Monday, February 15, 2010
Yet we have a man who is an ardent royalist, an opponent of multiculturalism and immigration, a supporter of war and an Atlanticist, a supporter of cutting taxes on the rich (he is particularly moved by government impingement on the unearned inheritance of rich kids), a friend of Murdoch, an ally of the most ferociously reactionary forces in Europe, a supporter of increased restrictions on abortions, a fairly traditionalist proponent of marriage (married couples will get tax breaks), and the current high priest of the small state. His shadow chancellor is an unreformed Thatcherite and union-basher. His closest allies in the Conservative Party are neoconservatives. He has, when opportunity arose, engaged in some fairly obnoxious baiting of ethnic minorities, specifically Muslims. Himself a descendant of royalty and child of a City stockbroker who got his first job with the Tories on the recommendation of someone at Buckingham Palace, his front bench is stuffed with venal millionaires. And he's basing his campaign on a line about a "broken Britain" which channels the most socially authoritarian Victorian moralising.
This has involved, among other things, disingenuously talking up the violent crime rate and massively exaggerating the rate of pregnancies among disadvantaged minors by a factor of 10. This article at the Economist systematically demolishes, with some detailed statistical analysis, Cameron's arguments about "broken Britain". But the Tories won't fret too much if their claims are shown to be fraudulent. After all, crime is an issue very akin to immigration in the sense that you can talk it up, bluster, lie, bully, and create a general sensation of crisis and deluge, with the assistance of the scum British press. Then you can deflect criticism by contending that you are merely articulating popular concerns that have so far eluded politicians living in the Westminster bubble. So, they won't mind if the liberal papers point out their little fibs. What is important to note is the ideological basis of the Tories' arguments. This is how Blair Gibbs, a senior Tory analyst and Chief of Staff for Nick Herbert's shadow environment office, explains the problem [pdf]:
The problem is cultural. The root cause is a combination of changing philosophical ideas . . and the long-term fundamental decay of conservative ideas and institutions in Britain. This includes an historically unprecedented collapse of belief in marriage and a consequent epidemic of illegitimacy and unsocialised offspring who, contra the expectations of our post-war intelligentsia, have not justified the age-old hope of Rousseau (that the absence of restrictions on humans produces happy peace) but have instead illustrated the truth of Hobbes (that the absence of restrictions on humans produces violence and despair.) The consequence of this collapse is welfare dependency, a rise in violent crime . . . .
There exists a large and increasingly violent underclass, because Britain suffers from a vicious circle: the collapse of belief in values (of family, marriage, self-responsibility) has now spread from the elites (where it has done philosophical and political damage) to the working classes (where it has done real physical harm). This is what has bred the underclass and the welfare system sustains it. Through the benefits system the welfare state pays the underclass to grow; poor state schooling cannot compensate for the harm caused by broken homes and absent fathers; inadequate policing cannot suppress the symptoms of crime and disorder.
This does exactly what it appears to do. It blames the poor for their situation because they have abandoned conservative values. By becoming liberal, by having abortions and the pill and free love, by not marrying or marrying less frequently, by having "illegitimate" children - illegitimate, mark you - they have caused their own downfall, and are now suckling at the welfare teat when they're not robbing, stabbing and raping their way through Broken Brittania. And it is precisely this kind of ideology, couched in more carefully selected terms no doubt, that were being invited to believe is progressive.
When David Cameron speaks of progress, he is consistent in equating it with attacks on the welfare state, support for 'stronger families', support for 'enterprise', etc. Asked by his would-be hagiographer-cum-amanuensis Dylan Jones about his position on Thatcherism, he ejaculates the following keyword-laden discourse: "[T]here were still big questions. Are we going to have a progressive amount of freedom and responsibility and independence and choice, or are we going to have a state knows best, know your place, rigid, class system? I thought that in all the big arguments, Thatcher and Major were on the right side, and Labour was on the wrong side." It's an idea that comes up a lot. Thatcherism is "progressive". To attack unions, cut welfare and bait immigrants is to mount an assault on the "rigid, class system". A high-handed social authoritarianism under the rubric of integration and cohesion is also progressive. And so on, and on.
The question is how did such claims even become vaguely intelligible? How did 'progress' as a discourse become a byword for reaction? The obvious answer is that New Labour made this possible. On every theme I've mentioned above, every objectionable facet of Tory policy, there is a New Labour counterpart - not exact, and not necessarily as extreme, but very real nonetheless. You want a party that baits immigrants, cuts taxes for the rich, allies itself with European reactionaries, trucks with neoconservatives, and calls all this progressive? It's been the ruling government for thirteen years. You want a party that prefers free markets and 'meritocracy' to 'the old structures', 'the old class systems', etc? You want a party whose matey populism abets an elitist agenda that adulates the rich and the unelected, pampered, scum royals? You want a party whose approach to crime is to sensationalise, and blame the poor, and ethnic minorities? You want a party of moralising and social authoritarianism, hedged with a modest concession to gay rights? And calls all that progressive too? Yeah, well, I think you've got the point by now. Tony Blair and New Labour systematically marketed every crackpot Tory idea they could lay their hands on as "progressive". And now David Cameron is a "progressive".