Saturday, 13 October 2012

The language of povertyism It seems to me that some of the language of political discourse is getting more and more dangerously partial. Of course, there's the usual propensity for manifest misrepresentation - the most exquisite example being Cameron's remark yesterday that - wait for it - 'it’s us, the modern compassionate Conservative party, who are the real champions of fighting poverty in Britain today.' (Source, at 12.16) You can take that as laughable or baroque or insulting, or all three and more, but it's so far from being a sensible reflection of the policies he is promoting that no-one's going to be too affected by it. There's more serious, nasty abuse of language going on though. I particularly dislike the determined repetition of the phrase 'hard-working people' as if they are the only folk worthy of a government's attention. I pointed this out a few weeks ago and the number of mentions seems to keep increasing as the government seeks to justify the detachment of state support from those who do not have work. If you've ever had a period of unemployment, you'll have a keen sense of just how insulting and degrading this attitude is. Norman Tebbitt achieved a comparable effect back in the 1980s with his line about how his father got on his bike and went looking for work. (So is that the end of the state's responsibility then? we all asked). It's divisive and in the long term pointlessly damaging. Once again we are being offered persistently a language that constructs poverty as the fault of individuals, thereby implying that the state is absolved of the responsibility to provide opportunity or support for them. All of which is underpinned by an economic policy, such as it is, which is widely derided as misguided at best. What good can come of this? Previously: It's the povertyism, stupid
We own it The tension between privatising policies and public need has been given a welcome tightening twist with the launch of We Own it, a campaign website to counter the irresponsible privatisation of the public sector. A few months ago I was wondering how much further the tension could be built. While we have plenty of evidence to contradict the ideology that the private sector is by definition more efficient than the public, we have no evidence to show that this government takes much notice of evidence. Through an article by Polly Toynbee in the summer, I learned about a few examples of ‘in-sourcing’ by which some local authorities seem to be demonstrating the logic of taking certain functions back in house in the interests of efficiency and value. Meanwhile our rail privatisation started to creak and then fell over. At least we’re having some kind of debate now. All stirred up by the demise of A4E and the bizarre example of Atos, the company which sub-contracted disability assessments back to the NHS. Public libraries are part of this mix. Not only are they symbolic of what remains of the public realm: as I wrote here, ‘Once they're gone, it's not just hard to get the library service back: it will be that much harder to reinstate the notion of publicness.’ The We Own It site notes that, through privatisation, costs go up, services get worse, they are run by people who are not accountable, staff are undermined, and the whole nonsense is difficult to reverse. We have been watching the large-scale, systematic, ideologically-justified, evidence-defying manufacture of widespread social exclusion. Time to bring it to an end.

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