When George Osborne took to the stage at the Conservative party conference, he had an air of confidence that spoke volumes. He tapped into a sense that has been palpable for a while now, the widely held belief that he is the saviour of the British economy. Soaked with ambition, he painted for us his bold and vibrant vision for Britain, creating a northern powerhouse and putting the working, taxpaying people at the heart of his plans. He decreed his party the builders of Britain and the only true party of labour whilst unapologetically championing his more liberal politics. Then as the applause rolled in, showering him with reverence and adoration, the next five years unfolded in front of me and I could see this man winning the 2020 general election. The thought of it made me feel sick to my stomach.
The “modern, compassionate, One Nation Conservative Party” that David Cameron claims to have built is a sham. Unregulated capitalism is not compatible with social progress because it is an ideological framework that breeds inequality. So a flawed logic underpins the idea that cutting benefits will incentivise people to work and lift them out of poverty. These people are not poor because they’re lazy. Capitalism relies on a competitive market, but in competitions, for every winner there is always a loser. And when the winners have the resources to keep on winning, the losers keep on losing and inequality becomes entrenched in the system.
this is an economic system that requires poverty
So you see that when someone is poor—whether or not they work hard—they will almost certainly remain poor, because this is an economic system that requires poverty. No amount of “incentivising” is going to change that. So to then take away benefits and tax credits is nothing short of cruel as these are the only things protecting people from the extreme destitution that capitalism inevitably creates. There is absolutely no compassion in that.
Cameron and Osborne talk of their liberal agenda, but this cannot be realised through the lens of conservatism. Social progress does not come from being suspicious of others and judging them and generalising them without appreciating their circumstances. The Conservatives still drip with this prejudiced attitude. Instead of understanding why public sector workers strike, they stifle their right to do so. Instead of tackling the root causes of undercut wages, they blame problems of unemployment on immigration. They intend to counter terrorism by bringing in measures that attack the Muslim community. They don’t help refugees displaced by conflict because they distrust their intentions—despite seeing first-hand the scale of the peril and desperation they face on a daily basis. And when we combine this with their unwavering faith in a free unregulated market, then we have the same nasty party that we’ve always had, no matter how liberal they are in rhetoric.
So when David Cameron gave his keynote speech and talked of the deep-seated social problems in this country, such as inequality and lack of opportunity for those on the lowest social rungs, acknowledgements that racial prejudices are still rife and that the poorest that suffer during a financial crisis, I truly wanted to believe he cared.
Social progress does not come from being suspicious of others
But as I looked back on the last five years and remembered the homeless spikes, the nurses and doctors protesting ever harsher-hours, the benefits claimants who have died and the record high numbers of people using foodbanks, I realised that nothing has changed and all the things he said were just token platitudes.