The politics of resentment

Work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith

It’s good to know that in these times of economic stagnation and shrinking household incomes, caused by a financial crisis that is not the fault of those being made to pay for it, that the focus is not on punishing those responsible. Instead, the political class and large sections of the voting public have decided to get angry about those vast communities of unearned privilege, people on benefits and the Scottish. 

Fortunately I have been able to edit this article slightly as the Lords have just voted down some of the most egregious parts of the bill. Some of the more inhumane, and I use that word deliberately, parts of the bill were too much for the normally quiescent Lib Dems to go along with. Including child benefit as part of the cap appears to have been voted down. Thank heavens for small mercies………..

Former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown is so horrified by the government’s proposals to cap benefits (which is being done in the name of ‘fairness’ obviously) that he is saying he will vote against his own party in the House of Lords. He’s worried about the children, you see. Though less so about the adults seemingly. An odd distinction to make, I’ve always thought.

Ashdown is prepared to support most of the government’s policies loyally but not this one. 

A bridge too far for old Mr Charisma. In fact there is disquiet amongst many senior Lib Dems about what one has described off the record as “the worst type of vicious Tory nonsense.” Even the government’s own figures indicate that the policy will drive more people into poverty, but Duncan Smith refuted this yesterday with the brilliant argument:

“We just don’t believe that that’s going to happen.”

Well that’s it then. I’m now convinced that everything will be ok.

Apparently the welfare bill is spiralling out of control and needs to be capped at an entirely arbitrary level to encourage people to work. You know, take one of those jobs that is available to everyone if they just got off their arses and looked for one. Loads of jobs around. Lots and lots. Enough for everyone right now. The ever-increasing ranks of the unemployed only have themselves to blame. More and more people are just getting lazy each month. That’s how it works, obviously.

The language used by the government is fascinating. They want to cap the rate at average household incomes as an incentive to “make work pay”. They don’t suggest making sure that people in work are earning more by, you know, ensuring they are paid more. No, the plan is to cut benefits, impoverish people still further and drive people out to look for jobs that don’t exist. A race to the bottom, if you will. But the government will describe it as “freeing” people who are “trapped in a vicious circle”.

Does the word freedom actually mean anything anymore?

Duncan Smith’s agenda depends on people buying into a lie. That there are hundreds and thousands of people up and down the country living the life of Riley on a state handout. It just isn’t true, but lots of people think it is. The truth is that these spiteful and ideological cuts (not ‘reforms’) will hurt those who can least afford to have money taken off them. Many families could quite conceivably see their incomes drop significantly overnight. The truth of the issue is exposed here. Even according to the government’s own stats tens of thousands of people will be driven into poverty by these measures. This is a wicked, cynical, ideological bill designed to win cheap votes and favourable headlines in the Daily Mail.

Dave Osler has written yet another excellent article on the matter on Liberal Conspiracy and his own blog. And another excellent read on the subject is this in the Guardian.

Another good example of the ‘race to the bottom’ is over the West Lothian question.

An unintended but nevertheless sadly inevitable consequence of the rise of Scottish nationalism, and the way that the national question there is framed, has been a distinct increase in feelings of ‘Englishness’ in the last couple of years. A phenomenon that has entirely passed yours truly by, but more people than ever before are identifying themselves as English rather than British, and in turn think that the Scottish get a disproportionate share of the nation’s resources. It is still less than half who accept this nonsense as true for now though, which is a slightly encouraging sign given the scale of the propaganda.

The target is different to my first example but the logic is the same. Manufacture a fuss about a group perceived to be getting a disproportionate slice of the cake and blame them for the nation’s ills. Everyone seems to think that the Scottish seem to get loads of state handouts whereas the English are deprived of their fair share. Another myth manufactured by the London media. Scotland isn’t a drain on the nation’s resources by any stretch of the imagination. Quite the opposite in fact. Or are we forgetting North Sea Oil?

If the Scottish people have voted for more social democratic measures and the English are unhappy about them having free prescriptions and cheaper higher education, maybe we should stop voting Tory and get in on the act ourselves? Them having it isn’t depriving ‘us’ of anything!

I have no great enthusiasm for Scottish separatism, and it won’t be the great victory for the left that some seem to think it will be, but if they desire it then it is their right to break away.

The problem is though that the rise of English nationalism is the logical corollary of this process. It is valid to ask why Scottish MPs can vote on English bills but not the other way around. And so we have calls to exclude Scots MPs from certain votes or even the formation of an English Parliament. The nationalist cat has been let out of the bag, and the consequences could be far reaching.

English nationalism as currently constituted is largely the preserve of far right drongos such as the EDL and the BNP. Some progressive voices have suggested we need to reclaim English nationalism for the left.

Good luck with that guys.

Why do we even need English nationalism? What good will it do anyone? It is just something for the reactionary, socially dislocated and desperate to cling to, and a way for elites to distract attention from the fundamental cleavage in society, class.

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