The budget this week was incredibly regressive. It will push hundreds of thousands into poverty. 13 million of the lowest paid families will be hit by benefit changes. Tax Credits, it now seems, have been added to the list of welfare ‘handouts’ we can demonise as a burden on the taxpayer. It doesn’t matter that they go to workers. It doesn’t matter that the Living Wage would have to be £11 to cover the cuts. The logic doesn’t matter. Osborne will succeed as he has done so magnificently the past 5 years in making these cuts popular. They are the centre ground now. How? How does he manipulate the narrative?
Unlike what some say, he isn’t that politically deft. He could easily be outwitted by a Labour Party willing to point out where he has lied. The deficit myth being one. But, you see, they aren’t allowed. For even if they did (and let’s be clear, they did not), they would not receive the masturbatory coverage that the Tories receive. Instead, Osborne is deft at handing headlines out to a receptive audience of journalists. He is deft at recognising the menu of demands from a slobbering right wing press. Who are themselves deft at telling their own receptive audience what is good for them.
So how do the Tories get away with telling their audience that a plan that stands adverse to their own interests benefits them? Like the Tories they are, they outsource it.
Imagine being a Tory, trying to justify to the country the most erosive, destructive, regressive policies for a generation. Luckily, Fleet Street is almost unanimously behind you. A chorus of wealthy journalists being given orders from the likes of Murdoch (including a memo to do everything in your will to oust the opponent in a democratic election) and Dacre to dictate to readers rich and poor what they should think about their government. That’s their greatest achievement isn’t it? Telling their poorest readers that they too benefit from the Tories’ giveaways to the rich, or that they’re hurt by Labour’s mansion tax or inheritance tax. It’s an incredible exercise of deference.
Some will read this piece as an excuse, as dismissive. Except there’s resounding evidence to the contrary. The Times was caught out weeks after the election by IPSO (A self regulatory body, after all) for a headline declaring that ordinary families would be hit with tax by Labour. They had to issue a statement explaining the mansion tax and 50p tax would affect, well, only mansion dwellers and the top 2% that earn over £150,000. That is the art of the American Dream, to tell an audience they are temporarily embarassed millionaires. The Tories thereby serve them well.
And back to the budget. ”WELL-FAIR STATE!’ cries The Sun as its largely working class readership has to suffer tax credit cuts. ‘From Welfare to Work’ cries The Telegraph to its much richer readership who are thoroughly insulated as Osborne’s plans ‘hit the poor much more’ according to the IFS. Also in contrast to the IFS noting that Tax Credit cuts actually equate to a disincentive to work. There’s the Daily Mail’s ‘Fearless George slays the dragon’, particularly putrid in that there’s very little ‘fearless’ about an Etonian inflicting poverty on roughly 1.6m of the country’s poorest. And god knows what dragons they are. I presume single mothers. FEARLESS.
Then there is The Star’s congratulatory WE GET PAY RISES, HOORAY. Except we don’t. Anyone that has read the IFS analysis will know the NMW increase does not compensate for the Tax Credit cuts. The poorest will be up to a £3000 worse off. And as the sun rises today on Friday, none of the right wing tabloids have chosen to give coverage to the IFS
It is therefore highly likely that the Tories will suffer minimal electoral implications; the papers make the narrative, and the narrative is overwhelmingly positive.
“The newspapers have you loving the oppressors and hating the oppressed” is how I think it goes. George ‘strutting his stuff at Budget time is the perfect exemplification of that.
It’s incredibly easy being a Tory. You escape accountability.
I sometimes wonder in contrast how The Labour Party even exists. How it’s even allowed to exist. Banning non doms earned Ed the most hyperbolic headlines in history. The out of touch Standard -who’s largely poor city overwhelmingly opted for Red Ed- decried a ‘London backlash’. It spoke for the whole of Kensington. Then there was Ed ‘ceasing land’ in a ‘Stalinist’ measure in accordance to the Daily Mail, who were covering a simply populist measure Ed would have enacted to take land from private contractors hoarding it for profit. Ed’s minimum wage hike was anti-business, Osborne’s is not (something leftist hacks on Twitter must remember when they denounce Ed as not having been bold enough -he was judged on different standards). Ed’s cap on rent and attack on landlords was interventionist and 70’s style. Osborne’s albeit milder measures are perfectly fine. Ed’s 1p rise in corporation tax was catastraphic, the papers sell Osborne’s tax cut on their profits as somehow pro-worker. Ed’s character assasination was a major point of pressure, restriction and scrutiny. Our democracy is weighted to give the Tories a foot up, and Labour the boot.
The lobbies decide on different worlds for each party to inhabit, different rules. The minute Labour challenges the establishment -as Ed Miliband did quite bravely, really, with no credit- the media will set out to destroy it. Ed did an interview for Absolute Radio a few weeks before polling where he was asked how he doesn’t just curl into a ball and cry over what has been said about him. It caught me quite poignantly. The Opposition Leader had to face such greater odds than his rival.
Now a leadership contest is underway, the candidates must check on what will be right by the press, that their policies do not threaten their desired status quo. Far from just being held to the scrutiny of members, they must be held to the scrutiny of Murdoch too. Kendall’s non-challenging stance on all things Tory has earned her pundits from Murdoch. His seal of approval. Andy Burnham, meanwhile, will never be forgiven.
How does an efficient opposition exist? And will an opposition ever win again in such a climate?
Tories meanwhile get given propaganda, and sometimes freely given out on the Tube. Propaganda that not only props them up and covers for their cruelty, but also keeps their opposition under the greatest of checks. It is one-sided accountability.
It cannot be this easy to govern without mechanisms of public scrutiny. Something has to give.