Wednesday, May 20, 2015

So long, it's been good to know you... (3)

III: Is Nick Clegg a shit?


Scenario 1:

Five years ago, Nick Clegg decided that the Liberal party should go out in a blaze of glory, his only regret being that he had but one party to lay down for his country. He could either join a Liberal / Conservative coalition, or else he could force a second General Election which the Conservatives would certainly have won outright. He chose the Coalition, reasoning that this was the least worst option for the country. He gambled everything on the idea that the Liberals would make a Conservative government less bad than it would otherwise have been.

He would have probably preferred a Labour/Liberal coalition, but that was never really on the table. Labour hates the Liberals far more than they hate the Conservatives, and they hate coalitions far more than they hate Liberals. 

Never been sure that supporting a Very Bad Thing to stop an Even Worse Thing happening is morally defensible myself. "Oh, personally speaking I'm dead set again beheading old ladies, but if they are going to behead old ladies anyway surely it's better that they do it with nice sharp cleavers from my nice sharp cleaver shop..." 

On this view, Clegg was literally a hypocrite. When he was defending coalition policy, he was taking the party line. Pretending to agree with stuff that he didn't agree with, because he'd promised to. But all politicians do that. Cabinet responsibility, it's called. Tell the Prime Minister that something is suicidally insane behind closed doors, and then go out and say it's a brilliant idea on live TV. (This is why so many of them cheat on their wives and expenses, incidentally. Lying convincingly is part of the job.) 

Lawyers also have to put forward arguments that they know are bullshit. But they don't have to pretend that they think that Mr J.T Ripper is innocent: merely to explain to the court why he thinks he is. This doesn’t make them bad people. It’s their job.

Scenario 2

Clegg formed an alliance with the Conservative Party because he honestly believed all the bollocks that Cameron was talking. He honestly believed that "austerity" was a necessary response to the economic crash, and not a pretext to do all the stuff that the Tories have wanted to do for years. He honestly believed that the economic crash was the fault of "the-mess-we-inherited-from-Labour" and nothing to do with the banks. He honestly believed that unemployment is caused by poor people being too lazy to go to work, and that reducing unemployment benefit will therefore cure unemployment. He honestly believed that people only go to food banks because they're greedy and love a freebie. 

See, if Scenario 2 is true, things aren’t too bad right now. The Conservative/Liberal coalition was doing pretty much the exact same things that the Conservatives would have done on their own. So we've got another ten years of that to look forward to. 

But if Clegg is what he appears to have been — a sincere and principled politician playing the best game he could with a rotten hand...

Well, what we've had for the last five years has been what the Conservative Party looked like with the Liberals holding them back. And now, there is nobody to restrain them. The brakes are off. They get to do what they actually want. 

In other words: Armageddon. 

IV: Armageddon

The BBC is over, of course; and the Health Service is over. The Welfare State is over as well. Oh, ten years from now there will still be something with the BBC logo on it, in the same way there is a still a Woolworths website and someone owns British Movietone News. But once the licence fee goes the idea of public service broadcasting comes to an end and Rupert Murdoch moves into the space it used to occupy. All those little things that we used to take for granted that meant that even if the very worst happened, it wouldn't be too bad — the dole; giro; the social; family allowance; housing benefit — are now lumped under the vile American term "welfare". So "welfare" is pretty much finished as well. How can we have a "welfare state" if all the parties are agreed that Welfare is a Bad Thing? 

And that's before we've got to the genuinely scary stuff. Europe is over; at any rate, Europe is going to have to manage without Britain because Britain is going to go it alone. Oh, there will be an In/Out referendum, but that will come after 18 months of foreigner-baiting; 18 months of Murdoch and Dacre printing made up stories about straight bananas and pensioners being hauled in front of Sharia courts for weighing their jam in feet and inches. Something like 1 in 10 people voted for a party with no policy apart from withdrawing from Europe.

I am sure that there is a sensible discussion to be had about the economics and politics of federations as opposed to confederacies as compared with treaties and contrasted with free-trade zones. I am equally sure that no-one is remotely interested in having it. It's not Britain Withdrawing From Europe that I fear so much as the two years of xenophobic rhetoric that precedes it and the month long xenophobic victory parade that follows it. 

V: Point of Need

Did you see that thing on the Interwebs about how much it cost to have a baby in America as compared with how much it cost to have a baby in the UK? (The medical costs of having a baby safely delivered and cared for, I mean. Actually producing the child is still relatively cheap in both countries.) They said that it could easily run to $100,000 in America, but that in England it is free.

This is not true. This has never been true. 

In England, it very expensive to have a baby, or get treated for cancer, or even have to have a chat with your doctor because you've got a bit of a hurty leg. Doctors and surgeons are highly paid professionals. Nurses and midwifes don't get paid nearly enough, but they don't work gratis. We have developed an ingenious scheme whereby everyone pays up front regardless of how many times they get ill, and then get to go to the doctor as often as they want regardless of what they've paid. Someone has done some sums and worked out what everyone can afford, and we pay it annually. The rich pay more and the poor pay less. No-one sits around saying "It's not fair. I don't have cancer, so I'm not getting to use the cancer ward I contributed it." We say "It's brilliant. Even if the very worst happens and I get cancer, I know there's a cancer ward waiting for me to go to. And in the meantime, if I get a hurty leg, I just go and get it seen to."

You could call this "pooling risk" or  "national insurance" or even "socialized medicine". A better word would be "sharing". 

Oh, yes, the rich sometimes say that they are paying more than their fair share and the poor sometimes say that the rich aren't paying enough. And there are sometimes stories (made up by people who hate the whole idea of "sharing") about someone who got something paid for out of the common pot that someone else thinks was frivolous or unnecessary or a waste of time – homeopathy or penis enlargement or gender realignment. And there are always tragic stories about some kid who had cancer and there were some magic pills that could definitely cure him but "you couldn't get them on the health service" because they were too expensive. If you are working on the sharing system, then someone does sometimes have to decide whether or not everyone can afford to pay ten million pounds for a treatment that might keep someone alive for an extra fortnight, horrible and painful though those kinds of decisions are. I think that's what made the crazy lady think that socialized medicine involved Death Panels. God knows, the National Health Service isn't perfect. But if you have appendicitis or a heart attack or a bit of a hurty leg it patches you up and sends you home without a bill.

Honestly, it does. You have to pay for pills and glasses.

Do you remember that big pageant they held before the 2012 Olympic Games? Deaf kids singing the National Anthem in their pajamas, James Bond shoving the Queen out of a helicopter, Paul McCartney making a spectacle of himself? Then you may also remember that Mr Rupert Murdoch said that he quite enjoyed the ceremony, but felt that it was "a bit too politically correct".

"A bit too politically correct." I wonder what he could possibly have meant? Did he wish that some of the hymn singing kids had shouted "Pooftahs! N*ggers! Cripples!" at the Queen? Did he find out that there were paramedics on hand in case anyone got ill, as opposed to, as he would presumably prefer "ambulance blokes"?

In the lexicon of the extreme right Political Correctness does not mean avoiding using nasty words if a nice ones are available. Political Correctness is a conspiracy by Marxists to destroy civilization. (Jewish Marxists. Weird looking Jewish Marxists who can't eat bacon sandwiches, I shouldn't wonder.) What Mr Rupert Murdoch objected to about the Olympic Games was J.K Rowling reading to sick children; thousands of dancing nurses and the letters N.H.S suspended above the arena: the tribute to the National Health Service as one of the unequivocally Good Things about Britain that we can boast about to the rest of the world. The Common Sense Brigade hates the Health Service because it is, genuinely, a Marxist idea. From each according to his ability, to each according to his need: it really doesn't get more Marxist than that. As noted, in England Marxist isn't an insult, but a description. Most of think that Marxism is quite a good way to run public health but quite a bad way to run, say, the steel industry. The Common Sense Brigade hate that the N.H.S exists; hate that it's successful; hate that it's popular. 

“The new National Health Service will provide you with all medical, dental and nursing care. Everyone, rich or poor, man, woman or child, can use it... But it is not a charity. You are all paying for it, mainly as taxpayers, and it will relieve your money worries in time of sickness.”

For 60 years, there has mostly been a consensus that sharing is quite a good idea; that people in work should help people who are out of work; that well paid people should lend a hand to the poor. Not necessarily by handing the poor huge clumps of five pound notes. Mostly by having things called "libraries" so that people who can't afford to buy books can still read and educate themselves; and by having things called "parks" so that even if your dad doesn't have his own tennis court, you can still play sport; and by having — call me old fashioned — things called Council Houses so people who can't get a mortgage can have somewhere to live; and by making the state schools so good that no-one really needs to send their kid to a private school and...

But that consensus is gone. Poor people are no longer unfortunates to be helped with a spoonful of "there but for the grace of god go I". Benefit claimants are no longer people like us, going through a bad patch and needing some help. (Most people claim benefits at some time in their lives.) Poor people have become, through some bizarre heresy of Calvinism, the enemy -- wicked folk who have done the wrong thing by choosing to be poor and require punishment. Not in their own interests, but in the interests of folk who virtuously chose to be rich.

We have Cameron in his manifesto:

"Under Labour, those who worked hard found more and more of their earnings taken away in tax to support a welfare system that allowed, and even encouraged, people to choose benefits when they could be earning a living. This sent out terrible signals: if you did the right thing, you were penalised – and if you did the wrong thing, you were rewarded, with the unfairness of it all infuriating hardworking people." 

We have Labour politicians, agreeing with him: 

"We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work. Labour are a party of working people, formed for and by working people.” 

And we have a right wing pundit in the Guardian. 

“This issue is self-interest. You have permission in this country to defend your own interests, and to vote accordingly, only if you’re poor, or otherwise disadvantaged....If the issue is tax, and it isn’t always, why should it be shameful to vote to keep more of the money you’ve earned but noble to vote to appropriate other people’s money...and award it to yourself or to the groups with which you personally sympathize.”

Granted, the Guardian, being a left wing paper, presumably picked a right wing pundit who could be relied on to say something stupid and unpleasant, but still, this kind of thing wouldn't have been said or even thought a decade ago. Over the next ten years, that rhetoric will increasingly be applied to the health service, libraries, public parks, museums, arts subsidies, child-benefit, education. Why should someone steal money from me just so that some child who has chosen to be poor can read books, play in the park, have an education, go to the doctor...

VI: How bad could things get?

The Tories are going to legalize fox-hunting, or at any rate, have a free vote in the house of commons to see if fox-hunting can be legalized.

Some things are more important than other things; and fox-hunting would be somewhere near the bottom of any sensible list of important things.

So why are the Tories pressing forward with their plans to legalize it?  Mainly, I suppose, because they know it will annoy the Left. In fairness, the Left banned fox hunting mainly because it would annoy the Tories. We are often told that fox hunting is a really popular day out for all different kinds of people, that families from estates in Birmingham regularly saddle up their horses and go and slaughter a few woodland mammals. For all I know this might be true. But people in red jackets shouting "tally ho!" is one of the first things which comes to mind when you think of the English upper classes.

Fox-hunting is a symbol. Legalizing fox-hunting sends a message. "When we say that we are going to govern for the whole country, we mean we are going to stick up for the Toffs and two fingers up to the oiks, the commies, and anyone who wears sandals." 

I mention this because David Cameron’s other top priority is to abolish the Human Rights Act, and I am very much hoping that he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act mainly in order to annoy the Left. And I am very much hoping that when he says he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act he means that he wants to abolish the Human Rights Act and not, for example, that he wants to abolish Human Rights.

The Human Rights Act is much hated by right-wing pundits, but the Human Rights Act that the pundits hate is largely a fictitious Human Rights act, a Human Rights act that tells policemen that burglars are allowed to order take-away meals during sieges and school children have to wear goggles to play conkers. (Human Rights, like Health and Safety, is a branch of the Jewish Marxist conspiracy to destroy civilization.) Tearing up the Human Rights Act (or “Labour’s Human Rights Act” as Cameron likes to call it) is mainly a way of identifying with Daily Mail and Sun Readers and kicking Guardian readers in the teeth. There isn't actually any plan to say that Human Rights don't apply in the United Kingdom.  

Is there?

A lot of Tories think that if you scratch Tony Blair and Ed Miliband, what you would find underneath would be a Clause 4 (*) believing cloth cap wearing brass band listening union belonging Old Labour Man. A lot of us Lefties fear that you would have to peel a lot less layers off David Cameron and Micahel Gove to find an old fashioned hang'em flog'em Tory underneath. (In British English, Hang’em-Flog’em-Tory is all one word, like Bleeding-Heart-Liberal in American English.)

The question we can't answer at this stage is: do Hang'em-flog'em-Tories actually still believe in hanging and flogging? 

VII: Earth Abides

The Church of England, the BBC, the National Health Service. Three things which made Britian Britain. One of them self-destructed, the other two are going to be broken by a gang of posh boys because they can. A fiercely patriotic little island, regarding the countries around it not as partners or allies but as competitors or opponents. Scotland a scary little left-wing foreign place that we're taught to dislike almost as much as we dislike the French. No health service anyone who grew up in Britain would recognise as a health service. No public service broadcaster with a remit to give us what we need as well as what we want; Murdoch stepping into the breach with topless ladies and far-right propaganda. The unemployed reliant on charity; or living on the street as hobos; or maybe working for food coupons or gathered into workhouses. (What do you do with poor people if there aren't jobs for them and you aren't prepared to give them any money?) An England tentatively hanging it's first paedophile and wondering whether free schools might be permitted to start gently and sensibly beating children again. No libraries; if you can't buy books on Amazon, what right have you to read? No parks, because why should poor people play on lawns that working people paid to have cut?  

Well, it may not come to that. But the Tory Party are steering us in that direction. And any suggestion that we might not want to go in this direction; or even that we might not want to go in this direction quite so fast; is denounced as crazily "left wing" and "communist" even by the Labour party itself. 

So what is there to stop this happening – except the innate good sense and decency of the British people.

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