Tag: Conservatism

Conservatism eats itself by Deborah Talbot

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This article from guest author Deborah Talbot is also published on The Sociological Imagination site.

Conservative politics are everywhere, but what is Conservatism and what are Conservatives really like? Deborah takes an ethnographic, insightful and irreverent look at the Conservative mindset. 

In the cities, you don’t notice conservatism. It’s there, for sure, but is pretty quiet about itself. Political parties of a more left persuasion don’t get a chance to do a bit of intense political ethnography, so we assume that everyone is pretty much on the same page, despite differences of opinion over issues.

It was only when I moved to one of England’s Southern regions that my immersion in political and social conservatism began. And I realised then what the Brexit culture wars were all about. Forget Cameron, Johnson, and Osborne. They are just metro decadents and a bit like us – conjured up to lull us into thinking the socially liberal consensus was here to stay.

Because real conservatism is not just a difference of opinion about issues (I support welfare; you think the poor should be made to work in chain gangs, kind of thing). It’s embedded in who they are – their psychology and identity. Which then dictates how they respond to issues.

So I thought it would be helpful to employ my ethnographic skills and do an eight-month investigation into the conservative mind – as it really is, not how it likes to portray itself in the media. Here are my results.

Conservatism is more than party politics

Conservatism is pretty wide ranging, though sometimes it does settle on a political party or perspective, like at the moment with the Conservatives, UKIP and Brexit.

But it doesn’t have to. People that have stayed in the same place for decades, haven’t experienced the significant changes over the past 40-50 years occurring in cities or just don’t get out much, tend towards the conservative. Being creates consciousness, and all that.

Even if they may have traditionally voted Labour for years, their prevailing attitudes to women, immigrants or any local thing they don’t like, makes them easy prey for the right-wing sociopaths.

They don’t like change

That’s right. Any change is met with a wall of muttering and complaint. It could be a good change, like a new building, or trying to sort out a failing transport system.

And despite having acres of space around them, they definitely don’t like change that involves new housing. Or immigrants coming in. Or Londoners. Or the post office down the road changing its sign. Or temporary road works. Or a new cycle lane.

It’s all the same. Change is bad.

Keeping it simple

There’s the sketch that Stewart Lee does about UKIPs anti-immigration policy, where he says, for racists, ‘reality is too full, isn’t it….’

It’s truer than Lee knows. Conservative people just don’t get complexity, whether this is multi-causal chains of reasoning, evidence-based policy or large conurbations.

I guess it’s why change confuses them…because it adds a new variable.

Despite what they say, they don’t like community

Conservatives will make a song and dance about community, but mostly what they mean is that they want to keep it for people exactly like themselves, and to act with impunity.

Because contrary to what they say, conservatives are more likely to engage in anti-social acts, like leaving dog poo in the streets and speeding. Because it’s all about them – hang everyone else.

They parade family like a banner but don’t like children

You’d think conservatives, being all family, nation and work, would like children. But they don’t. Children, in their eyes, need to know their place. Be quiet, stop crying, man up.

Teenagers and even worse, youths, for your average conservative, are evil and it would be better if they were all locked up or forced to join the army (same thing).

Conservatives provide nothing for children and particularly teenagers to do and then castigate them for taking the initiative. Conservative areas are high on vandalism and street drinking (and even so, 99% of young people are lovely). Do they see the relationship? Not at all.

They do love babies though, probably because they are helpless and can’t talk back, which is just how conservatives like ‘em.

They never experienced identity politics

Conservatives of all hues just never went through the identity revolution that hit most cities in the UK and beyond. Because they never experienced it, they don’t understand it, and believe the Daily Mail when they are told it’s ‘political correctness gone mad’ and a ‘threat to the social order’.

The idea that it’s about giving people equality and respect, and not being abusive to people who aren’t like you, seems to have passed them by. Conservatives lack basic good manners, except when it comes to people just like them. Which brings me to…

Patriarchy reigns

Both men and women in conservative areas support a set of social practices and policies that perpetuate the oppression of women. In conservative areas, it’s not sexist to bully and troll women on social media, fail to provide job flexibility and childcare and shut women out of work and professional networks.

‘Her indoors’ gets to stay indoors.

I once innocently asked a local male politician from the ‘Independents’ (closet conservatives) how he could attend so many meetings when he has small children. He said, without batting an eyelid, “My wife does all of that.” There was no shame or irony.

Little provision is made for women who have small children and who want to go to work or meetings. In The Patriarchy, women need to know their place, which is firmly latched to the kitchen sink.

Call attention to it, and it’s very much a case of ‘calm down dear’, or you are called a raging fantasist.

Dislike of the arts and psychological sensitivity

Offered a choice between, say, an art gallery and a bus station, conservatives will opt for the bus station.

The arts are a threat to their narrow social order and need to be marginalised or if possible, crushed. They aren’t beguiled by the success of the creative industries; that’s just a liberal plot to shake them out of their boring shires and give it to young people and immigrants.

And you can’t have a world with things in it, remember?

Similarly, conservatives are very anti-emotion. Sensitivity is tortured out of children by bullying at schools and general ostracism. Because emotion is pinko stuff and real men don’t cry. But, and here’s a big but, some of them invite social media abuse. They are less comfortable with understanding and empathy. Hmm…

Difference, what difference?

Conservatives lack empathy. They simply can’t feel the presence of other humans and assume that those objects moving close to them (people) are simply inanimate or just an extension of them.

I think this is why in conservative areas people lack spatial awareness. Despite all the space they have around them, they simply don’t hear you coming or bump into you because they haven’t seen you. Weird right?

Aggression, anxiety and fear

Road rage, tailgating, noisy neighbours, train noise – the list of things people in conservative areas find annoying and anger provoking is extensive. One gets the impression if they moved to a city they’d have an aneurysm within a year. Or chill the hell out.

Beneath this lies a deep anxiety and fear. The world is a scary place for conservatives. Whatever bad things happen, the government had better do it to someone else rather than them. This is probably why they are so enthusiastic about folk devils and punitive policies.

“Do it to them, not me” should be the conservative motto.

Dislike of public anything

Public transport, public sector, public housing – these all strike fear into the heart of your average conservative. Because they are scared of what they’ll find in public spaces (they might stumble across, say, a person unknown to them personally), they want to destroy it for everyone else.

Conservatives are all about private spaces, first class carriages on trains, cars and roads, where they can pay to keep themselves separate – anything to avoid having an unpredictable encounter with another human.

Obedience is safer

I had a strange conversation with a conservative type who said that they’d voted for Brexit and now they had to go along with whatever May wanted. Anything she wanted, because they had to agree with it (sold their soul, was my interpretation). Conservatives love obedience because they are too scared to be independent. Rather than face that, they try and force everyone else to be obedient too.

But get this, conservatives. Some of us have gone and grown up and can cope with ambiguity and freedom. And do it with other people. We’re not pretending. We really can.

The love of obedience makes their pretend notion of taking back control completely fatuous. What they mean, of course, is hand control to their leader. And then shut your mouth, because the exercising of your democratic rights is making them uncomfortable.

It’s not the economy, stupid

Walking around a small local town with an avid conservative, he looked at all the shops and small business, and sneered, “It’s a bit commercial, isn’t it?”

And here’s the shocker. Your average conservative type doesn’t like economic growth and commercial activity. They don’t. They just pretend to in their manifestos and propaganda.

That’s because they are either retired, independently wealthy, employing other people to run things for them, living off rent, or unemployed. They are not even that keen on volunteering anymore, though remnants of an older conservatism are still out there. Working, volunteering or building a business requires engagement with human normality. Moreover, you need a functioning economy to thrive.

I bet if anyone did a calculation they could correlate declining economic participation with the rise in conservatism.

Think about Brexit. It’ll by all accounts tank the economy and push the UK into long-term shrinkage. Do Brexiteers care? No, because they don’t need an economy. So they believe. Obviously their savings would tank too, but that’s a while off. And remember, they can’t handle a multi-causal chain of reasoning – it’s all about that direct relationship between them and their personal pot of gold.

Their lack of caring about the economy and their dead-eyed love of authority is expressed in the continued conservative support for a hard Brexit. And no wonder they don’t like immigrants, who are generally entrepreneurial and energetic.

Conservatives are more like to say, “Where’s my deckchair?” than “This great new café has opened; let’s go.”

It’s Labour that has become the party of enterprise, which is all over the cities. Conservatives are disengaged. Surprising, eh?

More than any of the other self-defeating psychological dispositions I’ve talked about, the lack of enthusiasm for economic issues shows us that conservatism is eating itself.

Pea sized imaginations

Anyone that wants to hand this lot the reins of power needs to think again. They are myopic, careless and stuck firmly in a past that more suited their narrow-minded fear-obsessed world.

They don’t want to lead us into a new productive and democratic reality. They want to shrink the world, so it fits their pea-sized imaginations.

So if you are thinking about voting Conservative, but you don’t want people in power who have these traits, have another think. Conservatism is eating itself.

Let’s just let it die.

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

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

Granfalloonery, scapegoating, social dominance theory and Conservatism

A view from the Overton window: through the looking glass darkly

 

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“The UK is a divided country” is a phrase being bandied around a lot, especially in the aftermath of the referendum, and it is of course true. We are divided. We have politically constructed categories of scapegoats, outgroups, uncertainty, disempowerment, low wages, our public services are being dismantled, and we are witnessing massive inequality and growing poverty. The recipe for anomie. Many people feel despair and are fearful of the future.

We have a nation of oppressed people wanting to see others oppressed. The real oppressors, however, are getting a free ride on the back of their own purposefully divisive and diversionary tactics. Dominant narratives and neoliberal ideology – smoke and mirrors; reductive soundbites, dodgy statistics and carefully constructed, cunning fact-proof screens. And yes, the media, directed by the government, have played a significant part in trying to shape what we see and think about, manipulating public opinion. Most of the Tories wanted to leave the EU, Cameron wasn’t typical of his party.

I don’t blame the Scottish people for wanting their independence one bit, particularly from this side of the EU referendum. But that means we will shrivel a little more. England, the husk.

But a divided country hasn’t happened just because of these things. Some of the irrational statements I have heard over the last few years include commentary about how some traditional Labour voters feel the party “let them down” and no longer reflect their interests. Well, I do hope the Tories do better for you, then. Because they’re clearly SO much better at reflecting working-class interests – the new “party of the workers” they mocked. Yet Conservatism in a nutshell is all about reducing worker’s rights and reducing pay so that private companies can make big profits from a cheap and desperate reserve army of labor. And if you reduce welfare provision and make receipt of benefits highly conditional – provision that’s already paid for by working people –  the subsequent rising level of desperation drives many to increasingly insecure jobs for much less pay in order to simply survive.

The “all the same” lie was always a Right-wing expediency, it’s about disempowering and fragmenting the Left. It worked. The Narxists got very narked, with their sense of alienation, and their peculiar brand of exclusive socialism (they are “real” socialists apparently). Yet Miliband had denounced Blairism, and would have given us a fair and progressive tax system. Not good enough, some of you said, but then some people are never happy, so with impeccable knee-jerked fallibility, you helped the Tories back in Office. Again.

Chomsky once said that sometimes, the best we can do is vote for the least damaging option. That at least would have marked the beginning, not the end, of campaigning for social justice and pushing for a socialist agenda.

Meanwhile, all of those genuine traditional socialist values of solidarity and cooperation, community and mutual aid, internationalism, equality and diversity, social justice, worker’s rights, trade unionism, well the Right-wing in Office are smashing those from our common vocabulary. And deporting them. The Tories in power, not the Labour party in opposition. But the government can only do that with OUR consent. So we must take some responsibility for that.

Now we had a further Left Labour leader, but of course for some, he ain’t good enough. The media push an elite agenda, and divert attention from the real problems that are being created by a Conservative government’s policies, and irrationally, the opposition party is hated whilst the Government get on with fucking over ordinary people, the economy and the country. Democracy is steadily being dismantled. Public funds are being stolen and redistributed to the very wealthy and powerful. Public services are being destroyed. Some people are dying because of Tory policies. Meanwhile people bicker amongst themselves and irrationally blame each other, the opposition party and vulnerable social groups. Prejudice grows. People are being permitted to hate. Their prejudice is fed and endorsed by the Establishment. Discrimination happens. Violence begins. People get killed. More people will get killed. Many remain indifferent. But sooner or later, they must take responsibility for that.

If you have ever wondered how fascist or totalitarian regimes manage to gain power, and to commit atrocities, apparently with public consent, well take a close look at the psychosocial processes involved, read Gordon Allport’s work on the growth of prejudice, where that can lead, then look more closely at what is unfolding here in the UK, stage by stage. It’s hidden in plain view, advancing by almost inscrutable degrees. But once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Most Right-wing political systems, from Conservatism to Fascism, succeed to some extent by fostering a strong anti-intellectual prejudice amongst populations. It serves two key purposes. It discourages people from thinking critically and expressing themselves independently, and it discredits those who do (even before they do) by establishing a cultural normative default that serves to alienate people who challenge established narratives, and invites derision and accusations of being “out of touch with real lives and everyday experiences.”  But those “telling it like it is” often aren’t, quite. Seems to me that people’s hearts and minds are becoming directed, focused increasingly by an external, political and economic, narrow and rigid agenda. 

Why are we divided? Some people blame the government and media for their corrosive rhetoric, some say Tory social Darwinist, supremicist ideology and policies that have influenced the nation and pushed people further to the Right are to blame. Some people blame the general public’s stupidity and gullibility. Some people blame “patronising” and “arrogant” academics and all things intellectual. Some people blame the EU. Some people blame the Labour party. A few people have even blamed me. Some people blame the wealthy. Some people blame our faulty decision-making through rubbish cognitive processes that apparently need “nudging.” Some people blame the poor, or single parents, unemployed people, immigrants, sick and disabled people.

“I take full responsibility for this” said hardly anyone, ever.

I blame those people who choose to opt out of collective responsibility-taking and participatory democracy. Oh yes, democracy is not something you HAVE, it’s something you DO. To be divided as a nation requires social groups to want to oppress other groups, and for bystanders to permit that to happen – you have to participate in the process, even if that participation is just as a bystander who says and does nothing or as a person who is prejudiced at a gut and knee-jerk level. 

We really do have to take some responsibility for that.

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Picture courtesy of Dave Sid Poole


Some poignant reflection on what it is to be a socialist

Socialists have always tended to be internationalists. Whereas nationalists believe that the world is divided primarily into different nationalities, geopolitical zones, socialists consider social class to be the primary divide. For socialists, class struggle, not national identity, is the driving force of history. And capitalism creates an international working class that must fight back, united and cooperatively against an international capitalist class.

People who have a nationalist inclination, who view the social world parochially and hierarchically, are more likely than others to hold prejudices toward low-status groups. This is especially true of people who want their own group to dominate and be superior to other groups – a characteristic known in social psychology as “social dominance orientation.” It isn’t only the elite that hold this perspective, either.

But economic and social challenges such as inequality and social injustice will never be addressed by simply drawing a new set of geographical borders.

Any group claiming dominance over another – including the “working class” – is displaying social dominance orientation. The oppressed can be oppressive, too.

It is time to recognise those artificially constructed divisions and unite, for we have nothing left to lose but our chains.

“So comrades come rally
And the last fight let us face”.

The verses of the Internationale were written on 30 June, 1871, in the immediate aftermath of the brutal crushing of the Paris Commune during La Semaine sanglante (“The Bloody Week”). The policies and outcome of the Commune had a significant influence on the ideas of Karl Marx, of course.

The author, Eugène Pottier, was hiding in fear of his life. The lyrics were intended to convey the historical experience of an important workers’ struggle to a worldwide audience. For Pottier, liberty, equality and fraternity meant the promise of a society in which poor people, like himself, had justice.

The Internationale has long been the anthem of the labor’ movement throughout the world. Its power to move people has survived the repression of fascism, the cruel parody that was Stalinism and free market capitalism. Those who sing it need know nothing about it’s history to feel a strong sense of international unity. The Internationale is simultaneously about history, political argument and is a powerful rallying statement. Pottier established a reputation as the workers’ poet. It earned him a seat on the Communal Council representing the 2nd arrondissement.

The sheer power of Pottier’s Internationale lies in the fact that he was able to encapsulate his personal experience of specific events and express them in universal terms. And that identification and recognition is socialism in action.

The Second International (now known as the “Socialist International”) adopted it as its official anthem. The title arises from the First International, which was an alliance of socialist parties formed by Marx and Engels that held a congress in 1864. The author of the anthem’s lyrics, Pottier, attended this congress.

 The Internationale has been translated into many languages, it is a left-wing anthem, and is celebrated by socialists, communists, anarchists, democratic socialists, and some social democrats.

The original French refrain of the song is C’est la lutte finale / Groupons-nous et demain / L’Internationale / Sera le genre humain.

That translates as:

This is the final struggle

 Let us group together and tomorrow

 The Internationale

 Will be the human race.

Right now, that makes me feel like weeping in sorrow.

Related

UKIP: Parochialism, Prejudice and Patriotic Ultranationalism.

Don’t believe everything you think: cognitive dissonance

Inverted totalitarianism. Oh dear

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left

Once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late

 


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The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

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“We are moving Britain from a high welfare, high tax economy, to a lower welfare, lower tax society.”

George Osborne, 8 July 2015

The pro-wealthy and anti-humanist budget indicates clearly that the Conservatives are preoccupied with highlighting and cutting the state cost of sustaining the poorest citizens rather than the costs of subsidising the rich.

I’ve pointed out before that the Conservatives operate a perverse, dual logic: that wealthy people need support and encouragement – they are offered substantial financial incentives – in order to work and contribute to the economy, whereas poor people apparently need to be punished – by the imposition of financial cuts – in order to work and contribute to the economy.

That Osborne thinks it is acceptable to cut the lifeline benefits of sick and disabled people to pay for government failures, whilst offering significant cuts to corporation tax rates; raising the tax-free personal allowance and extending inheritance tax relief demonstrates very clearly that the myth of trickle-down is still driving New Right Conservative ideology, and that policy is not based on material socio-economic conditions and public need. (And Cameron is not a one-nation Tory, despite his claims.)

Research by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 indicates that wealth of the very wealthy does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a detrimental effect on the tax bases of the home economy.

A more recent report – Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality : A Global Perspective by the International Monetary Fund concluded in June this year that there is no trickle-down effect –  the rich simply get richer:

“We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down.”

It’s inconceivable that the Conservatives fail to recognise such policy measures will widen inequality. Conservatives regard inequality and social hierarchy as inevitable, necessary and functional to the economy. Furthermore, Conservatives hail greed and envy as emotions to be celebrated, since these drive competition.

Since the emergence of the New Right, from Thatcher to Cameron, we have witnessed an increasing entrenchment of Neoliberal principles, coupled with an aggressive, authoritarian brand of social conservatism that has an underpinning of crude, blunt social Darwinist philosophy, as carved out two centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer.

Spencer is best known for the expression “survival of the fittest,” which he coined in Principles of Biology (1864), after reading Charles Darwin’s work. Spencer extended natural selection into realms of sociology, political theory and ethics, ultimately contributing to the eugenics movement. He believed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited. Maslow would disagree. All a struggle for survival motivates is just a struggle for survival.

Spencer’s ideas of laissez-faire; a survival-of-the-fittest brand of competitive individualism; minarchism – minimal state interference in the processes of natural law – and liking for private charity, are echoed loudly in the theories of 20th century thinkers such as Friedrich HayekMilton Friedman and Ayn Rand who each popularised Spencer’s ideas, whilst Neoliberal New Right Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron have translated these ideas into policies.

Ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as overt, objective statements of political intent. I’ve said many times over the past five years that Conservatives have forgotten that democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. Conservative policies are quite clearly no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are increasingly authoritarian, and all about telling us how to be.

Conservatives have always coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, and they have, from their pinnacle of supremacist, self-appointed authority, historically cast the vulnerable and the poorest as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

Furthermore, such a combination of Neoliberal and Conservative political theory, explicitly opposes democratic goals and principles. Neoliberalism was originally used by academics on the Left as a pejorative to capture the policies of imposed exploitation, privatisation, and inequality.

Neoliberalism is now characterised by the use of international loans and other mechanisms to suppress unions, squash state regulation, elevate corporate privilege, privatise public services, and protect the holdings of the wealthy. The term became widely recognised shorthand for rule by the rich, authoritarianism and the imposition of limits on democracy.

Banks, corporations, the financial sector, and the very wealthy are exercising power and blocking any attempt to restructure the economic system that brought about the crash.

Meanwhile, the free market is a market free for powerful interests; the profit motive has transformed the organising value of social life, and those who the Conservatives evidently regard as collateral damage of this socio-economic dogma made manifest are paying the price for the global crash, with Osborne and the Conservatives constructing narratives that problematise welfare support, generating moral panic and folk devils to demonise the poorest citizens in need of support.

Growing social inequality generates a political necessity for cultivating social prejudices.

Such Othering narratives divert public attention from the fact that the right to a fair and just legal system, a protective and effective safety net for the poorest, free healthcare – all of the social gains of our post-war settlement – are all under attack.

I have said elsewhere that Conservative ideology is incompatible with our legal commitments to human rights. The United Nations declaration of Human Rights is founded on the central tenet that each and every human life has equal worth. The Conservatives don’t agree, preferring to organise society into hierarchies of worth and privilege.

Conservative austerity measures and further impending welfare cuts are not only a deliberate attack on the poorest and most vulnerable social groups; the range of welfare cuts do not conform to a human rights standard; the “reforms” represent a serious failure on the part of the government to comply with Britain’s legal international human rights obligations.

The cuts announced by the chancellor include a further reduction to the benefits cap – not only from £26,000 to £23,000, as promised in the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto, but down even further to £20,000 outside of London.

Child tax credit, housing benefit and working tax credit will be reduced, with child tax credit only being paid for the first two children. Presumably this is, to quote Iain Duncan Smith, to “incentivise behavioural change,” placing pressure on the poorest to “breed less,” though personally, being the direct, blunt, no-nonsense sort, I prefer to call it a nudge towards “eugenics by stealth.”

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission say that any cuts to tax credits will cut the incomes of 45 per cent of working families. These cuts are particularly controversial, since the benefits cap was partly justified as a way of “making work pay”  – a Conservative narrative that echoes the punitive 1834 New Poor Law Principle of less eligibility – see: The New New Poor Law.

The Government asserts that its welfare “reform” strategy is aimed at breaking the cycle of “worklessness” and dependency on the welfare system amongst the poorest families. It’s more punitive Poor Law rhetoric.

There’s no such thing as “worklessness”, it’s simply a blame apportioning word, made up by the Tories to hide the fact that they have destroyed the employment market, just as Thatcher did, and as the Conservatives always do.

Punishing the low paid, cutting the income of families who work for low wages directly contradicts the claim that the Conservatives are “making work pay.”

Yet Osborne has framed his welfare cuts with the “The best route out of poverty is work” mantra, claiming that slashing the social security budget by £46 billion in the next five years, (including cutting those benefits to disabled people, who have been assessed as unfit for work and placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and cutting in-work benefits, such as tax credits) is needed to make sure “work pays” and that: “we give a fair deal for those on welfare and a fair deal to the people, the taxpayers of this country who pay for it.”

The Conservatives always conveniently divide people into an ingroup of taxpayers and an outgroup of stigmatised others – non-tax payers. However, most people claiming benefits are either in work, and are not paid enough, through no fault of their own, to pay tax, or are pensioners who have worked most of their lives; or are unemployed, but have previously worked and contributed tax.

Most people claiming disability benefits have also worked and contributed tax, too.

Unemployment and in-work benefit claims are generally a measure of how well or poorly the government is handling the economy, not of how “lazy” or “incentivised” people are.

And only the Tories have the cheek to claim that raising the minimum wage (long overdue, especially given the hikes in the cost of living) is the introduction of a living wage. The basic idea is that these are the minimum pay rates needed so that workers have an acceptable standard of living. Over the last few years, wages have very quickly fallen far behind the ever-rising cost of living.

The increase is at a rate of £7.20 an hour for people over the age of 25.  Housing benefit will be withdrawn from those aged between 18 and 21, while tax credits and universal credits will be targeted at people on lower wages by reducing the level at which they are withdrawn.

The chancellor’s announcement amounted merely to an increase in the minimum wage, and the curbs on tax credits would hit low-paid workers in other ways, unfortunately.

Whilst the announcement of a phased increase in the minimum wage is welcome, it is difficult to see how this will reverse the increasing inequality that will be extended as a further consequence of this budget without a matching commitment to improving the structural framework – the quality and stability of employment available. As it is, we are now the most unequal country in EU.

If the government were sincerely interested in raising wages to make work genuinely pay, ministers would be encouraging rather than stifling trade unionism and collective bargaining. But instead we see further cuts to public sector pay in real terms year after year and the raising of the legal bar for industrial action so that strikes will be effectively outlawed in public services. And let’s not forget the grubby partisan policy of two years ago – the Let Lynton Lobby Gagging Act.

Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said:

“Is this really a living wage? The living wage is calculated according to the cost of living whereas the Low Pay Commission calculates a rate according to what the market can bear. Without a change of remit for the Low Pay Commission this is effectively a higher national minimum wage and not a living wage.”

Those most affected by the extreme welfare cuts are those groups for which human rights law provides special protections. The UK government has already contravened the human rights of women, children, and disabled people.

The recent report of the UK Children’s Commissioner to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in July this year, says:

“Response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 [of the UN CRC] … Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families.”

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recently reported on the UK’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and found it woefully lacking:

“Welfare cuts will ensure that the government is not in compliance with its international human rights obligations to realise a right to an adequate standard of living under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESR) and a child’s right to an adequate standard of living under Article 27 of the UN CRC. Further it will be in breach of the statutory target to eliminate child poverty contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010.”

Just in case you missed it, there has been a very recent, suspiciously timed change to the definition of child poverty, and a proposed repeal of the Child Poverty Act – something that Iain Duncan Smith has been threatening to bring about since 2013.

It’s yet another ideologically directed Tory budget, dressed-up in the rhetoric of economic necessity, detached from public needs.

And Conservative ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

Related:

George Osborne’s Political MasterstrokeA View from the Attic

Osborne’s class spite wrapped in spin will feed a backlashSeumas Milne

Budget 2015: what welfare changes did George Osborne announce, and what do they mean?  New Statesman: The Staggers

How Osborne’s new cuts breach the UK’s human rights obligations, Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Osborne’s razor: the Tory principle of parsimony is applied only to the poorest

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone

The UK is now the most unequal country in EU, and Cameron has been very conservative with the truth

tory lies

Last year I wrote an article – Cameron’s Gini and the hidden hierarchy of worthand I said: On 04 June, 2014, at 3.52pm BST, Cameron said that inequality is at its lowest level since 1986. I really thought I’d misheard him. But of course Cameron lies, that’s an established fact.

This isn’t the first time Cameron has used this lie. We have a government that provides disproportionate and growing returns to the already wealthy, whilst imposing austerity cuts on the very poorest. How can such a government possibly claim that inequality is falling, when inequality is so fundamental to their ideology and when social inequalities are extended and perpetuated by all of their policies? It seems the standard measure of inequality is being used to mislead us into thinking that the economy is far more “inclusive’ than it is.

A newly published report by the Dublin-based Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) states that the UK has become the most unequal country in Europe, on the basis of income distribution and wages.

The report also says that the UK has the highest Gini coefficient of all European Union (EU) member states – and higher than that of the US. The coefficient is a widely used measure of the distribution of income within a nation, and is commonly used to calculate inequality.

According to analysts at Eurofound, Britain has a Gini coefficient of 0.404, whilst that of the US is 0.4. Portugal and Latvia followed the UK with Gini coefficients of 0.358 and 0.357, respectively. The average Gini index for the EU as a whole in 2011 was 0.346.

Eurofound was established in 1975 to contribute to the planning and design of improved living and working conditions. This role is undertaken in partnership with governments, employers, trade unions and the European Union institutions.

The report says that there was a decrease in inequality before the global crisis that was entirely due to a significant reduction in between-country wage differentials (in other words, a process of convergence in pay levels – see: Labour’s excellent record on poverty and inequality – which came to a halt, reflecting the effects of the global crash, in 2008, and then started to reverse towards the end of the period of this analysis, in 2011.

My friend, the British economist Michael Burke, observed that  Eurofound’s study demonstrates the previous claims by David Cameron that Britain’s economy is recovering from the recession were false.

Speaking to RT on Tuesday, Mr Burke said: “The Tory government is fond of making spurious claims about Britain being the strongest economy in Europe. But the reality is that Britain under the Tories is the European capital of inequality.”

All of the deterioration in the Gini coefficient in the EU is caused by the worsening of inequality,” he added.

The jobs machine that David Cameron [is referring to] is in reality low-paid jobs, many of them providing unproductive services to the ultra-rich.”

The UK now has the worst Gini coefficient in the EU. Gini is the most widely accepted measure of how fairly income is distributed amongst a nation’s residents and is the standard measure of inequality. Cameron, parroting Thatcher, has claimed that there is no such thing as “public money,” indicating clearly that the economic enclosure that was initiated by the Tories under the guise of austerity, affecting the poorest citizens most of all, but leaving the wealthy unaffected by cuts, is going to be permanent.

A YouGov survey conducted this month and published on Monday found that most voters in the UK believe the government should prioritize tackling inequality – reducing the gap between rich and poor – over faster economic growth.

The findings, which suggest strong public support for redistribution, will complicate the debate about precisely how the Labour Party lost the general election, particularly given the Labour manifesto, outlining strongly redistributive and progressive tax policies, which had disgruntled a number of super petulant super-rich celebrities, who threatened to flounce from the UK if Labour gained office.

YouGov found that of the main parties, only Conservative supporters were significantly more likely to care about economic growth than inequality. Bearing in mind that Cameron won with 36.9% of the vote, the considerable gap between the priorities of Conservatives and those of the other parties will most likely mean a difficult five years for the prime minister.

With homelessness increasing by 55% between 2010 and 2014, whilst food bank use has surged, malnutrition and absolute poverty, not seen in this country since before the inception of the welfare state, are becoming more commonplace, and with more draconian cuts planned by the Tories for the already diminished and essential support for the poorest – many of whom are in low waged work – it’s going to be an extremely punishing five years for those already at the poorest end of the UK’s steeply hierarchical society.

Last year, I wrote about the study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), who found what most of us already knew: that income inequality actually stifles economic growth in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, whilst the redistribution of wealth via taxes and benefits encourages growth.

The report from the OECD, a leading global think tank, shows basically that what creates and reverses growth is the exact opposite of what the current right-wing government are telling us, highlighting the truth of Ed Miliband’s comments in his speech – that the Tory austerity cuts are purely ideologically driven, and not about managing the economy at all.

But many of us already knew this was so.

1459720_569627496440116_902730897_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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. 

David Cameron promised a further £7.2 BILLION tax cuts to the rich at the expense of the poor

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I wrote an article last year – Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor – which outlines Coalition policies that have widened inequalities and increased poverty by handing out public money to the wealthy that has been taken from the poorest. I pointed out that this Government have raided our tax-funded welfare provision and used it to provide handouts to the very wealthy – £107,000 EACH PER YEAR in the form of a tax break for millionaires, amongst other things.

And what does our imperturbable chancellor promise if this disgrace of a government is re-elected? True to Tory form, more of the same: austerity for the poor and public services cuts, and tax breaks for the wealthiest.

But further cuts to lifeline benefits and public services is surely untenable. Absolute poverty has risen dramatically, this past four years, heralding the return of Victorian illnesses that are associated with malnutrition. People have died as a consequence of the welfare “reforms”. Supporting the wealthy has already cost the poorest so very much, yet this callous, indifferent, morally nihilistic  government are casually discussing taking even more from those with the very least.

This isn’t anything to do with economic necessity: it’s all about Tory ideology. Under the guise of austerity, the Tory-led Coalition have stripped our welfare and public services down to the bare bones. Any further cuts will destroy what remains of our post-war settlement.

Despite facing a global recession, the Labour Government invested in our public services, and borrowed substantially less in thirteen years than the Coalition have in just three years. UK citizens were sheltered very well from the worst of the global bank-induced crash.

Gordon Brown got it right in his championing of the G20 fiscal stimulus, agreed at the London summit of early April 2010, which was a continuation of his policies that had served to steer the UK economy out of the consequences of a global recession, and to protect citizens from the consequences of cuts to services and welfare.

Osborne’s policy of imposing austerity and budget cuts on an economy that was actually recovering was a catastrophic error. The austerity propelled the economy backwards and into depression; and, far from using public spending as a countervailing force against the cutbacks in private sector investment, the Coalition’s budget cuts served to aggravate the crisis. Many people are suffering terribly as a consequence, reduced to a struggle for survival.

And in these socio-economic circumstances, the Tories have pledged a further £7.2 BILLION tax cuts to the rich. The funding for the tax cuts will come from further catastrophic “savings” made at the expense of the poorest yet again – £25 billion more to be sliced from welfare, Local Authorities,  education, police and other vital services.

Three things are immediately clear. Firstly, without the ramping up of VAT in 2010, to 20%, Osborne would be in even more dire financial straits than he is.

Secondly, income tax has, despite allegedly rising employment, failed to increase.

Thirdly, corporation tax, targeted for cuts, year after year, has slumped. The tax system is increasingly veering toward very regressive – biased in favour of the wealthy – consumption taxes, which affects the poorest, most, and failing to deliver fairer taxes on income.

This is the result of government policy: increasing VAT but cutting corporation tax, and the engineered kind of “recovery” we have ended up with. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) reminded us in October of the extent of the Coalition’s failure to reduce the deficit.

Public sector net borrowing in 2013-14 was originally expected to be £60 billion; the out-turn for borrowing was £108 billion (on a comparable basis). This amounts to a shortfall of nearly £50 billion, with borrowing approaching double the original predictions made when the government’s austerity policies were announced in 2010.

Much of this shortfall is accounted for by the current earnings crisis. UK workers are suffering the longest and most severe decline in real earnings since records began in Victorian times, according to an analysis published by the TUC. But Tories always lower wages, and hike up the cost of living. And whilst workers are struggling to make ends meet, private business owners/Tory donors are raking in millions of pounds. But this is exactly how Tories like to run society in a nutshell.

It’s their imposition of a feudalist schemata for social relationships. Cognitively, Tories are the equivalent of historical egocentric toddlers: they are stuck at this painful stage of arrested development.

“The deficit reduction programme takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement” – stated in the Coalition Agreement.

For a government whose raison d’etre is deficit reduction, the Coalition really isn’t very good at all. But austerity reflects the triumph of discriminatory Tory ideology over needs-led, evidenced-based policy making.

The OBR said the forecast from 2010 was over-optimistic because it did not take into consideration the effect of lower wages as well as a higher levels of tax-free personal allowance on the upper brackets of income tax. National Insurance contributions were also £7.4 billion below forecast.

Which brings us back to the issue of further tax cuts for the wealthy, with no mention of raising wages for the poorer work-force, and of course there is the promise of more cuts to come for those relying on lifeline benefits. I don’t think that the Coalition cares that their policies don’t balance the books, as it were, or mend the economy. Nor do they care what the consequences are for the wider public.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

The government’s failure to get wages growing again has not only left families far worse off than in 2010, it’s put the public finances in a mess too. The economy has become very good at creating low-paid jobs, but not the better paid work that brings in income tax. The Chancellor’s sums just don’t add up – he can’t make the tax cuts for the better off that he is promising and meet his deficit reduction target without making cuts to public services.

His cuts would be so deep that no government could deliver them without doing damage to both the economy and the fabric of our society. We can’t cut our way out of this problem any more than we can dig ourselves out of a hole. More austerity would only keep us stuck in a downward spiral. The Chancellor should use next week’s Autumn Statement to invest in growth and to put a wages recovery at the top of the agenda.

Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said:

Nobody will be fooled by pie in the sky promises of tax cuts when David Cameron cannot tell us where the money is coming from. Even the Tories admit this is an unfunded commitment of over £7 billion, so how will they pay for it? Will they raise VAT on families and pensioners again?

Cameron has also announced the basic rate before we start paying tax would rise from £10,500 to £12,500. While a worker on £12,500 would save £500 a year, someone earning £50,000 would keep £1,900 extra.

Those earning up to £123,000 would be £484 richer. Someone on £12,500 would save £500 a year, while someone on up to £50,000 would keep £1,900 extra. And the £500 tax cut for basic rate earners will be almost wiped out by George Osborne’s raid on in-work benefits.

Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank says it was:

very difficult to see how the £7billion tax giveaway could be paid for.

We’re looking at promises of £7billion of tax giveaways in the context of an overall plan to get the deficit down but even without tax giveaways that requires pretty extraordinary levels of spending cuts such that most government departments will see their spending cut by a third by 2020.

How are you going to afford this? Even more dramatic spending cuts?

At the Tory Conference, Cameron promised to expand the National Citizen Service youth project for every teenager in the country, have the lowest rate of corporation tax of any major economy.

There was also a pledge to abolish youth unemployment by the end of the decade. But the Tory faithful gave the loudest applause for his pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act.

This is a truly terrifying pledge, because human rights were originally formulated as an international response to the atrocities of the 2nd World war, and to ensure that citizens are protected from abuses of their government.

A Labour Party analysis found the proposed tax break would hand David Cameron and other Cabinet ministers an extra £132 a year. But a family with two children with one earner on £25,000 a year would lose £495 by 2017-17 due to the benefits freeze announced by Mr Osborne.

The Tory plan is based solely on spending cuts, mainly directed at the working age poor. And the Conservative plan to raise the higher rate threshold to £50,000 means that  working-age poor people are to fund a tax cut that is four times greater for higher rate tax payers than for basic rate taxpayers.

Ed Balls said in response:

David Cameron’s speech showed no recognition that working people are £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories nor that the NHS is going backwards on their watch. The only concrete pledge we’ve had from the Tories this week is a promise to cut tax credits by hundreds of pounds for millions of hard working people while keeping a £3 billion tax cut for the richest one per cent.

TUC general Secretary Frances O’Grady added:

No amount of dressing up can hide the fact that the policies in this speech pass by those who need the most help to reward richer voters.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said:

What was missing in the PM’s speech was any recognition that independent projections show that child poverty rates are set to soar. We know that raising the personal tax allowance is an ineffective way of supporting low paid families.Independent analysis shows that just 15% of the £12 billion required to raise the PTA to £12,500 would go to working families in the lowest-income half of the population.

Many simply don’t earn enough to benefit from this policy, and those that do just see their benefits and tax credits withdrawn as their incomes rise.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies showed in their Green Budget publication this year that just 15% of the gains from increasing the personal allowance would benefit the poorest half of Britons, concluding:

There are better ways to help the low paid via the tax and benefit system.

Ex-Treasury official James Meadway,  now a senior economist at the New Economics Foundation, said Cameron’s changes were:

irresponsible, expensive gimmicks that scarcely affect the poorest workers.

They imply swingeing public sector cuts and mean handing over more cash to the already rich.

Ed Miliband will respond tomorrow (Monday), declaring that the Tories’ failure to tackle the cost-of-living crisis has helped cost the Exchequer £116.5 billion – leading to higher borrowing and broken promises on the deficit. The price tag, equivalent to almost £4,000 for every taxpayer, is based on new research from the House of Commons Library being published by the Labour Party.

This shows that low pay and stagnant salaries, combined with soaring housing costs and the failure to tackle root causes of increased welfare bills, means that over the course of this Parliament:

  • Income tax receipts have fallen short of forecasts by more than £66 billion.
  • National Insurance Contributions are £25.5 billion lower than expected.
  • Spending on social security is £25 billion higher than planned [despite brutal cuts to lifeline benefits]

Mr Miliband is expected to say the test for George Osborne in this week’s Autumn Statement will be to set out a plan to build a recovery for working people – one which recognises the link between the living standards and Britain’s ability get the deficit down.

He is expected to say:

For a very long time, our country has worked well for a few people, but not for everyday people. “We live in a country where opportunities are too skewed to those at the top, where too many people work hard for little reward, where too many young people can’t find a job or apprenticeship worthy of their talents, and where families can’t afford to buy a home of their own.

For all the Government’s boasts about a belated economic recovery, there are millions of families still caught in the most prolonged cost-of-living crisis for a century.  For them this is a joy-less and pay-less recovery.

My priority as Prime Minister will be tackling that cost-of-living crisis so that hard work is properly rewarded again, so that our children can dream of a better future, so that our public services including the NHS are safe.

Building a recovery that works for everyday people is the real test of the Autumn Statement.

But that isn’t a different priority to tackling the deficit. Building a recovery that works for most people is an essential part of balancing the books.

The Government’s failure to build a recovery that works for every-day people and tackle the cost-of-living crisis isn’t just bad for every person affected, it also hampers our ability to pay down the deficit.

Britain’s public finances have been weakened by a Tory-led Government overseeing stagnant wages which keep tax revenues low.

Britain’s public finances have been weakened by Tory policies which focus on low paid, low skilled, insecure jobs – often part-time or temporary – because they do not raise as much revenue as the high skill, high wage opportunities we need to be creating.

And our public finances have been weakened by higher social security bills to subsidise low paid jobs and the chronic shortage of homes.   

The result has been David Cameron and George Osborne missing every single target they set themselves on clearing the deficit and balancing the books by the end of this parliament.

Their broken promises, their abject failure, are not an accident. They are the direct result of an outdated ideology which says all a Government has to do is look after a privileged few at the top and everyone else will follow.

That is why this Government has done a great job of squeezing the middle, but a bad job of squeezing the deficit.

The test this week for David Cameron and George Osborne is whether they recognise that Britain will only succeed and prosper for the long term by tackling the cost-of-living crisis and building a recovery which works for the many, not just for a few.

Or whether they will just offer more of the same old ideas that have failed them, failed everyday working people, and failed Britain over the past four years.

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the brilliant memes

A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves

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How policies are justified is increasingly being detached from the aims and consequences of them, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the current government employs the widespread use of a “malevolent benevolence” type of propaganda to intentionally divert us from the aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies.

An example of such propaganda is the common use of words such as “support”, “incentives”, “responsibility” and “fairness” to legitimise welfare cuts during a recession and the punitive benefit sanctions regime introduced by the Coalition. (I’ve written at length about this elsewhere on this site).

Furthermore, policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Transparency International are a politically non-partisan, independent organisation whose mission is to prevent corruption and promote transparency, accountability and integrity at all levels and across all sectors of society, particularly in governments. Their core values are: transparency, accountability, integrity, solidarity, courage, justice and democracy.

In 2013, Transparency International undertook their annual opinion survey called the Global Corruption Barometer and found 65% of people believed the UK had become more corrupt in the last two years. 90% said British politics is now run by a few “big entities” who were looking after their own interests.

Corruption is defined as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

For example, Cameron’s defence secretary, Liam Fox, resigned over his relationship with the lobbyist Adam Werritty, and his election adviser, Lynton Crosby, is a lobbyist – for tobacco, alcohol, oil and gas companies. Which is why the prime minister came under attack for dropping curbs on cigarette packaging and alcohol pricing. His party treasurer Peter Cruddas resigned after offering access to Cameron for a £250,000 party donation.

Corporate influence extends beyond lobbying, though. Corporate and political interests have become increasingly interchangeable and mutual. The Tory party receives over half of its income from bankers, hedge fund and private equity financiers. The Tory party is bankrolled by a few hundred millionaires. We know that Peers who have made six-figure donations have been rewarded with government jobs. 

We know that venture capitalists such as Adrian Beecroft have influenced Tory employment policies, and in July, it emerged that millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is being spent on a venture capital fund overseen by Beecroft, who is one of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors, and head of the private equity group that administers the high profile barely legal loan shark operation Wonga. The Wonga “business model” is basically to prey on the poor, vulnerable and absolutely desperate by offering them exploitative loans at eye-watering interest rates of 5,853% APR. Tellingly, even in the globally renowned haven of free-marketeering – the United States – such outrageous loans are illegal, but in the UK the Tory party are defiantly resisting efforts to regulate the so-called Payday lending sector and introduce maximum APRs.

Following the tide of sleaze and corruption allegations, Cameron “dealt” with with parliamentary influence-peddling by introducing the Gagging Act, which is primarily a blatant attack on Trade Unions (which are the most democratic part of the political funding system) and Labour Party funding, giving the Tories powers to police union membership lists, to make strike action very difficult and to cut union spending in election campaigns.

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At least 142 peers linked to companies involved and invested in private healthcare were able to vote on last year’s Health Bill that opened the way to sweeping and corrosive outsourcing and privatisation. Tory MP Patrick Mercer also resigned the party whip when details of yet another lobbying scandal emerged, in May 2013, following questions surrounding paid advocacy, he was an Independent MP representing the constituency of Newark in Parliament until his resignation at the end of April 2014 after the Standards Committee suspended him for six months for “an unprecedented, sustained and pervasive breach of the house’s rules”

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The Tories have normalised political corruption and made it almost entirely legal. Our democracy and civic life are now profoundly compromised as a result of corporate and financial power colonising the State.

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill is a calculated and partisan move to insulate Tory policies and records from public and political scrutiny, and to stifle democracy. There are many other examples of this government removing mechanisms of transparency, accountability and safeguards to rights and democracy.

Transparency International have flagged up many areas of concern in their report: A mid-term assessment of the UK Coalition Government’s record on tackling corruption

Here is a list of the main causes for concern, many of which we have reported also:

  • There is no coordinated strategy or action plan to combat corruption in the UK. Data on corruption are not currently collected or are subsumed with other data such as fraud.
  • There is no strategic plan or clear channels of accountability; this is symptomatic of the lack of coordination surrounding Whitehall’s anti-corruption efforts.
  • Resources available to the institutions responsible for fighting corruption have been significantly reduced by the Government. Notably, the Serious Fraud Office’s budget has been cut from £51 million in 2008-9 to £33m in 2012-13. Its budget is expected to fall further to £29m by 2014-15.
  • The Government is seeking to amend the Freedom of Information Act to make it easier for authorities to refuse requests on cost grounds.
  • This Government is threatening to reduce the access of civil society and others to use judicial review mechanisms.
  • Legal Aid is being cut extensively,  this is likely to deny access to justice to individuals and groups who are victims of corruption.
  • The Government’s Localism Act abolished the Audit Commission, which in addition to overseeing and commissioning audit for local government and other bodies like the NHS, had statutory functions for investigating financial management and value for money. There was insufficient public discussion and consultation on the decision to abolish the Audit Commission and to debate and discuss the alternatives to it.
  • The Leveson enquiry and associated criminal investigations revealed a disturbing picture of the cosy relationship between politicians and the media, the bribing of police officers by journalists and the lack of will to hold the media accountable even when laws had clearly been broken.  Concentration of media ownership remains a significant corruption risk. The Government has thus far failed to implement the Leveson reforms or any alternative.
  • Labour’s Bribery Act has succeeded in encouraging many private companies to implement adequate procedures to combat corruption. However the Coalition  has reduced resources for investigation and prosecution.
  • The “Generals for hire scandal” in October 2012 suggests that the current system of controls and oversight of movement between the Governmentand the private sector is insufficient. There have been too many similar scandals. In July 2012 the Public Administration Select Committee (PASC) recommended that Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACoBA) be replaced by a new, statutory, Conflicts of Interest and Ethics Commissioner. This recommendation has been ignored by the Government.
  • The Government has failed to address the problems with Tory political party funding.
  • Cash-for-access scandals indicate that donations to the government are a major source of vulnerability to corruption. Current funding rules lead to a lack of public trust in political parties. 42%  of voters believe that donations of over £100,000 are designed to gain access and influence over the Tory party.
  • It has been estimated that billions of pounds of dirty money is laundered into and through the UK each year. Currently the UK and its Overseas Dependent Territories and Crown Dependencies do not require companies to declare who the ultimate beneficial ownership are of companies and trusts. Action taken against the facilitators and enablers of corruption is inadequate, for example, the lawyers, bankers and accountants that handle corrupt transactions.

Perhaps it is worth a reminder of the Nolan principles, which are The Seven Principles of Public Life. They are included in the Ministerial Code, they were defined by the Committee for Standards in Public Life and they provide the basis of an ethical framework for responsible conduct, expected of those who hold positions in public office. The seven principles of conduct are:

1) Selflessness – Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves, their family or their friends.

2) Integrity – Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.

3) Objectivity – In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

4) Accountability – Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

5) Openness – Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

6) Honesty – Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

7) Leadership – Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

These principles apply to all aspects of public life. The Committee that set them out did so for the benefit of all who serve the public in anyway.

The principles were drawn up in 1995 after previous Tory “sleaze scandals”. Recently, both the Guardian and Huff Post report that the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee into Standards in Public Life says in a report that: “MPs should be required to undergo an induction course to teach them about the seven principles of public life that are meant to promote openness and honesty.”

He warned the Prime Minister: “that making sure politicians are aware of their duties to be honest, open, accountable and selfless cannot be left to chance”.

The report is part of the committee’s submission to an inquiry being carried out into standards procedure set up amid controversies over the way MPs self-police misconduct in their ranks, notably in the case of the expenses scandal surrounding then cabinet minister Maria Miller.

In 1997, Tony Blair extended the Committee’s terms of reference: “To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements”.  

However, other ethical matters ultimately come under the jurisdiction of the Commons Standards Committee.

The Standards Board for England, branded as Standards for England was sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government. Established under Labour’s Local Government Act 2000, it was responsible for promoting  and ensuring high ethical standards in local government. It oversaw the nationally imposed Code of Conduct – now abandoned – which covered elected and co-opted members across a range of local authorities. The Standards Board has been abolished by the Coalition. It is now left to local authorities to make and police their own codes of conduct.

Part 1 of the Local Government Act 2000 introduced a power for local authorities in England and Wales to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area. A similar power was introduced in section 20 of the Local Government in Scotland Act 2003.  The well-being power in the Local Government Act 2000 was repealed in 2011 with respect to England,  and replaced with a provision in the Localism Act. Section 1 (1) of the Act provides that “a local authority has power to do anything that [private] individuals generally may do.” This is called a general power of competence.

The Act was certainly not introduced in an open way which promoted any meaningful debate and participation, it was preceded by no White Paper, the rationale for the Bill was left largely unexplained before its introduction, and although devolution was mentioned a lot, ministers advocating the repeal of the well-being power and its replacement with the somewhat lame general competence power, were rather shorter on concrete explanations as to why the Bill was either necessary or desirable.

The Act will divorce local government from clear and transparent accountability mechanisms, making it difficult for local people to challenge its actions effectively.

There is a clear pattern of alarming and extremely anti-democratic policies formulated by the Coalition that are designed to protect the interests of the very wealthy; to stifle debate; challenges and opposition; to encourage corruption whilst obscuring it; to restrict access to justice for victims of government and corporate corruption; to remove accountability and transparency, and there is an increasing detachment of policies from wider public needs and interests.

Legal equality, freedom and rule of law have been identified as important characteristics of representative democracy since ancient times. More contemporary definitions include: political pluralism; equality before the law; the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances; due process; civil liberties; human rights – all of these are considered to be crucial criteria for defining liberal democracies.

Since 2010, many of the essential processes and safeguards of democracy have been dismantled: we no longer have a democratic state.

946487_494193727316827_2051552810_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

 


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