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Following on from the previous article in this series, let’s look at the consequences of hiring organisations that have no moral compass, to carry out vital public work – and the implications about the governments that take them on.
It has long been the attitude of this blog that the leaders of the Conservative Party are evil creatures, and this conclusion is borne out by their actions. Today this contrasts starkly with the opinion of fellow leftie Owen Jones, writing in The Independent, who has claimed it is wrong to label them in that way.
He cites some of the best-known examples used by people to prove the evil of the Tories: “It is projected that over a million children will be driven into poverty by this Government’s policies [wage depression, cuts to benefits, cuts to landlord subsidy]. Half a million people, unable to properly feed themselves in one of the most prosperous countries, have been driven to food banks, particularly because of cuts to benefits or delays in payments. Sick and disabled people are being stripped of support [work capability assessments carried out by Atos]. The bedroom tax is punishing hundreds of thousands for the failure of successive governments to build council housing [and landlords including social landlords will evict them]. Cuts to in-work and out-of-work benefits have been imposed as a cynical ploy, to paint Labour as the party of welfarism: the cost of such political manoeuvring [being] more people having to choose between heating and food [in fact the Conservatives are the party of welfarism. They talk about the social security bill rising 60 per cent under Labour, but under the Conservatives is rose by as much as 80 per cent in a single year (1982-3, if memory serves)].
But he says these wicked, immoral acts, enacted by the most privileged in British society upon those who have no defence against them, are not evil. “‘Evil’ is a comforting, but worrying concept,” he writes. “Its connotations are so extreme that, by applying it to someone, you at a stroke strip them of their humanity; you cease in any way to be able to imagine their rationales or thought processes; they simply become a cartoon villain, for whom the ultimate thrill is the inflicting of misery. As soon as you fail to understand your enemy, they have already defeated you. It would be easy to imagine the Tories as a cabal of upper-class sadomasochists, spending their evenings plotting ever more devious ways to hunt children on council estates like rural foxes. But it misses the point.”
Sorry, Owen, but on this one I think you’ve missed the point.
Look at the most commonly-cited example of evil we have: Hitler. Sorry to drop the H-bomb but this is relevant: He was genuinely evil. But he was not a “cartoon villain”. Those who fought him did not see him as an inhuman or alien creature. They certainly did not believe his only aim was to inflict misery (although he did, and in similar ways to the current UK administration – look at the way both have treated their sick and disabled). Hitler’s opponents did not see their enemy as a creature they could not possibly understand; instead they spent huge amounts of time and effort trying to get into his mind – even bizarrely decorating their offices with Nazi paraphernalia, dressing like him and trying to look like him in the scramble to comprehend what made him who he was.
They would have agreed with Mr Jones – as I do – that it is necessary to understand an enemy in order to defeat them. But by this yardstick, Owen would be saying Hitler wasn’t one of the most evil men to blight the 20th century – and he clearly was.
Hitler did what he did because he thought it was the right thing to do. He believed – passionately, just as Iain Duncan Smith believes – that his policies were the best, not just for Germany but for the world. He believed that the German people – the Aryan race – were the inheritors of the Earth and he had a duty to bring them into their inheritance. He believed that other races – particularly the Jews, but also the Romany, and undoubtedly others as well – were inferior and that it was all right to use them as slaves in order to achieve the aims of his master race, while expending as few resources feeding and clothing them as possible. And he was surrounded by people who believed the same. Alternative ideas were suppressed.
Isn’t this exactly the same as Owen’s own rationale for the way Conservatives behave? “Most of us like to believe we’re ‘doing the right thing’,” he writes. “A politician introducing a policy that any independent observer will find drives people into poverty will privately justify it to themselves as necessary or unavoidable or for the long-term good of those affected. It allows people – on the right as well as left – to stubbornly believe things in spite of all the facts.” Like Hitler in the final months of World War Two? Like David “There Is No Alternative” Cameron?
“As is well known, the Tory front-bench is drawn from the most privileged sections of society. Such a background can – though not inevitably – lead to a failure to understand why people may struggle to get by,” Owen writes. Hitler’s background led to a failure to understand that he did not have a right to persecute sections of society he didn’t like – and Iain Duncan Smith’s background has led to the same failure. “It means mixing with other prosperous people, who they may see as the real drivers of prosperity who just need to be left to their own devices, freed from meddling governments and unions.” In Hitler’s case, he believed that the government and businesspeople needed to work together to bring about prosperity for the people – whose duty was to follow these leaders and service their needs blindly. “Easy, then, to justify policies that benefit the rich (who you see as noble wealth-creators) and punish the poor (who you see as those too feckless to climb the social ladder without prodding).” Easy, then, to justify policies that benefit the Nazi (who you see as a noble wealth-creator) and punish the Jew (who you see as a parasite, sucking money out of the state).
Conservatives are not a large section of the population. Those who are politically active are a tiny minority – the Tory Party is in fact a minority-interest organisation, promoting the interests of the very, very rich – so branding the Tories as evil is not casting a large section of the population in that light. Most of the people who support the Tories are misguided, rather than evil – they believe too much of what they read in the right-wing newspapers.
But Iain Duncan Smith’s determination to wipe out a whole section of the population just because their bodies don’t function the same way his does? That’s evil. George Osborne’s determination to stick to his austerity policies, even though he now knows there is no justification for them whatsoever? That’s evil. The Tory privatisation schedule that is intended, for example, to put decent healthcare out of the reach of the poor for generations to come, leaving them vulnerable to the revival of some of the least pleasant diseases and health conditions this country has ever seen? That’s extremely evil.
The way privatisation was presented as a way of democratising ownership of the national utility companies, when in fact the long-term plan was for the shares to be sold out of the hands of the working- and middle-classes who were ignorant of how to handle them properly, leading to huge dividends for people who were already rich, higher prices for the poor (to pay for those dividends, and the executive salaries they justified), and continued support from successive governments when the privatised companies failed to plough their profits back into their industry in investment? That was very evil too.
“Manipulating fears over, say, immigration or crime”? Evil.
“Exploiting existing divisions in working-class communities”? Evil.
Manipulating the press to present them as helping the poor, when in fact those who have the least are being hit harder than they have been for generations – while alternative opinions (with some honourable exceptions, Owen) are suppressed? Evil.
I like Owen Jones, but he’s wrong on this one. The Conservatives must be made to accept responsibility for the evil they are doing. He should not be giving these creatures of evil a way out.
(The first Vox Political collection, Strong Words and Hard Times, is now available and may be ordered from this website)