Cameron: terrifyingly wrong

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I tried to write about Cameron’s appalling Hugo Young lecture yesterday, and failed. That as partly due to work pressure. Partly because I was just so angry at what he said.

Madeleine Bunting has said it better anyway this morning, and I’m quoting at above average length because it is just so good:

It was astonishing intellectual bravado — and utterly duplicitous. David Cameron has taken 15 years of thinking on the left — Naomi Klein, Zygmunt Bauman, Richard Layard, Richard Sennett among others — and put the whole back catalogue on its head.

The critique of our present atomised, individualistic, fragmented lives was all there. As Cameron lamented, what matters most is "our personal journey and our right to pursue our own happiness regardless of others around us". But having hijacked the leftwing analysis, he stripped out every reference to the corroding force of a free market economic system predicated on persuading us of a good life defined purely in terms of material goods because "we are worth it". He resolutely ignored the billions poured into an advertising and marketing industry that grooms us to believe in our own sense of entitlement.

In the place of this powerful amalgam of economic and cultural imperatives which have insisted that the individual's primary purpose is the fulfilment of their own desires, who does Cameron blame but, unbelievably, the state. It is all the fault of the beleaguered, derided public sector painfully trying to hold together basic standards of decency and social solidarity.

Who can he be thinking of? Replace his frequent and dismissive references to the "big state" and think instead of thousands of teachers trying every day to tell children to share, and respect each other, thousands of nurses trying to care for the frightened and frail, or thousands of park keepers and street cleaners trying to create liveable environments. It is all their fault.

This is the reality. He’s blaming people you know. People you trust — indeed some of the most trusted people in society — for bringing the country to its knees.

They’re people you depend on too. Wait till you have to do without them when Osborne tries to make millions unemployed and then see what it feels like.

So let’s be blunt about the assumptions that underpin Cameron’s vision. I suggest they are:

There are hoards of people just waiting to volunteer

I simply don’t believe it. Because of the pressure of consumer society and bank driven house price increases many families (my own included) depend on two incomes. The amount of time over when two jobs, a household, the needs of children, some socialising with friends to remind yourself what adult conversation is like outside work,  is small. In the vast majority of households from whom Cameron is going to want to recruit his volunteers from there is no capacity to give.

Volunteers  have the skills that voluntary organisations need

I have a long history as a school governor — a lot of it as Chair. All of it from the time before I had children. The time required would not be available now. And my experience taught me most volunteers were charming, well meaning and utterly unable to deliver the leadership, budgeting, management, decision making and other skills that ere needed to lead committees, monitor curricula, run budgets, sit on interview and disciplinary panels and much more besides. It all fell to a tiny minority. The assumption that people have the skills to do what he wants is absurd. If they have they use them all day — and don’t want to do so again out of work.

People are going to give up consumerism

Madeleine Bunting is right on this: the whole neo-liberal market based model the Tories espouse is based on selfish consumption. That’s the cause of most family break up — the perpetual dissatisfaction created by advertising that says to a person ‘leave behind what you have - there’s a better model for you over here’. This is what has created the corrosion in society: you need look no further than that. Unless you eliminate the whole mechanism that puts consumption for self-gratification at the epicentre of the economic model and price the advertising that promotes it out of the market — which you can be sure Murdoch is no going to let Cameron do — then there will never be the change in society Cameron says he wants. The entire assumption of Cameron's approach — that the state has promoted not social solidarity, but selfishness and individualism — is wrong. The market did that.

Reform can be done without money

Cameron assumes there is a rentier class of benefactors — or at least their wives (sorry — but we’re talking Tory here) who have nothing better to do than volunteer time because they don’t need to work. I don’t believe that if they exist they think they are either a) benefactors or b) volunteers. They lunch. In that case people will need to be paid to do this stuff. And he won’t pay.

People are queuing up to doff their caps to the great and good, be boundlessly grateful and copy their ways

Most of the ‘great and good’ seem to be bankers these days. Cameron should note the contempt with which those from the City are rightly held in society these days. There are no better exemplars of selfishness and individualism.

I could go on, but do I need to?

This policy is madness and so utterly unhinged from reality you have to ask two questions (especially when linked to Osborne’s economic inability). The first is what will be the terrifying cost if the Tories really try it? The second is, what’s the hidden agenda — because surely no person of right mind can really believe they think this — can they?

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