Sunday, 6 October 2013

There are no new notes in David Cameron’s dog whistle symphony.

David Cameron promised in his speech to the Tory Party conference in Manchester last week that his government was going to make Britain into a ‘land of opportunity for all.’

In a speech that saw him abandoning the ‘off the cuff’ pretence of previous years in favour of standing austerely behind a lectern he touched all the bases his audience expected him to. Along the way he turned a few neat lines, such as ‘the land of hope is Tory’, as opposed to the ‘land of despair’, which is, obviously, Labour.

He laid into Labour plans to freeze energy prices if returned to office and to raise taxes for big companies, saying they were ‘all sticking plasters and quick fixes cobbled together for the TV cameras- Red Ed and his Blue Peter economy.’

Ouch! Am I the only voter of a certain age who heard this and immediately thought of Ed Milliband clad in seventies TV regalia of flares and tank-top being dragged around a studio floor by a naughty elephant?

He went on to say that ‘if Labour’s plan for jobs is to attack business, ours is to back business.’ All of which was building up to his shot at the ‘vision thing’, here it is, he wants to build a country where ‘in place of the casino economy’ there is ‘one where people who work hard can actually get on’; a sceptered isle where ‘in place of the welfare society’ there is ‘one where no individual is written off’ and where the ‘broken education system’ there is ‘one that gives every child the chance to rise up and succeed.’

Over the years David Cameron has proved himself to be the most adept of the three main party leaders at working the conference season for all its worth. He truly is the heir to Blair in that respect, a shameless ham able to be Mr Sunshine dispensing cheery bromides about how we all need to be nicer to each other; an evangelist whipping the faithful up into a frenzy or a grave statesman promising a sure hand at the helm as the mood of the moment demands.

This year he was David the stern statesman sharing our pain but determined to do the right thing. The trouble was what he had to say wasn’t remotely statesmanlike; it was, in essence, an assemblage of prejudices designed to push the buttons of his audience. A symphony on the dog whistle composed by Lynton Crosby that will warm the heart of Daily Mail readers and make metropolitan liberals choke on their free range chardonnay.

Fair enough, if they serve any purpose at all these days party conferences are glorified rah-rah meetings staged to gee up the faithful. You can’t help wishing though that just once in a while someone would throw out the play-book of clichés and say something they actually mean.

Sadly this year that didn’t happen, what we got instead were fatuous assertions from the Prime Minister that the Tories are on the side of business while Labour aren’t, actually both parties court the same few huge corporations, turning a blind eye to their tax avoidance whilst letting smaller businesses wither through lack of investment.

Bashing the unemployed was popular too, George Osborne talked about people who are out of work being ‘forced’ to take jobs, though where said jobs are to come from seems to be a detail too minor for him to bother with. Iain Duncan Smith meanwhile announced plans to make the long term unemployed attend the job centre eight hours a day five days a week, what they’re supposed to whilst there wasn’t mentioned; never mind though the sillier tabloids will love it.

What went ignored was the yawning gap of inequality opening up in our society, the food banks that have become a feature of weekly life for many Britons; the families split up by the ‘bedroom tax’ and the million plus young people kicking their heels without a job. The only solution the government has to this last problem is to ‘nag’ them into taking jobs that don’t exist.

If there were a credible opposition none of this would matter, the Tories could be as ‘nasty’ as they like and when the public grew tired of their antics they would vote them out of office. Unfortunately there isn’t one, the Liberal Democrats have settled for a role as the perpetual prop to whoever can form a coalition and Labour, despite the boost delivered by an eye catching policy, are saddled with a dud leader and have nothing original to say.

There are alternatives on offer from the smaller parties, but our first past the post electoral system keeps them forever on the fringes.

That means the Tories can stoke up the fires of division and resentment, dressing their cynicism up as hard headed pragmatism and at worst finish as the major partner in another coalition, they might even sneak in with a small majority. Even if David Cameron’s assertions are correct though and the economy has ‘turned the corner’, we cannot hope to be a happy or cohesive nation when so many people are liable to be left behind.

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