Friday, 15 October 2010

Welfare dependency: we're all in this together

"Where's my child benefit cheque?"
I'm one of those very odd people who gets rather excited by maps, though hopefully not quite so much as to disturb one's reasoning powers (as Salisbury said of Rhodes). I'm also a big geek when it comes to history, so as you can imagine I almost soiled myself when I first came across Collins' Atlas of World History.

Among its many fascinating insights into human development, the book holds the following explanation of the difference between British and European industrialisation in the nineteenth century;

While in England private investors were generally able to raise the capital to found new business undertakings and public works without government assistance, pioneer entrepreneurs on the Continent frequently had difficulty in securing the funds to build factories and modern machines. Consequently the state played a more important role than it did in England in fostering industrial expansion.

In one paragraph you have the reason Britain was able to become 'the workshop of the world' and a global power extending her influence to its four corners. It was that very Victorian spark that Margaret Thatcher so desperately tried to reignite in what had, by 1979, become a hopelessly socialised country. It was that Protestant work ethic, that vicious self-reliance and famed stiff upper lip of the British middle class.

But how the mighty have fallen. It seems, for today's middle class, all that talk of grit and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps was just so much hollow tosh. And, of all people, it took a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer to expose them for the hypocritical benefit junkies they are.

You really have to ask yourself what business the state has in paying £1bn a year to families already earning upwards of £44,000 per annum. But the very fact these people reacted with such horror and outrage has to count as one of the Labour party's greatest achievements. Like a smack dealer offering free samples to get people hooked, they have made the middle classes as addicted to the withered bosom of state handouts as the underclass they despise.

And just as the dealer's new addicts provide a guaranteed stream of clients, so Labour's tax-and-spend benefits guarantee millions of votes. It's the primary reason Labour have a near-monopoly on deprived inner-city constituencies; though nobody has ever answered the question of why, no matter how long they're in power, things never improve.

The army of quangos created under the last government have had a similar effect on business - a sector which, by its very nature, ought to be self-sufficient. Yet we are told on an almost daily basis that private sector jobs are reliant on the public sector.

Only today Ed Miliband has criticised the government for axing an £80m loan to Sheffield Forgemasters which, we are told, needs funds to manufacture parts for new nuclear power plants. Again, this socialist, statist expansion has twisted out of all recognition what ought to be a basic principle of business - if it is a profitable enterprise, funds will become available.

Indeed, it seems as if the entire world has been turned on its head. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would ever see not just a Labour opposition, but unions and the far left defend state benefits for the rich.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber captured beautifully the lunacy of the mood by reversing those words the left have taunted the Conservatives with for decades. No longer  'for the many, not the few', 'for the millions, not the millionaires'; left-wing opinion has been brought full circle with those bizarre words 'welfare for all, not just the poorest.'

Friday, 8 October 2010

Revolutionary justice

Alan Johnson: the face of a new generation, apparently
What a difference a week makes. No sooner does David Cameron reveal the true extent of his Government's radicalism than Ed Miliband's 'new generation' is exposed as the tired old re-run that it is.

While a shadow front bench sporting the likes of Alan Johnson, Caroline Flint, Ed Balls and - above all - Peter Hain can only churlishly lay claim to renewing the youth of the Labour party, the Conservatives have emerged from Conference showcasing a renewed sense of revolutionary zeal.

And while it did not escape the press that Mr Cameron's speech contained no new policies, the purpose of such a move may well have.

Six months into Government, Mr Cameron has shown himself to favour a more collegiate form of government than his immediate predecessors (and, indeed, Margaret Thatcher) as well as a more efficient one - why announce ten meaningless initiatives when you can elaborate on solid policies?

And after a fluffy, vague and rather disappointing election campaign, he has finally allowed his party to get back to doing what they do best - speaking plainly on common sense.

At the top of this parapet, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has returned his party to something it has not done since the days of Mrs Thatcher - speaking the mind of the working man.

The Daily Mail headline Don't have children unless you can afford to pay for them will have chimed with millions of low-income workers tired of working for a wage which is then taxed to a pittance in order to support the workshy, the lazy and the irresponsible.

Commenting on working class swings to the Conservatives in 1964, Enoch Powell quipped that "In the end, the Labour party could cease to represent labour. Stranger historical ironies have happened than that."

As ever, the man's startling prophetic intellect was correct - no longer the party of the thrifty and aspirant worker, Labour has transformed itself into a pressure group for State expansion, representing the two groups in society that have a stake in it - the scroungers and the public sector.

It seems, too, that the left have very little defence against a Conservative party in such populist mood, ceasing to make all intelligible sense and almost deliberately sabotaging their every move - it happened with Neil Kinnock in the '80s and it is happening again with Miliband.

A party with nothing to say has opposed the removal of child benefit for high earners simply for the sake of it, while its leader demonstrates his very liberal interpretation of the term 'a new generation' by making a 60-year-old Blairite ex-minister with no economic experience Shadow Chancellor.

At the same time, the Government has announced a radical simplification of the benefit system, a stinging attack on 'no-win no-fee' health and safety litigation, a cap of £500 a week for families on welfare and the removal of teachers' 'no-touch' rule in schools.

Mr Cameron has finally articulated the vagaries of the last five years into hard, popular and common sense policies at a time when Labour seems determined to self-destruct. If he keeps his resolve, his party could well win the next election outright and keep Labour out of office for a long time to come.