Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The dumbest guys in the room want a word with you

In case you've missed the obscure rustlings in the Tory undergrowth, there's a new and only fitfully literate manifesto out from the Forty Group. These are the forty Tories in the most marginal seats - the mediocrities not expected to win last time and destined for a watery grave in 2015 barring the government giving us all everlasting-life pills and flying cars between now and then.

It's a fascinating read. It's the product of people who appear to have been imprisoned in the basement of a think-tank since the Suez Crisis. Everything has passed them by: racial equality, the EU, the crashes of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, sexual liberation and equality, the end of Empire: the lot. It's like the company directors of Barnes' satirical England, England, or the near-future Tory government of McEwan's A Child In Time: fuelled by paranoia and sexual damage. All you need to heal the country is to hand it over to Big Business and sterilise the poor and the young. You think I'm joking? Read on…

Needless to say, my egregious, poisonous, dishonest and vacuous MP Mr Paul Uppal is one of the conspirators, never having met a short-sighted, reactionary and revanchist idea he hasn't liked. Not that he contributed any of the ideas, of course: his grey matter is too busy inventing evidence for Parliamentary speeches. One of life's sidekicks, our Uppal. He's the Richard Hammond to the government's Clarkson: he enjoys the cruelty but doesn't have the imagination or wit to do anything more than cheer it on.

So let's have a look at these intellectual adventurers' solutions to the country's ills:

1. “Excessive regulation is the biggest brake on our business
This sets the tone for the entire document. The innocuous tone of this assertion belies a total absence of fact (who says? one-third of Chambers of Commerce survey respondents: not exactly clinching), and in particular ignores the biggest credit crunch and recession since the Weimar Republic, which I would consider a greater drag on business than 'excessive regulation'. This is simply imported American small-state ideology unconvincingly dressed up as fact. Surely nobody could object to 'excessive' regulation? But what do they mean by 'excessive' and 'regulation'? Easy: they're free-market ideologues (in theory: Uppal wants tax breaks for commercial landlords like, er, him). To them, all 'regulation' is excessive. And what they mean by 'regulation' is things like pollution restrictions, the minimum wage, unfair dismissal protection, the right to organise, to be protected from sexual or racial harassment, to a working life that takes into account family needs. It also – explicitly in this manifesto – means exempting small companies from contributing to employees' pensions. The result? Either they starve or the costs are passed on to the state.

What these people want is the capitalist dystopia of Back to the Future II before Marty goes back and saves the day from Biff Tannen. The problem with the Forty Group is that given a choice between Democracy and the Triumph of the Market, they plump for the market every time – because they've benefited from both markets and (though they'd deny it) democracy and the state. The experiences of those they're meant to represent are far less important than the Hayek and Pinochet they cream over in private. The Market is what needs appeasing: not the humans for whom (they forget) politics serves.

Big idea No 2 is 'more female entrepreneurs'. And celebrating the ones we have. Not exactly a policy, and again, it leaves unquestioned the notion of entrepreneurship, which is far less economically important than the discourse around it suggests. All 60 million of us can't be entrepreneurs, nor can all 30 million women. The glaring absence of any actual ideas suggests that 'women' as a concept are fairly alien to the authors and not at all a priority.

Moving on to number 3, we discover that discredited, dystopian, Ballardian notion of handing over Town Centres to private businesses, neatly ensuring that Consumers (we're no longer citizens) aren't impeded by unproductive drones: people taking the air, holding protests, chatting or otherwise subverting the Business of Business. The dreaded Portas is invoked in the course of a plea to turn over our towns to cars and shopkeepers: physically and legally. It's a bleak vision but a profitable one for someone who'd directly profit from this policy.

The next bit wounds me deeply:
“Universities offer a perfect environment for fledging businesses.”
Actually, universities offer a perfect environment for critiquing and comprehending the status quo, including capitalism. The problem is that these guys are spiritually poor: like Gradgrind, they can't see further than the balance sheet (and certainly don't want to address capitalism's manifest failures: another advantage of ignoring recent history).

The plot here is to make universities become profit centres, mini-industrial estates, the butlers of businesses, entirely subservient to the (often short-sighted) demands of businesses, which would – surprise – get another tax break. In case you've forgotten, universities are about new ideas and not simply reinforcing the prejudices of the hegemony (which is why Mr Gove hates us so much).

No. 5 proposes encouraging more people to start their own business. Hard to object, though it's marginal at best: most people work in, and want to work in, stable established businesses. The meat of the idea, if we're being kind, is to suffuse schooling and higher education with capitalist propaganda: this isn't policy, it's a naked attempt to turn Britons into a nation of alienated privateers, a programme already advanced by the wholesale abandonment of secondary education to the tender mercies of the very shady businessmen currently 'sponsoring' academies. The result will be a country of obedient conformists in a nation safe for exploiters, polluters and rent-seekers.  

The same is true of the next section: elevating 'workplace skills' rather than merely 'intellectual skills'. Presumably this will include Advanced Loyalty, Total Submission and Shutting Up. Then we're back to free-market capitalists' demands for more taxpayers' money. The State is evil, unless it's bankrolling these Tories' friends:

A state-backed Enterprise Bank could be a permanent solution to the lending gap and would lend to any company
The next section continues the theme: it namechecks Germany's industrial success without mentioning the employee-union-owner structure. Instead, industrial success depends (brace yourself) on handing over the State to business:
More must be done to address politicians’ knowledge gap of industry through better cooperation and collaboration with industry itself. This means having those who have served in the sector taking more prominent roles in the relevant departments of BIS and the Treasury and more policies that actively promote manufacturing. 

This is a tacit admittance that these politicians are anti-politics. They don't negotiate the competing requirements of the people: they just want to hand the state over to their mates. They also don't want to address economic matters. To them, manufacturing is held back by whinging lefties, not macro-economic factors. Once we 'free' children to stitch footballs, we'll all get rich. And once we unblock those outflow pipes:
Policies that are aimed at tackling climate change have their heart in the right place but are stifling industry.
They also want us to fly everywhere too.

The global trade section is particularly backward looking, to the League of Empire Loyalists. Instead of trading with those perfidious Europeans, the UK should demand that those disloyal Commonwealth johnnies should show some gratitude and shovel their dinero Britain's way. You know Godwin's Law? That the first person to mention the Nazis in pursuit of an argument, has lost. Voila:
World War Two demonstrated the extent to which we need countries like Australia and New Zealand to overcome obstacles and challenges, and in present times the Commonwealth could provide the key to our part in the global economic recovery… Traditional links should be at the forefront of any anti-trade barrier argument and there is nothing wrong with playing on old sympathies
And then we get to another nasty little surprise: the 'logistics friendly' government, i.e. one which encourages more and bigger lorries onto the road while ignoring mass transit such as rail. Less a policy, more a present for their mates. But this is just a warmup for the real nastiness: energy policy. Dig, drill, burn and rape with no regard for environmentalism – particularly fracking. The Big Idea is in fact Deny and Defer.

This gas should be used to replace coal and oil in our power stations, producing a reduction in our carbon emissions on an order of magnitude greater than anything achieved to date by wind or solar.
This is offensively dishonest: shale gas is a fossil fuel. It's better than coal, but there's no way on earth it'll be used as a temporary stopgap on the way to a carbon-free future. It's just a greedy, selfish fuck-you to our descendants. The only think climate change is good for is making money: the unspoken assumption is that it's all a big hoax:
let the market take its course. The plethora of artificial incentives, such as feed in tariffs and renewables obligations, should be phased out…
Though they are deeply interested in geothermal energy, which I had no idea was or could be a major player in UK generation. Presumably one of their donors has some hot water going cold without subsidy.
But we need to give projects like this greater government support.
To help geothermal companies attract private investment we need to create the right financial incentives using the Strike Price and the Renewable Heat Incentive. At the moment less technologically proven and cost effective renewable energy technologies receive larger incentives. 
But now we're getting close to these guys' hearts. Having spent an awful lot of our imaginary money subsidising their mates' businesses, they address tax. And guess what? They're not keen. The magic word here is 'simplification', by which they mean 'less tax for corporations and the rich'. But they don't say so. Embarrassingly, the policy doesn't have a single word to say about income tax, corporation tax, artificial vehicles, off-shoring, evasion or avoidance. Instead, they propose that public servants' tax returns be made public. And that's it.

But when we turn to property, we're reminded strongly that this is the manifesto of the 1%. The pressing issue is apparently too much taxation on property sales. Not the massive gap between salaries and property prices. Instead, they want to reinstate the Property Madness which condemned most of to mouldy flats and the extortion practiced by landlords like Uppal.

The housing market is in need of a tax neutral nudge in the right direction to make it more buoyant and fair. 

Ah yes, the 'nudge theory'. Who needs to bother the populus's pretty little heads with ideas? And what to we onlookers get as a reward for tolerating gimcrack developments thrown up willy-nilly?
Maybe a playground for local children, maybe the renovation of the Parish Hall. The sums will be minor
Even the most naked attacks on our collective decisions are dressed spuriously in the language of liberation. Everything our local authorities do, it's assumed, is repressive and incompetent. We busy people are to be freed… but only to choose a different corporate interest:
the localism act introduced a ‘community right to challenge’ clause which gives community and voluntary groups a ‘right’ to challenge a local authority for the services they provide.
The clause is limited in that it merely provides for a local authority to trigger a procurement process which may mean that the challenging group is not successful in being commissioned to provide the service.
There is a need to create much more diversity of provision at the local level which harnesses the expertise, skill and knowledge of a the community and voluntary sector. 
Yes, it's illiterate, but you have to look at the discourse as well as the typing. Elected local government = Stalinist Monster. 'Diversity of provision' sounds lovely.

Local groups should also be encouraged and similarly incentivised to challenge as consortia which would enable a consortia of local groups the ability to challenge for a range of services. For example a consortia of local groups currently providing youth services outside of that which is provided by the local authority could come together to put in a joint bid for the whole of a local authorities youth provision. Local authorities should actively encourage and facilitate these local consortia.
It took me a while to get the hang of this illiterate garbage, but I think what they're really saying is this:
We all like diversity. But really it means public services sold off to offshore, tax-evading, profit-increasing, service-reducing, unaccountable, wage-lowering exploiters.
Only they think these are positive terms.

You can have a small prize if you can explain this sentence:
we need to write the independence of local government into our unwritten constitutional arrangements.

Apparently Local Government is going to be freed from the Tyranny of Central Government through establishing a Decentralisation Committee. Excellent. Where's it going to be located? 10 Downing Street! Who's going to head it? The Prime Minister. Glad that's clear.

Another example of the group's faux niceness is the section on Community Hospitals. They're for them, and opposed to the centralisation of specialities in mega-hospitals. Medical madness, of course: you want your child's heart surgery done by a doctor who does these ops every day, not one who gets one every few years. But there are no votes in closing down St. Teacosy's down the road. Perhaps, though, they have in mind the Cuban polyclinic initiatives, which are hugely successful.

Er, no. They just want to close the NHS:

Community hospitals also need to be freed from the central control of the NHS. They should be free to own their own buildings and service users and employees should be encouraged to develop new ownership models based on mutual, cooperative or social enterprise models where that would maintain or enhance existing community services. 
But more positively, their plan for transforming Britain – in the depths of a serious recession, mass unemployment, failing services, overworked hospitals, environmental apocalypse etc – come in Idea Number 30: Cleaner Beaches. You want detail? They've got detail! They're going to test the water a few times a year rather than just in the summer. Seriously, these Tory kids are blowing my mind with their wacky, zany ideas!

Is all this affecting your mental health? Don't fret: they've a policy idea to treat your aching brainpan! You'll never guess what it is…
GPs should to be encouraged to look beyond traditional approaches whether through drugs or short term psychological therapies so that patients do have a viable range of choices appropriate to their condition. Commissioning should be opened up to allow therapists operating in private practice, in longer term therapies, to be able to bid for services within the NHS. 

So that's a) homeopathy on the state and b) more privatisation. 

I feel better already.

And in case you're thinking 'at least they care about my children's mental health even if they're deluded about the solution, let's see why they want you to get better:

Increased levels of achievement, education and productivity on an individual level that will translate to an increased ability to contribute to the state. 
They don't care why you're ill. Causes are irrelevant. They just want you back up that chimney and paying your taxes (not you, Mr Vodafone, you're excused) because someone's got to subsidise those corporate taxes and let's face it: you'd have to be mad to go along with this stuff.

But some citizens are Just Not Playing The Game, and Spoiling It For The Rest Of Us. The bankers? Guess again. Corrupt MPs? Nope. News International? Keep trying. Google, Starbucks, Lord Rothermere, the Daily Mail? No, no no and no. It should be obvious.

Teenage mothers. 
If it wasn't for those greedy bastards, we'd all be living in Easy Street right now. The banks would be solvent, the job centres empty, the Volvos full and the kiddies dancing round maypoles spontaneously erected from Walthamstow to Moss Side.

Take access to housing benefit, for example. 16-17 year olds are currently entitled to claim housing benefit if they “have a good reason for not living at home.” Some teenagers may view this, quite incorrectly, as an automatic right to free housing, encouraging them to have a child. 

Evidence? Oh really, what planet's political discourse have you been engaged with recently? We all know teenage mums have caused a) the credit crunch b) SARS c) 9/11 d) Charles Saatchi's violent behaviour d) Jimmy Savile and e) the decline of Channel 4's credibility, to name just a few of their crimes against humanity. So what if there's no evidence? Mr Duncan Smith made it very clear in his radio interview yesterday: evidence schmevidence, it's what he believes that matters.

All benefits to teenage mothers should be made on the condition of them living with their parents or in supervised hostel accommodation

So what if some of this very tiny number of people are fleeing abusive and neglectful homes? They need punishment. They might be old enough to join the army, kill people, be killed and pay taxes, but the female youngsters are still the property of their parents. If they're not forced back into the home with their little one, or locked up in a Home For Shamefully Disgusting Incontinent Little Slappers Who Are No Better Than They Ought To Be and taught to Know Their Places, how are they ever going to learn that female abstinence unless within the boundaries of a middle-class heterosexual official marriage is the cornerstone of Western Civilisation. Or more simply, ladies of a teenage persuasion: keep your legs crossed or the terrorists win. And the fathers? No mention. Presumably they're just 'sowing their wild oats'. Boys will be boys!

Note the sheer, despicable cowardice here:

The public perception of these policies adds to the general view that many teenagers are having children to attain benefits and subsidised housing, creating a great deal of resentment and unease. 
There's no attempt to ascertain any facts. Instead, they're nakedly endorsing 'the general view', 'resentment and unease' generated by… well, by them and their friends at the Mail.

Teenagers will be left in no doubt that teenage motherhood will not lead to an automatic right to subsidised housing and other benefits, while the general public can be assured that a teenager’s motivations for having a child are not related to housing access. 

They've found a victim, the lynch mob's waiting and these Tory scumbags are knotting the nooses for a very profitable hanging. And people wonder why they make me angry.

And then it gets really sinister. Under the guise of 'contraception efficiency', these Tories have decided that abortions have got to go. Especially for women who've had more than one. Yes, they're extended CCTV and GCHQ's activities to the final frontier: the uterus.

The Government should, for example, consider the merits of allowing agencies to check in with women post abortion, ensuring that they are continuing to use contraception provided to them.

Can you imagine the conditions and content of these 'checks'? Present yourself at the DSS for a Paupers' Duff-Upping Prevention Swab? Perhaps an RFID tab on your pill box. Or simply a two-way TV screen through which the Leader (in this case, Jeremy Hunt) conducts a uterine inspection before work on Monday morning. Free membership of the Primrose League for any C2DE who volunteers for sterilisation!

Marriage, of course, is key. What's stopping people having a proper (i.e. religious) marriage? The 1753 Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage, which bans religious marriages in any random location. Spot on, Tories! That's why marriages have been declining. And not a widespread perception that it's not appropriate for the range of sexual and romantic dispositions now available. Thank heavens you've got to the root of the matter.

But what if some feckless oiks slip through the net, have some kids, and can't make them go to school for their daily class in (Significant Dates in Conservative Party) History? Can't pay the fine?

fines should be taken directly from child benefit payments… It might just give the most dysfunctional family the incentive to get their child to school.

Starve them into submission. That's the ticket! It's not as if truancy and other social problems are at all complicated. It's the poor kids who are to blame:

Pupils on free school meals are around three times more likely to play truant than their counterparts. 

I'm too depressed even to bother presenting you with Idea 37: male role models in schools. Apparently all engineers, fire-fighters and soldiers are men. And we should be getting trained killers into school to give the boys something to which to aspire. 

Still, at least they're tackling the Timebomb of Obesity. Which could be very messy if we don't defuse it. But don't worry, it's easy to fix. Just abolish the 'risk-averse culture' and it'll all be fine. Anybody who mentions the pervasiveness of fat-laden food and the massive sell-offs of school playing fields will be sent to the Coca-Cola-sponsored naughty step.

And now we're back to education. One of the Forty, Paul Uppal, has a large university in his constituency. A university which finds itself repeatedly victimised by a government determined to restrict funding, research and high-achieving students to a small band of élite universities. A university which is doing its best to make ends meet by providing a decent education to overseas students. 

What does Paul want to do about this state of affairs? 
The permanent cap on non-EU workers has been a success and should now be extended to include some of our universities. We must be unashamed in our policy of only wanting to attract the very brightest and best students to come to the UK and so our top universities would be allowed to continue to enrol all students on an unlimited basis as they do now. 
That's right! He wants to deport all our non-EU students. They didn't get in to Oxford or Cambridge, so they must be thick (because obviously all universities offer the same courses) and they're just scrounging, even if they do pay massive fees which subsidise the EU students. For Christ's sake. 

And there we have it. Forty fag-packet ideas to keep the UKIP wolf from the Tory door. A rag-bag of cruelty, prejudice, hysteria, pandering, reaction, hypocrisy, bare-faced lies, omissions, distortions and fantasies. Many of them are dignified by the name 'idea': they're mere wisps, dispersed on the lightest intellectual breeze. All concerned should be ashamed and embarrassed. 

If I was Labour, I'd buy a million copies and send them to every household in these MPs' marginal constituencies. IF you thought Hunt et al. are vapid, this lot need the attentions of a mortician. Certainly there's no detectable cerebral activity. They're dead men (and 8 women) walking. If this is the best the Conservative Party can do, they're history. Let's make sure. 

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