Sick society

PRIME Minister David Cameron and former Prime Minister Tony Blair have been arguing over whether British society is deeply sick or just a bit off-colour around the fringes.

For once Cameron is right, British society is deeply sick and the rot comes from the top. The disease is capitalism and it divides the human race into the ruling class who have endlessly increasing wealth, comfort and ease at the expense of the working classes face lives of increasing poverty, debt, drudgery, unemployment, poor housing, poor education and lack of opportunities.

Under Blair’s government working people did get some amelioration in the social wage, better public services, access to higher education — though it was Blair who introduced student tuition fees.

There was a complex network of support services for the disabled involving benefits and services from the NHS and local government. It was often a fight to get it but it was a legal entitlement.

There was access to legal aid to secure justice, not just in criminal cases but in housing, benefits, family law and immigration. There were advice centres for working people to direct them and support them in getting grievances resolved.

There were youth services and dozens of inner-city projects aiming to steer young people away from street crime while their debt-enchained parents were forced to work so many hours they were left with little time for their children.

It was still a very unequal society and the wealth gap was growing steadily.

But the thousand-and-one services smoothed off the worst of the rough edges and made it just about tolerable. And workers on the whole just want to get on with their lives and feel secure from one day to the next. It takes a lot of pain to drive them to contemplate either rebellion or revolution.

But Cameron’s cuts — way beyond what was necessary to deal with Government debt and driven by right-wing Tory ideology — are supplying that pain. For a long time workers in Europe or even the United States would wonder at how passive and resigned the British working class has been, how much they have put up with that would have sparked anger and uprisings elsewhere. In other countries such measures as car clamps and street CCTV cameras never worked because they were automatically vandalised by outraged citizens as soon as they appeared.

Blair’s education policy of sending hundreds of thousands of young people into universities — ultimately at their own expense — gave people the illusion that they could rise in society and become middle class. In reality it was a way of keeping unemployment figures down and at the same time ensnaring young people into a lifetime of debt and passivity.

Both Blair and Cameron are promoters of the obscene proposition, dominant now throughout the global ruling classes, that poverty is a choice — that the poor are too lazy to make the most of their lives and their misfortunes entirely of their own making because they have “the wrong attitude”.

Dozens of self-help books promote this idea, telling people they must keep a positive (meek and acquiescent) attitude, change everything about themselves to fit in with what their capitalist bosses want, give their whole lives over to work and wealth will inevitably come their way. When this fails to happen they are told it is they who failed — not that they have been failed by capitalist society.

Cameron’s approach sweeps these illusions aside. His cuts are pure, ruthless class war. And they hurt the most vulnerable in society.

Young workers can see that those at the top — the bankers, MPs, top police officers, the Murdoch set — are all in it to make as much money as they can for themselves and to keep it to themselves. They can see how sick this society really is at the top.

They are a couple of generations away from the levels of class consciousness of the workers who built the trade unions, created the labour movement and fought for state welfare but they are starting to learn.

Those who are being hastily imprisoned for their role in the recent riots — 90 per cent of them have neither a job nor a place in higher or further education — will come out a lot less naïve than when they went in. For a start they’ll find a way to deal with street CCTV cameras.

But it is up to us to help them achieve a proper class political perspective, the importance of education, agitation and organisation — not just to defend themselves from ruling class vindictiveness but to go on the offensive against our truly sick ruling class.