Universal Gloom

The Tory Party Conference is under way, and the headline news today is George Osborne’s plan to abolish child benefit payments to higher rate taxpayers.

This is a smart political move, as the fuss the cut will generate among the middle classes will dominate the media, and provide cover for the even harsher cuts he has in store for poorer sections of society (the full horror of which we probably won’t know until the conclusion of the spending review at the end of this month), promoting the fallacy that “We are all in this together”.

The attack on child benefit isn’t just about saving money though, it is a strike at one of the central pillars of the Welfare State, the concept of Universality. The idea that all children have the same entitlement, whatever their background, is a powerful statement of social equality, and eroding it is part of the Tories’ plan to turn back the last 60 years of progress and return us to the divided society of the pre-war era.

There is already a two-tier education system, which will be extended by the plans to allow Universities to charge what they like for tuition, effectively reserving higher learning, and the economic advantages it bestows, for the rich. The NHS in England is going to be dismantled in favour of a patchwork of privatised provision, and the general benefits system is threatened with huge cuts. All this while a double-dip recession looms, and millions face joblessness. The wealth gap may have grown massively over the last decade, but it looks like it may get mediaeval in the years ahead.

Grim times. It would be nice to think that things were looking brighter on the other side of the Atlantic, but it seems that the right is set for an unlikely resurgence there too. This month’s Rolling Stone has an excellent article on the Tea Party, their regressive politics (summed up succinctly by writer Matt Taibbi; “After lengthy study of the phenomenon, I’ve concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They’re full of shit”), and how, ironically, their incoherent populist anger is being co-opted by the Republican Party to serve the interests of the financial elites that the TP-ers supposedly despise. The Democrats, meanwhile, seem to have been stunned into inaction by the disappointment that has been the Obama administration.

Grim, grim times. We can only keep working away, and hope that the cold winds of change blow some life into the embers of revolt.

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