Tax Credits is that trojan horse moment of revelation, a party who infiltrated the heart of government claiming the best intentions, suddenly revealing its dark ideological core for all to see.
If a political party’s brand is it’s core meaning, then rhetoric channelled through the media is the vehicle used to convey that meaning to the world. The brand manufactured under Cameron has been one of compassionate conservatism, a claim MPs back up by reminding us of their party’s occasional acts of social liberalism, like the recent legalising of gay marriage, or Cameron caveat-laden claim to be a feminist at Wednesday’s PMQs.
Always calibrating public opinion, they swim with the tide on social issues – masking an extreme fiscal underbelly they justify as prudent. A modern Conservative may say ‘I’m socially liberal, yet fiscally conservative’ as if someone’s economic situation isn’t the cornerstone of their personal freedom. Gestures, like gay marriage, that give people greater power over their lives are only throwaway consolations if their pockets are being raided at the same time.
Slashing Tax Credits means 3 million of the poorest working families will be on average £1,350 a year worse off. What else is this if it isn’t class war on the very people Cameron purports to represent: ‘hard-working families’. The debate itself has become a broiling cauldron of animosity, with a general sense of cruelty trumping the tradition of toeing the party line. It’s Osborne’s greater mistake to date and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Laid bare, arguably more so than ever, is the gulf between what the Conservatives say and do. And like any brand would, it’s corrupting from within after sustained scrutiny from both opponents and devout supporters. Even the most popular brands lose respect when the way they see themselves no longer squares with how others view them.
Murdoch’s The Sun newspaper, typically a mouthpiece for our government, has come out against proposed plans, calling it ‘bonkers’ in it’s editorial line. An influential blow from a paper held up as, if not a strong establishing force, then a barometer of where the public stand on an issue.
Deploring the idea so vocally is an insight into the great deception of the paper. Designed for a working class readership, it’s political stance rarely takes the side of the least powerful in any given debate. But on Tax Credits, they make a exception to the rule, realising that many long-time readers – on receiving the letter right in time for Christmas – would suddenly wonder why their favourite paper had urged them to support a party so willing to take what little they have.
More telling is The Spectator, a prominent rightwing magazine – who typically strike a more moderate tone than their ferocious counterparts – joining The Sun in opposition. Pleading to see the compassion and talk of greater equality the Conservative’s earnestly extolled at their recent conference. A position representing a large faction of more thoughtful Tories who willingly buy their leader’s woolly liberal rhetoric, sadly predicated on a fatal misunderstanding of what the Conservative party are for.
With millionaire donors, MPs from the richest backgrounds, and members and supporters typically with income levels in the upper echelons of society, it’s no great surprise that policies are drawn up to make their rich backers even richer. For the good of the country! No, in truth, most decisions are for the good of the party. And maintaining power relies on keeping backers permanently happy.
In isolation, of course being rich is no bad thing, but when it comes so clearly at the expense of the weakest, those presiding over this state of affairs must have their moral compass questioned. To such accusations Cameron and Osborne justify the policy by saying ‘we must move from a high welfare, low paid, high tax economy to a low welfare, high paid, low tax economy’.
For so-called pragmatists, this is an idealistic bordering on utopian dream. Something that surely everyone would like in theory, with the caveat that everyone is better off for it – if it were not a lacklustre piece of spin that both the left and right see straight through. Osborne’s problem is that he trying to outwit the cold logic of maths. Research unequivocally proves that, despite introducing the higher living wage, slashing tax credits means a huge net loss to 3 million of the working poor.
Using his rhetoric against him, what Osborne is really proposing is a low welfare, low pay economy for the very poorest and a high pay, low tax economy for the wealthiest.
It’s turned into a losing battle the Chancellor will struggle to wriggle free from. If you can somehow believe that this was an innocent miscalculation from the treasury, it reveals unthinkable incompetence from what should be the brightest economic minds in our country. Closer to the truth, owing to Osborne’s proven strategic nous, this is purely a decision driven by ideology, to systematically widen the divide between the have and have nots.
The very idea of compassionate conservatism is a stringently planned and cleverly executed trojan horse within our country. Deceiving us at every turn with opaque rhetoric that wrong-foots and lies so transparent it’s almost laughable if it were not funny. ‘We will not cut tax credits’ Cameron declared during the election debate, lying to voters about the heart of the beast many went on to support.
This time the horse’s protective layer is weathered away, and the brand cultivated over many years topples majestically before the public’s eyes, leaving a facade so painfully obvious we kick ourselves for ever believing in it. For a Prime Minister and Chancellor so acutely sensitive to their legacies, it may be the defining moment that cements their position forever on the wrong side of history.