only ever amongst Conservatives,) that is tempered by the fact that all tories tend to hold onto a misty-eyed illusion of some great Victorian golden-age and the Feudal era “good ole’ days.” They never look forwards, only backwards.

It was the dominance of so-called “Red Toryism” that facilitated the post-war consensus which saw the welfare state embraced by the major parties in the 1940s. However, most Conservatives, including the new so-called Red Tories, claim that the post-war expansion of the state led to a “breakdown of once-strong communities.” Not only is this claim immensely counter-intuitive, it’s utter pseudo-nostalgic nonsense.

Cameron’s rhetoric is full of references to “rolling back the state”, the “re-awakening of community spirit”, and a restoration of the kind of “intermediate civic institutions” that preceded the welfare state. The whole idea of Cameron’s “big society” is that private charities fill the holes created by public spending cuts. Food banks have increasingly replaced welfare, for example, yet the point of post-1945 European welfare states was to free the needy from dependence on the insecurity of private generosity, which tends to miss out the socially marginalised, and to be least available when times are hardest.

Welfare, or social security, if you prefer, has provided a sense of security and dignity that we never previously enjoyed, it established a norm of decency, mutuality of our social obligations and created a parity of esteem and worth which was, until fairly recently, universal, regardless of wealth and status. The “big bad state” is comprised of civilised and civilising institutions. It is such stable and enduring institutions and subsequently secure individuals that are raised above a struggle for basic survival which provide a frame for coherent communities. The Conservatives, with their demagoguery of rigid class division, and policies of social stratification, tend to create ghettoes, not communities.

Traditional Conservatives were very influenced by Malthus, and opposed every form of social insurance “root and branch”, arguing, as the economist Brad DeLong put it:

“Make the poor richer, and they would become more fertile. As a result, farm sizes would drop (as land was divided among ever more children), labor productivity would fall, and the poor would become even poorer. Social insurance was not just pointless; it was counterproductive.” 

Malthus was a miserable, misanthropic clergyman for whom birth control was anathema. He believed that poor people needed to learn the hard way to practice frugality, self-control, and chastity. He liked to hand out allegoric and austere hair shirts and birch rods for the poor. The traditional Conservatives also protested that the effect of social insurance would be to weaken private charity and loosen traditional social bonds of family, friends, religious, and non-governmental welfare organisations.

The moralising scrutiny, control and punishment of the poor is a quintessential element of Tory narrative. Tory ideology never changes. They refuse the lessons of history, and reject the need for coherence. Tories really are stuck in the Feudal era. They have never liked the idea of something for everyone:

“The crisis is an opportunity to sweep away the rotten postwar settlement of British politics. Labour is moribund. But David Cameron has a chance to develop a “red Tory” communitarianism, socially conservative but sceptical of neoliberal economics.” Phillip Blond, The Rise of the Red Tories, 2009.

The Telegraph identified Blond as a key “driving force behind Cameron’s Big Society agenda.” There are possibly two kinds of Tory. But both types will always engineer two nations: fundamentally demarcated by wealth and privilege: one nation of haves and another of have nots.

Conservatives also believe they have moral superiority, and they always impose a framework of moral authoritarianism on the poorest. For example, Cameron’s idea of “social responsibility” does not extend to the behaviours of irresponsible bankers, the finacial class and the tax-avoidant  wealthy. It’s not just a cognitive dissonance amongst Conservatives – many in the UK fail to recognise the direct relationship between high salaries and a concentration of wealth at the top of society, and low salaries paid to the poor, and poverty at the bottom: there you have it – two nations.

demcracy

The paternalism of traditional Tories and the authoritarianism of the New Right are profoundly undemocratic: neither design can reflect the needs of the public since both frameworks are imposed on a population, reflecting only the needs of the ruling class, to preserve social order.

Solidarity was said to be the movement that turned the direction of history. But we have turned away from it. Émile Durkheim, one of the three founding fathers of theoretical sociology, first developed the concept of social exclusion to describe the manifold consequences of poverty and inequality.

Much of Durkheim’s work was concerned with how societies could maintain their integrity, order and coherence. Durkheim’s answer is that our collective consciousness produces society and holds it together. His view that societies evolve through a stage of mechanistic solidarity to progress to a state of organic solidarity betrays his traditional conservative roots. But Tory notions of solidarity are not based on any belief in the value of cooperation, community, collectivism or altruism: Tories don’t feel any connection with ordinary people. It’s entirely a detached and pragmatic consideration: for Tories, social solidarity serves the sole purpose of maintaining the status quo. Preserving the two nations.

Disraeli’s Conservatism favoured a paternalistic society with the hierarchical social classes maintained but with the working class receiving support from the establishment. He emphasised the importance of social obligation rather than individualism. Disraeli warned that Britain would become divided into two “nations”, of the rich and poor, as a result of increased industrialisation and inequality. Concerned at this stark division, he supported measures to improve the lives of the people, to provide social support and protect the working classes.

One nation Conservatism originally emphasised the obligation of those at the top to those below. This was based on the Feudal concept of noblesse oblige – the belief that the aristocracy had an obligation to be generous and honourable. Disraeli felt that governments should be paternalistic, because it is “good” for society as a whole, to maintain social order. So his ultimate motivation was to simply prop up the established status quo.

Disraeli became Conservative prime minister in February 1868. He devised one nation policy to appeal to working class men as a solution to worsening divisions in society. But conservatives always conclude that the preservation of social hierarchy is in the interests of all classes, and therefore all classes should collaborate in its defense.

Both the lower and the higher classes should accept their roles and perform their respective duties.

The rich man at his castle, the poor man at his gate.

The stability and the prosperity of the nation was seen as the ultimate purpose of collaboration between classes.

Traditional Conservatives believed that organic societies are fashioned ultimately by natural necessity, and therefore cannot be improved by reform or revolution. Indeed, reform or revolution would destroy the delicate fabric of society, creating the possibility of radical social breakdown, from this perspective.

Disraeli once said: “If the cottages are happy, the castle is safe.” Characteristically pragmatic and relatively paternalistic, then.

One nation Conservatives such as R. Butler, I. Macleod, H. Macmillan and Q. Hogg, who harked back to the Disraeli pragmatist tradition, were prepared to accept the expansion of state activity ushered in via by the 1945-51 Labour government programmes, involving selective nationalisation, expansion of the welfare state, Keynesian economic policies and tripartite decision-making. 

Though the Tories continued to place emphasis on the most profitable sectors of the economy, which would remain in private control and they still supported the perpetuation of economic inequality because of their belief that private property was a prerequisite for liberty and that capitalist economic inequality could best promote wider economic growth and rising living standards. However, in fairness, one nation Conservatives also recognised that full employment and the expansion of the welfare state were necessary to improve health, housing, education and to reduce poverty if the UK was to be cohesive.

Thatcher’s New Right neoliberalism was quite a radical break from Tory tradition and it embodied a regressive, mechanistic, individualistic theory of society. She said: “There’s no such thing as society; only individuals and families.”

Traditional Conservatives had a deep mistrust of human rationality and reason and a deep dislike of the abstract, certainly since Edmund Burke. In contrast, the New Right’s neoliberalism heralded a new image of “human nature,” which was very much based on the imported philosophy of Ayn Rand: we are rational and entirely self-seeking, in the context of negative economic freedom (free from state intervention, in theory, a least), within the free market. Rand rejected altruism and opposed collectivism.

Rand was a major inspiration for the American Tea Party movement, which has swept a new generation of Republicans and self-described Conservatives into power in the USA. The Randian neoliberalist economic context has also framed a political, social and moral authoritarianism, disciplinarianism and illiberality that has replaced traditional paternalism, and in this respect, the New Right pioneered a strongly anti-democratic, over-controlling state.

The ideological roots of the New Right also lie partly in the liberal free market economy that dominated the Victorian era, (and liberalism has always been about individualism), along with a strong belief in social hierarchy based on a natural order. However, laissez faire was a form of industrial capitalism. Neoliberalism is a newer form of financial capitalism. As an ideology it is totalising, because it’s also about literalising the market metaphor; thinking all interacations as governed by a rationale like that of markets.

New Right Conservatism weds meritocratic principles to the strong class divide tradition, though it’s an insincere partnership. References to meritocracy are usually used to bolster the claim by the wealthy and powerful that their wealth is deserved. Of course, by inference, poverty is also deserved. Yet we had certainly learned by the 1940s that it is social policies that create inequality and poverty.

Cameron claims Disraeli’s one nation Conservatism as a mantle. However, he has much more in common with Thatcher. Disraeli’s notion of a “benevolent hierarchy” bears little resemblance to the New Right’s persistent attacks on the dependency or entitlement culture deemed to have been created by the welfare state.

And one nation Conservatives would not privatise our public services, NHS and dismantle welfare. Nor would they endorse such unrestained neoliberalism.

The New Right is rather more about noblesse disoblige.

One nation Tories would recognise that the welfare state is a necessity that arose to protect citizens against the worst ravages of unfettered capitalism. It’s really the very least they can do to preserve social order. Inequality didn’t change as a consequence of welfare, but at least poverty was relativised, until recently.

Cameron’s policies of anti-welfarism have resulted in the return of absolute poverty. There’s a certain irony in the Tory preoccupation with preserving social order: their rigid ideologically-driven policies create the very things they fear – dissent, insecurity, disorder, and the recognition of a need for social change and reform. It’s always the case that Tory governments prompt a growth of radicalism and revolutionary ideas. That happens when people are stifled and oppressed.

Social Security policy resulted in the development of what was considered to be a state responsibility towards its citizens. Welfare is a social protection that is necessary. There was also an embedded doctrine of fostering equity in these policies, although that doctrine arose from within the Labour Party, of course.

As I have said elsewhere, New Right rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Conservatives must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

This wide recognition that the raw “market forces” of laissez-faire and stark neoliberalism causes casualties is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are invariably “winners and losers”. That is the nature of competitive individualism, and along with inequality, it’s an implicit, undeniable and fundamental part of the meritocracy script. And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged for elites.

New Right Conservatism has blended classical liberalism, with its roots in competitive individualism and with ideas of a status-based social order. In contrast, democratic socialism has its foundation in solidarity. The former framework atomises society, breaking our sense of common bonds, pitching us against each other to compete for resources, fracturing our narrative of collective, common experience: it is about social exclusion. The latter framework unites us in cooperation, mutuality, mutual aid and reciprocity of perspective: it is about social inclusion.

I’ve said elsewhere that the Conservatives are creatures of habit rather than reason. Traditionalists, always. 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. 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 foster incoherence and division. The world stopped making sense in 2010. The Tory-led government don’t even pretend to be rational policy-makers. Our foundations and our grounding are being knocked away. Everything becomes relative and fleeting. Transient and precarious.

Except for the rich and powerful: they still have their absolutes. We ordinary people are left just coping with crumbling logic, crumbling lives and a crumbling sense of what is real.

It strikes me that whilst we appear to have enclaves of consensus – and the media help perpetuate that impression – when you step back from that, you begin to see how divisive that apparent group consensus actually is, paradoxically. It’s really a form of bystander apathy.

We have in groups/out groups. We divide and make people into “others.” Each group fighting for something in a manufactured context of “scare resources”, the rising cost of living, sometimes against each other, but with no combined effort and genuine cooperation amongst us, that leaves each individual group wishing in the wind.

Now is the time for people to work together and value cooperation, joint efforts and pooled resources. People’s identities only make sense in the context of society, anyway. The Tories are historically unempathically, unremorsefully and irresponsibly wrong. We are social and interdependent, inter-relating creatures. Social hierarchies damage our bonds.

The barbarians are not outside the gates: they are inside the castle governing us, inflicting irremediable economic deprivation, extending inequalities and divisions of wealth and income, organising our society into competing and antagonistic interests.

Two nations.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes. 

Conservatism in a nutshell, part 2: Laissez-faire isn’t.

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 “David Cameron and George Osborne believe the only way to persuade millionaires to work harder is to give them more money.

But they also seem to believe that the only way to make ordinary people work harder is to take money away.”

Ed Miliband.

Source: Hansard, December 12, 2012.

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Oh, the irony of Cameron trying to blame the “global economy” for the utter mess of the UK economy that his party has created. (Well, unless you are a millionaire, then it’s all a pretty good mess, actually.) Cameron’s mess is an entirely homegrown one, and is entirely down to his policies. Worse still, no matter how desperate things get, his message to the UK is that the only solution is to stick to his plan – more austerity – the plan that has created the problems in the first place.

Labour dealt with the global banking crisis without the need for austerity, and had steered the UK out of recession by 2009/10, Cameron, and his government caused a homegrown recession just like Thatcher and Major did, through redistributing public wealth to private pockets and offshore bank accounts.

The Conservative’s “long term economic plan” is to continue transferring public funds to private bank accounts. Not for the benefit of the economy, or the public, but for the sole benefit of hoarding millionaires and Tory donors who are sucking our public funds out of circulation and killing the economy.

“Trickle-down economics” is a term imported from the US, to refer to the idea that tax breaks and other economic benefits provided to businesses and upper income levels of society will benefit poorer citizens by improving the economy as a whole. It’s linked with Laissez-faire ideology.

Laissez-faire is basically the theory of Conservative/Liberal governments that uphold the apparent autonomous character of the economic order, believing that government should not intervene in the direction of economic affairs. “Free markets” and “free competition” are seen as a reflection of the natural system of liberty.

From a Laissez-faire perspective, the State has no responsibility to engage in positive intervention to promote equality through wealth distribution or to create a welfare state to protect people from poverty, instead relying on charity to provide poor people with relief. I rather suspect this is what Cameron means by “big society”.

The claim that people who have their taxes lowered, with greater wealth, will distribute their benefit to less wealthy individuals, so that a fraction will reach the general population and stimulate the economy, is of course completely unfounded and absurd. It’s worth noting that proponents of the policy generally do not use the term “trickle-down” themselves. But the underpinning assumptions of trickle-down theory are implicit in the rhetoric of Laissez-faire/supply-side economics, and clearly expressed in social policy.

The phrase “trickle-down” has been attributed to humorist Will Rogers, who originally said of the US New Deal (the response to the Great Depression of 1930s) that “money was all appropriated for the top in hopes that it would trickle down to the needy.”

It’s original use was entirely pejorative and it was drawn on as a lampoonery device .

The Depression of the 1930s profoundly influenced our theories of economics and resulted in many changes in how governments dealt with economic downturns, and the subsequent widespread poverty, such as the use of stimulus packages, Keynesian economics, and Social Security, manifested in our post-war settlement.

Cameron is dismantling those civilised foundations we built, using the malfeasance of his own administration – austerity – and of the finance sectors that caused the global crash, as an excuse to drive their prize ultra-conservative Ayn Rand ideology into manifest existence – the withdrawal of State support for anyone who may need it. For those that don’t, the State is there as your best buddy, and will continue to intervene on your behalf to feed you great gifts.

For a party claiming to reduce the State and reduce interventions, they sure intervene a lot. Talk about an Adam Smith sleight of hand…with one “invisible hand” they take money from the poor, by introducing policies that purposefully cut income and public services, and with the other, they hand out our money to the millionaires.(See: Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.)

The trickle-down theory is not a genuine feature of the economy, but an illusion maintained by Conservatives to fool the poor into believing that there is opportunity for social mobility, and to excuse their miserly, cruel cuts to the poor, and generosity to those that don’t actually need it. It’s political hocus-pocus.

What we need, as history has taught us, is broad fiscal policies that are directed across the entire economy, and not toward just one specific income  group: that merely condenses wealth into the private bank accounts of a few, reducing the entire economy and society to a few stagnant pools of hoarding greed. It also reflects the implicit Conservative advocacy of Social Darwinist philosophy, with the “market place” absurdly operating as “natural law”, generating a socioeconomic hierarchy.

A 2012 study by the Tax Justice Network indicates that wealth of the super-rich does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a negative effect on the tax bases of the home economy. (See: Wealth doesn’t trickle down – it just floods offshore, research reveals.)

The trickle down theory and Laissez-faire philosophy formed the basis of economic policy during the industrial revolution of the 1800s.  It didn’t work then either, in the wake of widespread absolute poverty resulting from deeply exploitatively low wages combined with very dangerous work environments, it became evident that exclusively Laissez-faire economic attitudes resulted in the political engineering and endorsement of exploitation and harsh mistreatment of citizens. It shortened people’s lives and reduced most citizens to a harsh, miserable existence. It was a time when economic theory was mistranslated into a social doctrine of”survival of the fittest.”

Conservatives: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bloody Feudalists.

As Hilary Mantel observed this week, the Tory-led Coalition are more brutal towards the poor and vulnerable than Thomas Cromwell was, she said that the Middle Ages appeared a positively enlightened era compared to the “retreat into insularity” which the UK had currently embraced. Mantel summed up criticism of this Government’s regressive justification narratives very well:

The government portrays poor and unfortunate people as being morally defective. This is a return to the thinking of the Victorians. Even in the 16th century, Thomas Cromwell was trying to tell people that a thriving economy has casualties and that something must be done by the state for people out of work.

“Even back then, you saw the tide turning against this idea that poverty was a moral weakness.”

Of course we know that poverty is caused entirely by Government policies. And if you didn’t know that, then ask yourself how the following policies could possibly cause anything but inequality and increasing poverty for the poorest:

These cuts, aimed at the poorest, came into force in April 2013:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the bedroom tax
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap imposed on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive.

At the same time, note the Tory “incentives” for the wealthy:

  • Rising wealth – 50 richest people from this region increased their wealth by £3.46 billion last year to a record £28.5 billion.
  • Falling taxes – top rate of tax cut from 50% to 45% for those earning over £150,000 a year. This is 1% of the population who earn 13% of the income.
  • No mansion tax and caps on council tax mean that the highest value properties are taxed proportionately less than average houses.
  • Benefited most from Quantitative Easing (QE) – the Bank of England say that as 50% of households have little or no financial assets, almost all the financial benefit of QE was for the wealthiest 50% of households, with the wealthiest 10% taking the lions share
  • Tax free living – extremely wealthy individuals can access tax avoidance schemes which contribute to the £25bn of tax which is avoided every year, as profits are shifted offshore to join the estimated £13 trillion of assets siphoned off from our economy.
  • Millionaires were awarded a “tax break” of £107,000 each per year.
  • The richest 1,000 in UK double their wealth since crash while average incomes drop 6%

That most definitely does not indicate any “trickle-down” of wealth.

It was noted by the Keynsian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, adviser to President John F. Kennedy, that trickle down theory was originally less elegantly called the “horse and sparrow” theory in the 1800s.

The original theory was based on the idea that if you feed a horse enough oats, it will shit enough to feed a lot of sparrows.

And the Conservatives are certainly feeding us horse shit.

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Related

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit

Conservatism in a nutshell

The World At One, Radio 4, 17th November, 2014“The economic situation explained in 3 minutes.Tory austerity has given us the slowest recovery since the South Sea Bubble.Professor David Blanchflower absolutely slaughters Cameron over his pre-excuse warning over the world economy, he blames Tory austerity for tanking Britain’s economy and preventing a recovery, and states that any recovery we do have is simply part of the cycle as long as you don’t wreck it with austerity, and confirms that our economy was on the RISE in 2009 / 2010.” Robert Livingstone.

Some highlights of the Conservative long term economic plan so far:

540525_186110078206715_79170441_nFitch and Moody triple A credit rating lost
1390648_548165358586330_1740107407_nThe return of absolute poverty and Victorian malnutrition-related illnesses, such as rickets and scurvy.
10001887913_f8b7888cbe_oAusterity was never about “paying down the debt”, that was a Tory lie: it is entirely about “raising more money for the rich“.
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This is conservatism in a nutshell

482882_456712161064984_1212213617_nConservative socio-economic ideology is incompatible with human rights.

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Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his persistence in exposing the Tory lies and hypocrisy in his pictures.