It is hard to decide what was more repugnant at the Tory Party Conference recently: the sight of a packed auditorium in Birmingham applauding the prime minister's pledge to cut the benefits of 10million families, or the applause that greeted his pledge to scrap human rights legislation.
Trying to fathom the mindset of those who get their jollies at the prospect of reducing millions of their fellow citizens to destitution is quite a challenge. But, nonetheless, if we are to understand the attributes of your average Tory, it is one that has to be taken on. In this regard the legendary words of Nye Bevan in 1948 have yet to be bettered. Bevan asserted that:
no amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for the Tory Party that inflicted those bitter experiences on me. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.
The 'bitter experiences' the former Labour minister for health recounts were rooted in a poverty stricken childhood in South Wales, when working class families such as his lived a precarious existence on the precipice of disaster and destitution without an NHS or welfare state to protect them. Those things arrived in Britain courtesy of the 1945 Labour government, of which he was a key member, and in 2014 are in the process of being rolled back.
The reality of Britain in 2014 is as stark as it gets. We are now a society that has been dragged back to the nineteenth century in service to a political creed which stands as living proof that not all sociopaths are behind bars. The relentless assault on people guilty of the 'crimes' of unemployment and poverty is something that social historians will record years hence in horror that such a level of injustice could even be imagined, much less countenanced.
The truism that 'We have met the enemy and they are us' applies. Never mind ISIS, terrorism, or any external threat to the British people. The real enemy lies within. It is a Conservative Party and government who have extended themselves in using the fallout from a global economic crisis, which hit these shores in the late summer of 2007 with the collapse of Northern Rock, to wage war - for war is exactly what it is - against the working poor, disabled, and the unemployed under the rubric of austerity. Despite the bluster and attempt to bamboozle, it is a project that was undertaken with the objective of affecting the transference of wealth from the poor to the rich, the very constituency the Tory Party exists to serve and represent. Up to now this project has been inordinately successful.
In September 2013 Oxfam published a report on the impact of austerity on the UK's poorest families and low wage workers. Among its findings were:
The stated aim of austerity was to reduce the deficit in the UK to give confidence to the markets and therefore deliver growth to the economy. While austerity measures have had some impact on reducing the deficit, they have delivered little growth, and public debt has risen from 56.6% of GDP in July 200911 to 90% of GDP (£1.39trillion) in 2013.12 The policies have also had far-reaching impacts on the poorest people in the UK. In 2010, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government announced the biggest cuts to state spending since the Second World War, 13 including significant cuts to social security and the planned loss of 900,000 public sector jobs between 2011 and 2018.14.
Since the 2008 financial crisis began, those already in poverty have seen their impoverishment worsen, and millions more have become more vulnerable.
You might think that such a damning verdict on the impact of austerity not only on millions of people but on its stated objective of returning growth to the economy would give its proponents pause for reflection. You'd be wrong. On the contrary, at this year's party conference, Chancellor George Osborne was positively glowing when he announced the plan to introduce a two-year freeze on both in work and out of work benefits, announcing:
Working age benefits in Britain will have to be frozen for two years. This is the choice Britain needs to take to protect our economic stability and to secure a better future. The fairest way to reduce welfare bills is to make sure that benefits are not rising faster than the wages of the taxpayers who are paying for them. For we will provide a welfare system that is fair to those who need it, and fair to those who pay for it too.
This freeze in working age benefits saves the country over £3billion. It is a serious contribution to reducing the deficit.
In response to this fresh round of attacks on welfare and benefit claimants, charities based in Scotland came together to lambast the Tory proposals. Shelter Scotland, Citizens Advice Scotland, Shelter Scotland, the Child Poverty Action Group, SCVO, the Poverty Alliance, Positive Action in Housing, Barnardo's in Scotland, the Poverty Truth Commission, the Big Issue and the Trussell Trust have issued warnings regarding the human impact of fresh benefit cuts. They include an increasing reliance on foodbanks, pay day loans, and rising homelessness. With 3.5million children already living in poverty across the UK - surely a badge of shame in any industrialised economy - one can only ponder the warped humanity of those who consider poverty a personal failing rather than a consequence of injustice and inequality.
When it comes to the proposal to scrap the Human Rights Act, it is chilling to consider that Nuremberg in the 1930s was probably the last time an audience in Europe cheered a leader's pledge to remove human rights protections. Such historical parallels are lost on those for whom human rights legislation is an inconvenience rather than a necessary check on untrammelled political power, however.
Amnesty International issued a statement in response:
The steady drum beat of threats to dismantle human rights protections for people in the UK reached a manic crescendo this week.
These latest reports beggar belief and, if true, reveal a plan which is both immature and ill conceived.
Cameron appears intent on rubbishing the UK's commitment to human rights and so undermining its influence as a moral authority on the world stage. He must not cast aside the reasonable arguments against this course of action.
Lest we forget we are talking about a European court which oversees governments and has previously reprimanded the UK government when it wanted to indefinitely retain the DNA of innocent people, when it placed restrictions on the freedom of the press and when it decided that it was happy to indefinitely detain terror suspects without charge or trial.
We allow Cameron to rip away this safety net at our peril.
With the next UK general election now a mere eight months away, the stakes could not be higher. The prospect of another five years of the Tories in power, and worse a Tory majority government, is a chilling one.
The time has come to consign not only this government of the rich, and by the rich to history, but also the ideology of greed, selfishness, and avarice that underpins it.
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