THE NASTY SOCIETY
When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative party his ambition was to change the image of his party so that it was no longer regarded as the ‘nasty party’ by the electorate. An admirable aim, but perhaps we should have been cautious in taking him at his word and remembered his background in public relations, as many of the effects of the policies that are emerging from his government are fueled not by kindness but rather its opposite ‘nastiness’. In PR and marketing it’s all about packaging and presentation. And with this coalition, in the case of policies first of all the ground is prepared with the stories that tell of shirkers, feckless families, single parents often with many children who then lay claim to social housing that their efforts alone could never support. Elderly people inhabiting more rooms than they need, even though they and their family may have spent their growing years in the dwelling and it has become the family home. And set against all of this the decent hard-working families, then a complaisant press pitch in with more of the same only even more lurid. It would seem that the prime minister has recognised the futility of changing his party and instead is seeking to change the mindset of society such that we become the ‘nasty society’.
The story recently highlighted by the Daily Telegraph is of a mother of eleven who is to be housed in a ‘mansion’ by her local authority (Tewkesbury). And horror of horrors that it is even alleged that this lady is paying £200 per month for a horse for the use of her children. The Telegraph apparently uncovered fuel for their story by talking to a stable hand (paddock worker) who said ‘they must spend at least £200 a month on her’, and, ‘it’s sickening to think that she can afford what most people would consider a luxury at the expense of the taxpayer’. There are always such scare stories to be mined by a press eager to feed a censorious and envious audience. A mansion in a council house in Tewkesbury? Now, with houses in London’s ten most expensive boroughs worth as much as the property markets of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland combined (FT 7th Feb) and Boris Johnson living a life of comfort in his Kensington residence (estimated value £2.2 million), perhaps that could have been brought into the story to provide perspective. ***Nowhere is there any reference to the fact that the selling off of the council housing stock by the Thatcher regime undoubtedly precipitated this disparity in property values, a fact recognised even by Daily Mail columnist, Peter Hitchens, who expresses astonishment at the praise that is even yet heaped on that particular policy. But we are witnessing a classic example of divide and rule in what is a coordinated diversionary tactic to switch attention from the proposed mansion tax, suggested originally by the Liberal Democrat side of the coalition and now supported and adopted by the Labour party.
Who are the winners in this scenario? Answer: those who stand to gain the most from it. And who are they? Those perhaps who have secured for themselves wealth by virtue of birth and inheritance or the receipt of salaries and bonuses that appear to bear no relation to the real value of their time and skills. In another age you might have called them spivs. Spivs after all were notorious for being motivated by greed and had little regard or interest in making any contribution to society in either a wider sense or through taxation. There will always be shock stories of the kind reported by the Telegraph or the Daily Mail. Such examples are few and far between, and overall the true cost to the taxpayer is likely to be insignificant by comparison with the ‘apparently’ lawful activities of our bankers, directors and others who pay themselves such fat salaries and bonuses at the expense of society at large.
Ian Birrell, arguing for more capitalism, not less (‘the i’ 20th February) is quoted as saying: ‘In 1980 the average US chief executive made 42 times as much as the average worker. By last year this ratio had rocketed to 380. We have seen the same phenomenon here, albeit less extreme. Elsewhere Birrell concludes that the manner in which a self-serving globalised elite has siphoned off societies’ wealth is indefensible.
Now: that is the real story, but wealth brings with it power and influence which will continue to be exerted to bewitch a bemused population into believing that the fault is wholly elsewhere. However, the single thing that we all have in common whether rich or poor, council house tenant or mansion owner is the right to a vote, and you can be sure that those who benefit the least from the coalition’s policies outnumber by far those who benefit the most, and they are able to have the last word.
I remain of the view that David Cameron was probably genuine in his attempt to influence his party to become less nasty, if for no other than electoral reasons, and I believe he is probably a nice enough person in himself given his own background, but I fear that the task is beyond him and in the end the electorate will take the matter out of his hands. Or by then, will we have become ‘the nasty society’?
*** A Report by The Daily Mirror uncovered in many high rent areas, that ‘the right to buy’ has now become effectively ‘the buy to let’ scheme, with a third of ex council homes sold in the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher now owned by private landlords and in one London borough almost half of ex council properties are now sub-let to tenants with tycoon Charles Gow and his wife, and son of the minister who presided over ‘the right to buy’, Ian Gow, owning at least 40 ex council flats on one South London estate. As Paul Kenny (GMB) said; ‘You couldn’t make it up. The family of one of the ex Tory ministers who oversaw ‘right to buy’ ends up owning swathes of ex-council houses’.
Controversially councils were not allowed to spend the proceeds from ‘right to buy’ on building more council homes.