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Even If Cameron Loses the Next Election - The Tories Have Served Their Class Well

24/06/2013 11:27 BST | Updated 22/08/2013 10:12 BST
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A check of the British opinion polls this week showed Labour nine points ahead of the Conservatives, still on course to win a 96 seat majority in 2015 and bring the Tory-Lib Dem coalition, and its plethora of savage austerity cuts, to a timely end.

Although prime minister David Cameron does not consider himself a Thatcherite, his party have gone further in shrinking the state and privatising public services than the Iron Lady ever thought possible, or practicable. A fundamentalist approach to free market economics, deep scepticism towards the public sector and a disingenuous, hateful rhetoric about benefit claimants has characterised this government, which is now on course to shrink the British state so that by 2017 government spending will be a smaller percentage of GDP than in any other developed nation, including the US.

That this has happened in the country where the National Health Service is famously regarded as the closest thing to a state religion, and where Tony Benn, a fierce Labour socialist, is consistently voted the greatest living political figure, takes some explaining.

The great upwards redistribution of wealth under the Tories has only been allowed to happen through a harsh, calculating strategy to divide the working-class, who still consist of Britain's majority despite deindustrialisation under Margaret Thatcher. As income inequality in Britain rises faster than in any other rich country, Public sector workers are pitted against private sector workers, the unemployed poor against the working poor, disabled people against non-disabled people, and everyone against the immigrants.

With the working-class movement scattered and broken, trade unions facing some of the most restrictive laws in Western Europe, and the Labour leadership capitulating to the anti-welfare rhetoric, the Tory assault on the poor has been relentless. In just three years they have radically changed the face of British politics, eviscerating the state and concentrating wealth in fewer hands.

The line has been that the Labour party spent too much between 1997 and 2010, and that now we must all tighten our pursestrings and impose 'austerity' cuts on Britain. Why I take the term 'austerity' with a pinch of salt, I shall explain later. The facts are that Chancellor George Osbourne has been abandoned even by his own side of the intellectual debate. Of the twenty economists who backed his austerity cuts in 2010, only one repeated the endorsement in 2012. Even that bastion of neoliberal economics, the International Monetary Fund, has told the Tories to rein in the cuts, and GDP is 3% lower than it was five years ago. Yet just as under Thatcher, the Tories aren't for turning.

The National Health Service is being sold off to private companies for profit, despite vociferous warnings from doctors that this will deeply compromise treatment. Leaked memos show the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, intends to convert Britain's state schools into 'academies', then sell them off, again for profit. Disability benefit cuts have affected over half a million people, and prompted Amnesty International to call on the coalition, 'to halt the abrogation of the human rights of sick and disabled people.'

When a respectable human rights organisation come calling because your cuts are so savage, a reasonable-minded government might stop. Not this one. Since Amnesty's statement in April the Tories have cut legal aid for the poor, meaning that when the Department for Work and Pensions declares you fit for work even though you are disabled, and thereby robbing you of vital income necessary for survival, you can't claim legal aid to defend yourself in court. Is it any surprise that thirty-three benefit claimants have taken their own life after welfare reform deprived them of their income?

The most recent victim of the Tories 'austerity' was Stephanie Bottrill, a grandmother who was forced to pay an extra £20 a week because her council home had a spare room, the first known victim of the coalition's contemptible 'bedroom tax'. In her suicide note, she wrote, 'Don't blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.'

The demonization of the poor has gone so far they are now made to work for their benefits. The government's 'workfare' scheme forces young people to undergo compulsory work for their jobseekers' allowance, a straightforward and cynical attack on the most fundamental of labour rights: an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.

The cumulative effects have been dire. The majority of children will be living in poverty by 2015, when the current Parliament ends. Remember: this is in the seventh richest country in the world. Someone is not paying their way, and it isn't the benefit claimants.

Earlier, I said I was sceptical of the government's 'austerity' rhetoric. This is because the £81bn of cuts have come at a time the average pay of FTSE 100 directors has rocketed 55% in a year, corporation tax has been cut from 28% to 20% making it one of the lowest in the Western world, whilst the wealth of those on The Times' rich list increased by 20%. If someone was going to face the brunt of austerity, the Tories would make sure it wasn't the rich. They have served their class well during their time in power.

Not only has austerity been an intellectually bankrupt policy, but its callous targeting of the poorest and most vulnerable in British society has been morally bankrupt too. Even if David Cameron's coalition were to collapse in 2013, the three years so far have brutally altered Britain's politics, maybe for good.

But its most dramatic effect may yet be its impact on the Left. Ed Miliband, Labour's leader, has recently joined the Tories attack on universal benefits with classic Labour triangulation. When asked about the Tories austerity, Labour's shadow chancellor Ed Balls said, 'My starting point is, I am afraid, we are going to have keep all these cuts.'

Even after her eleven years in power, her victory in the Falklands and her three election wins, when asked what her greatest achievement was, Margaret Thatcher always replied, 'Tony Blair and New Labour'. She forged a new political consensus around neoliberal politics, markets and privatisation. In 2015, and after just five years in power, David Cameron might be able to respond to the same question with, 'Ed Miliband and Labour austerity'.