I am slightly surprised at the crassness of it, but otherwise this is what I expected - below is what I was saying in Crooked Timber comments just before the election. In particular: Under the pretext of an economic state of emergency, there is the prospect of further near-irreversible moves toward the ‘free-market’ paradise that the Conservatives are obviously so keen on – while of course, as ever, being intensely relaxed about people being dirt poor.
Meanwhile, some people seem to view the recent exaggerated outrage at the proposal to remove child benefit from high earners as indicating a failure by Osborne. Not at all.
1. Getting a name for making high-earners pay (ahem) their bit is going to be handy in the next few years of relentlessly grim and brutal cuts.
2. This kind of figleaf is great for filling up the papers, panel shows and blogs with what is essentially a distraction.
3. It provides a reminder to those high earners about which side their bread is buttered on, at an early stage in the process of dismantling the remains of the welfare state: don't start gettng all compassionate on us; it's you or them.
4. none of those high earners is going to be bothered in the slightest in 4 years time, especially if the tax system handily (and with less fanfare) compensates them for this piffling amount.
5. Possibly most importantly in the long run (and this Parliament is going to be a long and gruelling run unless the coalition can somehow be brought down), removing universal benefits helps to eliminate the last vestiges of a 'One Nation' commonality of interests between the haves and the rest.
So I think reports of a 'child benefit fiasco' are, shall we say, somewhat overstated. In fact, I think the Telegraph, read closely and discounting the speculative bits, has more or less got this right.
That Crooked Timber comment in full:
05.05.10 at 11:33 am
I’d too would like to ‘punish’ Labour for the GWOT/Iraq business. Brown may not have been enthusiastic about the whole business, but keeping quiet and wishing it would go away while signing off on every penny is of course nowhere near good enough. On the same grounds, I’d like to reward the Lib Dems (as well as liking their noises about Trident and ‘illegal’ immigrants, for example). The Tories, who were in lockstep throughout and would have done nothing significantly different – or at least nothing better – if in power, certainly haven’t earned any rewards, of course.
But retribution and reward are not top priorities at this point, even they could plausibly be seen as a necessary part of a system of long-term incentives. (The war has already had electoral consequences in prising Blair out, of course.) In the close 2-way race in my constituency, for the first time since Kinnock I don’t see any alternative to voting Labour. Like CB, I would have considered voting for the Greens if I lived down the road in Pavilion, but that would probably depend on whether I thought they would be likely to vote for Brown and against Cameron in any confidence motions (or whatever exactly it is that would determine the governing party).
BTW, given that every seat counts – and possibly, as CB points out, even every losing vote, though I think Gordon might actually be the man for the job of facing down any attempted power grab from Cameron on the basis of PR-as-tiebreaker, considerations about the individual candidate seem to be pretty irrelevant. The dominant decision is which party to back, whatever the constitution may imply about characters and constituencies. An attempt to assess the likelihood of an individual Labour candidate’s defying the whip in a net positive way seems a bit beside the point in these circs. The urgent imperative is to keep Cameron out.
The Conservatives have done nothing at all to suggest they have moved toward the centre in broadly economic terms – even with a rightward-bound centre. They are run by a bunch of Etonian Bullingdonians, led by a particularly scarily dead-eyed specimen. There is not even the tiny comfort of a Thatcher who was at least (not that it made much difference of course) somewhat opposed to City dominance. There is certainly nothing like a Brown who for all his errors, fudges, compromises and sell-outs from PFI to playing fields (PE, anyone?) to untrammelled monetarism, does appear to have run a parallel benefits system from under the Treasury counter, and evidently does have at the very least the self-image of compassion to live up to.
The Conservatives have, even before getting in, the most hawkish about spending cuts, and flagrant in their ambitions for top-rung tax cuts like inheritance, for example. Their real intentions have to be guessed at, but they won’t have been understating their brutality.
Even the line of verbiage they’ve chosen to fill the ominous silence is actively repellent. All this wittering about voluntarism is familiar enough stuff, now elevated from a weak debating point to a supposed philosophy: ‘other things equal, wouldn’t it be nice if everything were done voluntarily, out of, er, benevolence?’. Other things equal my arse. Tell it to Adam Smith’s baker. Making obligations and liabilities voluntary – repudiable – has only one purpose, as every instance of self-’regulation’ testifies.
The City is openly salivating at the prospect of Cameron in no 10. If he does get an effective working majority – even with the help of the right-wing of the Lib Dems – he will have the deficit (which must of course be paid off in double-quick time) and the recession as the perfect cover, right at the start of his honeymoon period.
It’s not just the hardship – though that would be bad enough. Under the pretext of an economic state of emergency, there is the prospect of further near-irreversible moves toward the ‘free-market’ paradise that the Conservatives are obviously so keen on – while of course, as ever, being intensely relaxed about people being dirt poor. A spoonful of medicine helps the poison go down.