Last night I went to my local theatre for an evening with Polly Toynbee and David Walker, promoting their new book Cameron's Coup, basically a summary of all the evil things the Tories and their Lib Dem sidekicks have done to us all over the past few years.
The audience was as you'd expect: Guardian-reading academics, social workers and teachers: those of us with the time, energy and enthusiasm to still be angry. In short: Toynbee and Walker were in friendly territory. Perhaps too friendly: aside from a smattering of SWP-style critiques, her shady past as an early adopter of the SDP (thus allowing Thatcher's reign) was largely overlooked. There was some discussion of the Guardian's endorsement of the Lib Dems in 2010, but she made it clear that it was the editor's sole decision, made in the teeth of opposition from the staff, and based on civil liberties grounds – which is understandable given New Labour's total contempt for such things.
I mostly enjoyed it. The first half of the evening was devoted to a fusillade of statistics and facts which we probably could have done without. Everyone in the audience was highly informed and often faced the realities every day. I'd have preferred Toynbee and Walker to focus on fewer things in more detail, throw in material related to the location of each night's talk, or to give more analysis than fact, as that's their super-power. Once that was over though, things improved hugely. They took questions from the floor and relaxed hugely, giving informed, witty, thoughtful answers to a range of questions: the breadth of their shared knowledge was astounding.
I also enjoyed it because I was sitting next to one of my students - a hugely likeable chap who for some reason is a damned Tory, and was reviewing the gig for the local hard-right paper. Given that the event was solely devoted to Tory-bashing and gingering us up for the election, I teased him about potentially being converted to socialism - sadly it didn't happen, and Toynbee never looked in his direction when he had his hand up so he never got the opportunity to ask what I'm sure would have been an interesting and challenging question. But at least he had to listen to someone other than me explaining just what these bastards have done to us all!
I didn't ask a question either, but if I'd had the chance, I'd have asked about the Tories' motivations. As far as I can tell, some of them genuinely believe that what they're doing is good for the country: Gove, Letwin and some others. They're massively wrong and perhaps even more dangerous than the others, whom I strongly suspect don't have this public service ideal. I remember a newly-elected Kenyan government minister replying to a question about corruption with the words 'now it's our turn to eat'. Perhaps I'm being overly cynical, but I think there are a lot of Tories who take this line: the public good is far less important than the disposal of state assets and alteration of laws and policies to benefit themselves, their class and their global allies. I think Osborne's one of them. Cameron is half-way between: he's PM because the job appealed to him as a bit of a jape but he's also from a class which had a public service ideal, but his personal fortune is derived from tax evasion. Hunt, Shapps and others seem like nothing more than looters in the service of the global super-rich. My own MP is rarely spotted outside the rich suburbs where his core vote lies, and when he does emerge it's to dine with arms dealers or tour the Syrian Golan Heights in the company of the Israeli occupiers, and he's certainly acquired some extra chins since 2010, so he's certainly taken his turn to eat.
They do, like me, see this government as highly successful. Yes, the deficit is up, Sure Start centres have closed, the poor are poorer and the rich richer, but what people forget is that none of these things are 'collateral damage' cause by 'tough choices'. Occasionally the cleverer Tories fake a note of regret ('this hurts me more than it hurts you'), but the Tory project was always to shrink the state and abolish social protection. As Naomi Klein predicted, they took advantage of a crisis – this is the Pinochet manoeuvre – to impose their fantasies, without warning or a mandate. The only vaguely humorous aspect of this is that the crisis was one of neoliberal capitalism's making (despite their partly-successful attempts to blame it on the last Labour government) and their solution was more neoliberal capitalism. The crying shame is that enough people swallowed this to vote them in, however marginally.
Will the event change the course of the election? I doubt it, and so did the speakers: as Toynbee pointed out, people read the papers and columnists with whom they agree. Perhaps a few more people in the audience will help deliver leaflets in this marginal constituency, but the point was really for like-minded people to huddle together in mutual outrage at the vile things done to us.