The Government are playing a game. They don’t serve the needs of the public. They serve a wealthy elite. The Coalition don’t care about the consequences of taking money from the poorest and giving it to the wealthiest. But they won’t tell us that. They are playing the game that the game is not a game.
It’s called the “blame game.” As welfare “reforms” and housing cuts bite increasingly harder, do we ever reach the point where the Government concedes that the horror and hardship caused to many is an inevitable consequence of their own policies? Not at all. Instead we see their adeptness at digging ever deeper holes of denial.
At least Thatcher admitted there was increased unemployment, that it was as a tool of economic policy, and it was, in her opinion, a price worth paying to bring down inflation. Shucks, shame that didn’t work, Maggie. Gosh darn, we had high unemployment AND high inflation. But at least she was honest about her original intent.
The Tory-led Coalition denies that there is unemployment. Or indeed any hardship at all, or sacrifices made through elitist economic policy-making. They blame anyone other than the ministers who have instituted the cuts. Whenever some new example of the horrendous effects of their policies is presented to them, they have a range of stock responses. You have to wonder if there is a standard Whitehall crib sheet for ministers.
Well here is what the cheat sheet certainly looks like, in the interests of democracy and open Government:-
Deny that alternatives to austerity are viable.
The repetition of a lie ad nauseum is based on the idea Goebbels had – that repeated lies will somehow convince people that they are true. Cameron was busted when he repeatedly told the lie “We are paying down the debt.” Despite being rumbled, the Coalition have stuck with this lie doggedly. The bonus of the lie is that it may undermine the Opposition’s economic credibility, and the Tories particularly delight in the lie that it’s all Labour’s fault because they “overspent” as it further justifies austerity measures and starving public services of Government funding, with our paid taxes, as well as stripping our welfare provision away.
The Coalition have REALLY messed up the economy. We know it’s a big fat Tory lie that cutting spending at a time of economic recession will re-balance public finances. As many academics and economists have stated, cutting spending when the economy is flat is likely to cause further contraction to the economy, and that will negatively affect public finances, rather than help at all.
The Government will never confess to this because they are so tightly ideologically bound to an übertreiben Neo-Liberalism, no matter what the cost is in human terms, or even in economic terms. What we need is Labour’s expansionary fiscal policies, not contractionary ones. Real, sensible economists know that the only way to address a recession is to grow the economy, and that means more public spending in the short term, to stimulate economic activity, and cutting if needed when the economy is back on the up (which needn’t mean absolute cuts, but relative cuts because the economy is growing).
Repeat that implementing the cuts is avoidable.
The trick is to give the impression that all the cuts can be made painlessly by eliminating luxuries and sacking “backroom staff”. Cameron used this one at PMQs last week when he accused Councils of making high-profile cuts “to try to make a point,” and not because they need to. Delivered with a straight face and psychopathic calm, this sounds like a feasible lie that some will believe. So, Central Government is severely reducing budgets to Local Authorities, leaving them with a kind of impossible table cloth pulling trick to accomplish. Rip away the funding and hope the contents of the table – local services and provisions – stay put, and don’t crash to the floor. Of course, Labour Councils will be affected by the cuts more than other Councils, too. That also works out well for the Coalition.
Blame the previous Labour Government.
“It’s all their fault we have too few homes.” The Coalition focus on the fact that housebuilding in Labour’s very last year was the worst they achieved, even though we know that was because of the credit crunch. The Government won’t admit either that housebuilding under the Coalition is on average 45,000 homes less per year than the output under Labour, or that 2010/11 and 2011/12 were the two worst years since the war for English housebuilding. They don’t mention that Thatcher sold off all of the social housing stock, either. Again, they blame Local Government. Westminster is putting homeless families up in expensive hotels and Camden’s sending them to Coventry (or Leicester, Liverpool, or somewhere else absurdly far from London). The Government say, hiding their smug smiles, how stupid this is, and tell them to stop it, even though both they and we know they cannot.
Don’t admit that cutting welfare affects anything else.
Cuts in all benefits for private tenants will mean that more of them will become homeless, and more people will need accommodation with lower rents in the social sector. The Government deny that this will happen. Most of the political debate at the moment is focused on the consequences of the bedroom tax, and the implications of private sector high rents, local rent allowance caps, (and in some areas, Councils are quietly imposing a bedroom tax on those in privately rented properties, too, despite the rhetoric that this will affect only those tenants in social housing) the poll tax style council benefit reductions and DWP related benefits cap have been somewhat obscured. Current debate does not, and probably cannot cover the depth of utter disruption and destruction to people’s lives that these changes are going to bring about. That is partly because the full details of the changes are not being released by this Government in a transparent and timely manner.
If any evidence emerges that shows them to be wrong, under no circumstances will the Government agree with it. All valid criticism and evidence will be passed off as “scaremongering”. Better still, the Government don’t read the evidence then no-one can accuse them of knowing the facts but ignoring them. Alternatively, officials may be able to find an obscure or outdated source that on the surface appears to contradict the evidence.
Blame the victims
Extravagant housing benefit claims may only happen in a few isolated cases, but even so the press will amplify and stigmatise those few, especially if they are large families, unemployed, migrants or – even better – all three. The Government gives the impression that such claims make up most of the welfare budget. They won’t ever admit that over half of welfare spending goes to older people, as they are seen as deserving of it, by the general public. If the Coalition is talking about housing benefit, they will try to give the impression that it’s spent by the tenants themselves to fund their indolent lifestyles – they won’t ever confess that the money goes directly to landlords who are pushing up rents because there are insufficient houses available. There is the old Poor Law binary conceptual schema, especially resurrected to inform Tory narratives – the notion of “deserving” and “undeserving” poor, which is implicit in all of their anti-welfare and anti-public service rhetoric.
The Government use keywords and sound bites in debate, speeches and in the media. They repeatedly refer to “scroungers”’, “the workshy,” “strivers” not “skivers” and talk about “subsidised housing,” and not council homes. (£23,000,000,000 every year is given to private landlords in subsidies by the tax payer). This helps “confirm” the impression that most welfare spending is a waste of (“striving” tax payers’) money. Suggestions for new and even more derogative terms are always welcome. IDS has made a good attempt to link welfare recipients in the public collective consciousness with drug addicts and alcoholics. Other MPs are following his lead. Again, evidence that is presented to the contrary is dismissed, usually with angry derision and a renewed psychological and linguistic assault on the victims, and/or the label of “scaremongering” directed at the critic that presented the evidence.
Another strategy employed by the Tories is to manipulate the victims of their savage cuts via propaganda, so they blame each other. Those in low paid work can blame the poor unemployed for the economic recession and the misery of the cuts, those unemployed people can blame poor immigrants, and everyone can blame the poor “feckless” and “fraudulent” sick and disabled people. The Coalition are very adept at creating folk devils and moral outrage. It’s an old and established bullying tactic to blame the victim, as this serves to cover up the abuse of the victim or to “justify” that abuse. The Tories managed to use others to persecute victims further in order to oppress and silence them. Scapegoating victims and persecution is also one of the hallmarks of an authoritarian Government, one that does not serve the needs of the public, but rather, sees the public as a means of serving Government needs.
Deny that the cuts are taking place.
The Government will point out if there is any part of any budget that they decided to protect, however small, and they will grossly exaggerate its importance. Take a lesson from Grant Shapps: every time someone has said funding for homelessness is being cut and services are being decimated, he would point to his Department’s small fund for homelessness prevention, and claim that because it hadn’t been reduced, other services had been unaffected, or – oh yes of course – any cuts are the fault of the Local Authorities. The ones that have had their funding drastically cut by Central Government, and that will face even more cuts once the Localism Bill is implemented.
It’s obvious to a fool that the scale of the welfare cuts in reality must mean massive suffering and hardship. Furthermore, Labour find and present deserving examples of cases, such as people dying of cancer, homeless ex-servicemen, that sort of thing. (There are many, many deserving examples of cases, too.) One Tory tactic is to almost always offer to investigate the particular case, implying they may do something (even though they won’t.) Another is that they point to the money that’s been set aside for special cases (e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments). They never fail to give the impression that this is sufficient to deal with any genuine hardship. Usually there is mention of an amount e.g. Discretionary Housing Payments total £60 million in 2012/13. This will seem a large sum to the public even though it’s only a tiny fraction of the cuts taking place. There isn’t a chance in hell that such a small amount of funding “on one side” will alleviate the chaos, suffering and mass homelessness that is to come when the bedroom tax, new council ‘poll’ tax and benefit cap are implemented and their effects hit hard, which they undoubtedly will despite the pseudo-reassuring Tory rhetoric that glides with glib indifference over the surface of these horrors.
Stick a public plaster on it.
Unfortunately some problems are so big and so obvious that the Coalition have to pretend they are doing something about them. For example, every fool knows builders have almost stopped building. Given that the housing budget had one of the biggest cuts of all in the Spending Review, there’s precious little they can can do, but they will pretend otherwise. Firstly, they argue that output is going up even when it’s going down (Tory tip – don’t appear on Sunday Politics, choose programmes where they don’t do their research.) Secondly, the Coalition always have to hand some useful initiative available that sounds like it might solve the problem, even if it’s far too small to make any difference. Grant gave us NewBuy and FirstBuy, which both sound sufficiently impressive, but then they may need to invent one or two more when people realise how inconsequential they are. The Coalition have said they are selling more homes under the right to buy Scheme, as if this helps solve the problems, even though they aren’t and it doesn’t.
Richard Vize made an excellent point in the Guardian last week that Cameron and Co. are undermining Local Government and failing to prepare people for the depth of the cuts that are now hitting them – with much worse still in the pipeline. He says that ministers are “giving the impression that public services can indeed manage cuts without pain or profound change. They can’t.” How on earth can the Coalition expect to be taken seriously as a Government, if they make cuts on an unprecedented scale over a dangerously tight time-scale, but refuse even to admit there might be consequences for public services?
Perhaps the frightening answer is that they refuse to admit it because their intention is to push ahead relentlessly, and regardless of public opinion, and that they don’t care about the consequences.