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Living anywhere but the present

Simon Campion-Brown on the Chancellor's Autumn Statement

It must be deeply frustrating to live in the 21sT Century if you’re a Tory. Stereotypically, of course, people of a Tory persuasion instinctively want to live in the past – I say that because (hiding under the skirt of ‘not all change is for the good’) they instinctively want life to remain as it was, or used to be (or rather, ‘as they perceive it used to be’).

Exactly when we are talking about probably depends upon the age of the Tory concerned. For those in their forties and fifties, it may be the Thatcher years. For those in their seventies and eighties, it is probably the 1950s and 1960s. No doubt, if people lived to be the age of 150 or more, it would probably be the mid-19th Century.

My point is this. At some point between the ages of 18 to 25, most humans [and I shall return to the subject of ‘most’ later] – certainly all those of a Tory persuasion – take a theoretical snapshot of how the world and society operates, not least as regards ‘how to get on’, including in career terms, their relationships with others and in developing and pursuing their hobbies. They then set out to work their way through life, relying upon the certainties contained (or that they perceived were contained) in that snapshot.

Plainly, in this scenario, any change to the rules embodied in their snapshot is regarded with suspicion.

Take an employer or a profession. Say, for example, the rules when you joined were that everyone had to begin at the bottom, but every two years subsequently they would gain a promotion (and all that went with it).

Then suppose, out of the blue one day, from on high, it was announced that this structure was abolished and that from now on career progress would be a complete ‘free for all’.

There’d be an outcry. Everyone towards the bottom of the pile would be losing the certainty of progression. From those nearer the top there’d probably be complaints about the need to spend time at each level of promotion before anyone could be proved ready for the next step up.

From an ‘order’ of sorts, it would be just a short haul to chaos and uncertainty. Allegedly.

factoryAnd it wouldn’t just be Tory capitalists, professionals and bankers protesting. Most people [I deliberately mentioned the word ‘’most’ earlier] are conservative with a small ‘c’.

If something of this nature was happening to jobs on the shop floor, ordinary workers and their union officials would equally be up in arms, some might say understandably.

Some Tories instinctively balk at any change.

Others, perhaps more intelligent, might concede that change is okay in principle, but might then seek to apply a ‘test’ to ensure that any change proposed is actually for the better (on the basis that ‘change simply for the sake of it is not necessarily good’).

From this perspective, the trouble with the world – and human society – is that it is constantly changing.

Furthermore, anyone trying to police the changes, i.e. in order to ensure that they are always for the better, is fighting a losing battle. They’d be like King Canute trying to order the tide not to come in, or some father donning the goalkeeping gloves and trying to ‘save’ simultaneous penalties taken by twenty kids.

I was mildly amused yesterday by the continuing developments in the aftermath of George Osborne’s Autumn Budget Statement delivered on Wednesday.

Osborne has apparently taken offence at the left-wing tone of the BBC’s coverage, specifically on the likely effects of his intended further cuts to public spending over the next four to five years (as commented upon by political correspondent Norman Smith on the Radio 4’s Today programme).

He’s also angry with the Institute of Fiscal Studies, which has apparently also laid some detailed criticisms at his door. For some reason, here I recall the comment of one media commentator, asked a question about how many different economic theories exist (“How many economists are there?”).

Knowing a number of Tories myself, I understand where Mr Osborne and his ilk are coming from.

They take the view that their view of economic policy is the only correct one and that the frustrating thing in modern Britain is the fact that – over an electoral cycle – whenever the Tories gain power, they have to make the difficult decisions and actions to ‘sort out’ the financial mess left by Labour … only then to get voted out. Whereupon Labour go profligate all over again, until (that is) the British electorate next sees sense and votes the Tories back in.

Yes, if you’re a Tory and that’s your view, it must be frustrating.

But then again, presumably – taking Tory logic to its conclusion – democracy doesn’t really work. Or, to put it another way, it isn’t the best way to run a country. Simply because, from time to time, it ‘lets the bad guys in’.

I’d go further. When push comes to shove, the Tories fundamentally distrust the concept of ‘one man (or woman), one vote’ anyway.

From their point of view, it’s crackers that (e.g. on economic policy) an economic professor’s vote should count no more or less than an alcoholic unemployed person’s. Left to their own devices, I guess they’d be happy if some sort of Tory benevolent dictatorship came in for, say, the next fifty years.

About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts