- September 26, 2011
It’s always bracing when politicians talk about the need for ‘tough decisions’, as though they’re struggling to repress some inherent sense of decency for the greater good. Maybe less so with George Osborne. His toughness is the kind one might have expected from some dissolute rake from the Hellfire Club, pausing to evict starving farm labourers from his father’s estate while riding off to an appointment with the eighteenth century equivalent of Mistress Pain.
All that’s missing is the rouge and the wig, but you can bet there’s a whip around there somewhere.
For Cameron, Osborne & Co, toughness is a genuine pleasure, in a crisis which brings with it the kinds of opportunities to make any free marketeer drool, whether it’s NHS and school privatisations, taking benefits and even housing from workshy scroungers (or ‘sinners’ as Ian Duncan Smith calls them), tearing up planning regulations, slashing the ‘bloated’ public sector and cutting away all those superfluous taxpayer-funded accessories such as youth clubs, women’s refuges and ESOL projects for recalcitrant immigrants who don’t even want to integrate.
I’m only surprised at their ability to keep the smirks from their faces as they keep telling us how bad things are going to be, and how they’re going to ‘stay the course’ when even the IMF is beginning to look askance at the severity of the Coalition’s austerity agenda.
Nick Clegg on the other hand, casts his toughness in a glow of tragic nobility as he stares at his appointment with destiny with a statesmanlike ‘ I did it for the good of the country’ look to justify his participation in one of the most vicious and reactionary governments this country has known for many many years.
When Labour (or is still ‘New’ Labour – I can’t recall) politicians get tough however, there is a pathetic opportunism in their eagerness to demonstrate that they can be as nasty as the Tories. On the one hand Labour politicians want to convince the City that they will look after its interests if they get into government, and attract right-wing votes on issues like benefit fraud and ‘rights and responsibilities’. At the same time they need to convince their left-of-centre core constituency that they represent a more progressive and humane alternative to Toryism.
So today, the papers are all flagging up today’s speech from the gimlet-eyed Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls, who will tell the Labour Party conference: “We will never have credibility unless we have the discipline and the strength to take tough decisions.”
According to the Guardian:
Balls will try to counter claims that his commitment to growth stimulus leaves him blind to the deficit, saying “growth will not magic the deficit away”. He will say: “A steadier, more balanced medium-term plan to get the deficit down will still mean difficult decisions and tough choices in the years ahead that will face any government. Tough choices on tax and spending like the cuts to welfare, education and Home Office budgets that we set out before the election.” He will also call for discipline in public and private sector pay.
All those difficult decisions and tough choices make you wonder how they all sleep at night. Except that I doubt very much that Balls, Osborne and Clegg have much trouble getting their heads down.
Because you can bet that none of them are likely to feel, or even see, the impact of their ‘tough decisions.’ And their toughness will never be directed against bankers, speculators, or hedge fund managers.
And behind their posturing attempts to present themselves as paragons of moral courage and responsibility, one can’t help feeling that for these politicians, tough decisions aren’t that tough at all.
They’re really quite easy, and even effortless.