I was surprised to hear George Osborne inviting his party and the nation to ‘choose the future’ yesterday. It isn’t just because Trainspotting isn’t the most obvious text for a chancellor to refer to when making a major policy speech. I’ve always thought of the chancellor as a ghastly apparition from a more distant England that was once ruled by men like Judge Jeffries, Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth.
Physically, his face is the very image of a certain kind of aristocratic cruelty and hauteur. It’s just too easy to imagine him in the Georgian era in a powdered whig and two little spots of rouge, sending some child pickpocket to Australia for stealing a gentleman’s handkerchief say, or pausing to evict a starving family from his estates while galloping through the woodlands for a debauch at the Hellfire Club.
Cameron still pays lip service to the notion of ‘compassionate Conservatism’ even if his policies are about as compassionate as a rattlesnake’s bite. Osborne doesn’t even bother. More than any other Tory minister, he seems to visibly relish his mindnumbingly vicious pronouncements. His smile always seems on the brink of a sneer. His eyes gleam with malice, and his lips seem to twist and curl themselves into disturbing shapes as he spits out his proposals, like a villain announcing his evil plans to the audience at a Christmas pantomime.
Except that the Tory delegates don’t boo and hiss. They love him. They sit back and let his cruelty wash over them, rolling over like pussycats as he strokes their bellies with another turn of the screw. A two-year benefit freeze for 18-24 year olds? Yesss. Cuts in tax credits,child benefit and jobseekers allowance? Oohh baby. Punish the working poor and make the poor even poorer? Stop it Georgie, stop I tell you, because it’s all so wrong but it feels so good.
No wonder he got a standing ovation. Osborne announced all this looking happier and more cheerful than he has done since he was photographed dancing to Spandau Ballet with Miss Whiplash back in the 80s. And he might as well have delivered his speech wearing spike heels and a leotard, because ‘toughness’ appears to have had the same stimulatative and invigorating effect on him that his dominatrix once achieved through other means, even if it doesn’t actually become him.
But then this kind of politics doesn’t really become anyone, because what Osborne is proposing is shameful and disgusting. Remember, only a few weeks ago the newspapers were pontificating about the ‘ugly side’ of Scots nationalism, and ‘together’ became a feelgood word to match ‘kumbaya’ or maybe coca-cola?
Back then Cameron also talked about the shape of things to come. In his keynote speech defending the Union he condemned the SNP for failing to offer an ‘optimistic vision’ of the future and he exhorted Scots to ‘Vote No – and you are voting for a bigger and broader and better future for Scotland and you are investing in the future for your children and grandchildren.’
Yesterday his Chancellor outlined what that ‘broader and better future’ actually means: the endless lie of ‘austerity’; the victimisation and persecution of the poor; the naked exploitation of the young, who are to be driven into a succession of low-paid temporary jobs or years of debt – and all this dressed up with a fake moral committment to ‘fairness.’
And there’s a lot more to come. ‘ Extremism Asbos’; plastic cards instead of cash for jobseekers; wars abroad and the normalisation and institutionalisation of inequality at home – that’s the future that Lord Snooty and His Pals are now offering to the nation, which so many Scots rejected.
All this is bleak, grim, and very, very ugly indeed, and it’s not at all what Cameron was offering the Scots when he begged them to stay. If he had, they almost certainly would not have ‘chosen the future.’
And I have to say that after careful consideration, I’ve decided not to choose it either. If I look forward to anything that Toryland has to offer, it’s the prospect of the Tory party ripping itself to shreds as it tries to make itself even nastier than Ukip, until it becomes so utterly revolting that even the English cannot stomach it any longer, and finally remember that, like the Scots, they have the capacity to build a different kind of future that will wipe the smirk of George Osborne’s pampered face.