It’s a sure sign of what depths the Conservative Party has sunk to that George Osborne now believes the best way to cut the deficit is through further welfare cuts. The last five years of a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition saw swingeing cuts to all public services, but especially the welfare bill, which is symbolic of all that Tories despise about the state. It fosters complacency, laziness, it undermines self-reliance, frugality and discipline, and more than anything else, it is bloated beyond all belief.
Although this is no doubt a convenient lie for winning elections, as it plays to the usual Thatcherite antics of turning workers and against shirkers (divide and rule, etc); but a lie it so inconveniently remains. Osborne managed very modest savings from the welfare bill in the last parliament, despite offloading a huge amount of pain and suffering onto very vulnerable people. Because he continues to believe the farce he believed when he first entered the Treasury: that there are simply millions of lay-about benefit fraudsters draining the public purse for their hedonistic lifestyles. This is a nonsense.
Firstly, half of the welfare bill goes to pensioners. Because Gideon relies on these to vote for him on polling day, he has not attacked them, and did in fact increase the money going to pensioners by £4.6 billion from 2014-2015. The only other action he took on pensions was to liberalise them, and give people control over their own pension pots (yet another example of a free-market idea which has unpleasant ramifications in the real world, as more and more people are getting swindled out of their savings by fraudsters). The rest of the welfare bill goes to things like housing benefit, job seekers allowance, and of course tax credits.
Now contrary to Gideon and company’s deeply held believe that thousands are either pretending to be disabled or are not trying hard enough to get a job: neither is true. Job seekers allowance is a relatively small portion of the welfare budget compared to the things that Osborne finds electorally useful, and the few available examples of benefit fraud are blown out of all proportion by the right-wing media. This is the reason Gideon has struggled to make savings before, and the reason that his insistence on trying again leaves me perplexed and angry.
I’m coming round to the belief that David Cameron is truly a One Nation Tory (bear with me). He is a pragmatic and unideological conservative, which is usually a recipe for good government. But his ideology (as vague as it might be) is informed by some simple, unspoken Thatcherite assumptions, which his very privileged and narrow upbringing never forced him to question. A Britain of food banks and benefit sanctions isn’t one he understands, cares about or is even really aware of; his actions are guided by the unquestioned assumption that the wealth creators will save us all. Here he is different from George Osborne, whose caesaresque manner and austere fiscal conservatism have been balanced by the needs of economic reality. In the middle of the last parliament, when it became clear that austerity wasn’t working, and was indeed a violation of common-sense economics, as well as basic morality, he essentially stopped cutting. But he never showed it. He allowed himself to be carried along by the helpful narrative that he had created: that labour’s profligacy was the problem, and he was the hero cleaning up the mess.
Osborne is a Whig: he cares for strivers, individual freedom, free markets, and striving market individuals . He is not a true conservative in any sense of the word. The intermediary institutions that conservatism was born to conserve, protect and defend mean nothing to him; which might explain the willingness with which he takes a meat cleaver to Britain’s social fabric. He doesn’t believe there is any such thing as the social fabric: his view of society is one of atomised individuals, all striving to shaft each other as part of the Greenback bogey- which to his mind is a natural law, not a social construct which evolved in the 16th century.
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that poverty, inequality and low pay are serious problems in modern Britain, but it takes a special kind of Thatcherite douche-bag to think that the solution to the state subsidising low paying corporations is to punish their workers. At least, in the words of Amber Rudd, they are being “consistent”. Because punishing disabled people for the recklessness and greed of an international banking elite never gets old.