Sunday, 21 November 2010

Never Had It So Good? The Accidental Truths of Lord David Young

The Tories' paper-thin mask of faux social concern slipped this week when Lord David Young of Graffham, Coalition Government adviser on health and safety at work law, was quoted pontificating over a good lunch on how the "so-called" recession was nothing really. The former right-hand man of Margaret Thatcher held forth on how the half million jobs set to be lost in the public sector were "within the margin of error" and how home owners "have never had it so good." There was a howl of outrage from a wide spectrum of the public and media and, in spite of an apology from Young, Prime Minister Cameron dismissed him within hours. He described the peer's words as "offensive and inaccurate". 

Offensive they were without question, but how inaccurate or not were they?
The way we were: Young and Thatcher, 1980s

No lost jobs can be dismissed as marginal errors - these are people's livelihoods, but his Lordship happily supported the disposal of several million jobs under the Thatcher Government of 1979 to 1990, when his roles included chair of the Manpower Services Commission and Employment Secretary. So job losses of any number may indeed be of marginal importance to him as he views the world from the lofty heights of the Lords, atop his fortune made in the construction industry.

Likewise, from the perspective of the people who actually matter to the Conservative Government, there is some truth in his words about mortgages. Interest rates have indeed been at a historic low for some time now, making mortgages and loans for those who have them cheaper than they have been for several decades. In particular, if you are one of the significant numbers who invested in property and especially in "buy-to-let" schemes over the last decade, the chances are you will indeed be quids in.

Buy-to-let schemes began in earnest under the Major government, significantly fuelling the boom in property speculation. In spite of widening the gap in wealth between the haves and have nots, making buying property well beyond the reach of many younger people, this phenomenon expanded greatly under New Labour. Now, more and more people face a serious struggle to keep a roof over their heads. Unable to buy, they are facing higher and higher rents - including the innovation in some areas of making sealed bids on their rents to prospective landlords. With housing benefit and social housing tenure reforms in prospect and likely to make tenancies ever harder to maintain, the rented sector is becoming more and more profitable for predatory landlords - or residential entrepreneurs, as Tories would call them.

So if Lord Young is guilty of anything, it is certainly not of being a liar: for the people he meets and spends his time with, for the people the Tories exist to serve, they indeed have never had it so good.

But what this episode does brightly illuminate is the real strategy behind the Government's actions. Young referred to the recession as "so-called", contrasting our current economic circumstances pretty favourably to past recessions. This betrays the Big Lie at the heart of the Con Dem Coalition - that massive, urgent cuts in public spending are necessary to avoid imminent national bankruptcy.

In sharp contrast to this, Young has confirmed what many critics have  suspected for months - that the hype around the deficit is just that; and that the cuts to welfare, to health and education and a range of other services are a political choice, not an economic necessity. And it is a choice which will indeed ensure that a significant, better-off slice of the populace does have it good, quite contentedly at the cost of the rest. This is a tactic they used successfully throughout the 1980s and which our archaic voting system allows to continue even in the face of the opposition of the majority of the electorate.
The way we were: 1981 revisited?

Tellingly, Young also said the Coalition Cabinet is far narrower politically than the Thatcher Government of 1979. In spite of the Lib Dems' supposed moderating presence, the unity around this new social project is greater and more far reaching than even the Iron Lady's right wing revisionism. Then, several million jobs were sacrificed, along with the hopes and dreams of millions of people. This time, who knows where we are headed, with at least an initial million jobs set to go over the next year or so? Although the Government claims that "we are all in it together", the mere fact that 23 out of 29 Cabinet Ministers are millionaires makes it hard to see how. Nearly every major move since their taking office has been regressive - on the budget, on welfare, on cutting back on resources to tackle tax evasion, it is clear where this regime's loyalties lie.

So Lord Young is an offensive man making offensive comments about the stark realities facing millions of ordinary Britons. But perhaps his words were also the most unintentionally accurate representation yet of the arrogant disdain and detached world view of our Cabinet of Millionaires.

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