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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Con-Dem-Nation!


Con-Dem Coalition.


"There is not going to be a Liberal Democrat government after the election. There is either going to be a Conservative government or a Labour government" said George Osborne, known in certain circles as "Boy George" and "Oik", during the Chancellors debate on Channel 4. In retrospect that statement seems ironic, as we are now living under a coalition government. After nearly a week of waiting for Nick Clegg to take a side, we have seen the Liberal Democrats finally take the side of the Conservative Party. All hopes of a "Rainbow Coalition" were dissolved and Gordon Brown resigned bringing the era of 'New Labour' to an end at last. Now we wait to see who will seize the leadership of the Labour Party, many see David Miliband as the future of the party. But more importantly, we wait to see what might come out of this Lib-Con Coalition. All we know at this point is that David Cameron will be Prime Minister and Nick Clegg will be his deputy, Osborne has been given the role of Chancellor and Vince Cable will be at his side throughout this coalition government.


It has been argued a lot recently that the presence of liberals in the predominantly Tory cabinet could function to bring the Conservatives to more moderate positions. This vision of a moderate, or even progressive government headed up by David Cameron, is adhered to by well-known figures from both sides of the political spectrum. Melanie Phillips and Billy Bragg being two examples of this. Phillips being representative of the reactionary media that hate single-parent families but are insistently laissez-faire on economic issues. Bragg being representative of the socially liberal and anti-capitalist left. This view of the government is a convergence of the optimism of the Left and the pessimism of the Right. But what should be remembered is that this government is still dominated by Conservatives and liberals have a history of compromising. So it could be that the Conservatives will "escort" the Liberal Democrats further to the Right with ease and without force. In this sense it is more of a Con-Dem Coalition as opposed to a Lib-Con Coalition, as it will be David Cameron swinging the "big stick".

It is also commonly believed that the Conservative Party of today is now far more liberal, moderate and centrist than the Conservatives of the 1980s and 1990s. However, it should be noted that the Tories have remained roughly in the same place on the political spectrum since 1982, back when Thatcherism was in it's infancy. The fact that since 1979 the share of GDP that workers have received in wages has gone into decline. Inequality has increased rapidly and we are now more unequal than we were over 30 years ago. This would mean that the Conservatives still stand for the contradictory prescription of business-orientated individualism and reactionary moralising about permissive society. This is reflected by David Cameron's opposition to the repeal of Section 28 and the accusations he made of the Labour Party for doing so. These accusations included the strange charge of "promoting" homosexuality. While at the same time, the Conservatives under Cameron have actively pushed for greater deregulation and less taxation of the financial sector. Thus, it seems unlikely that the workers' share of GDP will increase under this government.


Although it is true that modern conservatism has more in common with classical liberalism, which it once opposed, than with the conservatives of past centuries or even those prior to 1979. As traditionally, conservatives saw society as the major importance, they usually aimed to maintain the order of society by preserving traditions and a "natural hierarchy". Whereas, Thatcher declared famously that "There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families." The aim of the Thatcherites was not the preservation of society, but to transform society into a loose arrangement of individuals pursuing their own self-interested goals. To accomplish this, the Conservative Party smashed trade unions and "liberated" the financial sector from regulation, as they left manufacturing and mining to rot. Though, at the same time they opposed Gay Rights in a bid to maintain the "moral fabric" of society - the very thing they actively decimated. There is a clear clash between the liberal economic policies and the reactionary social policies of the Conservative Party. The impact on society of such policies are largely divisive and destructive. Sadly, the Party has not changed very much since.


Breakfast in the "Big Society".


The fact that David Cameron has latched onto the communitarian rhetoric does not change the true nature of the Conservative Party and merely disguises it. For Cameron the rhetoric of was probably just something to fill the void that was left by the premature death of compassionate conservatism. Though the rhetoric, specifically for the "Big Society", has won the endorsement of Phillip Blond, a self-proclaimed "Red Tory" who advocates a radical communitarian brand of conservatism. Cameron's stated plan to build a "Big Society" by encouraging social responsibility, charities, voluntary groups and community action. It is intended to help tackle some of the most stubborn social problems, which are not listed on the Conservative website for some reason. Though on closer inspection it appears that Tory policy is in no way "red" and has very little relation to Blond's brand of progressive conservatism at all. The stated aim of which is to deliver power, property and purpose to the kind of communities that have been disenfranchised by the politics of the last 30 years. It is more likely that the Conservative Party of today are still pursuing the utopia that the Thatcherites had in mind in 1979.


We have the council of Hammersmith and Fulham, which is dominated by "compassionate conservatives" like Stephen Greenhalgh, to hold up as an example of what to expect from the Conservative Party of today. The council has been praised by David Cameron and has been described as a "model" for the new government by George Osborne. As part of a campaign to lower taxes and shrink the size of the state, the Conservative councillors have slashed services that might benefit the homeless, the mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly. One of the first acts by the Conservative-dominated council was the selling off of 12 homeless shelters to large property developers, as part of a crackdown on the homeless who are regarded as a "law and order issue". The council altered the rules so that people had to "prove" they were "sufficiently" homeless before they could even enter a shelter. The Conservative councillors are now housing half the number of homeless people that their Labour predecessors were prior to 2006. As a result, the council have been able to cut council tax by 3%.


A return to home-care charging was also an aspect of Tory policy in the borough, this is literally a throwback to the most inhumane aspects of Thatcherism. Charges for most services have been increased by the council, including meals on wheels and childcare which has been increased by over 120%. Worryingly, Michael Gove's plans to top-up fees for nursery places could be an emulation of the council's policy. So the logic of the "Big Society" appears to be, roll back the state and volunteers will emerge to provide the services that the state will no longer. It looks as though in the "Big Society" a lot of people are going to be fobbed off onto "social enterprises, charities and voluntary groups" - who will struggle to substitute for the cuts to public services. The Conservatives should know better than this, as it was Adam Smith who believed that charity was an insufficient means of resolving the issue of poverty. This notion of a "Big Society" is public-relations at its most deceptive. Calling on "people power" and volunteerism is a smokescreen for cuts to public services that will make life a lot harder for the majority of people and no doubt further social deprivation.


But it is not just public services that are under threat by this new Con-Dem Coalition, as we have seen Stephen Greenhalgh actively push for the systematic demolition of council estates that he regards as "concentrations of deprivation". A specific target being White City Estates, the land of which has increased in value since the opening of Westfield London. The aim being to replace these communities with "decent communities" of people earning over £60,000 a year. The Mayor of London soon came to the "rescue" and raised the number to £72,000. The council also aims to subject rent to the volatile forces of the market. All in all this looks to be a policy of forcing the poor out of the borough. Though if David Cameron adopts this policy it will become national policy and, just like Thatcher, Cameron will push more poor people out of areas of highly valuable land. The only appropriate description of this is accumulation by dispossession. Greenhalgh has already stopped building new council houses and is currently looking for council estates to sell off to property developers.


Of course, the intentions of the coalition are known in the business community. Despite the Hooverite enthusiasm the Conservatives have shown for spending cuts, they do want to "incentivise" business. "Incentivise" being a euphemism for tax-cuts for the wealthy combined with further deregulation. The loss in tax revenue will be made up for with the funds accumulated as a  result of cuts from spending on public services. There has been no mention of this, even as hundreds of businesses flocked to support David Cameron. Not that rich white men supporting rich white men has ever been a surprise to anyone. The prescription of tax-cuts, regardless of the social costs, is not surprising either. Another buzzword recently churned out of the Tory spin-machine is that of the "Great Ignored". It belongs to that category of manipulative vacuity, like the "Big Society" and "One World Conservatism". It's an attempt to evoke Middle England, just like Brown's "hard-working majority". Neither of the terms are used by politicians who intend to turn away from the political orthodoxy of Thatcherism. The truly "Great Ignored" will remain ignored, unless the political class and the economic institutions are changed radically.

Significant Links:
Rise of the Red Tories
Red Tory: The Future of Progressive Conservatism?
Welcome to Cameron Land
The Conservative Party - the Big Society 
The Liberal Democrat Surrender 
Post-Question Time Clarifications 
Principles for Social Housing Reform

2 comments:

helen said...

Josh - I agree wholeheartedly with your argument. I really like the link between the national and the local and the analysis of the language used by these 'rich white men' to disguise their real agenda.

The phrase describing the likely outcome of the coalition: the Cons 'escorting the Libs to the right' is nicely put and precisely what is going to happen but the process will be dressed up as something else, of course.

Joshua White said...

Hi Helen,tThanks for reading, I'm glad you liked the article.

How far the coalition may go in cutting off public services to those who need them most is what concerns me most. Especially, the social housing reforms Greenhalgh is "pitching" to Cameron at the moment and unsettling rumours that policies might be modelled on the Republican attempts to drive poor people out of New York City in the 1990s. Though, if the coalition is depraved enough to attempt to dismantle social housing there will be backlash as so many are reliant on the system.