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When the history of this particular period is written, people will marvel at what the Conservatives have achieved. To lose an election, scramble into office, and then go on to change society so significantly in a few short years shows, it has to be said, quite some chutzpah.
On the day a leading doctor has said we will probably have to start paying to use our NHS which is hovering on the brink of privatisation, it is a good time to take stock, and see just what Mr Cameron and his friends have managed to accomplish.
Like children given expensive toys to play with, they have set about breaking many of the treasured institutions of our country. If Britain ever deserved the name Great, they have set about destroying the things that made it so. The entire Welfare State has been so badly damaged it no longer provides the safety net we enjoyed for over sixty years, hence the rise of food banks, and the growing numbers of desperate people dependent on their charity. In 2011/12 almost a million more people were driven into poverty, as nearly £1.5 billion of support for low-income families was cut.
Amnesty International has warned that access to justice is under threat due to legal aid cuts and the court system is in turmoil, as privatised interpreting services prove incompetent and trials collapse as a result.
To do so much in such a short time without a majority is quite an achievement. But we shouldn’t be overawed. The Cabinet are not towering political geniuses, they were just well prepared. Their government programme was a ‘turn key project’ inherited from Margaret Thatcher and ready to go in May 2010. Oliver Letwin predicted in 2004 that the NHS ‘would not exist’ within five years of a Conservative election victory, and Michael Portillo says that whilst their plans for the NHS were written, the Conservatives decided to conceal them from the electorate.
A remarkably supportive press, staffed by Mr Cameron’s friends like Rebekah (“will love ‘working together’”) Brooks and Andy Coulson made the going easier for the class of 2010. With the BBC under the guiding hand of Chris Patten, former Chairman of the Conservative Party, it is hardly surprising that much of the population has remained largely unaware of what is actually being done.
It is so much easier for a government when Ministers can tell lies which go unchallenged, become accepted ‘facts’ and are repeated ad nauseam to justify ‘difficult decisions’. Perhaps the classic example of this is Grant Shapps’ widely publicised statement that almost one million disabled people had dropped their benefit claims when tests became tougher. This was completely untrue. The United Kingdom Statistics Authority issued a rebuke, but it received only a fraction of the publicity the lie received, so the public is left with the impression that an awful lot of people on disability benefits are frauds. Amnesty International condemned the government’s treatment of disabled people, but try Googling this shameful fact and you will get links to blogs, no mainstream media. There was an effective media blackout on this development.
So, the Conservatives have achieved a great deal, though sadly they have not achieved great things. By the time they leave office Britain will be a shadow of its former self, with once-great institutions like the NHS, the Welfare State and the legal system greatly diminished.
And when we lament our loss, let’s not be fooled into accepting that all this was inevitable, that there was no alternative. It has all been a deliberate ideological choice, conveniently facilitated, but not justified by, a recession. Never forget that whilst all this damage was being done, and people were being impoverished, the wealthy few effectively received a £600 billion boost to their wealth from Quantitative Easing.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet