All political parties are coalitions but currently none more so than the parliamentary Conservative party. Many of the divisions centre on George Osborne, as Rafael Behr suggests:
‘Frustration is growing across government at Osborne’s imperial reach… As the Chancellor’s reputation as a strategist has collapsed, his reliance on a young sidekick to run the Treasury has fuelled charges of arrogance and complacency. They are seen as a double act, obsessed with political machination and uninformed about life on the front line of austerity.’ (1)
So what sort of people make up the 2012 Conservative party? What are their values and principles?
Back in 1872, Disraeli, as Tory leader, spoke passionately about the need for the state to intervene to help the poor. Some suggest that Disraeli feared a British revolution… but in spite of grinding poverty for the 19th century majority, both David Cameron and Michael Gove have made no secret of their huge admiration, and desire to emulate, that Victorian period of Empire, entrepreneurship and philanthropy.
No wonder then, that Cameron was ‘stunned’ by Ed Miliband’s one nation coup. The phrase ‘One Nation’ derives from Disraeli’s novel Sybil, in which he described the rich and poor as:
“… two nations between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by different breeding, are fed by different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws”. (2)
Curiously, the co-existence of two separate societies is still relevant, albeit that the post-war welfare consensus, trade unions and employment legislation, transformed ordinary peoples’ lives for the better. Statistics, such as 158,000 families own 41m acres of UK, while 24 million families live on just 4m acres, clearly indicate that Disraeli’s two nations persist. But, if any doubts linger that this government comes from the ‘rich nation’ who are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws, there was Gategate … which ‘pulled aside the veil’ on the world-view of the elitist clique who currently have their hands on the levers of government.
Michael Meacher, the left-wing MP, writes of Andrew Mitchell’s outburst: ‘… his language was a wide-open revelation of the inner attitudes, normally kept firmly padlocked away until once ensconced in power, those born to rule can mete it out to the serfs physically, financially and power-wise. But the arrogance of this class, on both sides of the Atlantic, has reached such pinnacles that they cannot conceal their contempt, or they simply don’t care…. Some time this seething cauldron of ballooning inequality mixed with class contempt, will explode.’ (3)
Andrew Mitchell’s outburst also triggered a spate of revelations from Tory commentators like Janet Daley of the Telegraph.
“Time to tell the truth about the “nasty” party: as someone who has defended the Conservatives (or at least defended their arguments) for so many years, it is time to come clean. Tories can be bloody difficult to like. The Andrew Mitchell Debacle is not an uncharacteristic, deranged and inexplicable lapse. It is just an extreme example of the kind of attitude with which many people who circulate in this world are familiar.”
But this lack of respect is not just directed at the police and journalists, it seems to go to the very top of the party. Andrew Gimson in the New Statesman, says that he has been taken aback by the vehemence with which many Tories now dislike Cameron (4). One Tory MP is quoted as saying “He’s just no good with his backbenchers, just doesn’t want to give them the time of day…. He holds us in contempt.”
Given the palpable untruths of the Conservative election manifesto, what is their real agenda?
Cameron’s former guru Philip Blond, confides about the ruling Cameroonians:
“Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic are narrowing opportunity, concentrating wealth and protecting monopoly interests. The centre right has almost ceased to do majority politics. It defines national interest in terms of the already powerful and increasingly abandons the middle and lower classes to their fate. They are persuaded by past fictions that what is in the interest of the winners percolates to those below them. In short, conservatives are unknowingly creating an oligarchy, one which will make us all plebs.’
George Osborne’s agenda (as detailed in the Comprehensive Spending Review Oct. 2010) is to reduce spending on public services to below that of the US by 2015 . George Osborne is known to be obsessive about US politics, and it seems likely that he (or perhaps his 33y old chief economic advisor Rupert Harrison) are adapting the US Republican’s strategy of ‘Two Santas’ and ‘starving the beast of government’. That is to deliberately ‘crash the economy’.
‘Reagan rolled out Supply Side Economics in the early 80s, dramatically cutting taxes while exploding (mostly military) spending…. The budget deficit exploded and the country fell into a deep recession – the worst since the Great Depression…. they were “starving the beast” of government by running up such huge deficits that Democrats would never, ever in the future be able to talk again about national health care or improving Social Security (5)
In George Osborne’s case, he was able to argue that the economy had already ‘crashed’, by redefining (with media/LD collusion) the 2008 banking crisis into one of ‘irresponsible government over-spending’. Nevertheless, it is clear that, Osborne’s policies are successfully increasing the debt and so-called structural deficit, despite of all his protestations that he is trying to cut it. (6) This is no mistake. It is a sleight of hand, as identified by Ramesh Patel:
As an economist, an advocate of free market economics, a Conservative and a patriot I have been shocked and appalled by the unpatriotic and treacherous strategy pursued by this Conservative Party… they have acted treacherously against the country’s best interest via falsely knocking down the economy (the blame game) in a calculated manner on every media occasion since 2008. They have done this by gross misinformation and exaggeration of the real state of the economy prior to 2010 – even to The City and at Davos to international bankers… I tell you in all candour this blame game is designed deliberately to prolong and deepen the recession to justify austerity. Hence, providing the justification for a smaller state and future lower taxes. (7)
Unquestionably, it is the increase in public borrowing and debt, under George Osborne’s stewardship, which alarms the conventional ‘right-wing’ of the party. Inexplicably, they appear to have bought into the publicity spin of the Cameroonians, that this Government comprises centrist, metropolitan liberals. (Centrist! Economically, this government is so right wing that it makes Margaret Thatcher look like a ‘wet’!) The right-wing backbenchers recognise that Osborne is not cutting overall spending but seem to attribute this to his being an incompetent, metropolitan, centre leftist rather than devious and obsessed with political machination (1).
Disgraced ex-Tory minister, Liam Fox makes the typical complaint about the current direction of travel in constructing his argument for a shift.
‘…. we are over-borrowed, over-taxed and over-regulated. Spending must fall more steeply, not only to cut the deficit but to allow us to cut taxes in order to produce non-inflationary growth.… To paraphrase Ronald Reagan: we don’t have a deficit in Britain because we tax too little, but because we spend too much.… When we speak for the values we have championed, take pride in our history and our achievements, and when we offer opportunity for all our people – removing the dead hand of a bloated state from their shoulders – we win elections.’
But now, there is a new grouping, the ‘Free Enterprise Group’ who seem to be overt in broadcasting what has been hitherto hidden within Osborne’s agenda. Five of its members (Kwasi Kwarteng, Priti Patel, Dominic Raab, Chris Skidmore and Elizabeth Truss) have recently published a manifesto, ‘Britannia Unchained’, a blueprint of radical reforms. They blame welfare payments and the mindset of the poor for the UK’s appalling record on social mobility, suggest the need for much greater cuts and hint that the answer is the comprehensive demolition of the welfare system.
“Once they enter the workplace, the British are among the worst idlers in the world. We work among the lowest hours, we retire early and our productivity is poor.” The MPs claim the UK workforce should model itself on the workers of South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong, rather those in European nations – or watch living standards fall away.
George Monbiot protests:
I see these people as rightwing vanguardists, mobilising first to break and then to capture a political system that is meant to belong to all of us. Like Marxist insurrectionaries, they often talk about smashing things, about “creative destruction”, about the breaking of chains and the slipping of leashes. But in this case they appear to be trying to free the rich from the constraints of democracy. And at the moment they are winning.
Meanwhile, Tim Bale laments the virtual disappearance of the Tory left which has resulted in a Conservative party in parliament and a party in the media which borders on the delusional …
He looks back to the days, prior to Thatcherism when Tories considered ‘mass unemployment was not only economically irrational but morally indefensible. The welfare state and mixed economy was a necessary, even welcome corrective to market failure and trade unionism a power that needed channelling rather than crushing.’
But that Conservative party seems to be long gone. Gerry Hassan who charts the ‘Strange death of Tory England’ suggests that the future:
‘…holds the prospect of the Tories becoming a ‘zombie party’, more and more divorced from reality and shaped by its own partisan obsessions. This will entail embracing an unapologetic and dogmatic failed Anglo-American capitalism which does not deliver for most people, instead producing middle-class mass anxiety, widespread poverty and exclusion, and an entitlement culture in the super-rich…. In this they will be in the company of their cousins the US Republicans who have become prisoner to corporate finance and ideological zealots…The Tory future is one of very few members, atrophied grass root associations, and a professionalised, paid politics: the party reduced appropriately to an offshoot of Serco and G4S and the free market vandalism politics they have personified… This will be a politics for the City, by the City, funded by the City – a caricature of the measured Tory politics of the Macmillan and Home era – but the inevitable result of Thatcher and Cameron. (8)
In short (using the media’s rule of thumb for judging politicians) they do not sound like the sort of people that I would want to go for a drink with … but doubtless the feeling would be mutual.
(1) ‘The politics column’ New Statesman 5-11 October 2012 p 10
(4) ‘The man who would be king’ New Statesman 5-11 October 2012 p 25-29