Back in 2010, when this nightmare government came to power, David Cameron insisted that ‘austerity’ was a temporary response to the national emergency of ‘the deficit’ in a time of generalised economic crisis caused by the Coalition’s predecessors.
We were told lots of other things as well: that the Coalition’s cabinet of millionaires was moved by a ‘practical desire to sort out this country’s problems, not by ideology’; that we were ‘ all in it together’; that there had to be some pain before gain; that we were all part of something called the ‘big society’ and we would all help each other out in difficult times, and it would all come good in the end.
Only a few months ago Lord Snooty told the Tory Conference that he would have liked to avoid cuts if there were an ‘easier way’, but it was just one of those hard choices that public servants had to make to get us out the mess we’re in.
Yesterday these lies were finally laid to rest, when His Lordship told the Lord Mayor’s Banquet of his intention to create a ‘leaner, more efficient state’ in the longterm. Resplendent in a white tie and red poppy, and reading from a gold lectern and flanked by an astonishing array of golden decorations like a pasty-faced King Midas, Cameron of Bullingdon told the nation:
‘We are sticking to the task. But that doesn’t just mean making difficult decisions on public spending. It also means something more profound. It means building a leaner, more efficient state. We need to do more with less. Not just now, but permanently.’
This less-than-surprising message was justified, as you might expect, by references to ‘efficiency’ and ‘the taxpayer’ – as though every ‘taxpayer’ was the same, and every attempt to make the state ‘leaner’ miraculously equates with greater efficiency.
It was laced with barbed references to those who have criticized the disastrous social impact of the Coalition’s benefits cuts, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, who was sitting to his left – physically and politically. His Lordship attacked the idea that the state should ‘ spend more and more taxpayers’ money’ to ensure that ‘ capable people are paid to stay idle and out of work.’
Showing the deft wit for which he is justifiably famous, he said that ‘ I hope the Archbishop of Canterbury will forgive me for saying – it’s not robbing Peter to pay Paul, but rather robbing Peter to pay Peter.’
Yes it’s good to have a laugh now and then, especially when you are spewing populist reactionary bile. Cameron would clearly love to have written on his tombstone ‘he really loved the taxpayer’ – even though the welfare system that his government is intent on dismantling provides a safety net to many of these same taxpayers when things go wrong and they can’t work or pay taxes.
But these aren’t the taxpayers that Lord Snooty is concerned about. When he says ‘we’ need to do more with less, he actually doesn’t include himself and his class within the first personal plural. When he talks about making the state ‘leaner’ he means stripping away the last vestiges of public ownership in the interests of private corporations and companies who will turn public services into a source of profit.
He means destroying the whole concept of public service, and replacing it with ‘capitalism classes’ in schools that will foster ‘that typically British, entrepreneurial, buccaneering spirit.’
He is, in short, exactly what he once said he wasn’t; a pampered free market ideologue, who all along has used the crisis as an opportunity to do things that Tory governments have wanted to do for a long time, and restructure British society in the interests of the rich and powerful, in pursuit of a fantasy capitalist utopia where the ‘invisible hand of the market’ determines everything.
The other side of that utopia is social cruelty to make a Victorian blush, spreading poverty, the slow decay of public services, low-waged temporary jobs and zero contracts, labour flexibility, food banks, victimization of the disabled, the unemployed, migrants and asylum seekers.
Whatever it takes, in other words, to make us ‘leaner’ and ‘more efficient.’
And that is why we need to wake up to the lies that we have been told, and put this government onto the trash heap of history, where it truly belongs.