Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

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The Tories are not “paying down the debt” as claimed. They are “raising more money for the rich”

Austerity is not being imposed by the Coalition to achieve an economic result. Austerity IS the economic result. In the wake of the global banking crisis, the Tories, aided and abetted by the Liberal Democrats, have opportunistically delivered ideologically driven cuts and mass privatisation.

We also know that the government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) laid bare an important truth – that any semblance of economic recovery is despite the Coalition and not because of them. Yet the Tories have continued to claim that austerity is “working”. The Chairman of the OBR, Robert Chote said:

“Looking over the forecast as a whole – net trade makes very little contribution and government spending cuts will act as a drag.

The OBR state that any slight economic recovery is in no way because of Osborne and Tory policy, but simply due to the wider global recovery from the global crash. 

The government has drastically cut its spending on everything – including the NHS, and welfare in spite of their ludicrous claims to the contrary, this means that the government has consistently damaged the prospect of any economic recovery. This also demonstrates clearly that Coalition policy is driven by their own ideology rather than a genuine problem-solving approach to the economy. Yes, I know I’ve said all of this before – and so have others – but it’s so important to keep on exposing this Tory lie.

However, I believe that Conservatives really do have a conviction that the “big state” has stymied our society: that the “socialist relic” – our NHS and our Social Security system, which supports the casualties of Tory free markets, have somehow created those casualties. But we know that the competitive, market choice-driven Tory policies create a few haves and many have-nots.

Coalition rhetoric is designed to have us believe there would be no poor if the welfare state didn’t “create” them. If the Coalition must insist on peddling the myth of meritocracy, then surely they must also concede that whilst such a system has some beneficiaries, it also creates situations of insolvency and poverty for others.

Inequality is a fundamental element of the same meritocracy script that neoliberals so often pull from the top pockets of their bespoke suits. It’s the big contradiction in the smug, vehement meritocrat’s competitive individualism narrative. This is why the welfare state came into being, after all – because when we allow such fundamentally competitive economic dogmas to manifest, there are always winners and losers. It’s hardly “fair”, therefore, to leave the casualties of competition facing destitution and starvation, with a hefty, cruel and patronising barrage of calculated psychopolicical scapegoating, politically-directed cultural blamestorming, and a coercive, pathologising and punitive behaviourist approach to the casualities of inbuilt, systemic, inevitable and pre-designated sentences of economic exclusion and poverty.

And that’s before we consider the fact that whenever there is a Conservative-led government, there is no such thing as a “free market”: in reality, all markets are rigged to serve elites.

Political theorist Francis Fukuyama, announced in 1992 that the great ideological battles between “east and west” were over, and that western liberal democracy had triumphed. He was dubbed the “court philosopher of global capitalism” by John Gray. In his book The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama wrote:

“At the end of history, it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society…..What we are witnessing, is not just the end of the cold war, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatism behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives, and as we know, that’s rigged. Tory ideology does not ever have a utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, and stifle the rationale for critical debate.

Like Marx, Fukuyama drew to some extent on the ideas of Hegel – who defined history as a linear procession of “epochs” – technological progress and the progressive, cumulative resolution of conflict allowed humans to advance from tribal to feudal to industrial society. Fukuyama was determined to send us on an epic detour – Marx informed us the journey ended with communism, but Fukuyama has diverted us to another destination.

I agree with Fukuyama on one point: since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be the fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives. However we haven’t witnessed the “triumph of liberal democracy” at all: in the UK, we are seeing the imposition of rampant, unchecked neoliberalism coupled with an unyielding, authoritarian-styled social conservatism, with the safety net of democracy removed.

Fukuyama’s declaration manufactures an impression of global consensus politics but I believe this is far from the truth. I don’t believe this can possibly be the endpoint of humanity’s sociocultural evolution. It doesn’t reflect any global and historical learning or progress.

Jacques Derrida (Specters of Marx (1993) ) said that Fukuyama – and the quick celebrity of his book – is but one symptom of the wider anxiety to ensure the “death of Marx”. He goes on to say:

“For it must be cried out, at a time when some have the audacity to neo-evangelize in the name of the ideal of a liberal democracy that has finally realized itself as the ideal of human history: never have violence, inequality, exclusion, famine, and thus economic oppression affected as many human beings in the history of the earth and of humanity. Instead of singing the advent of the ideal of liberal democracy and of the capitalist market in the euphoria of the end of history, instead of celebrating the ‘end of ideologies’ and the end of the great emancipatory discourses, let us never neglect this obvious macroscopic fact, made up of innumerable singular sites of suffering: no degree of progress allows one to ignore that never before, in absolute figures, have so many men, women and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth.”

Fukuyama’s work is a celebration of neoliberal hegemony and a neo-conservative endorsement of it. It’s an important work to discuss simply because it has been so widely and tacitly accepted, and because of that, some of the implicit, taken-for-granted assumptions and ramifications need to be made explicit.

I don’t think conviction politics is dead, as claimed by Cameron – he has said that he doesn’t “do isms”, that politics is doing “what works”, “working together in the National interest” and “getting the job done”. But we know he isn’t working to promote a national interest, only an elite one. Cameron may have superficially smoothed recognisable “isms” from Tory ideology, but Nick Clegg has most certainly taken the politics out of politics, and added to the the impression that old polarities no longer pertain –  that all the main parties have shifted to the right.

However, the authoritarian Right’s domination of the ideological landscape, the Liberal Democrat’s complete lack of any partisan engagement and their readiness to compromise with their once political opponents has certainly contributed to popular disaffection with mainstream politics, and a sense of betrayal.

It’s ironic that many of those on the left who mistake divisiveness for a lack of political choice have forgotten the degree of consensus politics between 1945 and 1979, when Labour achieved so much, and manifested what many deem “real” socialist ideals. The Conservatives at that time largely agreed the need for certain basic government policies and changes in government responsibility in the decades after World War II, from which we emerged economically exhausted.

The welfare state, the national health service (NHS), and widespread nationalisation of industry happened at a time of high national debt, because the recommendations of the Beveridge Report were adopted by the Liberal Party, to some extent by the Conservative Party, and then most expansively, by the Labour Party.

It was Thatcher’s government that challenged the then accepted orthodoxy of Keynesian economics – that a fall in national income and rising unemployment should be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. There was increasing divergence of economic opinion between the Labour and the Tories, ending the consensus of the previous decades. Thatcher’s policies rested on a strongly free-market monetarist platform aiming to curb inflation by controlling the UK’s money supply, cut government spending, and privatise industry, consensus became an unpopular word.

The Thatcher era also saw a massive under-investment in infrastructure. Inequality increased. The winners included much of the corporate sector and the City, and the losers were much of the public sector and manufacturing. Conservatism: same as it ever was.

Those on the “Narxist” left who claim that there is a consensus – and that the Blair government continued with the tenets of Thatcherism need to take a close look at Blair’s policies, and the important achievements that were underpinned with clear ethical socialist principles: strong themes of equality, human rights, anti-discrimination legislation, and strong programmess of support for the poorest, sick and disabled and most vulnerable citizens. Not bad going for a party that Narxists lazily dubbed “Tory-lite”.

Narxism is founded on simplistic, sloganised references to Marxist orthodoxy, and the claim to “real socialism.” Many Narxists claim that all other political parties are “the same.”

The Narxist “all the samers” tend to think at an unsophisticated populist level, drawing heavily on a frustratingly narrow lexicon of blinding glittering generalities, soundbites and slogans. But we need to analyse and pay heed to what matters and what defines a political party: policies and their impact. Despite New Labour’s shortcomings, if we are truly to learn anything of value and evolve into an effective opposition, presenting alternatives to the Conservative neoliberal doxa, we must also examine the positives: a balanced and even-handed analysis. We won’t progress by fostering further divisions along the longstanding “real socialist”, “left” and “moderate” faultlines.

It’s very clear that it is the Coalition who are continuing Thatcher’s legacy. We know this from the Central Policy Review Staff (CPRS) report, which was encouraged and commissioned by Thatcher and Howe in 1982, which shows a radical, politically toxic plan to dismantle the welfare state, to introduce education vouchers, ending the state funding of higher education, to freeze welfare benefits and to introduce an insurance-based health service, ending free health care provision of the NHS. One of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, he is now one of Cameron’s advisors.

New Labour had 13 years to fulfil Thatcher’s legacy – and did not. However, in four short years, the Coalition have gone a considerable way in making manifest Thatcher’s ideological directives. To do this has required the quiet editing and removal of Labour’s policies – such as key elements of Labour’s Equality Act .

The imposed austerity is facilitated by the fact that we have moved away from the equality and rights based society that we were under the last Labour government to become a society based on authoritarianism  and the market-based distribution of power. The only recognisable continuity is between Thatcher’s plans and Cameron’s policies. The intervening Labour government gave us some respite from the cold and brutal minarchism of the Tories.

There was never a greater need for partisan politics. The media, which is most certainly being managed by the authoritarian Tory-led government creates an illusory political “centre ground” – and a manufactured consensus – that does not exist.

Careful scrutiny and comparison of policies indicates this clearly. Yet much propaganda in the media and Tory rhetoric rests on techniques of neutralisation – a deliberately employed psychological method used to direct people to turn off “inner protests”, blur distinctions: it’s a mechanism often used to silence the inclination we have to follow established moral obligations, social norms, as well as recognise our own values and principles. And it’s also used to disguise intentions. Therefore, it’s important to examine political deeds rather than words: policy, and not narratives.

My own partisanship is to fundamental values, moral obligations  and principles, and is certainly none-negotiable. Those include equality, human rights, recognising diversity, justice and fairness, mutual aid, support and cooperation, collective responsibility, amongst others, and the bedrock of all of these values and principles is, of course, democracy.

Democracy exists partly to ensure that the powerful are accountable to the vulnerable. The far-right Coalition have blocked that crucial exchange, and they despise the welfare state, which provides the vulnerable protection from the powerful. They despise human rights.

Conservatives claim that such protection causes vulnerability, yet history has consistently taught us otherwise. The Coalition’s policies are expressions of contempt for the lessons of over a century of social history and administration.

The clocks stopped when the Tories took Office, now we are losing a decade a day.

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Thank you to Robert Livingstone for the pictures. More here

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29 thoughts on “Manufacturing consensus: the end of history and the partisan man

  1. Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    You may find this a little on the long side, but it is well worthwhile, and several of the most important points are ‘front-loaded’ – at the start of the article. Most important of all is that any economic recovery has been achieved in spite of Conservative economic policy, which is to perpetuate austerity, and not to improve prosperity.

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  2. Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    Kittysjones discusses here the ideological, rather than economic reasons behind the Coalition’s austerity policies. These go all the way back to a secret report commission by Maggie Thatcher in 1982 under Geoffrey Howe, which recommended the complete dismantlement of the welfare state, including the privatisation of the NHS and vouchers for schools. Significantly, one of the architects of the report was Lord Wasserman, now one of Cameron’s aides. These policies are being normalised through Francis Fukuyama’s idea that the Fall of Communism marked ‘The End of the History’, with the resulting victory of liberal democracy and capitalism. His view of liberal democracy, however, was Neoliberalism – the minarchism of Ayn Rand, rather than the mixed economies of the post-War consensus. This apparently commonsense view is reinforced by ‘virtue words’, ideologically loaded terms that summon up an image to promote a particular message. Kittysjones concludes that far from needing a non-ideological politics based on a common acceptance of Neoliberalism, we need partisan and ideologically driven politics more than ever.

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  3. Very interesting and thoughtful. Exactly right that austerity is an end in itself, a way of shifting more to the rich and nothing to do with paying off the debt. Helping the economy to recover would be increasing government spending in a recession but cutting back in times of increasing growth.
    I think we need to look to at what is happening over the pond as well. We are very much tied to the neocon ideas there and the dominance of Wall Street in funding politicians. Tying corporate power to the government leads to fascism….
    And as for Blair, illegal war in Iraq, 1 million dead and the horrors and bombing of Yugoslavia with the fallout still affecting the whole world today. Things are being played out on a world stage and the dots are very much being connected in the Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq and of course Africa.
    Follow the money and the resources.

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    1. Thanks. Probably one shared by most reading this, so give us all a hand.

      I was bombarded by the narxist anti-Blairites though, who refused to take the point about policy rather than rhetoric being the best indicator of political intent.

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  4. Here’s a list of the last Labour government’s policies and some of the consequences:

    1. Longest period of sustained low inflation since the 60s.
    2. Low mortgage rates.
    3. Introduced the National Minimum Wage and raised it to £5.52 per hour.
    4. Over 14,000 more police in England and Wales.
    5. Cut overall crime by 32 per cent.
    6. Record levels of literacy and numeracy in schools.
    7. Young people achieving some of the best ever results at 14, 16, and 18.
    8. Funding for every pupil in England has doubled.
    9. Employment is at its highest level ever.
    10. 3,700 rebuilt and significantly refurbished schools; including new and improved classrooms, laboratories and kitchens.
    11. 85,000 more nurses.
    12. 32,000 more doctors.
    13. Brought back matrons to hospital wards.
    14. Devolved power to the Scottish Parliament.
    15. Devolved power to the Welsh Assembly.
    16. Dads now get paternity leave of 2 weeks for the first time.
    17. NHS Direct offering free convenient patient advice.
    18. Gift aid was worth £828 million to charities last year.
    19. Restored city-wide government to London.
    20. Record number of students in higher education.
    21. Child benefit up 26 per cent since 1997.
    22. Delivered 2,200 Sure Start Children’s Centres.
    23. Introduced the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
    24. £200 winter fuel payment to pensioners & up to £300 for over-80s.
    25. On course to exceed our Kyoto target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
    26. Restored devolved government to Northern Ireland.
    27. Over 36,000 more teachers in England and 274,000 more support staff and teaching assistants.
    28. All full time workers now have a right to 24 days paid holiday.
    29. A million pensioners lifted out of poverty.
    30. 600,000 children lifted out of relative poverty.
    31. Introduced child tax credit giving more money to parents.
    32. Scrapped Section 28 and introduced Civil Partnerships.
    33. Brought over 1 million social homes up to standard.
    34. Inpatient waiting lists down by over half a million since 1997: the shortest waiting times since NHS records began.
    35. Banned fox hunting.
    36. Cleanest rivers, beaches, drinking water and air since before the industrial revolution.
    37. Free TV licences for over-75s.
    38. Banned fur farming and the testing of cosmetics on animals.
    39. Free breast cancer screening for all women aged between 50-70.
    40. Free off peak local bus travel for over-60s and disabled people.
    41. New Deal – helped over 1.8 million people into work.
    42. Over 3 million child trust funds started.
    43. Free eye test for over 60s.
    44. More than doubled the number of apprenticeships.
    45. Free entry to national museums and galleries.
    46. Overseas aid budget more than doubled.
    47. Heart disease deaths down by 150,000 and cancer deaths down by 50,000.
    48. Cut long-term youth unemployment by 75 per cent.
    49. Free nursery places for every three and four-year-olds.
    50. Free fruit for most four to six-year-olds at school.
    51. Gender Recognition Act 2004/5
    52. Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.
    53. Walk-in Health Centres and GP out of hours Service.
    54. Digital hearing aids, through the NHS.
    55. Children’s Act 2004, 2008 – Every Child Matters.
    56. Introduced Smoke–Free legislation, 2007 – child health improving continually since.
    57. Retail Distribution Review – ending commission for financial advisers
    58. Introduced legislation to make company ‘blacklisting’ unlawful.
    59. The Equality Act.
    60. Established the Disability Rights Commission in 1999.
    61. The Human Rights Act.
    62 Signed the European Social Chapter.
    63. Launched £1.5 billion Housing Pledge of new affordable housing.
    64. The Autism Act 2009.
    65. New Deal for Communities regeneration programme.
    66. All prescriptions free for people being treated for cancer or the effects of cancer.
    67. Introduced vaccination to be offered to teenage girls to protect against cervical cancer.
    68. Rough sleeping dropped by two thirds and homelessness at its lowest level since the early 1980s
    69. Cancelled up to 100 per cent of debt for the world’s poorest countries.
    70. Increased Britain’s offshore wind capacity than any country in the world, to provide enough electricity to power 2 million homes .
    71. Led the campaign to win the 2012 Olympics for London.
    72. Introduced the first ever British Armed Forces and Veterans Day to honour past and present achievements of our armed forces.
    73. Created a new right of pedestrian access, so that every family has equal opportunity to access the national coastline.
    74. Led the campaign to agree a new international convention banning all cluster munitions.
    75. Launched the Swimming Challenge Fund to support free swimming for over 60s and under 16s.
    76. Created community safety partnerships.
    77. Set up a dedicated Department for International Development.
    78. Cancelled approximately 100 per cent of debt for the world’s poorest countries.
    79. Helped lift 3 million people out of poverty each year, globally.
    80. Helped to get 40 million more children into school, globally.
    81. Polio is on the verge of being eradicated, globally.
    82. 3 million people are now able to access life-preserving drugs for HIV and AIDS.
    83. Improved water/sanitation services for over 1.5 million people.
    84. Launched a Governance and Transparency Fund to improve governance and increase accountability in poor countries.

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    1. Thanks, glad it made sense to you Eamon.

      Francis Fukuyama’s proposals are absurd, but they have become the “common sense” view, and are now implicit “facts” in neoconservative rhetoric. When that happens, it’s like a hidden directive, it’s inaccessible – and this stifles and constrains critical debate. That’s why we always have to challenge such taken-for-granted assumptions like these.

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