“I will not apologise.”
That was a statement uttered by a certain Mr Clegg, confronted by a dozen angered students weeks after the cap on tuition fees rose to £9000. Whatever your view on university funding, or indeed the later very catchy remix on YouTube of him indeed apologising, there is little doubt that a statement like that was salt shoved into the wounds of students across this divided isle.
“We are all Thatcherites now.”
That was the statement uttered by a certain Mr Cameron on the occasion of Mrs Thatcher’s funeral. Now, whatever your view on the etiquette one should present at a politician’s funeral, there is little doubt that a statement like that was salt shoved into the wounds of workers across this divided isle.
“Austerity is working.”
That was a statement uttered by a certain Mr Osborne upon the reveal that the UK economy had grown by 0.7% earlier in the year. Whatever your economic expertise, there is little doubt that a statement like that was salt shoved into the wounds of the poorest across this divided isle.
That’s a lot of salt.
This stunningly salty lack of empathy has very much become a recurrent trend with the Coalition. As a Londoner – and most significantly, an East Ender, one needs only say the words ‘Iain Duncan Smith’ out loud by the local newsagents to attract angered rants. And this isn’t an irrational response. The words ‘Iain Duncan Smith’ represent all of the seemingly repressive policies that make life substantially worse for the poorer in Britain.
The same reaction can be replicated with almost any member of the cabinet; first we could turn to Michael Gove. Mention those words to any student – state and private alike – and you will probably incite explicit hatred. Mention Jeremy Hunt to any NHS employee, and expect to face thirty minutes on why the word ‘liberalization’ strikes fear into their heart. This list would go on, and one certainly does ponder if there ever has been a group of ministers that can provoke such an onslaught of impassioned and often extremely negative opinion in recent history. For while New Labour grew deeply unpopular, and inefficient public spending indeed remains a cause of deep contention, the Coalition’s race to the right has produced austerity measures so harsh that even the International Monetary Fund – master advocators of severity – has called for Osborne to reconsider his stance on the matter.
The deep cuts into the fabric of the welfare state have caused such major repercussions to the lives of so many that one must surely find it difficult to call the coalition at this stage a force for good; cuts often justified with widespread deceit and demonization, helped and epitomised by tabloid stories on benefit ‘scroungers’ who apparently represent some giant ‘evil’, despite Job Seeker’s Allowance making up for just 4% of the DWP budget.
Indeed, one may retort with that previously stated fact that the economy grew by 0.7% in GDP in months gone by; a measure, it must be stated, that even its inventors emphasised should not be used to judge a nation’s financial health. This writer is no economist, but I am one of the millions heavily affected by austerity. I can tell you that seeing George Osborne gleefully boast about this under-the-target statistic, stating that (with a trail of destruction behind him in the structural integrity of schools, hospitals and social security) the harsh and cold sacrifices that only the poorest had to endure and were ‘worth it’, was nothing short of painfully condescending, ludicrously indifferent, the complete antonym of a ‘Big Society’ where ‘we are all in it together.’
In a Britain where 1 in 4 children are in poverty, where ideological reforms are made to reform GCSEs and A-Levels at a time when state education is severely underfunded, when disability benefits are being seen as the perfect arena to implement political attacks, when energy companies are allowed to force the most vulnerable into fuel poverty, and where families are turning to food banks, it is extremely difficult for this writer to find anything good or celebratory about the outcome of the 2010 election.
Illustration: Cressida Peever