Greasy Pole: Grow up and understand

You can’t help feeling sorry for coalition ministers with their sleepless nights and restless days having to do something they call Taking Tough Decisions even when these lead to thousands of people catapulted into unemployment, agonising over whether to pay the rent or mortgage or buy food or try to keep warm in the winter. So it helps to know that, at any rate for those struggling ministers, there is another way. Some spin doctor in the deeper recesses of Westminster has come up with the idea that the victims of current policies might regard themselves as less repressed and impoverished if they could accept it all in a more mature and perceptive manner. One great advantage of this reasoning would be that it promises to be stunningly cheap to operate. Another is that any residual resentment by penurious benefit applicants and the like might well be stifled by their feelings of guilt at their own inadequacy in accepting reality.

Here, for example, is Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, seemingly unshaken by his being abruptly transmogrified from the focus of a national mood of “Cleggmania” into “the most hated man in Britain”. The tension between the LibDems and their patient fans was aggravated by the fact that Clegg had led his party into the coalition along a path of dishonoured pledges and his excited complacency at holding so eminent a governmental post. Last November, before the Commons voted on the proposal to increase the university tuition fees, Clegg wrote to the President of the National Union of Students and, after asserting that the government’s intention was that graduates on lower incomes would be better off than now, stated that “I believe it is crucial that all of us are able to ensure that people know the true picture”. Take note of the use of words like “crucial…all of us…ensure…true picture…” designed to imply that anyone who does not fit into this compliant mould has defects which are – well, crucial. This argument might be more effective if it was not put by the same Nick Clegg who, when he was touting for votes during the general election, said that to raise tuition fees would be “a disaster”. So while we consider how to maintain a maturely informed attitude among the confusion, can we also settle where we place Clegg? Are we impressed that he eventually admitted the LibDems (including himself) should have thought more carefully before signing those flamboyantly reckless pledges? Or would it be more instructive to remember that this confession was a response to lost votes and the fact that Cleggmania had decayed into a septic memory of a disreputable past.

Which brings us to the Deputy Prime Minister’s deputy who, while never embellished by Cablemania, has coincidentally been reduced from the world’s most immaculately insightful economist to piteously Vincible Vince. Among a procession of savaging blunders in early November Cable boasted to two undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph who came to his constituency surgery pretending to need his advice that he had the power to scupper Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to completely take over BSkyB and that to get his own way in the coalition he could operate the “nuclear option” of threatening to resign from it. Although supposedly a hardened political operator, the terror of affluently bonused bankers, Cable seemed powerless of suspecting that he was being set up precisely to embarrass himself in such an unwise, almost terminal, style. An outraged David Cameron swiftly relieved him of these feverish delusions – and of some of his ministerial responsibilities. But he clung on as Business Secretary, in which post he had brushed aside the protests at the planned rise in tuition fees: “I think a lot of the people who are protesting actually don’t understand what’s being proposed. It doesn’t actually affect them – we’re talking about a system of graduate contribution that will only affect people who start going to university in a couple of years’ time”. There are however problems for anyone eager to give any weight to Cable’s views in this matter since he has himself demonstrated a distinct confusion in understanding – at times declaring himself to be in favour, then against, the rise in fees, then that he would abstain from voting (there are no prizes for guessing that, when he came to it, ambition overruled and he obediently supported the rise). But how are we to regard anyone so susceptible to trickery and confusion, who nevertheless tells us that we “don’t understand” our everyday problems?

From the other bit of the coalition David Cameron, in what seemed like a fit of exasperation, hit out at the opponents of the “reform” of what are called public services (in which this government is merely following Labour’s policy). Cameron’s complaint is that the critics need to grow up and realise that what counts is the standards of the service rather than which organisation – state, private, charity – delivers it. Well growing up – although not in the way Cameron means – is mostly a useful, not to say necessary, process from which a certain education is assumed to follow. But until that happens we must work with the outrageous fact that an Old Etonian, ex-member of the vandal Bullingdon Club such as Cameron can lecture us about maturity when he is unable – or perhaps reluctant – to confront the fact that the working class exist under continual pressures of survival in their everyday lives. Dependency on employment in order to survive is a vastly educative, maturing experience. For example the housing charity Shelter recently reported that some 3 million people have problems paying their rent or mortgage, which means that millions of people live under the persistent threat of being homeless. According to Shelter’s chief executive “thousands of people are hanging on to their homes by the skin of their teeth…”. That is the kind of experience which should be enough to result in such enlightenment about capitalism as to be mightily serious for the Tories, Labour, LibDems and all other supporters of this chaotic, degrading social system.


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