Cameron's Britain was no socialist republic
May says she wants to defend the poor. But she continues to blame them for the plight of the ‘just managing’.
In her ‘shared society’ speech last week, the Prime Minister said she wants to tackle the ‘injustices’ in our society, adding that we must acknowledge truths such as ‘if you’re a white, working-class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university’.
However, she asserts that too much focus has been put upon ‘obvious injustices’, with an obsession on ‘social mobility and social justice’ rather than ‘everyday injustices’.
She makes out that her predecessors were somehow running a socialist republic, when in fact, rather than defending the poor, they smashed them with a continued attack on welfare and housing.
May, for all her lukewarm interventionist platitudes, is continuing the project laid out by Thatcher, and continued by Cameron, to reel back the state.
What we have seen is a change in rhetoric, not intention. May will acknowledge the state to smash it, acknowledge the poor to disregard them, and use the ‘just managing’ as a means to cut taxes.
How can the Cameronite government be said to be the champion of social justice? Yes, Cameron went on a large publicity campaign and hugged a hoodie.
Then of course he introduced the Pupil Premium, a Liberal Democrat idea, while abolishing the Education Maintenance Allowance. The Pupil Premium was heralded as a milestone in social justice which in fact it was recycled money and did not reduce cuts.
But how could introducing a cap for benefits while reducing corporation tax be said to be advocating social justice? Or cutting the funding allocated to social housing by 60 per cent, and re-defining affordable rent as being 80 per cent of market value?
May however is trying to position herself as moving beyond this settlement. She is harking back to the position of Harold Macmillian.
Macmillian pre-dated the conservative fixation upon neoliberal economics, and was one of the conservative politicians to acknowledge the emergence of low income aspirational voters as key to the Conservatives’ future success.
This new outlook was epitomized in the phrase a ‘property owning democracy’. As Prime Minster, Macmillan sought to preserve the Keynesian consensus of the age. May is rhetorically looking to combine two aspects of Macmillanism in her narrative of the shared society.
Though May pays homage to the plight of the poor, unlike Cameron, they are not the group who she believes should be most protected.
In fact, their struggles are detracting from the ignored concerns of the ‘just managing’, those who ‘have been ignored by government for too long because they don’t fall into the income bracket that makes them qualify for welfare support’.
But the plight of those on ‘modest to low incomes’ has not been blighted by a government that only cared for the most disadvantaged.
The just managing ‘don’t always have job security’ and ‘own [their] home, but […] worry about paying the mortgage’ not because Cameron’s government spent so much on the poor that there was none left for the ‘squeezed middle’.
They are in insecure jobs because the coalition government in 2013 took away employment protection: making employment tribunal fees exorbitant, changing the composition of tribunal panels to favour employers and allowing an employee to sack you without reason within the first two-years of employment.
With self employment at record levels, this leave the just managing extremely vulnerable to exploitative employers.
The just managing are worried about paying their mortgage because George Osborne in exchange for an anaemic recovery allowed house prices to soar, because he did not want to invest in public services.
As Osborne declared, ‘hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy when property values go up’.
How is May going to get a better deal for the just managing? A hard Brexit looms on the horizon. Businesses are already irate about the National Living Wage. Does anyone think they are going to support employment protections which will decrease their opportunity to increase profit?
We have a housing market which is now rigged for what is affordable for developers, not tenants and home buyers. Following May’s U-turn on putting workers on boards, its looks highly unlikely that she will take up cause of the just managing.
May has hit onto rhetoric that will ring true for many, in our low wage and high debt fuelled economy. She aims to present herself as a pre-Thatcherite, a one nation conservative, who will protect the just managing. In her speech she presents the just managing as having been ‘ignored’ because of a fixation on the disadvantaged.
However, it was a Tory-led government who put bankers before working people that neglected the just managing. The fact that May is willing to propagate this myth betrays that she is likely to be a continuation of the Cameron project rather than a departure, (bar Europe of course).
Sam Pallis is a writer and a activist. He Tweets @SamPallisLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.