Greasy Pole: All in What Together?
Such is the glut of material it is not necessary to drill too deeply into political history to excavate an impressive sample of pledges, slogans, phrases deposited by our leaders which they came to regret. For example during the devastating slump of the 1930s a few million unemployed who had returned from the war bitterly questioned the meaning of Lloyd George and his “Land Fit For Heroes”. In the 1960s there was Harold Macmillan dreamily talking of a time when a customarily struggling people “never had it so good”. Labour Prime Minister, James Callaghan never lived down “Crisis? What Crisis?” when he was asked, as he returned from an economic summit in the West Indies in 1979, about his plans to deal with British capitalism’s turmoil. The fact that he did not say this (it was no more than a reporters’ version of what he had said) did not lessen the impression of a flippant dismissal of a serious problem and led to the loss of Labour votes. And recently, as the present recession (of a kind widely assumed by the economic experts to be a thing of the past) rumbled into its stride, David Cameron attempted to rally us with the assurance that: “We are all in this together”.
What right has Cameron to speak to us in this way? Well, in this social system with its historically characteristic class structure there is all he needs to give him that right. His background is rich in antecedent; through his paternal grandmother he is a direct, if illegitimate, descendant of King William IV and, through tortuous lineage, a fifth cousin of the present queen Elizabeth. Apart from being blue-blooded, he is (possibly to his own relief) a son of a family with a long and lucrative history of high standing in banking and trade. His late father benefited from a family tradition of being a senior partner in one of London’s richest, most powerful stockbrokers. If this is not enough to secure his superior place in the social hierarchy, Cameron is married to a step-daughter of Viscountess Astor who, apart from being a descendant of Charles II was the owner and designer of an exclusive jewellery business and is now the CEO of a home furnishing design company. In other words, Cameron has all he needs to assert his place in the class structure of capitalism, which encourages him to lay down the laws governing our lives in the interests of his class. And which includes swamping us with repression and manipulation, at times denying the reality of it all with specious claims to have common interests with us. This is, put simply, another aspect of the class struggle.
David Cameron can be relied on to tell us every now and again that he is “passionate” about all sorts of plans, chances and prospects. So we might ask how he judges his government’s response to his widely publicised call for national unity to deal with the recession – as we are all in the mess together. There are many examples in opposition to this, of an emphasis on people being officially divided between hard workers and dole-scroungers, between genuine invalids and fraudulent incapacity benefit claimants. Some time ago we had to endure government spokespeople relating how “decent, hard-working” people can be seen at five o’clock in the morning trekking to work through dark and silent streets where, behind curtains, benefit fraudsters slept blissfully on. We heard about Boris Johnson complaining that in a sandwich bar he is often served by someone from abroad – because the English are too lazy to compete with diligent foreign workers for such jobs. And a particular victim of this kind of demonising has been, and is increasingly, the disabled.
In this cause, the gutter media have joyfully joined the campaign to support the government propaganda that the benefits system is being bankrupted, publishing photographs of incapacity benefit claimants refereeing football games or running in races. This has stimulated an upsurge in discrimination – sometimes abuse or violence – against disabled people commonly assumed to be cheating for their benefits. Charities like Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire, Royal National Institute for the Blind, report regularly receiving calls about this and believe it to be officially encouraged. The head of campaigns at the National Autistic Society has stated that The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) where Iain Duncan Smith is secretary “is certainly guilty of helping to drive this media narrative around benefits, portraying those who receive benefits as work-shy scroungers or abusing the system that’s really easy to cheat”. The Head of Policy at the Disability Alliance said his organisation is hearing of higher levels of verbal abuse: “It seems to be growing as a result of a misperception of much more widespread abuse of benefits than actually exists. That’s being fed by the DWP in their attempts to justify massive reductions in welfare expenditure.” (The intention is to reduce total Disabled Living Allowance payments by 20 per cent by 2015/6.)
So what does Cameron think about his call for unity being used to divide people? That catchphrase of his has passed with the others into a disreputable history, leaving us with two questions. What is the “it” which we are urged to be “in”? And do we want to be there with him? Do we want a society typified by people existing, in this country apart from elsewhere, in such peril that a cut in state benefit reduces them to desperation, needing to choose between buying food and heating their home? Are we impressed by politicians’ transparent efforts to justify this? There is a simple answer: we can do better and as a start we can expose the likes of Cameron and their insidious defence of the indefensible.