Theresa May was due today to outline her vision of British society and her government’s overall strategy for reforming it. Today’s I newspaper carried an article by David Hughes, ‘PM’s ‘shared society’ vision to focus on those above welfare level’ laying out the expected contents of her speech. Commenters have already pointed out that her talk of a ‘shared society’ is just a scaled-down version of David Cameron’s Big Society. And that was just Cameron trying to use a phrase recalling the American ‘Great Society’ of Woodrow Wilson to justify a government strategy of more job cuts, privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state as idealism on the grounds that this would mean more people having to step in and surrender their efforts voluntarily to keep much of the infrastructure of a civilised society going. Like keeping libraries open, and food banks stocked, so that the victims of his government’s wretched welfare cuts only gradually starve to death on the streets.
And May’s statement that she intends to focus on those above welfare level actual gives the lie to all of the guff she spouts about ‘caring Conservatism’. She’s really not interested in the poor and those struggling to get by on benefit, but on those comfortably off, but are still finding it a struggle to get their children into the right school and so on. In other words, she’s targeting once again the Middle England so beloved of the Daily Mail .
And for all her talk about the days of laissez-faire individualism being over, this is basically just more of the same old, same old. It’s just another round of Thatcherism, dressed up in even more threadbare rhetoric. Thatcher’s ideal was that by ‘rolling back the frontiers of the state’, as she and her ghastly minions put it, private charity would step in to fill the vacuum left by the removal of state provision. And the people hitherto left dependent on the state would be transformed into sturdy, self-reliant citizens. It didn’t work, and the gradual destruction of the welfare state has resulted in massive and increasing poverty.
But let’s go through what the I reported May was going to say, and critique it. The article runs
Theresa May will insist the state has a significant role to play in helping to shape society as she sets out her vision to help people who are struggling to get by.
The Prime Minister will vow to tackle the “everyday injustices” faced by those who feel they have been ignored by West minster as part of her “shared society” vision.
Mrs May will use a speech in London today to mark a break from Conservative predecessors and argue previous administration focused too narrowly on the very poorest through the welfare system. People just above the welfare threshold felt the system was “stacked against them” she will argue.
Mrs May will say: “This means a Government rooted not in the laissez-faire liberalism that leaves people to get by on their own, but rather in a new philosophy that means Government stepping up.
“Not just in the traditional way of providing a welfare state to support the most vulnerable, as vital as that will always be.
“But in going further to help those who have been ignored by Government for too long because they don’t fall into the income bracket that makes them qualify for welfare support.”
Government and politicians need to “move beyond” the language of social justice and “deliver the change we need and build that shared society,” she will say.
“We must deliver real social reform across every layer of society, so that those who feel the system is stacked against them – those just above the threshold that attracts the Government’s focus today, yet those who are by no means rich – are given the help they need.
The PM will say her goal is to change the way the system works for those struggling to get by, facing challenges such as getting children into good schools or getting on the housing ladder.
“All too often in the past people have felt locked out of the political and social discourse.” (p. 7).
Now let’s deconstruct some of this rubbish. It’s pure Orwellian doubletalk, in which the words utter mean exactly the opposite of what they actually mean. I’ve already pointed out that ‘shared society’ is just her attempt to evoke the same imagery and idealism of Wilson’s ‘Great Society’, just as Cameron tried to do so with his shop-soiled talk about the ‘Big Society’. It’s also cribbed from all the rhetoric going round about insisting of ‘shared ‘British’ values’, to prevent ethnic minorities forming their own parallel societies. One important aspect of which is preventing Muslims from becoming radicalised and turning inwards against the host society.
Then there’s the issue of May’s talk about ‘help’. This does not mean what it usually does when Tories say it. Way back in the 1980s, whenever Thatcher cut welfare benefits, she justified this by piously intoning that it was more ‘self-help’. What she was doing was in reality no help at all, but she tried to make it sound virtuous and idealistic by saying that it was encouraging people to help themselves. Hence, whenever a Tory starts speaking about the help they’re going to offer, it means that in fact they’re going to cut the level of help currently available.
Her comments about her government not being rooted in laissez-faire individualism similarly have to be taken very carefully. It looks like she’s saying that her government will be more left-wing, in the same way that the Liberal party moved away from laissez-faire individualism in the 19th to embrace the first tentative movements towards the modern welfare state in the New Liberalism of the 1890s. But again, past history shows that this is not what is necessarily meant. The corporate state of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany were also reactions against laissez-faire capitalism, but from the Right, not the left. Modern corporatism, in which company directors and senior managers are given control of government departments and shaping government policy is also similarly a rejection of laissez-faire capitalism. In laissez-faire capitalism, the state is supposed not to concern itself with industry or the economy, except to act as nightwatchman to guard against crime and the emergence of monopolies. But neoliberalism is the precise opposite. It’s been described as ‘socialism for the rich’, in that the big corporations favoured by the government received vast subsidies and tax cuts. You think of the British rail network. Although private, we’re now giving it more money in subsidies than it received when it was nationalised. The Private Finance Initiative and Academy schools are also schemes for funneling taxpayers’ money into corporate coffers.
So when May opened her mouth to talk about her government not being ‘rooted in laissez-faire liberalism’, she was right, but meant the exact opposite of the way it sounded. It sounds left-wing, with help coming for the poor. But it actually means more money for the corporate rich.
If, indeed, she means anything by that at all. Six years or so ago I was reading a book by a British philosopher, who stated that neoliberalism had come to an end and that all the policies British governments had taken over from Milton Friedman and the thugs and illiterates of the Chicago School should be scrapped. Then, about three pages later, he was raving about how school voucher were a good idea and should be tried in Britain. School vouchers, in which the money the state would spend on a child’s education, are given in vouchers for the parents to spend on private schooling, is one of the neoliberal policies advocated by Friedman, and adopted by Pinochet’s Chile. The result has been more cuts, and the exclusion of people from poor backgrounds from higher education. This little example shows how, despite their verbiage trying to distance themselves from it, the Tory instinct is to promote privatisation, even while saying the complete opposite.
The claim that the Tories value the welfare state should also be treated with scepticism. They value it in the same way that Jeremy Hunt is passionate about the NHS. They’re profoundly against the welfare state. Thatcher wanted to dismantle it completely. Under her and John Major there was much talk of ending ‘welfare dependency’. Now they’ve realised that this type of rhetoric has had its day. Hence also the rhetoric adopted by Major of targeting help where it’s needed the most, and not wasting it on those not in need.
As for targeting that part of the population just above the welfare level, who are struggling isn’t anything new either. One of the issues regularly debated is the fate of those, who don’t quite qualify for state aid, who can be left worse off than those who receive it. And Tory rhetoric is also specifically directed at the embittered Middle England, who resent all the state aid going to those they don’t consider deserve it. Like single mothers, immigrants, the voluntarily unemployed, those fraudulently claiming disability benefit, and other benefit scroungers. As I said, May’s talk in this respect is directed to the type of people who read the Daily Mail, the Express and, indeed, the Scum. And in practice she’ll carry out the same shopworn policies of more privatisation, corporate control and cutting welfare benefits further. All on the pretext that this will help the middle income voters she wants to appeal to. For example, the Tories justified their attack on state education by claiming that the creation of schools outside the management of Local Education Authorities would provide parents with more ‘choice’ and raise standards through competition. Of course, it didn’t work, and their version of New Labour’s Academies collapsed. They also ended the system of catchment areas on the grounds that this would stop parents from being forced to send their children to failing schools. They would now have the opportunity to send their children to the school they wanted.
Now catchment areas were a real problem. I know many people in my part of Bristol, who did their level best to send their children to the local church schools because the local state comprehensive was terrible. But the removal of catchment has left the most popular schools oversubscribed, and so parents still face problems getting their children into them.
To sum up, May in her speech offers the usual deceptive Tory rhetoric and platitudes. She wants to sound nice and caring, but it really is just the nasty party doing business as usual. Only this time she has given something of a warning. She has said that she intends to focus on those above welfare level. Which means, stripped of her meaningless reassurances about the value of the welfare state, that those on benefits can expect no help at all.
Not that they ever could.
Don’t be deceived by May’s lies. Kick her, and the rest of her lying, vindictive pack out.
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