Conservative Britain: Repackaging the American Dream By Sean Keach
10 December 2013 — New Left Project
Much of America’s aggression towards communism in the 20th Century was mobilised through a propaganda campaign that dangled white picket fences and warm blueberry pies over the heads of a blue-collar citizenship. Even today, the American dream idealism can be seen propagating the ever raw political divisions of the United States. In a country of gross wealth inequality, the masses remain relatively placid, continuingly placated by the belief that poverty is deserved, not inflicted. 50’s America showcased a reprehensible crusade against proponents of worker’s rights, abandoning human freedoms as Senator McCarthy bulldozed a belief system across the hearts and minds of the country.
Fast-forward to modern day Britain. “We all need to take responsibility,” PM David Cameron once jibed, now facing half a million citizens relying on food banks for their next meal. The evidence of a mismatch between rhetoric and reality is all around us. Cameron’s claims of a big society suggested a break with Thatcher’s society-less Britain, yet Iain Duncan Smith enacts policy after policy to further cripple those in the direst straits of British poverty. The Welfare and Pensions minister has done his utmost to vilify those who depend on state benefits – the result is a country that has the poor blaming the poorer for their financial woes, while the top earners capitalise on the disparity.
It is not sensationalist to suggest that we are re-living McCarthyism. It was painfully evident when the Daily Mail attempted to ‘shame’ Ed Miliband’s father as a Marxist, laying down foundations for a demonization of the socialist lexicon once again. George Osborne drove his stake through the heart of benefit Britain too when he decided earlier this year that Mick Philpott’s vile inhumanity was a product not of his own despicable volition, but a state that was “subsidising lifestyles like that.” The Daily Mail ran with the headline “Philpott: vile product of welfare UK”, during the media spectacle that columnist Owen Jones dubbed a “hi-jacking”. Unfortunately, as “scrounger” semantics cement themselves in the public consciousness, it becomes increasingly challenging to defend welfare dependents.
This smear campaign has allowed harrowing policies to be enforced, and it is only now in the few months since the enacting of the bedroom tax that we can truly witness the full extent of thedamage caused. The SNP has dubbed the tax as “unjust and unworkable” and says it has “no place in a modern-day country.” While the working classes may have been convinced that a governmental “cracking down” on benefit fraud might improve their standard of living, the reality is that while we lose just over a billion a year to fraudulent welfare claims, around one-hundred billion is lost through combined tax avoidance and evasion. It is this diversion of attention from the capitalists that has fuelled the myth that an individual can pull themselves out of poverty if they wish. To the contrary, social mobility and living standards are falling. Despite being the 7th richest country in the world, 3.5 million (an abhorrent 27%) children now live in poverty in the UK.
In reality, the impossibility of upward social mobility is affecting all of us, and more acutely the younger generation. House prices are rising by just over 3% a year, and an unbelievable 8.1% in London. Osborne’s ‘help to buy’ scheme – which lets you provide a deposit equivalent to 5% of the asking price on a home – has been masqueraded as the solution to the problem of a generation not expected to own their first home until the age of 40. In reality, it appears more as a quick-fix property grab for those with capital to spare. The real problem lies with the failure of successive governments to increase housing capacity across the country. The shortage of housing, exorbitant property prices, and greedy landlords subsidised by the nation, set against the backdrop of the ‘help to buy’ scheme is living proof of a ‘Tory dream’ – the opium of the people modernised.
This dream was glaringly exemplified by the tuition fee debacle. Higher education – a cornerstone of Western progression and advancement – is now inaccessible to many. The spinelessness of Clegg and his liberal cohort allowed a rise in fees shrugged off by the wealthiest few and embraced by foreign investors eager to make bank on the privatisation of loans. To the majority, a stint at University equals a lifetime of debt, and is simply no longer viable for many. The en masse political disengagement we see today will only be furthered as education becomes more unattainable. The conception of an unintelligent proletariat will serve to further the capitalist hard-right that controls UK wealth – Tory policy through and through.
So while less enjoy education, more of us are thrust immediately into the workplace. Low paid (or even unpaid) internships, zero-hour contracts, and minimum wage jobs provide the brunt of youth employment. At present, 4.8 million people (20% of employees) earn below the living wage in the UK. Currently the London living wage is set at £8.55, and £7.45 for everywhere else, a far cry from the £6.30 an hour over 21’s are entitled to. Ed Miliband’s recent pledge to raise the minimum wage and provide tax breaks for firms that pay living wages illustrate the ideals of a progressive nation. Naturally, big businesses recoiled in horror at the prospect, with the CBI claiming that the market intervention would hurt the British economy. It will pain them to learn then that the German automotive industry is booming, despite paying their factory workers on average 30 times more than their Chinese counterparts. An increase in wages would lead to more liberal spending – a much-needed breakaway from tiresome Tory austerity.
It’s not difficult to conclude that punishing the working class relentlessly won’t help anyone but the richest few, and it’s clear that Tory policy-making and propaganda has inspired a blame culture that promotes every man for himself. The Tory dream in reality is a society of classes and hierarchy, where individuals are required to tread on those below to drag themselves upwards – only then can we enjoy a life of luxury. Once we begin pandering to the idea that poverty is a self-inflicted circumstance, we truly prostrate ourselves to the capitalists. That the kindling flames of McCarthyism are very much glowing beneath contemporary Britain is not the real concern, much more that the public at large may be too pacified to notice.
Sean Keach is a third-year Journalism student in Southampton with an interest in left-wing politics and technology reporting.