Tag Archives: Tory manifesto

What the Tory pitch is really saying

All three party manifestos favour handing more power to the public.   But underneath the populist rhetoric there’s a very different story of their real intentions.   Labour retains the public sector model, but links it with a federated framework for schools and police forces and a hint of interventionism in industry.    The Lib Dems (or the Dim Libs as my secretary calls them in Oldham) combine people power with tax reform and redistribution.   The Tories however have a very different agenda once you look at the small print.
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The Tories at last recognise their big problem

  1. So we’re all in it together, as the tories keep repeating.   When Osborne first declared this ( repeatedly) at the tory party conference, my first reaction was that this was a barely veiled attempt to slough off the banks’ multi-billion crimes of recklessness on to the rest of us, and notably the public sector in terms of pay cuts and massive loss of jobs.   Whilst that is obviously true, I think a deeper significance in this praying in aid the rest of us is now becoming clear.

The new tory mantra is now ‘There is such a thing as society, but it is not the same as the state’.    Well, maybe it’s good to see Mrs. Thatcher’s political cadaver finally dead and buried, but it’s not as simple as that.   You really can’t continue to say that everyone should look after himself or herself, that individualism is rampant, that markets are about maximizing self-interest, and then say, as the tories repeatedly did at their Battersea Power Station send-off yesterday, that we need ‘national effort’, ‘new economic models’ (so capitalism or neo-liberalism won’t do any more – tory shock horror!), and ‘collective endeavour’.

So how are the tories managing this ideological gymnastics?    By making a distinction between the State and the ‘Big Society’ (whatever that is).   But then what’s the point of this distinction (if, that is, you can understand it)?   The real point here is that the tories have been brought, reluctant and sullen, to recognise that social, not to say collective, responsibility is a key ingredient in any half-decent and civilised society.   If society is broken, as Cameron keeps on insisting, it’s because of the Thatcherite onslaught in favour of unabashed selfishness.

The other problem the Tories have is with the other side of the equation.   Between gritted teeth they’ll admit that action to limit the huge downsides of Britain’s unadulterated class system is needed, but they don’t want the State involved at any cost.   Partly that’s because they’ve always wanted to shrink the State, to reduce their own taxes, but even more it’s because the State is the one effective instrument of making sure things actually happen.   Leave it to Lady Bountiful, leave it to charity (preferably with some nice tax breaks), leave it to voluntary activity, and we can just do our token bit for the lower classes.   Without the State there is no enforcement, no assurance of outcomes, just a tingling of the charitable impulse, but never enough to be anything like affective.

Now wonder the Tories are in a conceptual mess.   Neo-liberal selfishness has run its course, they’ve been forced to see the need for social action, but the one thing they’ll never concede is a strong State which alone can make that social action effective.

Cameron: power to the people. Really?

So the Tories are inviting the public to jointhe Government of Britain and pledge to hand power to the people.   Where exactly do they think power is located in Britain today?

The most powerful institution in Britain today – more powerful than the Government itself as the recent banking crisis has clearly shown – is the financial sector concentrated in the City of London.   Is there a single word in the 130-page Tory manifesto about curbing that power?   No.

The next most powerful institution is the media, symbolised by Murdoch and his chilling grip on a large part of Britain’s so-called ‘free press’ (anything but free if he has anything to do with it).   Do the Tories have anything in their manifesto about creating a genuinely free press, one that legitimately represents the plurality and diversity in British society today?    Not if they can help it.

And the third really powerful institution is the industrial lobby, headed the CBI and the colossal trans-national mega-corporations who with their industrial and financial muscle are able to get their way by whatever mix of monopoly market power, threats and intimidation, and where necessary corruption fits the circumstances of the moment.   Is that overweening power going to be democratised by the Tories?   You needn’t tell me.

What we’re actually offered for this grandiose claim by the Tories is:

*  referendums on local issues if 5% of the population sign up (but why not on national matters which is where the real power lies?),

*  plans for public sector co-ops (but who controls the money?),

*  and a re-write of Thatcher’s property-owning democracy by permanently raising the stamp duty threshold to £250,000 for first-time buyers (but if house-building has collapsed to its lowest level for almost a century, this won’t extend choice, it will merely force up prices still further).

That’s like, when there’s a tsunami brewing on the horizon, playing sand-castles on the beach.   It’s shadow-boxing, not the politics of real power.