Politics with the conflict taken out

Yvonne Roberts laments an election campaign which panders to the
consumer’s basest instincts.

So that’s the choice then: contrition versus common sense.
Contrition, as in Labour’s, “We didn’t do as well as we
ought – but let us do better” versus William Hague’s belief
that if you promise an £8 billion tax cut, it’s common
sense to think at least a few votes may dribble your way.

According to one recent poll only one in five voters believe
they will pay less tax under the Conservatives. While the Lib
Dems’ proposal to increase tax for those earning
£100,000 a year or more receives the support of a healthy 39
per cent.

Academic Noreena Hertz argues that politics has taken second
place to business. The multi-national corporations wield so much
global power that individual governments amount to David without
the sling against a Goliath-like clout. As a result, Hertz says,
voters are impotent and behave apathetically. Where they can wield
influence is as shoppers and shareholders by denting company

Depressingly, both Tories and Labour (but less so the Lib Dems)
are pursuing votes like travelling salesmen, pitching to the basest
consumer. Labour offers the new father £100 a week on
paternity leave – while the Tories promise to cut petrol taxes by
6p a litre.

Neither draws a vision of a society based on mutuality – an
acknowledgement that there, but for the grace of God, go I, so let
us invest in our own welfare but in the welfare of others too.

Traditional Tories called it paternalism and, as Victorians,
were proud of the way it revived a sense of community. Socialists
expounded on the co-operative ideal – conscious that what Blair now
calls “opportunity for all” has always been an attractively
packaged lie.

Why? Because it overlooks the fact that, in order to make the
most of “opportunity” one has to have confidence, support, a
manageable burden as a carer and few enough debts to think

“Opportunity for all” is part of the politicians’ 21st
century deceit that we are all middle class now, in aspiration if
not actuality. As we are all part of the middle class, politicians
assert, policies no longer hold any conflict of interest. We no
longer need to openly redistribute because – well, we’re all
in the middle now. It’s just a matter of degree.

Student loans? Manageable for the middle classes. Except that,
whoopsadaisy, the bottom tier, once upon a time known as the
working class, are rapidly reducing in number amongst the
university intake. A scandal – if only we had the political and
ideological vocabulary with which to discuss it properly.

In a couple of areas of the UK, voter apathy is no more, proving
Hertz wrong. In Scotland and in Wales, proportional representation
has restored the electorate’s taste for politics because what
it does, counts. And mutuality lives. Where do we have free care
for the elderly?

In Scotland. Why isn’t it available in England. Because Mr
Blair fears the “real” middle classes who can afford to foot their
own bills might object to contributing to the bills of the less
fortunate. Class warfare may be considered old hat, but at least it
had the ring of truth. Contrition and common sense? They sound like
an agony aunt’s lament not the rhetoric of modern politicians
talking to an intelligent electorate.

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