04 May 2010

UK election: Infantilisation of the electorate

Perhaps the most overwhelmingly depressing part of the UK election is not the blancmange tedium of the three main parties, nor the half chance that the vile BNP might win in Barking, or the Islamist loving RESPECT in east London, nor the anti-growth Greens in Brighton. It isn't the mass evasion of the trillion pound public debt and hundred billion pound budget deficit, although that comes a close second.

It is how, as Matthew D'Ancona correctly writes in the Sunday Telegraph, the Labour Party has infantilised Britain. He says "Margaret Thatcher had saved the country from economic perdition, ended the stranglehold of the unions, and nurtured a culture of enterprise, self-reliance, and share and council house ownership. But she had not truly weaned the electorate off government: the corrosive belief that "they" – some bureaucracy, the gentleman in Whitehall – can and should do everything for us. It is the great British paradox: the only thing we dislike more than intrusion is being left to our own devices.

New Labour identified this aspect of the national psyche, encouraged it and made it the basis of an awesomely successful electoral coalition. Labour would "invest", the Tories would "cut".

Well indeed, except that this infantilisation goes well before New Labour, and has never really been addressed by the Conservatives. It goes to 1945, when British voters were offered a deal by the Labour Party which essentially was "we've run your lives during the war, let's keep doing it". So the NHS was born, and half of the economy was nationalised, and the UK's growth was stagnated for decades, not least because the social planners put so many of Britain's poor in council estates that became hothouses of despair and crime.

The infantile attitude can be seen in what almost everyone who engages in politics on televised debates or seen in streets is saying "will you spend money on xxx?". A few ask "what will you do about the deficit?", but are unlikely to like answers of "cut spending on this, put up taxes on that".

Most tellingly, infantilism is seen on healthcare. The Conservatives surrendered to it, because the idea of PAYING to go to the doctor, let alone anything else, would guarantee political oblivion, for the result would be like the wailing of babies denied a chocolate bar. It is an attitude promoted by the Labour Party, which treats the NHS as if it is sacred, as if it is the totem of a caring society, rather than a rarely copied centrally planned queuing mechanism that sucks up more and more money as demands upon it are endless.

However, the idea that "they" ought to "do something" about this or that problem, has become the childlike dependency upon government to fix problems, pay for things, and make everything better. It is the philosophy peddled openly and proudly by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, the philosophy that "they" will protect families, look after "your education and NHS" (note the use of the term NHS rather than just healthcare, the means is more important than the ends). It is feeding the childlike comfort of socialism.

The Conservatives can't talk that language with the same conviction, and so that provokes fear among the infant like electorate, which Brown nurtures "you'll lose your child tax credit, the economy will be ruined, you'll lose this, you'll lose that, mean old Mr Cameron will take away your toys like that nasty Mrs Thatcher once did". Instead of confronting it head on, the Conservatives, having no solid alternative philosophy, simply evade and cave in. The Conservatives have guaranteed to increase NHS funding in real terms year on year, despite the NHS having had record increases under Labour, well above inflation. The Conservatives have also promised to keep a host of benefits and payments that Labour introduced.

Why? Because the Conservatives know that, if they want power, they need to nurture the infants, and can only wean them off of nanny state by stopping its growth, and making a few select steps back. This time the key measure to change it is education, with a watered down version of the Swedish free school voucher system, because it can undermine the local government monopoly on state schools. However, this is a pale attempt at challenging the infantilism of the left. Even then, it is unlikely that even 40% of the electorate has enough confidence in this to vote Conservative. So so many say they have always voted Labour in the past, but can't bring themselves to vote Conservative, as it would be a "betrayal", or it would be voting for the "party that looks after the rich". The slogans peddled by the left who have their claws dug into those that want dependent upon the big nanny state for their healthcare, education, housing, employment, retirement income and everything else that comes with it. Nobody has dared challenge the simple notion that if it is your money, you have every right to keep it yourself - rather than you are obliged to let others have some of it.

That is the pernicious, destructive nasty taste of envy of British class warfare. It is only exacerbated by the anachronism of the country's biggest welfare dependents in the Royal family, and the existence of the House of Lords. However, these are minor in the scheme of things. What is truly disturbing is how the state and the state's institutions have effectively left so many of those, avowedly working class, to believe that success and wealth comes primarily to those born with it, not those who aspire to it.

To challenge this, the Conservative Party offers little, it doesn't have the testicular fortitude or the circumspection to abandon what is fundamentally wrong with it - the residue of conservatism and the belief that the state is fine, as long as "we" run it, like good chaps well educated, who know how to look after everyone. You see, the Conservatives haven't a great record in reducing the size of the state. Thatcher largely only stemmed the growth of it, with the great liberalisation coming from privatisation of major industries, not the fundamental reform of the social sector.

To make a difference the UK needs is a party that has the proud liberalism that was once the Liberal Party, liberal on individual rights, but also liberal on markets and the economy. The Liberal Democrats have a veneer of social liberalism, matched with hardline leftwing state management of the economy. It needs a party that does NOT pander to the anti-immigration, old conservative rhetoric of judging people on their background not their deeds. It wont happen for this election, but it will be time for those who believe in less government to consider afterwards, what vehicle should be used to take these ideas forward. For unless the Conservative campaign has been a great con, that wont be the vehicle to do anything other than to slow down the rot.

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