‘The media’s malfeasance and manipulations were laid bare: and so was George – a braggart, a conman, a liar and a crook; a man whom the public knew to be devoid of either integrity or credibility; a man who had made the slow annihilation of the economic resources funding the public sector his central tenet of policy. Yet still he pressed on.’
‘Next year George and David will introduce the Welfare Act, containing 17 separate measures designed to make Britain the first country in Europe to no longer have a welfare state.’
Re-posted at the request of disability activist Gabriel Pepper
Alistair’s Darlings imploring to George Osborne, delivered this past weekend, will not fall on deaf ears for the obvious reason. It will do so instead because it makes a fundamental mistake in assuming that George Osborne is remotely interested in its subject matter of economic growth and prosperity. He isn’t. Osborne is the first chancellor in history who places social transformation before economic performance. He is a kamikaze chancellor. He knows his policies will ultimately wreck his career. Yet he believes his self-immolation serves a higher calling.
Make no mistake, this recession now belongs to Osborne. It is no longer the fault of the banks, of the Eurozone or the Royal wedding, the bad weather, the extra bank holiday, the last government, the global financial crisis or any of the other fake alibis conjured up by the government. This recession is his and his alone. It was manufactured in the treasury by his own hands. It was made, one might even say sculptured, for a noble Tory purpose – to render the public sector unaffordable so that it can be closed down for good.
In that sense, it must not be subject to any amelioration of the kind urged by Alistair Darling until it has done its work. It must just burn through the system. When it has finished, in Margaret Thatcher’s words, “there will be no such thing as society.” That is its purpose.
Conservatives have never made a secret of their longing to abolish the welfare state and the NHS and to outsource their services to Wall Street and the City. It is the stuff of Tory wet dreams: creating a world that genuflects to Herbert Spencer, a world in which the impeccable sanatoriums of the privately insured sit next to the charity hospitals coping with everyone else, a world where big society volunteers dispense the only care the disabled can get; where those who suffer misfortune or dispossession are punished, made to wear orange suits and pick up litter, where only poor children are educated inside the state sector, in dilapidated halls miles from the chrome and smoked glass of the “free schools” fast-tracking middle class children to golden lives.
Until George’s recession, this always proved to be a doggedly elusive world. It was the hinterland that Margaret Thatcher and her cronies spent their days marching towards – her voice crashed through the octaves whenever she thought it was in sight. But Thatcher never got there. She made the mistake of generating too much cash through looting the public utilities – gas, electricity, water, telecoms – to ever plausibly close the public services on financial grounds.
She couldn’t abolish hospitals en masse when the treasury was awash with so much stolen money it could barely launder it. For decades the Tory party found itself caught between its two most fundamental instincts – its idolatry of greed and its hatred of the human instinct for community. And greed always won.
But then came Rupert Murdoch’s new generation of lieutenants – Cameron, Osborne, Duncan-Smith. If anything, they were even more enthusiastic about the destruction of public services than Margaret Thatcher. She at least had lived through the war. They had lived through fights over the pâte levée feuilletée in stately homes. And they were never going to repeat her mistakes.
If the public services were to be dismantled it could not be done during a boom. Full blooded recovery was an enemy of opportunity. A slump, by contrast, provided an irresistible decoy. Public services become too expensive. Wall Street comes to tea. Barely settled into the treasury, George Osborne set to with the kind of financial terrorism that had every leading economist scratching their heads.
It was not an easy achievement, reversing Labour’s recovery. George had to work long and hard to undo the strong, steady growth he inherited. Obama and Brown had both employed what was universally recognised as the only strategy for ending a recession and repaying debt: adrenalise the economy with investment, then withdraw support as it improved and begin gradual deficit reduction using the rising tax receipts.
It had got both countries out of the great depression eighty years earlier. It’s what turned Europe around within five years after the Second World War. It isn’t a policy or an option. It’s the only known cure. And it delivered. Britain returned to growth during the first and second quarters of 2010. Tax receipts rose. Every sector was bouncing back. Business and finance posted their strongest figures in almost three years, with rises of 1.3%.
The BBC reported that growth was “faster than expected, particularly in the second quarter of the year” and that the figures were “almost double the rate expected by economists.” Labour had in fact produced “the fastest quarterly expansion since 2006” and all the figures were “marking a sharp pick-up in pace.” Evidence that the recession was properly over came from the service sector – about three-quarters of the UK economy – where growth was the most spectacular in a decade. “The last time the UK had growth of more 1.1% in any quarter was in 1999,” reported the ONS.
To reverse this recovery took persistence, stoicism and some whooping big lies. But George was determined to have a go. He started with consumer confidence. He made it plain that he was withdrawing life support. He extinguished retail spending, cancelled investment projects, cut a public sector job every two minutes, strangled the confidence necessary for bank lending, eliminated capital spending, both public and private, eradicated research and development, the key to export growth, and sucked as much real money out of the economy as he could. The media propagated his lies at every turn, telling viewers and readers that black was white, night was day, austerity cured recession.
By the end of 2010 it was clear that the slash and burn programme was setting Britain up for the worst depression since the 1930s. Over the next year output per capita sank a staggering 14 per cent below its pre-crisis trend, while unemployment rose to 8.1 per cent. The retail sector collapsed. Manufacturing crashed. Construction fell by an historic 5 per cent. The service sector went into meltdown. The reverse was so swift and complete that even George’s friends at Sky and ITN worried that their gross and persistent lies about the wisdom of cuts were in danger of being rumbled.
The IMF – the masters of the capitalist universe – blurted out that George was destroying the economy with a puzzling, psychopathic cheeriness, a whistle and a spring, and that the abyss was bottomless unless he returned to Labour’s stimulus. Then the credit ratings agencies announced that the cuts would forfeit the very triple A rating they were ostensibly designed to protect.
A group of Tory economists admitted with a gulp that the country would not recover for a generation unless the policies they had advocated were reversed. The media’s malfeasance and manipulations were laid bare: and so was George – a braggart, a conman, a liar and a crook; a man whom the public knew to be devoid of either integrity or credibility; a man who had made the slow annihilation of the economic resources funding the public sector his central tenet of policy. Yet still he pressed on.
At times he looked like Orestes, pursued by furies. Pretty soon we had sunk from five successive quarters of Labour recovery into a Tory slump that ate its way through 2010, through 2011 and now into 2012. We became one of only two of the world’s 20 richest nations to still be in recession. The only sound you could hear as Britain’s fortunes disappeared down the plughole was that of George whooping at the big fat sale of public assets that he could now inflict on a country he’d wilfully bankrupted.
As autumn approaches, blowing in on the worst economic data since Edwardian times, George’s success with the wrecking ball means the government can finally pin up the “for sale” notices on Wall Street, advertising a public sector priced out of existence by a recession spawned in the treasury.
Booms and busts come and go. But a revolution is for life. Every new piece of economic bad news delivers the perfect alibi in George’s auction of the bleeding heart institutions that Tories have spent generations trying unsuccessfully to destroy. Roll up, roll up. “These are things we can no longer afford…” goes the mantra. “We must all take the pain…” And who gets hurt any way? No one of note. People with means already have private health insurance and a private pension. People who don’t have means are, by definition, of no consequence. “I have been around the ruling class all my life,” said Gore Vidal, in 2007, “and I have seen first-hand their total contempt for ordinary people.”
And Rupert Murdoch’s dauphin is certainly on target to achieve his plan: all the post-war shibboleths that raise up the hardest working people in Britain are going. All the institutions your grandfather fought in the war to win, the fairer and more just society he imagined as he piloted through the flak, are going, going, gone. Permanently. Next year George and David will introduce the Welfare Act, containing 17 separate measures designed to make Britain the first country in Europe to no longer have a welfare state.
Already council tax relief has been abolished for the poorest pensioners; maternity grants abolished; child trust funds closed down; four billion in tax credits stolen from working families; £1.87 billion taken from housing benefit for people who clean toilets or drive buses.
None of this could have been pushed through if the upturn had been allowed to continue. Recovery would have meant status quo. Insolvency means a fire sale. And the privatisations, right on cue, are like never before: the police forces, the prison service, social care provision and – best of all – the hospitals.
It does not even have to be done by stealth (and somewhere out of Chester Square comes an Archimedes cry). Circle and Netcare have already been given licences to make money from the sick. So have Atos and CIC’s. A giant sale of beds, staff and medicine to the highest bidder. Richard Branson now controls 18 NHS contracts across 15 counties and spends his days working out how to flower up Virgin’s racketeering of key-hole procedures and hospital stays. Responsibility for health provision no longer rests with the government (read the Act).
The secretary of state no longer has an obligation to provide citizens with treatment. By 2020 “basic care” will be free but you will be charged for all investigative scans, out-patient consultations and drugs. These will be shown to you on a menu of prices at competing hospitals – £2,500 for your chemo here – £1,800 there. A person with a happy ring in their voice will call you to discuss your payment plan. If you can’t afford the treatments then you can’t have them – and that’s just tough. And why not? If people are forking out for laptops and flat screen TVs and continental holidays then they can damn well fork out for their childrens’ eye surgery or their parents’ dementia drugs.
Better still, George’s recession gives him the excuse to cut all the money we waste looking after the terminally ill and the disabled. Care for the dying is another thing we can no longer afford in the long shadow of a pre-meditated slump. Right now £1.075 billion is being cut from disability living allowance. But by 2015 the allowance will cease to exist altogether. Going, going, gone. The Independent Living Fund, providing help for those stricken by cancer, multiple sclerosis and arthritis, is also being abolished – no more than a memory of the civilised society to which young men once hopefully raised their salutes.
Another £135 million will be cut from the mobility component of patients in residential care. On and on. But don’t be squeamish about this. Get a grip. George’s decision to smoother those too weak to move or speak is simply good business sense. You should be grateful to him for pulling the roof down on their heads in hard times. Once he had withdrawn help in his last budget from people with motor neuron disease, he was free to cut taxes for the super-rich. It’s immoral, pitiless and violently Darwinian. But George thinks it has a kind of exquisiteness to it, like a magnificent symmetrical variation in chess. It’s real politic.
The Murdoch government – for whom not a single person in Britain voted – not one – has now almost completed its mission. The recovery has been successfully reversed, the economy has been burnt to the ground and the state has been sold off.
Of course the price will be defeat at the next election. But who cares – Cameron already has his new job lined up at SG Hambros and Osborne will go to American Century to impress his philosophy on the rest of the world.
What matters is that history will enshrine Murdoch’s men, these blue-blooded frauds and gangsters, as people who changed Britain for ever. And that’s much more important than being politicians who win elections.
For George, it’s not about the economy (stupid) but about his brave new world – a world where Spencer’s doctrines triumph, where the weakest go to the wall in good times as well as bad, where the privileged have an easier life and everyone else can scratch by on vouchers and hope.
Meantime, the carnivorous and well-connected, the boys of the Bullingdon, finally have the means to make real money: forget these crappy social media flotations, there are private hospitals to run, sick and dying children with price tags on their heads, commodities to be bought and sold on one ward or another, masses of new private schools, private universities, the privatised prisons, the privatised police forces. Lovely big margins everywhere. Profits galore.
This is George’s world, this Camusian hell of greed and cruelty. But you enjoy it. It’s yours. Unless you voted Labour, you made it.
James Ruddick is a writer and broadcaster. He has presented Inside Out for the BBC, amongst other programmes. In 2003 he was nominated for an Edgar Award for non-fiction