Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Irony of ironies...

Vanity of vanities, all is vanity:  these are the reported words of the 15th Century Dominican Friar, Savanorloa, as he urged his followers to hurl the riches of Florence on his Bonfires of the Vanities. Savanorola was thhe head of a millenial religious movement which set out to destroy all of the "corrupt" beauty of the Italian Renaissance.

All through the Eighties I was convinced that Margaret Thatcher was our very own Savanorola, determined to destroy all the great achievements of 20th century Britain: the NHS, poverty relief, state education, social services, public services, the BBC and all of the great unifying institutions that support greater equality and democracy. It seemed that Thatcher viewed tax-funded health carec and universal education in the same light as the dark friar viewed beautiful art, fancy clothes, mirrors and other accoutrements of a decent life.

Thatcher ultimately failed, not for want of trying. Although she "sold off the family silver" and privatised many industries, the NHS, the BBC and universal benefits and, more importantly, the British sense of fairness and the understanding that the state must provide where the private sector will not, survived her malevolence.

The Labour government from 1997 to 2010 reversed many of the failures of Thatcher: poverty (which had tripled under Thatcher) was halved, schools and hospitals were repaired and new buildings built, public sector wages were raised to acceptable levels.

Now we have the coalition of Tories and Lib Dems (particularly the Orange Bookers), who want to resume Thatcher's work and are determined to succeed where she failed. There can be no other explanation for the depth and speed of the LibCon cuts.

Are cuts necessary after the bankers' depression? Of course they are. But the scale of George Osborne's cuts are driven as much by ideology as economic necessity. He and Nick Clegg want to "reduce the size of the state", meaning they want to privatise much that the government now delivers and share the rest with voluntary and not-for-profit organisations. As far as it is defined, this is the basis of David Cameron's "big society".

But the irony of ironies is that the cutting of budgets at UK, regional and local authority level will result in the opposite of the "big society". Voluntury organisations and other local groups are the first victims of the cuts that have already been enacted. Any cursory review of local authority budgets will reveal that many arms length organisations are having their funds cut and their operations curtailed as local authorities and health boards tighten their belts and withdraw funding and concentrate instead on the delivery of "core services".

The LibCon cuts are ideological, designed to reduce the state and decimate public services and the public sector. But this means that,  even by its own standards, the extreme cutting of services by the coalition will fail, because cutting deeply and speedily now will starve the "big society" of the services of the very groups that Cameron and Osborne tell us will take up the slack as the state withdraws.  

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