The government of national unity?
Reporter: John Hardcastle
Date online: 05 October 2010
“Behind closed doors they had what were legendary battles I hear but when the doors opened there was absolute unity. Not a crack could be found. No separation whatsoever. They were locked together for the good of the community.”
And so, George Osborne of all people has found an issue upon which to unite the country. There’s nothing that unites the good old British public more than the notion that everyone who qualifies for some sort of state benefit is some sort of shiftless, parasitic scrounger who is too idle to work.
From a strategic point of view, the idea to start with Child Benefit for those on £44,000 per year plus was masterly! Start dismantling the welfare system by appearing to be attacking the rich; a stroke of near-genius! The public waved and cheered and when this was followed up swiftly with the ‘right-thinking’ notion that there should be a benefits ‘cap’ of £26,000, you could almost hear the sound of underwear being ripped off and thrown ecstatically towards the podium at the Tory Party conference.
What George is really doing here of course is putting the ‘con’ back into Conservative so he starts with an attack on “the rich” instead of the traditional targets lower down the food chain. It’s so good that even ‘the rich’ themselves queue to take hold of the mike and tell the viewers that they think this seems fair.
Of course I have been careful to use quotation marks around the phrase “the rich” After all, although £44,000 may seem like a good salary to many, a police sergeant will get just under this with his London weighting allowance. A modern matron in the NHS will get £46,600. They may be getting more than one of the assistants at McDonalds but they hardly qualify as rich.
It’s not just the public who are being conned here. The Tories are desperate to prove to their coalition partners, the Lib Dems that the leopard really has changed its spots. The Lib Dems, still unused to being partners in power-sharing are led blinking into the light and all they hear is the roar of applause at this populist move. What really matters of course is what comes next.
Housing Benefit, Job-Seekers Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, State Pension? Who knows? The scene has been set and it’s all up for grabs. You started with “the rich” so the public will allow you plenty of latitude and Nick Clegg will do his nodding dog act and give the Lib Dem seal of approval to anything you want to cut with the possible exception of War Widow’s Pension.
It doesn’t really matter what the sick, the unemployed and the disenfranchised think at this stage. Now is definitely not their day but is the country really ready for the sting in the tail that a wholesale dismemberment of the benefits system will surely bring?
Many benefits are there for a very good reason. They help the low paid stay in employment. They enable those who are too ill to work to live with dignity. They seek to balance cost with compassion and to recognise the fact that good government should seek to promote wealth whilst at the same time understanding that it has a duty to protect and defend the poor and the disadvantaged.
Of course, there are those who know how to play the system. Successive governments have always pledged to crack down on the fraudsters and the undeserving. A few even get hauled up before the courts but unfortunately, like tuna-fishing, far too many dolphins seem to get tangled up in the nets.
Decent, hard-working people who simply can’t manage get their houses repossessed and the bailiff’s and the loan-sharks seem to be the only ones doing well out of human misery as the tax-dodgers at the higher end of the food chain go unnoticed and unchecked. Wasn’t it ever thus?
So carry on George. Give the public what they want. Let’s get these people off benefits and into work eh? You do have the jobs for them don’t you?
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