Tag: Phillip Blond

The welfare state: from hung, drawn and quartered to Tory privatisation

Thatcher scary

The mess that Thatcher left in her wake is verified by several longitudinal studies. Dr. Alex Scott-Samuel and colleagues from the Universities of Durham, West of Scotland, Glasgow and Edinburgh, sourced data from over 70 existing research papers, which concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy:

includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being. 

The article also cites evidence including the substantial increase in income inequality under Thatcher – the richest 0.01% of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and there was a rise in UK poverty rates from 6.7% in 1975 to 12% in 1985.

The research article concludes that:

Thatcher’s governments wilfully engineered an economic catastrophe across large parts of Britain by dismantling traditional industries such as coal and steel in order to undermine the power of working class organisations, such as unions.This ultimately fed through into growing regional disparities in health standards and life expectancy, as well as greatly increased inequalities between the richest and poorest in society.

New Right Conservatives have a curiously evidence-resistant conviction that the “big state” has somehow stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know from history and recent events that competitive individualism and market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Tory rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t somehow “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.

In a wealthy so-called first world democracy, it is profoundly uncivilised and anti-democratic to simply dismiss people experiencing poverty and hardship effectively as collateral damage, and terribly cruel and irresponsible to blame those people for the situations of difficulty and deprivation created by policies and the socio-economic framework itself.

This wide recognition that the raw “market forces” of stark laissez faire cause casualties is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such competitive economic dogmas to manifest – as the stormy present – there are 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 to favour elites.

Cameron is continuing to build on Thatcher’s legacy. We know from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Margaret Thatcher and Geoffrey Howe in 1982, that there was a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education; to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he  was one of Cameron’s advisors until 2012.

A confidential cabinet memorandum by the Central Policy Review Staff in September 1982, said: “This would of course mean the end of the National Health Service.” The report was declassified and released in 2012 by the National Archives under the 30-year rule.

But the fear of the scale of opposition to the plan meant the grand dismantling of the welfare state didn’t happen. Instead the Conservatives have planned and worked to take it apart a piece at a time.

In 1982 unemployment rose above three million. Yet the Tories were happy with further increases to try and drive down wages. John Sparrow of the Cabinet Office’s Central Policy Review Staff think-tank, wrote in a June memo to Thatcher that the youth training scheme, introduced in 1983, would be “likely to displace some older workers”.

He continued:

Displacement is not necessarily a bad thing, since it puts downward pressure on wage rates.” Sparrow noted that government plans to end out-of-work benefits for 16 year olds would remove them from the unemployment figures.

Fast-forward to the present: David Cameron is prepared to consider making workers pay into flexible saving accounts to self-fund periods of illness and unemployment benefits, Downing Street has confirmed.

The idea was first floated by Iain Duncan Smith who said he was “very keen” to have a debate about encouraging people to use personal accounts to save for unemployment or illness, even though it is not “official” government policy.

Duncan Smith told the Sunday Telegraph:

We need to support the kind of products that allow people through their lives to dip in and out when they need the money for sickness or care or unemployment.

We need to encourage people to save from day one but they need to know that they can get some of the money out when their circumstances change. This is not government policy but I am very keen to look at it, as a long-term way forward for the 21st century.

Duncan Smith seems to be suggesting that benefits are replaced with a kind of unemployment insurance scheme as seen in the US or products known as “fortune accounts”, which are used in Singapore.

Asked about the idea of workers saving up for their sickness and unemployment benefits, Cameron’s official spokeswoman confirmed he was prepared to consider such a model. She said:

I think the PM shares the work and pensions secretary’s view that we should be doing more to encourage people to take personal responsibility for how they manage their affairs.

The proposal of fortune accounts for the UK was examined in depth in a paper by the Right-wing libertarian Adam Smith Institute thinktank in 1995, which considered how people could go to a single private provider for an account that gave them long-term care insurance, disability cover, health insurance, savings fund management and unemployment insurance.

The paper suggested:

Many other things that we often regard as ‘welfare’ today are also insurable and will be part of the fortune account package. Cover against incapacity to work, long-term care services, and disability, will all be in the package.

A report from Civitas argued (preemptively) that National Insurance is “no longer fit for purpose” and that everyone in work should be forced to save into a private pension to help shoulder the burden of the rising costs of old age.

Civitas professorial research fellow Peter Saunders argued in the report, titled Beyond Beveridge, that the principle that those who are able to should pay into the system has been eroded and “taxpayer-funded hand-outs” have increasingly replaced contributions-based benefits.

He goes on to say that whilst the main purpose of the proposed personal welfare accounts would be for retirement saving, they could also provide cover for when times are tough during periods of short-term unemployment, sickness and parental leave.

It reads like Daily Mail dogma to me.

The report reviews Britain’s National Insurance system and
proposes that it be replaced by compulsory “personal welfare

accounts.”

The introduction of personal insurance schemes would mark the end of welfare provision as we know it. Furthermore, those least likely to be able to afford the premiums are those most at risk of losing their jobs.

The Tories fully intended that the welfare “reforms” were the beginning of the end of our welfare state. The welfare cuts were ushered in strictly because of the despotic use of “financial privilege” by Cameron to bypass the widespread and vehement opposition to the Bill.

At the time, such was my dismay at the proposed welfare “reform” Bill that I emailed the entire House of Lords, imploringly. After using a reasoned approach, my second email simply said: the welfare reforms must not happen. Many of the peers and members replied, and many responded with “agreed.” But Cameron made the “reforms” happen anyway and apparently felt no obligation to observe the niceties of democratic process.

The Tories clearly have no intention of ensuring a safety net for citizens and have plotted to dismantle our welfare state since the Thatcher era. This is a long-planned outcome for the Tories. Social security and public services are in serious jeopardy.

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 those in need 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 anti-humanist, anti-enlightenment demagoguery of rigid class division, and policies that engineer steep social stratification, tend to create ghettoes, not communities.

The paternalism of traditional Tories and the authoritarianism of the current 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.

Conservative small-state ideology has led to depopulated social policies, which have dehumanised people, and indicate that the Tory policy-makers see the public as objects of their policies, and not as human subjects.

The moralising scrutiny and control 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 and rationality. Tories really are stuck in the Feudal era. They have never liked the idea of something for everyone, yet everyone has paid for welfare provision:

“The [financial] 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.

Cameron was never sceptical of neoliberalism: like Thatcher, he has extended it without restraint. Neoliberalism entails a charismatic ideology – what sociologist Pierre Bourdieu calls a doxa: an unquestionable orthodoxy that operates as if it were the objective truth – that facilitates an uncompromising attack on public welfare; inevitable, growing inequality, and the individualization of all social actions, all in the name of private “enterprise”, the accummulation of private wealth for a minority and “global competitiveness.”

Unsurprisingly, then, unemployment, inequality, and poverty are increasingly blamed on the individuals experiencing these conditions rather than on the structural constraints that create the conditions.

We are being turned away from the role of the community and instead our attention is being purposefully diverted and re-focused solely on the “responsibilities” of individuals (and those responsiblities are inversely proportional to how much wealth a person has), common social values such as cooperation, mutual support, reciprocal altruism are being eroded, and the interdependent and intersubjective nature of social life is flatly denied: mutual relationships and common bonds are being dissolved and replaced by a social Darwinist narrative – founded on the mantra of competitive individualism.

The policies, practices and irrational beliefs of the state are distorting the perceptions of social groups and individuals, the colonisation of public language and space with neoliberal narratives – facilitated by a largely complicit media – delivers a distinctive anti-rationalist epistemology that restructures public ontological understandings.

Those understandings have become profoundly anti-collectivist and increasingly, antisocial, ultimately undermining social cohesion, stability and social security.

___


Related

The welfare debate and the end of reason

The welfare state – can we afford it?

Can we afford the welfare state?

Britain can still afford the welfare state

We can’t afford to lose the welfare state.

Images 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.

537138_298121333590735_348384495_n (1)
Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.