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The Conservatives Are Trying to End Political Debate, Forever

16/06/2015 11:53 BST | Updated 15/06/2016 10:59 BST

Noam Chomsky has told us that the best way to limit political debate is to narrow the acceptable discussions to a very small set of possibilities, and then allow very lively debate within this stunted selection. We have, of course, been witnessing this in British politics for decades, with the intolerable shift to the Right from Labour despite all the electoral and economic damage it is reaping. The limits of acceptable debate have been dubbed by some as the 'Overton Window', the range of what is deemed 'politically possible' at any given time, a window that, in theory at least, is constantly moving. Not content with having spawned two generations of blue Labourites and thus considerably narrowed the window, the Conservatives now appear to be trying to brick it up entirely.

The latest layer of bricks can be found in some of the announcements in George Osborne's upcoming Mansion House speech. Speaking of dealing with the national deficit, he proclaimed: "In the budget we will bring forward this strong new fiscal framework to entrench this permanent commitment to that surplus" wishing for this to be "accepted across the political spectrum" (with their majority ensuring they don't actually have to give a damn what the rest of the spectrum think). He wants to tie successive governments into a commitment to budget surpluses- to tie them into his own party's ideology.

Osborne will no doubt frame this as a sensible, responsible policy to pass that will ensure the economy ticks along smoothly, one that would only be rejected by unreasonable, economically illiterate ideologues. In reality it is actually one of the most audacious (albeit much less bloody) attempts at shutting down political debate since the Night of the Long Knives, and for it to be dismissed as an 'empty gimmick', as it has by many critics, is to severely underestimate the ambition of this government. Apparently not content with convincing the majority of the populace that there is only one way to 'do economics', the party that made Victorian style inequality fashionable again now wishes to reach a consensus on their being only one way to do politics too.

As an abundance of academics have wasted no time in telling the world, it is vital for a 21st century government to be able to be flexible to the challenges and demands of a modern, complex economy, and essentially placing the state in a straight-jacket for all but the most severe scenarios is economic suicide. Osborne's soon to be announced 'abnormal circumstances' loop hole is unlikely to give government the flexibility it needs if his own track record is anything to go by: his dogged commitment to austerity, in the face of mounting agreement from economists worldwide of its futility, has held our economy back and plunged many into abject poverty.

Running even a fairly large deficit for many years is not the particularly pressing problem we've been led to believe it is, as opposed to the multitude of problems that have been spawned by Osborne's personal blend of austerity and privatisation. There are many economic and political ideologies that simply do not place the deficit as their highest priority, understanding that government borrowing can act as an investment that, in the long term, sees returns for both society and the Treasury. This move by Osborne is a deliberate attempt to tie their hands and rob those of us that would vote for such policies of a voice. Even if Labour won the next election (unlikely) and did so by finally returning to their roots and offering a credible left wing alternative (even more unlikely), if Osborne gets his way they won't be able to depart significantly from his plans anyway. By limiting what a government can do in this way, he is actually severely restricting our democratic choice too.

Along with commitments to budget surpluses, making it illegal to put up taxes over this Parliament and arbitrary welfare caps make it clear just how the books will have to be balanced, regardless of how public opinion and economic evidence develop over the next five years. The Conservatives are tying this Parliament into their way of doing things, and laying the foundations of making sure the next one has to as well, whether it is led by them or not. It's the equivalent of giving everyone food poisoning, and then instead of rushing them to A and E, you force them all to follow your recipe forever, whilst never eating any of the food yourself.

Overreaching the arm of the law is not the only trick the Conservatives have employed to shut down political debate. Plans to change constituency boundaries to make it harder for Labour to ever win a majority again, skipping the local consultations in the fracking process, blocking reports showing the statistics of those who have died whilst on benefits sanctions, suggesting that anarchists should be reported to the police, increasingly invasive internet regulation, the Snoopers Charter embodying unacceptable intrusions into individuals private lives and increased monitoring of the internet for mentions of the government: the Tories abhorrence of a free and open political debate is beyond doubt.

Chomsky has also highlighted how debt can be a powerful silencer: when you're worrying so much about paying it back and still making ends meet, you're unlikely to have the courage, energy or time to change the world and challenge a bankrupt ideology. Disastrous education policy, cruel welfare reforms, and now proposals to fiscally limit a governments borrowing capacity will see personal debt explode over the next decade, earning the Tories a decade of peaceful bliss to dismantle the state relatively unchallenged. You could almost admire the ingenuity, if it weren't so horrifying.

All of these moves on their own, to differing degrees, seem like mildly contentious issues or even just vaguely amusing absurdities from a government getting a little too carried away. When taken together, however, they amount to a completely unacceptable level of ideological immunisation and authoritarian advancement. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that Cameron isn't, as Frankie Boyle recently suggested, actually an evil genius: it doesn't actually matter. These policies still manage to dangerously derail political debate and expression all on their own, even without a grand master pulling the strings: generously assuming good intentions or simple ineptness still does nothing to take the sting out of this dictatorial tail.

This isn't, as some would have you believe, simply the result of the democratic process: it is a way of attempting to completely bypass it. The elite has always found democracy a tiresome, messy business, so now the party that has always represented them is simply doing away with it, bit by bit. Whether you agree with the economic or moral rationale for many of the Conservative moves, the damage it is set to do to open political debate, one of the pillars of democracy, is unjustifiable. It is true, as was recently pointed out to me, that we don't quite live under a dictatorship the likes of which emanates from Pyongyang, but if this is the best that can be said for it, the mother of parliaments is in desperate, dangerous trouble. We must stop assuming Cameron is a benign blunderer, and begin to treat him as the dangerous dictator he is on the path to becoming.