Cameron’s Magical Time Machine
“This isn’t how a great nation was built. Britannia didn’t rule the waves with arm-bands on.” David Cameron 5 October 2011
Brilliant stuff, right? Evocative, inspiring, witty. Also, inaccurate.
I apologise for robbing you, dear reader, of this romantic illusion, but Britannia was wearing arm-bands; great big ones. On her left arm she was buoyed by slavery and the oppression of the working classes at home; on her right the exploitation of subjugated colonies abroad.
And, ultimately, this is what Cameron’s blueprint for our future requires a return to. He said recently in Europe “Some of my fellow leaders complain that it’s all about markets and speculators, but none of us are proposing to change the market system.” But that system can only function when sitting on a cushion of human misery. Cameron’s ideas do not look to the future. They sigh with nostalgia towards a Dickensian past.
Don’t believe me? Read on.
As philanthropic efforts, backed up by lavish outlay, have failed to deal effectually with our existing pauperism, and its many resulting evils, I would suggest that the causes of such imperfect success, and also of the widespread poverty which at present affects such large classes, might generally be regarded as coming under the following heads:
(1) The fact that money or its equivalent is often too inconsiderately given under the name of charity, that thrift, foresight, self-reliance and self-respect are positively discouraged.
(2) The frequent misdirection and misappropriation of funds subscribed for definite benevolent purposes. Amounts much larger than necessary are in many cases applied to working expenses, payments to officials, and sometimes to more unwarrantable purposes.
(3) The want of thrift so noticeable in the lower working classes.
(4) The prevailing tendency of the poor to contract early and imprudent marriages.
(5) The gambling tendency rapidly spreading amongst the lower orders.
(6) The universal tendency to drink, owing to obsence of moral self-control, amongst the very poor, who find the public-houses, always in evidence, a ready temptation, and drink the only solace for a dreary and monotonous life.
(7) The prevalence and tyranny of trade-unionism, which is driving our industries to foreign lands and driving our artisans out of work.
(8) Foreign competition.
It may surprise you to know that the above extract comes from an article entitled “Social Parasites” in the Westminster Review of 1904. In what way is this different from current Government dictate?
Cameron said in yesterday’s PMQs that “every job that is lost is a tragedy”. As if some magical fairy made jobs disappear. As if it is not Cameron himself, aided by his LibDem enablers, that has sacked hundreds of thousands of public servants since he came into power. Nobody cares. The real crime is to be anti-business (a charge levelled at the Labour party with clockwork regularity), but perfectly fine to be anti-public sector. Here is a paradox for you, though: the public sector is the biggest buyer of goods, the biggest procurer of services, the biggest contractor of businesses. To be fervently against the public sector is anti-business.
The narrative being spun is that the previous administration is to blame for any given country’s current woes. And not only by the Tories here, but by politicians worldwide whether they lean to the left or right. It is easy – it is a way of avoiding responsibility for anything negative while accepting the laurels for any recovery. And further afield too, the same applies. Greece is to blame for the Euro-crisis. The Euro-crisis is to blame for the UK’s downturn. China is to blame for the USA’s troubles. The Middle East – well, the Middle East is to blame for everything. For under their hot, arid land, there’s fuel.
And all the while, the tiny detail being slowly, but surely, erased is who was actually to blame for all of it: A greedy, unregulated financial sector that loaned easily, gambled hard, risked recklessly and then demanded our money to pay for their folly.
We are living under a male, white, straight, plutocracy. The Huffington Post commented on the cabinet, quite rightly, “No Blacks, Jews or Gays Need Apply”. This is a cabinet that includes 23 millionaires among 30 senior posts. In the same 30 senior posts, it includes four women (one woman less than it does men from Oxford, Magdalen). One of the women is unelected and the only member of an ethnic minority. The expanded cabinet of junior ministers includes twelve women out of 96 posts. The only “out” gay member of the original cabinet committed fraud to try and hide his sexuality and resigned after a week.
No wonder they gaze lovingly towards the Victorian period and the romantic notion of “Britannia”. A rosy time when Cameron could legitimately tell Emmeline Pankhurst, chained on the railings outside Downing Street, to “calm down dear” without having to apologise four months later. A gentle, parasol-shaded era, when looking after the disadvantaged, the broken and the elderly was charity rather than welfare – perfectly encapsulated in his ideas on The Big Society and his dismantling of the NHS. A century frilled with lace, when Travellers could be evicted without recourse to the Human Rights Act – because, after all, Dale Farm is nothing but “a black, dilapidated street, avoided by all decent people; where the crazy houses were seized upon… Now these tumbling tenements contain, by night, a swarm of misery… vermin parasites, in maggot numbers” to borrow Dickens’ description of a Gipsy tribe in “Bleak House”.
In 1848 Lord Ashley referred to more than thirty thousand “naked, filthy, roaming lawless and deserted children, in and around the metropolis“. More than a century and a half later, we get news that child poverty is set to soar to 3.1 million by 2020. But it’s OK – the Coalition have a plan for the future. But would it surprise you to know that Cameron’s and Gove’s ideas on education are the antiquated musings of Robert Lowe, who insisted on schools receiving “payment by results” when he took over at the Education Office in 1859 and spoke of the “rigor and high academic standards” which public schools could bring to state ones?
They chant, like a mantra, “you cannot borrow your way out of a debt crisis” and at the same time tear their hair out on why banks are not lending and SMEs are not borrowing more. They promote tax-cuts for the rich, because “the money would come straight back into the economy”. Is the same not true of benefits and public sector worker salaries? That money will come straight back into the economy, too – even more certainly. Few dole scroungers have Cayman Island bank accounts, after all. Few civil servants have wives in Monaco. They talk of ordinary people needing to be more responsible with money, while the Conservative Party’s accounts for 2010 show that they are overdrawn to the tune of £700k and have loans in excess of £13m. So what’s the difference? The banker knows they’re good for it – they wear the same school tie. What’s sauce for the goose, is most definitely not sauce for the gander.
So why were we surprised by the summer riots? The latest unemployment figures show that Tottenham is the area hardest hit by unemployment in the capital – 29% to be precise. That’s almost one in three people. Now, I can see that statistic as a coincidence and just accept Cameron’s facile “criminality, pure and simple” explanation, or Clarke’s “feral underclass” flourish. Or there is something to this stark warning from 1886 by Frederik Douglass:
“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.“
And if there is one thing that the riots and subsequent hysteria proved, it is that justice is denied. I sit there listening to Cameron talk of giving Andy Coulson a magnanimous second chance. Listening to him ask for patience and moderation so that Dr Liam Fox is afforded Natural Justice. He has after all apologised for behaving foolishly and nothing really happened. While two kids are sentenced to four years in prison for saying the wrong thing on Facebook (nothing really happened from that either). The only real difference is that one act was committed by a man in a suit and the other by a boy in a hoodie. What moral authority does this Government have to preach, when at every possible opportunity it displays ethics that would raise eyebrows at a Borgias orgy?
Americans are not a traditionally socialist nation and yet they are staging mass protests. They’re occupying Wall Street. And why shouldn’t they? Have a look at the following chart documenting salaries in the financial sector versus all other private sector jobs:
Not that you’d know about the protests in the States by watching the News; a paralysing fear of contagion being the only logical reason for the lack of reporting.
Because, you see, the idea that the quarrel is not between Greece and Slovakia, not between the National and the Immigrant, not between the Christian and the Muslim is a very dangerous one. If one were to latch onto the notion that the fight is between the Rich and the Not-So, everything begins to come into sharp focus. Because once you accept this basic truth, the answer to the question “who does the current government represent?” is painfully obvious. Because poverty is not a sign of failure in the current system; it is its necessary by-product.
So, we have two choices: Either wise up and fight them at every possible front (and be clear about why we’re fighting them) or… Gentlemen grab your coal shovels. Ladies put your bonnets on.
with a massive "thank you" to The Cat's Meatshop for the Victorian reference that got me started.