This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Abraham Lincoln: no easy answers

In a few weeks time, Spielberg's Lincoln will be released in the UK. (It is one of my must see films for 2013, along with Les Mis of course...). I don't think the film will include this quote from Lincoln:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and cause me to tremble for safety of my country; corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in High Places will follow, and the Money Power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the People, until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands, and the Republic destroyed. (From here)
I think we are facing the crisis again. Here is how it is working, in my view: the Right have realised that power is ebbing away from them due to long term changes in demographics and social values. Cameron know this and this is one of the reasons he is wants his government to be responsible for introducing equal marriage as an attempt to clothe the Tory party in modernist garb. However the 'UK tea party' are deserting the fold and joining UKIP, thus splitting the Right, possibly for the first time.

However both parts of this Right and wealthy group (do not forget that Nigel Farage is first and foremost an ex banker) are united in protecting their riches and aggregating more. So they face a conundrum: how do they continue to wield the necessary power to do this when their dwindling numbers will leave them democratically out flanked? There are three key ways, in my opinion.

Part of this plan is to demonise the poor and do everything they can to give the impression that people on state benefits are all cheaters and even those who are not, have received unfair increases in their benefits. We saw this over the weekend with Ian Duncan Smith using plain old untruths to stoke up public disgust with the tax credit system. This is all about providing the government with political cover to reduce the value of benefits in coming weeks and the looming spare bedroom tax and housing benefit changes which will take money out of the hands of some very poor people. What IDS and legions of people who back these changes (including the Daily Mail and its acolytes) just don't seem to get is that £15 for a wealthy person is hardly loose change, while for a person on state benefits it is difference between having good meals for a week or not.

The second part of this plan is to outsource public services to private companies so that taxpayers are boosting the aggregated wealth of the very well off. Under the guise of 'better value' (and lets be clear it usually isn't when all the factors are taken in account), vast swathes of 'public' services are now in the hands of a few large companies such as Serco, Capita and G4S. These companies are becoming too large to fail and having established their grip on the marketplace, will now either cut costs dramatically, exploit the terms & conditions of their staff even more or raise their prices.... or all three. (Staff pensions in particular will be reduced which means in a few years time, the tax payer will be picking up the tab again as these people retire with inadequate income.) And we have here the corporations being enthroned in just the way that Lincoln feared.

And the third part is to keep up relentless sniping at the public professions of policing, teaching, nursing and so forth. It only helps those on the Right if hard working police officers are seen as 'Mussolinis' after a fast overtime buck, or teachers are people who just winge about everything or that nurses don't really care... etc. Attempts to ensure and boost professional standards are painted as protectionism or Left wing political correctness. All this is meant to corrode public confidence in the great public professions, so that when they are outsourced, no one will really care.

I have always wondered whether it is the Left or the Right who are more strategic in their design and deployment of political change. Sadly, I think that hitherto it has been the Right because their focus on the accumulation and concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is steely and resolute. While on the Left, we often resort to short term measures because we are driven viscerally to think of the many not the few.

However, now is the time to wrest strategy back from the Right to the Left: we need to think long and hard about what our next steps should be. There are no easy answers here...

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