If David Cameron really wants an “assault on poverty”, he could always try giving the poor more money

One of the striking things about David Cameron’s much admired speech yesterday was the emphasis on the concept of “equality”. This was very much at the heart of the rhetoric: he promised to “finish the fight for real equality” and even went so far as to say that “you cannot have true opportunity without equality”.

Equality is undoubtedly a powerful concept. But it’s become a political cipher. And I mean that word in every sense: when a politician uses the word “equality”, it is simultaneously devoid of any meaning at all; a code that the politician’s supporters instinctively feel they can crack; and a method of concealment. The same can be said of words like “values”, “progressive” or – most problematically for my party – “liberal”.

Cameron himself acknowledged that he believes in equality of opportunity, but not equality of outcome. This is what enables the key elision in the most “centre left” section of his speech: that an “assault on poverty” is the same thing as tackling “the root causes of poverty”. If you read this part of the speech carefully, you can actually see the ghost of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty hovering smugly in the background:

Central to [tackling big social problems] is an all-out assault on poverty.

Conservatives understand that if we’re serious about solving the problem, we need to tackle the root causes of poverty.

Homes where no-one works; children growing up in chaos; addiction, mental health problems, abuse, family breakdown.

This is a revealing passage. To put it in the language of sophisticated political commentary, Cameron has things completely arse about face. Look at what he is saying: that the reason people are poor is because they have dysfunctional lives, health problems, or are actually guilty of criminal behaviour.

I’ll repeat that: to David Cameron, the root causes of poverty are the terrible decisions that people choose to make about their own lives.

Poor children in olden times. They probably should have worked harder tbh.

Or to boil it down still further: if you’re poor, it’s probably because you live a life that led inexorably to that outcome.

If you really believe this – as David Cameron claims to – then equality of opportunity is a meaningless concept; there’s no use trying to magically turn such bad, stupid, dangerous people into good, intelligent, virtuous ones.

Of course, he’s wrong. The root cause of poverty is – surprise! – people not having enough money.

This might be a shocking revelation to some people. But it seems pretty obvious to me. People who have enough money aren’t poor. People who don’t have enough money do tend to be. QED.

Now, you might say that’s far too simple, and I’m making the same mistake that Cameron has, but from the other side. But if I’m right, then there would be lots of evidence suggesting that if you give poor people more money, their lives get better, yes?

And it just so happens that there is. In lots of countries across the world, governments have found – ASTONISHINGLY – that if you directly transfer cash into the hands of poor people, they… spend it on things that will make their lives better. And no, I don’t mean cheap booze and cigarettes – or even beer and bingo.

There are articles and studies which explore this phenomenon further.

But obviously, David Cameron isn’t just intending not to give the poor people in the UK more money. He’s already announced, via his sidekick George Osborne, that poor people will actually have money taken away from them. I’ve used this graph before, but it is kind of essential to understand the impact of the Budget on the UK population:

The Institute of Fiscal Studies, which produced the above graph, has also undertaken further analysis since then. This reaffirmed the fact that people on low incomes will be far worse off, even when you include all the random policies Cameron claims will alleviate the impact.

If David Cameron really wants an assault on poverty, and to ensure that there is equality – even just equality of opportunity – he could start by reversing or at least drastically reducing his tax credit cuts. But more importantly, his entire government needs to start seeing poverty the right way round, rather than from a position some way through and to the right of the looking glass.

Today we left reality behind and entered David Cameron’s fantasy world

To read the breathless commentary of moderate pundits as David Cameron delivered his speech to Conservative Party Conference today, you would be forgiven for thinking that Cameron had announced a reversal of tax credit cuts, a real living wage, the abandonment of his ridiculous net migration target, and the implementation of a land value tax, all while wrapped in a red flag and doing that thing Tony Blair used to do with his hands.

(You know the one: when he used to make a fist and then stick his thumb out, creating an effect both dominant and approachable at once. Clinton used to do it, too.)

What we actually saw, of course, was nothing more than a good PR man playing to type. Cameron and Osborne have both quickly realised the opportunity offered to the Conservative Party by the election of Jeremy Corbyn: namely, power almost in perpetuity, provided the Tories don’t tip too far to the right in the eyes of typical voters.

Anchoring the party to the perceived “centre ground” has been both men’s transparent aim at this party conference, even if Theresa May seems to think now is the time to veer off into the xenophobic weeds in an attempt to bolster her leadership credentials. It is a simple continuation of the strategy already employed by the Chancellor at the Budget. As I wrote then, a bit angrily:

Aided and abetted by a supine media and an opposition that isn’t there, he is using the Conservatives’ new political capital to carry forward at a far greater speed his vision for Britain.

If anything, since then the nation’s media has become even more supine; in fact, today they were simply prostrate. Damningly, this is particularly true of centre-left commentators who, far from praising Cameron for his rhetoric, should be pointing out at every opportunity the lies he is spinning. Instead, they were busy saying things like:

The worst example of this was Ian Dunt’s unusually ill-judged article on Politics.co.uk, in which he argued that Cameron’s speech was proof of the positive impact of Jeremy Corbyn on British politics. He went so far as to compare Corbyn’s success in dragging Cameron to the left to Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement, New Labour.

Every time this happens, it simply gives the Conservatives more breathing space to implement even more right wing policies. The natural consequence of this fawning media reaction will manifest itself in policies that are not just distant from the greater Britain Cameron claimed to dream of today, but that actively undermine the possibility of a more moderate, compassionate society ever coming into being.

Come November 25th, the Spending Review and the Autumn Statement will reveal just how far from reality Cameron’s fantastical rhetoric took everyone today. It won’t be breathless or exciting; it won’t be surprising or brilliant. Instead, it will be presented as an inevitability: “tough decisions none of us came into politics to make”. But that will be a lie.

Cameron’s Greater Britain won’t be moderate. It won’t be compassionate. It won’t increase equality or reduce poverty. As I wrote after the Budget:

It is a country gripped by greed, selfishness and suspicion. It is a country where the poorest are expected to fend for themselves and where the wealthiest are enabled and encouraged to hoard their riches.

If people as smart and influential as those I’ve mentioned in this article are genuinely being taken in, there is little hope for the rest of us.

British politics is now just a question of maths and time

I consider Matthew Parris to be the finest columnist in the UK, and today’s article on Labour is one of his best.

He suggests that Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is an opportunity – rather than a defeat – for the centre left: a “gift”. He paints a painfully accurate picture of what is likely to happen to the Labour Party now that Corbyn is in place:

The party may (as I suggest) go out with a bang. Equally likely, some residual instinct for self-preservation will kick in, they’ll defenestrate Corbyn, and replace him with a less astringent nonentity, capable of papering over the cracks.

In which case the party will go out with a whimper, on a long, gentle amble into that good night: drifting on towards the next election – and the next, and the next – never winning, forever compromising, softly losing support in a sort of quarter-century slow puncture…

Arguing that Labour is the same old beast it’s always been, and that three election victories under Tony Blair couldn’t reshape its identity, he pleads with Labour’s moderates to abandon the brand. There is a fairly strong hint at the end of the piece that he is suggesting they should either start a new party in the mould of the SDP or join another party.

Parris is a liberal Tory who, it is fairly clear, harbours some fairly warm feelings towards my own party and to whom the coalition government was probably close to the ideal blend of ideas and policies. So I think it’s quite clear which home he is envisaging for these liberal Labourites. In any case, the same argument is being made on a regular basis by senior Lib Dems too.

Unfortunately, it’s completely unrealistic.

Labour MPs bow to no one in their tribalism. Even now most Labour people – even the moderates – are still pretty pleased about what happened to the Liberal Democrats in the general election: this is despite the fact that if the Conservatives had not won seven seats as a result of Lib Dem voters switching to Labour, they would not have a majority in the Commons.

More importantly, it’s a simple question of mathematics. If to be in politics is to exercise power, then Labour moderates have two ways of doing so. One is to stay where they are, grit their teeth and hope for the best: that somehow, in two or three years, the tide of left-wing support will ebb as quickly as it flooded in, and their party will allow someone “sensible” to take over in time to avoid total destruction in 2020. The other is simply to join the Conservatives, on the basis that they are closer to people like George Osborne than to Jeremy Corbyn.

Neither scenario is at all plausible.

If there were a third party with, say, 50-60 MPs, around 20% of the vote and a relationship with the electorate that hadn’t entirely curdled into a poisonous mess, things might be different. But there isn’t.

For the UK opposition (which doesn’t include the SNP, a party so obsessed with its own nationalism that it may as well be given the opportunity to hang itself at this point), politics is now simply a waiting game. We must wait for the Conservatives to make some kind of mistake; to get so complacent that they try to do something so utterly insane that even voters who believe in their competence wake up to their fallibility.

It might take a very long time, and our country will almost certainly be a very different place – a poorer, harsher, more insular place – at the end of it.

A Thousand Points of Light

Few people will know that the Prime Minister’s Office issues a daily Points of Light award. The awards are designed to reward exceptional acts of community service or volunteering. Some of the people granted awards certainly represent the very best of philanthropic achievement and endeavour.


The phrase “Points of Light” is a direct quote from George H. W. Bush (right), who first used it when accepting his nomination as the 1988 Republican presidential candidate. His speechwriters were attempting to capture the idea of the American community as

a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.

In the speech, this undeniably powerful image is immediately followed by a hard-edged passage on social policy, in which inter alia Bush issues his infamous pledge “read my lips: no new taxes”; sings the praises of capital punishment; and demands “zero tolerance” for drug dealers.

To me, the phrase has always seemed backward. Light itself is reliant on darkness in order to create a contrast. The use of the phrase in the speech makes that reliance explicit: these “points of light” are stars. To take the phrase literally, it suggests a predominantly dark environment.

In other words, Bush’s phrase – with its rhetorical intention to create a sense of hope – actually implied the opposite.


Bush went on to win the Presidency. He repeated the “thousand points of light” phrase in his inaugural address. He also wanted a “kinder and gentler nation” – a soundbite that quickly turned sour.

A month later, Neil Young performed a new song live for the first time. It was called “Rockin’ in the Free World”, and it was released on record in November 1989.**

A victim of circumstance, Young’s song would quickly become associated with the fall of communism and the break-up of the Soviet Union. But his poetry had a very different aim. The song was, and remains, a caustic assessment of Bush’s administration: its three verses seethe with ambivalence and anger about the state of American society and the country’s influence in the world – then at its absolute peak.

In the third verse, Young takes direct aim at the emptiness and hypocrisy of political rhetoric:

We got a thousand points of light for the homeless man
We got a kinder, gentler machine gun hand

In two sentences Young demolishes Bush’s insubstantial posturing. The first contrasts the hopey-changey rhetoric of “a thousand points of light” with the darkness that consumes millions of lives. The second mocks “kinder, gentler” by raising the spectre of Bush’s own history as CIA head and Iran/Contra collaborator – not to mention the wider US foreign policy escapades which, in the first verse, had left Young singing “don’t feel like Satan – but I am to them”.

But Young doesn’t stop there. The third verse takes in the US citizen-as-consumer, decrying “department stores and toilet paper/styrofoam boxes for the ozone layer”. He then goes on:

Got a man of the people says keep hope alive

And here is the sting in the tail. “Keep hope alive” was Jesse Jackson’s campaign slogan when running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. The mocking tag “man of the people” shows just what Young thinks of it. Against a Republican candidate basing his campaign on shallow rhetoric, the American left in the late 1980s could muster nothing but equally vacuous slogans.


David Cameron’s “Big Society” was an attempt to find another way to say the same thing. Steve Hilton, for a while the Prime Minister’s Director of Strategy, used to be fond of wearing a tee-shirt that said “Big Society Not Big Government” (see example, right).

The idea presented to us was that as the bloated state got out of the way, it would be replaced by a more active and philanthropic civic society. But as this 2013 demolition of the policy’s pretended principles argued, it was a mere cipher, making room for the same traditional – and inadequate – paternalism.

No wonder it was quietly abandoned.

Nowadays, in the UK in 2015, the Conservative government so lacks ways to veil its continued campaign to unpick a comprehensive state-funded social security system that it is content simply to recycle Bush’s sloganeering. So it doles out daily Points of Light awards.

I do not suggest that the people receiving such awards are undeserving. Their work is valuable and, in many ways, increasingly so. But like the inexorable rise of food banks run by volunteers, the gaps opening up in our society are too wide for them to fill. They are sailors using tiny buckets to bail out a sinking ship as the icy ocean waters begin to freeze their blood.

Here is the nub of the matter: we live in dangerous times. We live in an era when the government is able to pass “reforms” to the social insurance system we have without a shred of opposition from, well, the official opposition. We live in a corrosive atmosphere where the foreigner is increasingly regarded not merely with suspicion but with outright hatred.

And the UK left is about to elect someone whose ability to hammer out an alternative is seriously questionable. In short, they’re going to elect a “man of the people” who says “keep hope alive”, but whose version of hope is as relevant as George H. W. Bush is now. A man who says on becoming leader he will apologise for a war that happened so long ago that the gap between it and today is already as long as the gap between it and the war that preceded it.

When people see that this “man of the people” is nothing more than a decent human being trapped in a vice of his own devising, slowly squeezed to death by a combination of a totally idealistic left and a resistant right, they will turn elsewhere. They will look for other populist movements. They will look for other plain talkers. And most of all, they will want someone whose politics match their fears.

Meanwhile those same fears will be amplified, by degrees and by stealth, by the government, which will chart a course that, by comparison, seems all moderation and good sense.

Got fuel to burn. Got roads to drive.

Keep on rockin’ in the free world.*


*The total usurpation of this song was completed recently by Donald Trump’s unauthorised decision to use it when announcing his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination. The wheel turns.

**The performance Neil Young gave of RITFW on Saturday Night Live in 1989 is justly regarded as one of the greatest live TV performances of all time. He worked himself into a frenzy backstage in order to mimic the feeling of performing an encore after a full two hour set. And it shows.

To win, we have to beat the Tories at their own game

Attempting to understand the mindset of the typical voter is a fool’s game. The last election bequeathed upon us a huge amount of commentary attempting to explain why it was that the Tories had such success – not least from the Tory high command itself, hastily moving to pretend that a majority government had always been on the cards.

The Labour leadership campaign, meanwhile, has seen much of the same discussion, with the Blairite remnant arguing for soft Toryism on the basis of nothing much at all, and the Corbynite insurgency cherishing the fond myth that if only some more non-voters would vote, a reheated and insubstantial version of soggy socialism will take the country by storm.

I don’t pretend to know the “average voter”. I do know my fair share of people who, when it comes to elections, um and ah over which party merits an X by its name. For such people, elections are not about neatly packaged sets of policies, or coherent ideologies. They are instead typically about the feeling that each party gives them, along with perhaps one or two ideas that have burst through the media ether and captured their hearts.

Usually the former trumps the latter, though, and I think a cold hard look at the facts of the 2015 general election bears that out. The Tories aren’t in power because of their frankly creepy “plan for every stage of your life“. They’re in power because voters in the right places looked at them and thought “well, they’ve been in government for five years and we haven’t been forced into indentured servitude yet, and by the way have you SEEN the other guy?”

The central question of British politics right now is not who leads Labour (or even the Liberal Democrats). The question is how far the Conservatives can push their ideological agenda along before voters start to object to it. At the moment they are making excellent progress on this; George Osborne’s summer budget was the supreme example of a viciously regressive set of policies made palatable by sugary, centrist presentation.

The spending review that looms in November will be another step down this road. But as others have written, there will have to come a point during this Parliament where the impact of spending restraint on public services begins to bite in places where it has yet to do so. As the Financial Times’ recent superlative in-depth exploration of austerity Britain pointed out, the cuts to date have fallen on services catering to marginalised social groups which are almost invisible in political terms, having no natural media presence or support behind them.

But this can’t continue. If the Conservatives continue to cut public spending “until the pips squeak”, sooner or later the “typical voter” will start to see, or rather feel, it.

It’s my hunch that adult social care might well be the tipping point. This is an area that doesn’t just affect a small group of marginalised people but an increasing number of relatively well-off and middle class voters. Crucially, it’s not just the service users that are affected by the strain on the system, but their children and sometimes their grandchildren too may well be of voting age.

The story in the Observer this weekend, in which the Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care warned over the bad care being created through systemic pressure, could be the starting point. But in order for this to change voters’ minds in the longer term, the effects of such bad care will need to be seen far and wide. It’s not until such stories start appearing in the Daily Mail or the Daily Express that they are really taking root.

The Conservatives have nurtured a reputation for competence which is actually a mask for an ideology that simply doesn’t want well-funded public services. Unfortunately, they are so good at wearing that mask that the underlying ideology can’t be challenged on its own terms. So instead the task must be to challenge and destroy that reputation for competence. When that has been done, then, and only then, will voters seek a true alternative.

The lesson for Labour and the Lib Dems? Make arguments personal. Go and find people whose lives are being ruined by this government. Make sure they are people with whom the “typical voter” can easily identify, and tell their stories. Don’t talk in abstract technocratic terms about “integration” and “personalisation”.

It’s the sort of thing the Tories do. It’s part of how they win. They are past masters at manipulation and fabricated fear. The only way to beat them is to play them at their own game. If you can make people feel the true impact of a regressive government, you can earn the right to offer them something else. But you have to earn it.

George Osborne’s populist conservatism: insidious, illiberal and regressive

A little after the Budget, Peter Sigrist, one of the organisers of #LibDemPint, tweeted the following:

This led to a long discussion with Peter in which we found little common ground on the measures set out by the Chancellor yesterday. He viewed the Budget, in its entirety, as “relatively balanced“, and even as evidence that “the Lib Dems have had a lasting effect on George Osborne“.

If you hadn’t guessed from the title of this post, I vehemently disagree with Peter’s view. My central point in our discussion was that Osborne’s brilliance involves shifting the political centre to the right, through appropriating previously left-wing policies such as the “living wage” to suit his own ends.

When you consider that Osborne and Cameron gained their initial political colours during the period when Tony Blair was in the ascendant, this becomes unsurprising: they are merely doing what he did, but the other way round, and arguably more successfully.

Of course, they also have it easier, because Blair’s political strategy was based on using market mechanisms to reform public services. In purely economic terms, he didn’t even begin to challenge Thatcherite laissez-faire mores. So when the Tories came to power in 2010, they had little to unravel from that perspective – and they also had the perfect excuse (a massive financial crisis and an unsustainable deficit) to begin to reshape the size and role of the state as they wished.

Now Osborne can take that one stage further without the Liberal Democrats to restrain his more extreme ambitions. His goal is to create a new political economy: one in which the state is no longer involved in attempting to solve material and social inequality of outcome or, indeed, opportunity.

To take a charitable view, we might entertain the idea that he really is committed to a “high wage, low tax, low welfare economy” – but this would be to ignore the reality of the Budget he has just announced. The facts are that the policies announced yesterday achieve neither of the first two concepts:

  • The “high wage” aspect is a smokescreen. No government can raise wages simply by saying so, and the impact of the change is, by confusing the mandate of the Low Pay Commission, to politicise a system that previously worked well. The Office of Budget Responsibility is also clear in its analysis that the “national living wage” will create more unemployment, and will cost the economy money. Given that this is the only policy in the Budget that attempts to create “high wages” – we can chalk it up as a failure.
  • What about low tax? Well, it’s now clear that this Budget is a net revenue raiser, with £25 billion of tax cuts playing off against £47 billion of tax increases. So purely on that alone, he has failed. Moreover, the tax cuts he did announce were focused on the top end of the income and wealth distribution. Obviously the inheritance tax cut only benefits those who are sitting (or more accurately whose parents are sitting) on high-value estates. But the increase to the 40% income tax threshold also only benefits those who earn more than £43,000, while it is understood these days that increases to the basic income tax threshold also disproportionately benefit those on higher incomes.

No, in actual fact, the only portion of Osborne’s mantra that was successfully implemented was the “low welfare” bit. Here, it is true, the Chancellor has delivered in spades. The extent of the cuts and freezes to working-age benefits is breathtaking; more breathtaking still is how they are targeted on the poorest people in society, especially those in low-paid jobs.

The overall distributional impact analysis was, curiously, left out of the official Budget documents published by the Treasury. This was unusual, as in previous years (including all the years of the Coalition 2010-2015) the Red Book has included charts showing the impact of policy changes on each income decile group. This time, though, it has been left to others to demonstrate the starkly regressive – punitive – effect of George Osborne’s approach. This chart from the IFS speaks volumes:

Impact of tax and benefit reforms

Here you can see not only that the poorest third of the population lose at least £800 per year, but that the ninth richest decile is actually enriched by this Budget.

What’s the point of all this? It’s to show that the Chancellor has entirely failed to deliver a Budget consistent with his own stated aim – a “high wage, low tax, low welfare” economy.

If he were serious about the first bit, he would have used yesterday’s statement to use the proceeds of higher taxation (or even of lower welfare) to put money behind upskilling the workforce. But he didn’t.

If he were serious about the second bit, he wouldn’t have raised an extra £47 billion by disproportionately penalising small businesses through changes to dividend taxation, or by absurdly forcing a carbon tax on companies that buy renewable energy.

The only serious bit was the third bit, and that is because his central political aim is to strip away the support that keeps poor people afloat.

The genius of the Chancellor is to use sweeteners and carefully crafted soundbites to appear reasonable, even centrist. Yesterday was perhaps his most successful attempt yet. Aided and abetted by a supine media and an opposition that isn’t there, he is using the Conservatives’ new political capital to carry forward at a far greater speed his vision for Britain. It is a country gripped by greed, selfishness and suspicion. It is a country where the poorest are expected to fend for themselves and where the wealthiest are enabled and encouraged to hoard their riches.

The most worrying aspect for the Liberal Democrats about all of this is that we are in no position to oppose Osborne. It is only now, after our electoral destruction, that the full scale of our strategic failure in government is becoming apparent.

As Stephen Tall’s excellent but depressing blog today suggests, if our party were still in Coalition, we’d have cheered this Budget.

And, terrifyingly, George Osborne knows it.

Andy Burnham and the Myth of Competence

No, that’s not the title of a new Harry Potter knock-off – although Andy Burnham has the makings of a put-upon junior wizard with numerous chips on his narrow shoulders. Rather, it’s a response to Burnham’s latest contribution to the moribund Labour leadership battle, replicated below for your viewing pleasure:

Now, there are a number of problems with this. Burnham is clearly making a pointed comment about the attempts of other candidates – particularly Liz Kendall, who he probably sees as his main rival – to move Labour back to a position which could be loosely described as “Blairite”.

As an aside, I personally think that with Kendall leading Labour and Tim Farron leading the Lib Dems, the latter party would have vast acres of space to be a real, vote-winning opposition. Tony Blair’s success is often considered solely due to his brilliance as a winner of elections. But this is a hopelessly simplistic view of history, and one that ignores the fact that a donkey in a red rosette – not a proverbial donkey, a literal donkey – could have won in 1997 given the mess that the Conservatives were then in. So it shouldn’t be taken as axiomatic that moving Labour to the centre and to the authoritarian makes the party more electable.

I digress. Burnham, of course, has also rejected that analysis, although in a number of important ways he has indicated that he does want to move the party to what might be considered more Blair-like positions – if only in their tactical ingenuity rather than in their substance. On immigration and Europe, for example, he is tacking close to the Tories, which I suspect Blair might consider good politics if not good policy.

But the line he is trying to hammer in this tweet is silly. And it’s silly because it actually does exactly the thing he claims to want to avoid. The first statement criticises Kendall for “copying the Tories”. But the second line suggests that the measure of a political party’s success is to be “better” than the Tories.

Without further explication, this is a troubling idea – that the viability or the electoral success of a political party is based purely on competence. I have to say that competence is one of the attributes I look for last in a politician. I tend to think that integrity, compassion and a coherent set of beliefs are far more important. With those attributes in place, I would feel relatively relaxed about entrusting the delivery and implementation of policies based upon them to the apparatus of the state.

The myth of competence, though, has infected the whole of our political culture. The irony of Burnham’s statement is that it is a Tory invention – that politics is primarily about management. The genius of it is that by forcing others to fight on the basis of competence, the Tories ensure that everyone is clustered on their natural territory at all times. I’m not talking about political left and right here; it’s far more about semantics and semiotics than anything else.

I haven’t got time to go further into why this is such a damaging concept this evening – perhaps another time – but Andy Burnham really should give some more thought to the matter. His attempt to paint his rivals as soft Tories would be more successful if he didn’t back himself into the same corner in the process.

What an “unfettered” Tory government might actually mean

A little more than 24 hours after it became painfully clear just what the Conservatives had achieved in the general election, there is already a developing sense of buyer’s remorse. Apparently almost 2400 new members have joined the Liberal Democrats since polls closed. This is obviously a good thing, although perhaps it just reflects the endless propensity of British people to back a plucky underdog.

But it was striking already across both old and new media yesterday how subdued the response to the prospect of five years of majority Tory rule was. There was limited triumphalism from newspapers that had mostly advocated some species of continued coalition or power-sharing arrangement. And the response on Twitter – certainly from people I follow, who are not all Lib Dems by any means – was quite sceptical.

David Cameron, yesterdayPeople are belatedly poring over the Conservative Manifesto to find all the horrors within that might now become a reality. Certainly there are some big, beastly policies that spring out immediately which would never, ever have happened under a continued Tory/Lib Dem arrangement. These include:

  • Abolition of the Human Rights Act

Because we, the people, like governments actively to reduce the number of rights available to us as citizens…

  • £30 billion in further cuts, including £12 billion from welfare – the so-called “rollercoaster” of public spending cuts that will be deeper and more rapid than anything between 2010-2015

Because we, the people, like governments actively to reduce the quality and breadth of public services available to us as citizens on the basis of an arbitrary numerical target…

  • No increases in the vast majority of tax rates

Because we, the people, would rather see the government hack away at vital services than ask us – or our wealthier friends – to pay a bit more to the Treasury…

  • “Abolish” long-term youth unemployment

This is code for the following policies: tougher Day One Work Requirements for jobseekers; introduction of a “Youth Allowance” to replace JSA for 18-21 year olds that forces them to take an apprenticeship, traineeship or do “community work” for their benefits; remove automatic entitlement to Housing Benefit.

Because we, the people, think the best way for new adults to start in life is through a combination of embarrassing and demoralising situations. Work for your benefits and live with your parents into adulthood.

  • Introduce a 50% workforce threshold for strike action, and make it harder for staff in health, education, fire and transport to strike

This will presumably be known as the No Bob Crow Bill. Other policies include the removal of restrictions banning employers from hiring cover during strikes – at a stroke, undermining the whole point of industrial action.

Because we, the people, want our employers to have even more power over us – the balance at the moment is far too much towards us, the bolshy workers.

  • We will give Parliament the opportunity to repeal the Hunting Act on a free vote

Because we, the people, feel this is a sensible use of government and Parliamentary time in the 21st century. And because we like using hounds to kill foxes.

  • We will make EU migrants live here for four years without claiming any benefits

Because we, the people, want to benefit from the presence of people who “work hard and get on” without having to protect them if anything bad happens to them, like if they lose their job – you know, the one a lot of British people wouldn’t want to have to do.

  • “Deport first, appeal later”

This rule will be extended to all immigration appeals and judicial reviews, including where a so-called right to family life is involved. Satellite tracking will also be introduced for every foreign national offender subject to an outstanding deportation order or deportation proceedings.

Because we, the people, care more about getting rid of suspicious-looking foreigners than ensuring they have a right to fair treatment and due process.

  • Introduce new powers to force coasting schools to accept new leadership

Because we, the people, think the best way to make schools better is always to force them to change their leadership. Because problems always start at the top, and nothing can be blamed upon, say, social deprivation or the lack of buy-in from rich parents who can move to be nearer good schools.

  • We will address the unfairness of the current Parliamentary boundaries and reduce the number of MPs to 600

We’ll also introduce “votes for life” for expatriates who live abroad permanently, meaning all those angry people who spend their days on the Costa del Sol, whinging about the country they left, will be able to have an influence on future elections.

Because we, the people, think changes to our electoral system should be left in the hands of whoever won the last election, so that they can make sure the changes made benefit them as a party.

  • We will force Housing Associations to sell their stock at a discount

Extending the Right to Buy to tenants of housing associations? It’s just the beginning. Let’s also extend Help to Buy, give people free money if they’re saving for a deposit, and protect the Green Belt.

We pay lip service to building more bloody houses, but that takes a long time whereas all of these super-popular policies can be done pretty much straight away.

Because we, the people, know that the best way to solve a shortage of a thing is to increase demand for that thing. It’s simple economics.

  • An end to new onshore windfarms

We’ll stop public subsidy for these because they often fail to win public support (but, strikingly, not always).

Because we, the people, like a clear view of our electricity pylons, thank you very much.

  •  We will allow security services to know everything they want to about communications data – the Snoopers’ Charter

And we’ll do “whatever is necessary” to protect the British people.

Because we, the people, are happy for the government to know who we’re talking to, where, when and how. None of that is remotely intrusive as long as they aren’t actually reading the messages themselves.

  • We’ll stop taxing people when they inherit wealth up to £1 million

People should absolutely have the right to have £1 million dropped into their lap without having done a stroke of work to earn it.

Because we, the people, think the best way to make sure everyone in society benefits is to make it easier for aggregated riches to be retained solely by the extremely wealthy.


But does a majority actually mean the Tories will be able to push forward with all of this stuff?

The answer is probably – and hopefully – no. The Conservatives have won a very small majority of 12. That’s worse than John Major’s in 1992, which was 21.

The difficulty of maintaining discipline in such a Parliament cannot be underestimated. But I think it will be worse than it was even for Major. Thanks to the Coalition, the Tory backbenchers from 2010-2015 have had relative freedom to rebel, safe in the knowledge that the majority created by the stability of Conservative/Lib Dem agreement would be sufficient to pass government legislation.

That safety net no longer exists. So what you now have are right-wing Tory backbenchers hungry for red meat – and with a track record of rebellion. The Conservatives’ whipping operation, which was hardly rock solid towards the end of the last Parliament, will become critically important now. The question is whether Michael Gove (the current Chief Whip) or his replacement will be up to the challenge.

On the other hand, these right-wingers will be pulling the party further in the direction of Euroscepticism, spending cuts, and general nastiness. There are few notable exceptions: David Davis, for instance, will continue to fight the good fight on civil liberties, and there might be a small group that joins him. They might be able to get in the way of things like the Communications Data Bill.

But realistically, we should be afraid of what this government is likely to try to do. Against an opposition in disarray, even a strident backbench voice might not be too difficult to quell. Decent people need to mobilise fast against some of the worst aspects of this agenda.

Tories Announce Worst #GE2015 Policy Yet

Politicians often talk about “governing for the whole of the country”. This is seen to be the desirable outcome of the democratic process: a system that, as some American guy put it, creates “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. The most successful politicians in modern-day politics are those who convince voters, in large numbers, that they are truly committed to such a goal. It usually turns out that they aren’t, but sometimes that takes a long while, or there isn’t an obvious departure from that apparent commitment. This was the case for Tony Blair, and I’d say it’s also been the case for Barack Obama, despite more obvious checks and balances preventing him from fulfilling his mandate.

Tomorrow will see David Cameron and his Conservative Party decisively reject the idea of governing for the whole of the country. Of course, they have rejected it many times previously; it just so happens that they’ve had a decent check and balance, the Liberal Democrats, preventing them from running amok governing like true Tories.

But tomorrow they unveil perhaps their most nakedly offensive policy yet. Housing has once again slipped down the political agenda during this election campaign, which is a shame as it had appeared to be rising in importance. It had even precipitated something of an arms race between the parties, with competing pledges on the number of houses they would build over the next Parliament. None of them were remotely realistic, but there appeared to be an emerging consensus on the importance of increased supply in a property market that is defined by extreme scarcity and extreme demand – a combination which has led to rocketing house prices, even in parts of the country that aren’t London.

Against that backdrop the Tories have kept announcing policies that actually stimulate demand further. These have included things like NewBuy, Help to Buy, Help to Buy 2, Help to Buy ISAs, and an expansion of Right to Buy. The clue’s right there in the name: the Tories have focused all their attention on demand-side policies. The fact that the Lib Dems have let a lot of these things happen is probably the single worst area of our record in government. I don’t make any bones about that.

But now the Tories want to go a step further. They want to extend Right to Buy to social housing tenants. This is a policy that runs counter to everything that defines the UK property market. It is going to give a right to buy social housing at a discount to people who already benefit from cheaper rents. It is going to increase demand and reduce supply. It is going to slap 9 million people living in the private rented sector directly in the face.

It is also deeply problematic, for the simple reason that it will mean a huge amount of government intervention in the social housing market. Effectively it removes at a stroke the idea that housing associations are autonomous organisations, able to develop their own assets and manage them in a sensible way. It is, in other words, a top-down, command-and-control, Soviet-type policy; it just so happens that it moves huge amounts of wealth from public or quasi-public hands into private ones, rather than the other way around.

It is the worst policy so far announced in this campaign. That is saying something given the number of desperate pledges being thrown around on all sides. The Tories should be ashamed, but sadly, instead, their voters will be applauding this grotesque and vile attack on a decent society.

EDIT: It seems people agree with me, based on the response to this tweet, too: