There is a big problem with the popularity of the phrase “I don’t do politics” that accompanies disinterest in what this government is up to. For me, such apathy especially relates to the changes in the political economy and ideology since the 1980s and how there has been a clever programme of discourse reversal, individualism and related radical undermining of organised labour and workers’ rights.
For instance, unlike in the late 1980s when the Poll Tax sparked a series of riots resulting in its termination, Poll Tax 2 – the ‘bedroom tax’ – has got through with no mass public complaint. ATOS are able to go about legalised killing without much opposition. The NHS, with measures such as Section 75, is becoming increasingly privatised and subject to the will of the market and the profit motive, with people unaware that they may no longer be receiving their services from the NHS, related to the lack of corporate branding. Such lack of corporate branding by the for-profit beasts such as Virgin and Serco relates to these big companies piggy backing on the NHS’s legacy of respect and trust. The NHS then takes the blame for the faults of such contracts given such limited awareness of the real make-up of the services and provision. Then there are measures such as the Right to Provide that are extending this ethos and practices of non-statutory provision across the entire public sector; again, getting passed with not much mainstream debate.
As people lose their homes, disabled people are forced into work – some taking their own lives or dying because of the stress -, the NHS and public sector becomes increasingly tendered out to companies that by law are required to maximise the benefits of shareholders before anything else and as jobs are lost, benefits are cut and welfare claimants and immigrants are blamed for the legacy of the policies associated with measures such as the 1980s Big Bang and the 1971 Nixon Shock, that tiring line members of the Tory party love, “I don’t do politics”, is not good enough. However, it is essential to consider how changes in the economy and also the power of the mass media in disseminating information undermines coverage of alternative viewpoints fighting against the dominant ideology. There is this belief promoted by those with the most power and influence in society that neoliberal economic, political and social forces are ‘inevitable’ and ‘unstoppable’ – hence, why many in the public accept the need for cuts to the public sector, ignoring the neoliberal blind spot that is private debt at 450%.
As I wrote in a previous blog post, this refers to when:
The discourses (language, essentially) employed to justify such reforms are evidence of an inversion of power and related discursive reversal. I came across this whilst reading about the discourses employed during the Section 28 public debate. The discourses inverted the power relations to justify the repressive Section. By this, the government constructed homosexuals as the ‘threat’ to institutions such as the family, the same way the government are now constructing benefit claimants as the ‘threat’ to work…By rhetorically reversing the actual power relations, the government can then attempt to justify their reforms by scapegoating and distorting reality.
Fuelled by serious misrepresentation and misuse of statistics, the government and the mainstream media have constructed a narrative that many in society have come to accept as common sense. The idea that welfare claimants are responsible for the crisis, that they are sat at home, living the high life on their minimum £56.80 a week, laughing at those working hard. This therefore turns welfare claimants into being the problem – not the lack of jobs, investment, low wages, underemployment, the excessive and corrupt profits of the private companies, with our economy based around the City of London that is worth 7x the UK GDP and incidentally provide the Tories with 50% of their funding. As I wrote on Facebook, specifically in relation to the move towards increasing means tested benefits but also applies to the problems with misrepresentation regarding welfare in general:
Several problems with means tested benefits: you reinforce the ‘scrounger’ ideology that misrepresents facts to justify an ideological attack on welfare (only 0.7% of welfare budget is fraudulently claimed); related, you miss the real crisis in demand needing higher wages, benefits and more jobs; some people wont be aware they are applicable for the benefit; it increases a wrongful stigma attached to having benefits; it makes things more complicated so less people apply for the benefit; it ignores how there is more unclaimed entitled benefits than benefit fraud (24% or £11.77bn goes unclaimed). Universalism all the way.
Such discourse reversal was also seen in a recent 40/40 Tory strategy, with the basic premise being: hit the north real bad through ideological economic policies. Then – and this is the best bit – blame results on the benefit claimants and immigrants. It’s the same with things such as the job, housing, education and health care problems with under-resources, overcrowding and waiting lists; it is claimed that if migrants were banished and welfare claimants are made to suffer more and more, this will end the problems. It ignores the government’s unwillingness to build more homes (which relates to the Right to Buy scheme Thatcher introduced, and this government has extended) and the increasing privatisation of the NHS alongside the government’s focus on so-called ‘natural’ unemployment rates and their refusal to actually invest and create real jobs through restructuring the economy through policies such as job shares, higher wages and investment in the real economy rather than the finance sector and money that exists in no more than digits and complex, ‘innovative’ financial systems. More importantly, as mentioned, there is a common discourse that such unwillingness is instead unavoidable, as after all “there is no money left, and we all have to tighten our belts”.
Individualism and Opposition Undermined
Part of the problem, for me, is a culture of individualism that has been encouraged especially since the 1980s where people are told to look out for themselves. The idea of caring for others and protecting people’s rights – even if you don’t directly benefit – has somehow been lost on many members of the younger people. Long gone are the days where things such as voting and even taking an interest in who is running the country, or even knowing the names of those running the country, matter. Such things were once seen as obligations. They are now seen as ‘boring’.
Of course, not everyone is like this. There are many great people campaigning against these injustices every day; many of which are not reported on or confined to the small print or locked up in jail for over a 100 years. But after the decline of community networks and cohesion, things people didn’t want to talk about after the death of Thatcher, and the media blackout of sensible, rational based arguments we have a long way to go in tackling this. This relates to how since the 1980s, the opposition to the rise of finance have been continually undermined – be it through the miners’ strikes, the ongoing reduction in workers’ and trade union’s role and rights and the use of language such as ‘union barons’ to refer to ordinary working people. Whilst this has gone on, we have seen the rise of financial dominance. People have been encouraged, through individualistic, consumerist and short terms ideas, to get into debt, spend, consume, even if they don’t have a job in order to sustain the ongoing production of asset bubbles that are key to lining the pockets of the rich and that keep the financial system expanding whilst the rest of the economy crumbles.
We have to take more interest and ask more questions, collectively as a society, in what is happening to disabled people, welfare claimants, immigrants, the NHS and the public services that we have cherished for so long and people’s human rights that we have a history of giving a damn about, as mass privatisation, marketisation, liberalisation and individualism intensifies. Nevertheless, change isn’t easy in a system that has stifled opposition through financial dominance, undermined critical debate through media monopoly and where money equates to power and the ability to influence dominant ideas that promote this so-called common sense assumption that there is no alternative. Therefore, this is where community focused projects, alternative media and community renewal and regeneration are all important to move towards a counter system to one that is screwed for most people. Doing politics is key to this.