Even amongst the strange collection of reactionary gargoyles in the Coalition, ‘Communities Minister’ Eric Pickles is a special case. Like a horrible fusion of Dickensian villain, Toad of Toad Hall and one of the Aliens in Toy Story, this hard-faced, glassy-eyed heap of blubber emanates a combination of dimness, callousness and malice that has about as much to do with looking after ‘communities’ as foxes with defending the rights of chickens.
So it comes as no surprise to hear that this paragon of humanity told a victim of child abuse last week to ‘adjust your medication.‘ The constituent in question was one of various women who say they were drugged and possibly sexually abused as teenagers at the Kendall House care home, Kent, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and whose children are alleged to have genetic defects as a result.
Mental health campaigners accused Pickles ‘furthering mental health prejudices’ by responding in this way to a constituent because she complained about his government’s indifference to the Kendall House victims, but this not a man who does empathy, and he isn’t the only member of the government in whom such qualities are conspicuously absent.
Since it came to power, his government has transformed the furthering of prejudice into something of a political modus operandi, whether directed at disabled people, migrants, Bulgarian and Rumanian ‘benefit tourists’, benefits ‘scroungers’ or simply the poor per se, who according to Michael Gove use food banks because of their ‘failure to manage their finances.’
This week these tendencies have been on display once again at the Conservative Party Conference, with George Osborne unveiling yet another swathe of punitive conditions to impose on the ‘long-term unemployed’ – because being without a job for a long time is in the Coalition’s eyes a crime that can only merit punishment.
In this context there is no reason whatsoever why the communities minister should not add a victim of child abuse to the list of people who do not belong to the virtuous majority that the Coalition claims to represent. It isn’t that Pickles doesn’t believe in ‘communities’. He does: He believes in communities of ‘motorists’ who shouldn’t have to pay parking fines, in ‘hardworking families’ who his government supposedly wants to help; in corporations and companies whose taxes it wants to lower.
But for the Coalition’s purposes, the invocation of these virtuous communities depends on the victimization of other groups who are supposedly alien to the ‘hardworking’ majority, people who are not ‘normal’ and who can become objects of self-righteous bitterness, anger and resentment that might otherwise be directed upwards.
It’s an old game, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. A number of polls have shown a rise in disability hate crimes since the Coalition came to power. A recent poll by the rightwing Policy Exchange thinktank, found that most respondents now believe that the long-term unemployed should be made to work for their benefits, including people with mental and physical disabilities.
Today hostility and resentment towards migrants has become so much a part of British politics that the majority of the public now approves of even the harshest and most xenophobic anti-immigration measures without question.
In a few short years, the Coalition has made this country crueler and nastier than it was when it came to power. It has done this with the assistance of a tabloid press that is entirely unencumbered by even the faintest notion of morality, truth or journalistic integrity, that routinely recycles the government’s lies, prejudices and fabrications and then acts as its attack dog when these lies are questioned.
All these tendencies were on display last month, when UN special rapporteur Raquel Rolnick had the temerity to criticize the inhumanity of Coalition’s ‘bedroom tax.’ At a press conference Rolnick described how she ‘ heard people crying, saying they will commit suicide because they do not know what to do’ as a result of the tax.
Such observations did not please the ghastly Conservative Party chairman Grant Schapps, another glassy-eyed and tin-eared Tory zealot, who immediately accused Rolnick of ‘political bias’. As if on cue, the tabloids lurched into action, accusing the Brazilian Rolnick of being a ‘Brazil nut’ (The Express) and a ‘dabbler in witchcraft who offered an animal sacrifice to Marx’ (The Mail).
The ferocity of the attacks against her caused the UN to denounce the ‘blizzard of misinformation’ unleashed by the ‘xenophobic’ tabloids. Rolnick’s essential crime consisted in the fact that she was a foreigner who had called into question the Coalition’s culture of cruelty by pointing out that people really do suffer as a result of it.
The problem is that large sections of the British public simply do not give a damn about these consequences, and have actually come to accept the Coalition’s indifference – or even its belief that certain categories of people deserve whatever the government inflicts on them.
And that is one of the most depressing and tragic consequences of the government’s dark and morally sleazy agenda; that its invitation to hatred has corrupted the country and legitimized attitudes and prejudices that were previously considered unacceptable.
And if we don’t want things to get any worse, we really need to take a good look at the kind of society we are becoming, and send Pickles and his government back to the political swamplands where they belong.