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“Two arrogant posh boys who don't know the price of milk” Nadine Dorries' opinion of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor gave every appearance of welling up from a deep reservoir of personal peeve. But last week, a Conservative MP expressed an almost identical opinion to me.
He used less demotic language because he was not seeking to create a sound-bite for news bulletins and tabloid headlines, but his meaning was clear. It came as we discussed the language used by the government to turn the electorate against benefit recipients and his anger was evident as he deplored George Osborne's demeanour and words at the dispatch box when delivering the Comprehensive Spending Review last week.
Not content with making life more difficult for job seekers under the guise of “changing lives for the better” and “reducing dependency”, the Chancellor, with curled lip and jabbing finger, pointed to the Labour front bench and shrilled that they were the “welfare party”. It was predictable enough. The mean-spirited propaganda which has reduced the humane mutuality of social security to an insult has been carefully calculated. And it has been evident for some time that this is going to be a defining issue in 2015. A survey published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in May showed that 54 per cent of the public now believe that if benefits were “not so generous,” people would “learn to stand on their own two feet.” It is hardly surprising that the intensely political Chancellor is choosing to pursue this punitive line in which the cheap and expedient shot is calculated to position the Conservative party as the friend of the taxpayer at the expense of those taxpayers who are experiencing hardship.
If this thoroughly nasty and socially destructive intention to convince the electorate that benefits are a burden and their recipients are morally defective is to be countered, we must find a means of entering into dialogue with Conservative MPs who have a larger view. It may be difficult for them to speak out. But the MP with whom I spoke did not ask to be off the record and was startlingly (and hearteningly) frank. I had not expected him to denounce the bedroom tax, with its lack of any supply/demand audit or cumulative impact assessment as “bad governance”. His approach reminded me that if we are to be effective in campaigning for justice, cordoning ourselves into opposing camps without exercising discernment is unlikely to be effective.
A coalition of opposition may not look quite as we expect it to. Crossing boundaries to engage in conversations which allow for difference but which support resistance to bad policy can only be positive. Isolating ourselves in laagers of rage and resentment, however understandable and comforting these attitudes may be, deepens polarisation and does not do much for justice.
The “posh boys” narrative may raise a smile, but supporting the recognition that Cameron and Osborne are dangerously out of touch and are presiding over “bad governance” offers greater potential for change.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet