From 'Red Ed' to 'Red-Top Ed': The New 'Blue Labour' Thinking and Labour's Tabloid-Wooing Abandonment (Again!) of the 'Crushed Underclass' in favour of the 'Squeeze Middle'; Party of Welfare Universalism but 'Moral' Means-Testing
Well, this heading pretty much sums up what I wish to say on the deplorable piece of pseudo-Daily Express claptrap that characterised in the main Ed Miliband's so-called 'fightback' speech yesterday. For all those on the true left in this country, this 'Blue Labour' diatribe is the final nail in the coffin for any who hoped Labour might finally, after the ethical debacle of New Labour, realign itself with its core founding principles and offer a true ideological opposition to the right-wing austerity agenda.
But in one death-blow of tabloid-pandering, Ed Miliband has blown this hope out of the now clearly very blue water of the latest centre-right party thinking. All thanks to the influence of recently ennobled Labour peer Maurice Glasman, whose 'Blue Labour' agenda wishes to reassert party links with the most conservative and reactionary aspects to working-class social attitudes - what Frank Field vacuously applauds as its 'moral economy', which discriminates explicitly between 'deserving and undeserving poor' and is inherently judgemental of those who are unemployed.
The Blue Labourites would rather skip back to pre-45 Labour and cherrypick the least significant and worst traits in their movement's history - a masochistic belief in 'work' at all costs even if futile and impoverishing; a contempt for those on benefits; a hard line on crime and punishment; a tacitly xenophobic aversion to too much immigration; and an empty concept of 'patriotism' through mutual class suffering - than seek to reignite the far more important old Labour ethics of egalitarianism and social justice. This is not only ethically hollow, but also deeply philistine. It also demonstrates what the real problem is with Labour today: a complete lack of conviction. What precisely do they believe in anymore other than just a slightly less harsh Toryism? Blue Labour seems to be nothing more than the latest pathetic attempt for many well-heeled Oxbridge centrists to find more excuses for the party not to stand up for left-wing values while also having one or two scraps of 'progressive' concessions to justify why they're not simply joining forces with the ConDems. Why they wish to maintain this ideological void of neither being one thing nor the other is anyone's guess. But it's achingly clear to those on the true left today that this new emphasis on the 'blueness', the 'conservativeness' in Labour values is much more than a figurative symptom of a party without any soul: it is symbolic of the fact that basically most Labour MPs are ultimately just Tories-in-denial. No such charlatans can offer us a genuine Opposition to this vicious government. We need an ideological opposition at this time, a true alternative vision - Ed Miliband has just copped it. So over to the Unions, the Greens and other smaller left-wing parties, as it seems clear now that Labour has abandoned this generation - for a second time!
It pains me to say that Blue Labour is being fuelled further by some hitherto incisive centre-left Labour thinkers who ought to know better but who have recently been contributing such unhelpful terms as 'conservative socialism': an oxymoronic ethos which appears to confuse a focus on re-planting uprooted working-class communities with a drive towards a sort of ‘patriotic’ working-class traditionalism that focuses far too much on national identity as opposed to international working-class solidarity. Those who support such ideas should think again, though should not need to be asked to, since their previous insights into recent welfare policies being effectively modern day enclosures and clearances of the disenfranchised in society had shown a sharp dialectical eye on the current seismic shift in our social fabric. But unfortunately even ostensibly progressive thinktanks such as Compass are beginning to dither, to seemingly be swayed by the likes of Maurice Glasman - and this is to commit a similar solecism to Labour's short-sighted expulsion of the Militant Tendency under Neil Kinnock in the Eighties: alienating the left and giving up on converting the mainstream to socialist principles, instead converting the party itself to mainstream non-principles more akin to the Thatcherism the party was supposed to be supplanting. Hence New Labour, and the rest is history. We don't want that again, Blue Labour.
It is the conviction of the Recusant that Labour is ideologically dead, and that the left-wing Labour Representation Committee should migrate away from a party which clearly does not share its socialist principles and merge with the Green Party – which clearly does – and the other smaller socialist parties, to join in the Coalition of Resistance with the Unions. To hope to still influence a clearly recrudescent rightward shift in Labour to anything approaching the centre-left - let alone the true left - seems now to be purely wishful thinking.
The Recusant takes issue with Ed Miliband's risibly discriminatory speech, in particular, with his appalling assertion that somehow the alleged 'benefit fraud' among some of the poorest in society is to be equated with the disgraceful mass theft of the wealthy banking speculators as both examples of the ‘take what you can’ attitude of Thatcherism. That any party, let alone Labour, should insult the poor and unemployed – themselves the direct victims of Thatcherism – in this manner is truly reprehensible and a direct insult to the memories of Keir Hardie, Nye Bevan, Clement Attlee and all those True Labour left-wing figures who built the British Welfare State and National Health Service in the first great governmental effort to once and for all level society – but which has been continually undermined for decades by successive governments of both colours.
That there is even this debate at all at the moment on so-called ‘welfare reform’ and discriminating against the ‘deserving and undeserving’ unemployed when this country has been devastated economically by the self-enriching criminals of the private sector who continue to use taxpayers’ money to award themselves further bonuses (bail out contributions apparently ‘leaking in to the bonus pool’ according to Barclays Chief Bob Diamond) – just shows how ethically corrupted our political classes, including Labour, truly are. Those same political classes, let us not forget (though they’d like us to of course), who in droves routinely defrauded the public coffers through the expenses and property-flipping bonanza, and without any material need whatsoever in doing so.
It is these same unscrupulous abusers of power and privilege who then turn to a bankrupted nation and start lecturing those at the bottom of the heap for simply trying to survive in a benefits system wrought with loopholes, wilful disinformation and punitive penalties.
But that the leader of Labour should use a public platform to fuel such right-wing claptrap, and only a week after the Archbishop of Canterbury’s rousing call to arms for the British Left to stand up for the most vulnerable in society against this vicious government, is absolutely beyond the pale. The only consolation for the Recusant in this is that we had already switched our allegiance to the Green Party beforehand. Now that move has proven well-judged. Miliband, who got off to a reasonable start as leader, began to wobble considerably in his marked absence during the various mass protests and marches of recent months, and his seeming inability to stand up and fully support the Unions who, after all, fully supported his leadership bid. But now, because he is clearly desperate to appease the growingly disgruntled right of his party who are as we know itching to usurp him with the even more centre-right David, he is truly forsaken his promise. The Milibands' late socialist father must be turning in his grave at the knowledge that now both of his sons seem to be pulling the party further away from its roots and playing into the hands of the perennial capitalist apartheids of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’.
Labour, it appears, is the party of universal benefits, but ‘moral’ means-testing – something of a contradiction, but one implicit in Miliband’s speech, where he talks of those have been ‘ripping off society’ and lumps bankers and so-called ‘benefit cheats’ in together - this is a lazy, convenient but deeply offensive political balancing act designed not to offer any real alternative to our atomised society, but to cynically capitalise on both wings of the national centreground. His espousal of the value in volunteering including among those unemployed, is the only shred of reasonable comment in an otherwise deplorable piece of ‘moral’ cherrypicking of the poor. Miliband cheapens his salute to volunteers by then saying Labour would prioritise them for council housing above those unemployed who did not volunteer in their communities, thus once again bringing in a divide-and-rule attitude. And one which, apart from anything else, implies future volunteering would – as is increasingly the case under the ConDems – actually not be volunteering at all, but a combination of mandatory community conscription and/or offering one’s services purely to get into council housing, which then undermines the true spirit of voluntarism.
But finally, Ed Miliband’s most offensive– not to say two-faced – tactic in this speech is to begin with the example of a man on Incapacity due to a ‘genuine injury’, whom the privileged and Oxford-educated Miliband then condescends to say is a good man who wishes to provide for his family, before turning on his heels and showing the complete temerity of someone who’s had a particularly smooth route onto his own path in life and who demonstrably lacks any first-hand knowledge of poverty or survival on benefits by casually stating, ‘but I felt convinced there will still some work this man could be doing’. Miliband then twists the knife in on this social case study, by suggesting he is an example of those ‘shirking their responsibility’, which ‘the rest of us (i.e. taxpayer) have to pick up the pieces’ for. Grudgingly paying a bit of tax, only a fraction of which goes towards the welfare system, is hardly exactly ‘picking up the pieces’ of the industrially broken lives of thousands of people is it?
‘Picking up the pieces’ would be, well, for instance, to be volunteering in mental health while incapacitated oneself in a society which stigmatises both volunteer and mental health service user as burdens on the taxpayer. Perhaps Miliband should think of that rather than taking the Tory line of measuring everything in terms of material rather than practical and humane social exchanges. It is very easy for a well-educated and practically dynastic Labour Party insider, who has also inherited his own house in London, to lope about deprived housing estates lecturing incapacitated and impoverished fathers as to their ‘responsibilities’.
So this is the face of Blue Labour: the new ‘moral’ means-test, which, apart from anything else, is simply an empty echo of IDS’s current sanctimonious crusade against those who apparently ‘opt’ for stigmatised impoverishment as a ‘lifestyle’ choice. Clearly we are a nation divided between the avaricious and the masochistic. This is what comes from a consultation period which involves largely listening to underpaid and invariably resentful supermarket cashieres on their canteen breaks: ‘Blue-Rinse Labour’. But Miliband clearly doesn't realise that such groups represent only one small section of the multi-varied working classes. Clearly Labour are not interested in the 'non-working class', nor with the 'underclass' or the dispossessed. How broad-minded of them.
What an ethical, moral and intellectual cop out Blue Labour ‘thinking’ is: for Ed Miliband to speciously claim that the reason New Labour lost so many votes was not only due to being regulation-light on markets and banks, but also due to some imperceptible ‘soft touch’ approach to welfare, when it was specifically under their DWP Minister James Purnell that the most reactionary putsch against the unemployed since the welfare state was created, through proposed workfare schemes, was legislated. Neither in truth or even by any verisimilitude of truth did New Labour ever in any conceivable sense act ‘soft’ on the unemployed; the horrific policies of their Tory successors in besieging the welfare state from every single direction is simply an intensification of what New Labour put in place for them. This assertion is specious in the extreme; it is, effectively, a lie - or, if not quite that, a gross misjudgment and self-delusion on the part of Miliband and his policy advisers.
The so-called conclusion of Blue Labour's ‘listening excercise’ is one fuelled by the worst and most ignorant attitudes among the red-top sections of the working class, and attitudes which Labour, if it had any intellectual or ethical backbone, should be doing its utmost to re-educate and campaign against, not use as a blueprint for their party’s very policies. If eventually in power again, will ‘Blue’ Labour be using a board of blue-rinsed tabloid-reading supermarket cashieres to advise them on their ongoing welfare policies?
Why not ‘listen’ to the views of the most deprived in society, the unintentionally unemployed, the unintentionally homeless (on which semantic point, it was also under New Labour’s homeless tsars, let’s not forget, that the disgraceful stigmatisation of ‘intentionally homeless’ was invented), the sick and disabled, and those mistreated and stigmatised for having to live with mental health problems? If Miliband et al did so, they might learn a damn site more than they do from tabloid-littered supermarket canteens. Labour should be proselytising on socialist principles, re-educating those sections of the working classes politically brainwashed by three decades of Thatcherite divide-and-rule dogma which has atomised all sense of class solidarity, and awareness of the true ‘benefit cheats’ of society: the bankers, capitalists, property moguls, tabloid tycoons, politicians and aristocracy. All of whom, in our ‘big society’, say ‘Thou Shalt Volunteer’ to the unemployed, poor and sick, and to the thousands of public sector workers shoved out of their jobs and then told to carry on doing them for peanuts or nothing. The same ‘big society’ of course in which the charities, CAB and voluntary sectors are dismantling around us due to cuts, and whose very tsar ended up resigning because he realised without a hint of irony that working for nothing wasn’t ‘a life’.
So it appears Blue Labour is all about wooing back those working-class voters who switched to the EDL or BNP for feeling culturally marginalised, and in part, bowing to their ill-informed prejudices, rather than in trying to woo back the hundreds of thousands of more enlightened left-wing and left-of-centre working class and lower middle class voters who deserted them – disastrously as it now turns out of course – for the leftist posturing of the Lib Dems in the last election. Thus, Blue Labour is touting for the lowest common denominators in so-called ‘public opinion’ among both the working and middle classes. In effect, the attitudes most akin to the very Thatcherism Miliband irresponsibly and unjustifiably applies to most of its victims: the long-term unemployed. If Labour had always sought purely to lazily court popular ‘opinion’ in order to determine its own policies, then it would never have even been created, let alone fought for tooth and nail for parliamentary acceptance and, later, government. Shame on Blue Labour and all who bow to its hollow opportunism.
Oh, Miliband does vent a token bit of spleen against the banks and speculators – but this is entirely undermined by his tabloid-baiting volte face into welfare judgmentalism; he rightly says that being ‘intensely relaxed about the rich’ is not right, but then completely undermines this the next minute by saying that he ‘applauds’ those who make lots of money and create wealth – on the condition they are doing so legitimately and through genuinely hard work of course. However, as many of us know, this is rarely if ever the case: capitalism is oiled on the exploitation of others’ labour to create profits.
This is not the kind of playground discrimination-game the country needs from its official Opposition at this horrendous time. Labour is once again ducking its ‘moral responsibility’ to stand up for the most vulnerable in society, and quite blatantly in a bid for a shot-cut back to power, for no purpose other than to pump up their own power-prestige and salaries.
The only dialectic any allegedly centre-left party should be encouraging at this time is that of the ‘undeserving rich’; to water this down by arbitrarily and cynically attempting some convenient balancing act between those playing the system at the top and the bottom of society, is ethically corrupt and intellectually void. How anyone could possibly claim that someone struggling on paltry benefits and who due to dire need may or may not occasionally cut corners for meagre sums in order to literally survive from week to week, is somehow comparable on a ‘moral’ level to a super-rich tax-avoider or a millionaire speculator gambling public money, losing it, taking more public money to sort themselves out, then pooling even that back into their own bonus pot and refusing to lend anything back to the public – well, what can one say that hasn’t already been said on this utterly absurd state of affairs? It speaks for itself: it is capitalism par excellence and of a pedigree even Karl Marx wouldn’t have imagined possible.
What a far cry all this is from the days when a Labour prime minister would casually trot out phrases like ‘we’re going to squeeze the property speculators until the pips squeak’! At a time when the sick and disabled are being bullied out of their benefits, thousands on thousands of social and council housing tenants are going to have the rugs literally pulled from under them through lease and housing benefit caps as the parasitic private landlords crank up their rents in response, and the social care and mental health sectors are literally melting before service users’ eyes – all Ed Miliband and ‘Blue Labour# can do is talk some complete spurious crap about a minority of benefit recipients ‘ripping off society’ in a way comparable to the behaviour of the banks and the tax-dodging super-rich. And no mention of course of the £16 Billion a year that goes UNCLAIMED in welfare benefits!
I think Ed Miliband needs to check out Owen Jones’ Chav – the Demonisation of the Working Class pretty quickly, as well as Pete Golding’s indispensable Images of Welfare; clearly not books one would find on Maurice Glasman’s coffee table. Perhaps Blue Labour should just ditch ‘Labour’ altogether and just call themselves the ‘Blue Party’.
On quite a different tone of the colour spectrum, the Recusant now supports the Green Party, and, in principle, the Labour Representation Committee, but urges the latter to join with the former and with the smaller Socialist parties, away from Labour once and for all, towards the formation of a new left-wing movement in opposition to the Con-Dem-Lab centre-right austerity consensus. We also fully support the Unions and implicitly back their campaigns in the months and years ahead.
Alan Morrison, June 2011
All Hail the Red Archbishop
As I have commented on previous editorials, in many ways one of the spokespersons for a true socialistic opposition (apart from Caroline Lucas of the Greens, John McDonnell of the Labour Representation Committee, and Bob Crow of the Unions) to the ConDem Government has been the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams; and never more so than this week in the New Statesman, in which he eloquently speaks out directly against the mandate-less, arguably illegitimate ‘radicalism’ of the Coalition, and, most crucially of all, against the ‘punitive’ attacks on welfare provision – not simply a Tory policy, but also previously (though slightly less harshly) one of New Labour also: it was under Gordon Brown’s DWP heavymen Purnell and McNulty that there was an increasing emphasis on the ‘deserving and undeserving poor’ myth in order to attempt morally justifying draconian measures against the long-term unemployed. In typical Tory style, this government is simply cranking up this Calvinistic rhetoric several notches, in order to claw back billions of pounds from the poor and sick to pay for the sins of the speculating rich.
Cue the sanctimonious IDS who has seized on his ministerial role with an evangelical zeal, and though one of his proposals is a positive move - namely to allow a gradual phasing out of benefits rather than a sudden withdrawal when someone first gets a job, which sensibly helps them avoid the less reported phenomenon of 'working poverty' (particularly when waiting for one's first monthly pay packet to come through) - his department's insistence on continued harassment of those on incapacity and DLA benefits under the auspices of unaccountable private agencies such as ATOS, among other punitive measures, are far from the kind of soft/Christian Toryism (if not a total contradiction in itself) that the silverspooned DWP Minister likes to make out. Indeed, his own response to Williams' intervention was as pompous as Cameron's, with the added spice of being wholly contradictory too: IDS first said that he did 'not believe in the deserving and undeserving poor' paradigm, yet in the next sentence said: 'but there is an undeserving group' within the welfare system. So, in other words, he DOES believe there is such a thing as 'the undeserving poor'. Clearly our DWP Minister is not acquainted with the Socratic contradiction. IDS bangs on about Williams having not seen some of the things he has witnessed in workless communities - so suddenly IDS is the nation's expert on poverty and unemployment just for selectively visiting random communities and in the employ of a party which is constitutionally judgemental of the poor and in continual denial as to its own direct responsibility (since Thatcherism in particular) for having created the very socially 'fragmented' society that Williams rightly argues we have today.
Tories always talk of 'personal responsibility' - but they rarely if ever address the issue of 'community responsibility', responsibility to others, which is precisely what Williams is talking about: basic Christian principles, apart from also being socialist ones. The Tories talk of 'making work pay' as a solution to the benefits trap - but what about making benefits pay so that people are not demeaned so much through poverty and stigmatising that they lose all sense of self-esteem necessary to convince at work interviews? Make work pay absolutely - pay a proper living wage for a start; but also make benefits pay, to the effect that one is not demonised and given figurative leper bells for simply claiming what they are supposed to be entitled to in deprived circumstances. And as for the old 'Render Unto Ceaser' trope always trotted out by grubbing right-wingers to spuriously justify capitalism: Williams, I am sure, would be the first to point out that this phrase was specifically referring to paying tax, and tax is, let us not forget, the chief hate of the Tories and the right, something they resent as an obstacle to unfettered self-enrichment of the individual (hence the abundance of tax loopholes and havens for the rich). That Cameron and his ilk constantly stir up the taxpayer to resent the benefit claimant (helped along by the trogladite Daily Express et al) by arguing that a whole section of society basically lives off others' 'hard won' earnings, is twisted and specious in the extreme. Firstly, most people on benefits have previously paid into the system through tax when they were employed, so are merely being reimbursed to support them when they are out of work; and secondly, welfare is only one tiny part of what taxpayers money contributes to - lest we forget the billions of tax donated to our struggling banking sector only to find - as revealed by the permatanned Bob Diamond of Barclays only this week - that some of the bail out money might have 'leaked into the bonus pool'. Funny how Cameron never bangs on about that example of rich milkers of taxpayers' money isn't it?
Cameron's poisonous assault on welfare via whipping up a mass resentment among taxpayers against benefit claimants is deeply unethical of a prime minister, and socially pernicious. It is of course a deliberate divide-and-rule tactic and one which is ensuring that mass welfare cuts on a previously unthinkable scale which are targeting the sick and disabled as much as anyone else, even driving many with mental health problems to suicide, seem generally unopposed by a large section of the public. It is a right-wing populist culture-shift on a scale which even Thatcher couldn't quite pull off. That a day should come in a so-called 'social democracy' where thousands of disabled claimants literally had to wheelchair a protest past parliament to get public attention, should come sixty years down the line from the great Attlee settlement, is really cause to weep for the ethical and moral degeneration of this nation. A nation which, without any hint of irony, Cameron casually refers to as 'compassionate'. Thus speaks the Humpty Dumpty Coalition, who do one thing and call it the opposite.
It is, then, within this deeply depressing national debate between ConDem 'fast savage cuts' and Labour 'slightly less savage fast cuts' (hardly any real alternative), where only the Unions and a handful of left-wing backbenchers argue against the austerity agenda, that Williams' intervention comes and at an essential moment. Unrestricted by any tribalisms, he at least can speak out without fear of the party whips or spin doctors castigating him. Williams has not missed the vital ethical black hole in the current government’s fiscal blitzkrieg on the welfare state, and even himself lambasts the 'deserving/undeserving poor' paradigm in his piece. He quite rightly accuses Cameron et al of bogusly championing mutualism and cooperativeness as a deeply cynical cover for a right-wing dismantling of the welfare state, much of the public sector and, if they have their way – and still might in part yet – our very National Health Service. Williams condemns the ConDems not only on moral and ethical grounds, but on practical ones also: he correctly highlights how all the specious aspirations of the ‘big society’ project simply fall to bits on closer inspection when it is evident that due to the gratuitous austerity cuts throughout the public and charity/voluntary sectors, all the vital agencies there to supposedly implement Cameron’s nebulous vision are being undercut from the outset, when they should be, as Williams argues, underwritten – and underwritten by the state/government of the time; not calved up for profiteering at the public expense by private ‘providers’ (e.g. see the current parlous state of our railways, drained of all quality and affordability by a parasitic private sector, only to inspire the transport minister to pursue even further privatisations and arbitrary redundancies for exploited staff).
Cameron then is imposing on us, ironically, not only a society which eventually will be direly in need of many more charities and voluntary organisations to tackle the oncoming storm of poverty and homelessness – though contradictorily, at a point when there will be precious little funding to actually sustain these – which in turn his government is actually creating; but also a society in which, through the next decade or so, if his government is to cling on to power for significantly longer, will eventually need to recreate or ‘redintegrate’ (an old term meaning re-integrate or re-form) a newer and less emasculated welfare state as inevitably the only way to limit the damage of full-scale poverty. Ditto the future necessity of more council and social housing due to current clampdowns on those very sectors; either that, or generations of social Diaspora lie ahead of us. So much for not passing on debt to the next generations; well perhaps not, but we will be passing on privation and homelessness instead. Great. And so much for housing minister Grant Schapps' wilfully ignorant assertion that due to the current austerity, housing benefit caps will be absorbed by the response of private landlords to lower their unregulated rent levels: not so apparently Mr Schapps, as reported today in the wholly unsurprising reality that our parasitic culture of private landlords and property moguls are in fact cashing in on the back of a shortage in housing (one presumably not including the hundreds of thousands of empty properties throughout the country?) by actually cranking up their rents. But even so, of course, this government would never ever consider regulating private rent levels, since most of them are probably property moguls themselves, oh, and plus the fact that it was the Tories in the early 90s who short-sightedly removed rent controls in the first place. The only things Tories believe in regulating are the public sector, the welfare state, and, as Vince Cable hinted this week, the already overly regulated Unions. What a principled bunch they are!
But to return to Williams: the only phrasal point I am not totally convinced by here – although I recognise Williams means it in the sense that he perceives this government to be hiding behind a ‘progressive’ smokescreen – is his reference to the Conservatives having superficially taken up a form of ‘associational socialism’ in the guise of the ‘big society’ idea. I would quibble with extending such a worthy accolade, no matter how thinly and spuriously it is pursued, to the Tories, since any form socialism, whether ‘associational’ or not (that term apparently refers to a form of liberal left-of-centre mutualism rather than full-blown socialism), would not start out by attacking the very foundations it would need to flourish – the welfare state, charities, voluntary organisations, Unions, employment legal rights etc. etc. – before allegedly embarking on its social crusade. Such arbitrary, ignorant and brutal attacks on the most vulnerable in society as those currently being inflicted on the poor, unemployed, sick, disabled and mentally ill have absolutely no ‘association’ with socialism on any conceivable level. However, I recognise that this might be a slightly semantic quibble and is certainly not meant as any kind of repudiation of Williams’ generally commendable and compassionate stance.
What Williams is saying here is incontrovertibly right, true and fair. That Cameron has the sheer puffed-up arrogance and lack of humility to even question the dreadful direction his government is taking this country in when pushed to justify his brutal policies, and from someone who, apart from being leader of the established church – once nicknamed ‘the Tory party at prayer’ – is also a demonstrably compassionate, wise and intellectualised individual who has the ethical authority of theological knowledge and practical Christianity behind him. What moral or ethical authority does Cameron have? An inherited millionaire and ex-PR man who is notorious for having no interest in ‘policy detail’ (rather like his hero Tory Blair), an ex-Bullingdon Club Hooray Henry descended from a line of stockbrokers – what sheer conceit of his to come out so swiftly and in so knee-jerk a fashion to express how ‘profoundly’ he disagrees with an infinitely more learned and empathic man of the cloth as Rowan Williams. For me, the issue here is nothing to with the already ubiquitous right-wing criticism that Archbishops should stick to their area and not comment on politics; it is much more the sheer bare-faced moral hypocrisy and ethical philistinism of David Cameron, someone to whom profundity is demonstrably on every level, complete anathema.
Cameron is that worst type of Tory prime minister: one who plays on a kind of tabloid populist rhetoric spun from the hairshirts of Calvinism into modern secular industrial dogma – in short, not only material but also ‘moral’ success is indicated by how much one earns and owns and pays in taxes; anyone who is still poor or on benefits is clearly at some level morally diseased. This is a simplistic and twisted political stance, but of course one which our generally right-wing media laps up with every new helping: and this is simply because it justifies the epithet coined by Roy Hattersley in reference to Thatcherism, that ‘greed can be respectable’. Cameron is promoting such a philosophy in an indirect way: by selling the ‘big society’ moral imperative of volunteering amongst the largely underpaid sections of the workforce – such as ending job contracts for public sector workers just to reemploy them under bastardised employment rights and lower pay and pensions, as is already happening – our prime minister and his Cabinet of charlatans are clandestinely securing the continued financial monopoly of the political and banking elites, and of course, the tax-dodging super-rich; he is, basically, withdrawing the honey or adulterating some of it with a lot of milk, and hoarding the lion’s share safely in the pockets of his privileged few.
What Williams is doing here is utterly essential, especially at such a divided and increasingly vicious period of austerity cuts: he is standing up on a public platform, possibly the most prominent one in our country other than ever-taciturn throne, and directly opposing the Coalition mantra of cuts and its deeply dishonest manipulation of public debate from the private sector banking crisis to the spurious issue of alleged pockets of over-paid managers in the public sector (and, in turn, the continual tabloid-inspiring bile thrown at the welfare state’s dependents, by unreasonably hyperbolising on random rare cases of exorbitant housing benefit payments for families living in roomy London houses, and the continued, utterly stale rhetoric about often distorted examples of benefit abuse (stale because this has been going on in the media and in successive governments as far back as the late 1970s when, incidentally, the welfare state was paying out far more in benefits than it is today).
Vitally, Williams also challenges the Opposition, Labour, to set up a true left-of-centre alternative to as-yet unchallenged Conservative Austeritism. And this is absolutely right of him to say so, even if in a broad phrasal shorthand of ‘the left’, when presumably it is Labour to whom he primarily refers here – still, sadly, hardly ‘left-wing’ by any historical standards. One might also take from this that Williams is as yet less than impressed by current academic diversions in Labour thinking such as Maurice Glassman’s ‘Blue Labour’ which, in spite of being spot on in terms of criticising New Labour regulation-light market politics, stills unfortunately falls far short of providing a true ideologically left-wing alternative to current centre-right parliamentary thinking by still tacitly indulging the ‘undeserving poor’ meme of Brown and Purnell. That, along with a still stubborn commitment to some forms of punitive welfare ‘reform’ on the Labour benches – and a general ineffectuality in defending the very welfare state it created by cherrypicking only certain often more middle-class oriented benefits for special championing while risibly side-stepping on issues to do with incapacity and DLA – is a Blairite rot still eating away at the core of the party’s original grassroot values.
That it takes the Archbishop of Canterbury to stand up publicly and say many of the things that the Opposition should be saying but continually fail to, just shows how ethically moribund our political class has become. There is of course a left-wing alternative – espoused pluralistically through the Green Party, the LRC, the smaller socialist parties and, of course, the admirably outspoken Trades Unions – but the trouble is, much of this alternative vision has yet to fully penetrate the ranks of the official Opposition. Williams article then can be seen as an urgent rallying cry for a more assertive left-wing alternative to this horrific austerity agenda we are currently facing – so, ‘Red Ed’ and Not-Quite-New-Anymore-But-Possibly-A-Bit-Blue Labour, take heed of Williams’ intervention and sort out just which side you are actually on: that of banks and big business, or that of the common people. At least Williams knows which side he is on, and like a true practical Christian, is morally impelled to speak up openly in defence of the poorest and most vulnerable in society at a shameful time in which, frankly, no high profile politicians are.
the Recusant fully supports and commends the Archbishop of Canterbury’s moral courage in standing up to a government of duplicitous bullies and saying what has to be said.
You can read his article in the New Statesmen at this link: http://www.newstatesman.com/uk-politics/2011/06/long-term-government-democracy
Alan Morrison ©June 2011