Friday, April 03, 2015

The declension of Cameronism

"Cameron enjoyed a very brief period of grace, as a kind of post-Thatcherite liberal.  By 'post-Thatcherite', I do not mean that Cameron rejected Thatcher's legacy, but that he operated basically on the same terrain secured by Thatcher, as do all the dominant parties now, while abjuring certain of the specific ideology and policy thematics that defined Thatcherism as an 'insurgent' political project.  He came across as an undogmatic, competent 'entrepreneur', comfortable with Britain's multiculture, and here to manage the country like a business gone awry.  Even his poshness wasn't necessarily a drawback.  Even as it poured execration on the poor, the dominant culture has learned once again to venerate dominant class values.  And, precisely as a toff and thus someone with a certain 'traditional' mien, he even effectively tapped into the ideology of 'fair play'*, an old theme of British nationalism, which returned like so much nostalgic kitsch in the aftermath of the credit crunch.

"There has always been a widespread belief among certain social classes, particularly the middle class, that if Britain is not actually a meritocratic society then it is at least not far from being one; that, at any rate, there is nostructural impediment to it being so.  It doesn't matter that 'meritocracy' is conceptually incoherent.  In its common sense understanding, it means 'fairness', which in its turn means whatever the dominant social norms prescribe.  In Cameron's earliest phase, he made it clear that 'fairness' would mean the bankers and the rich paying 'their share' toward clearing Britain's debt (no such thing happened, of course), while the poor would be weaned off the welfare teat and 'encouraged' back into work.  'Everyone' shares the costs, even if 'everyone' only includes those whom the greater number of the British middle class blamed for the crisis - reckless bankers and the feckless poor, those who either would not or could not keep a disciplined budget.  There will be tough times but if we all tighten our belts and grit our teeth, we can get through this and the good times will return.  Traditional British fair play.

"Well, few people believed for very long that this government was overseeing a fair and equitable settlement of the crisis.  Real incomes, and living standards, have declined year after year.  Nor has stagnation given way to buoyant growth.  We are left with neither fairness nor efficiency.  Somehow the invocation of the spirit of the Blitz, of empire, of the years of British grit and global power, did not help.  And then, along comes Nigel."