Friday, 11 February 2011

Divorced from reality

Marriage is the best antidote to the ‘celebrity self obsessed culture we live in,’ according to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. He claims that ‘over the years the political establishment has frowned if mainstream politicians mention marriage’, because they are perceived to be ‘stigmatising those who are not married.

Not so brave ex army officer Mr Duncan Smith, he thinks marriage is marvellous and doesn’t care who knows it, as for claims that his comments are in any way critical of the unwed he, that, he says is an ‘absurd and damaging assumption.’

Marriage is, in his view, ‘about understanding that our true value is lastingly expressed through the lives of others we commit to,’ and so it is too, apart from all the times when it isn’t because marriages like casual relationships can be built on selfishness and exploitation as easily as more noble sentiments.

Keen to avoid being tagged as a finger wagging killjoy Mr Duncan Smith went on to say that government ‘cannot and should not lecture people or push them on this matter’ but that it could and should spend £30million on relationship support and removing the perceived prejudices against couples within the welfare system. All of which is fine so far as it goes, or it is if you happen to be ignorant of what else has been going on this week.

After all that was the week when Chancellor George Osborne announced the ludicrously named Project Merlin that will raise the amount of money clawed back from the banks from £1.7 billion to £2.5billion, saying that ‘now the banks know where they stand with taxation’. In keeping with the pantomime spirit of the moment the big city banks were reportedly ‘livid’ about the antics of Robin Hood aka Chancellor Osborne and ready to take their ball home to Hong Kong, Wall Street or somewhere like that.

It was all so much sound and fury signifying nothing very much at all, when a politician gives something a silly macho sounding name like Project Merlin you just know it is going to be a damp squib. That’s just what happened too, George Osborne was right that banks do know where they stand with this government, squarely on its throat since the biggest donors to Tory funds just happen to also be big noises in the city. Robin Hood and his merry men at the Treasury are where they have always been, in the pockets of big business; and they’re even flogging off the forest to the highest bidder too.

This was also the week when ninety Liberal Democrat councillors from across the country signed a letter to the Times saying that the cuts the government claims will bring down the deficit whilst protecting front line services are ‘structured in such a way that they will do the opposite.’ A point further strengthened by massive cuts to services and job losses announced by councils in Manchester and Birmingham.

All of which makes Iain Duncan Smith look rather silly, partly because of what he said; but mostly because of what his party are doing.

All but the most unreconstructed of Tory backwoodsmen, and probably even they admit it in private, recognise that marriage whilst a valid option is only one of a number of options. To privilege it above all others is anachronistic and impractical, human beings and their relationships have always been more various and complicated than narrow moralists would like us to think.

Far more dangerous is the way that well meaning relics of the old Conservative Party like Iain Duncan Smith are, like the handful of Liberal Democrats who haven’t yet sold their principles for a red box containing a mess of pottage, being used as human shields by David Cameron, George Osborne and all the other public schoolboys who wish it was still the eighties. Their irresponsible dismantling of society and the embracing of greed did untold damage to this country then, not least because it encouraged the Labour Party to ape many of their policies in as a means of regaining power; it could do much worse this time round.

Tories of the type Iain Duncan Smith represents have always eschewed grand political theories in favour of an old fashioned British commitment to fair play and an active conscience. These cuts are not in any way fair; so what does their conscience tell them to do about it?

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