Famed linguist, George Lakoff, has written that conservative ideology and terminology is underpinned by the idea of a ‘strict Father model’. This is the idea that a family is based around a dominant ‘father’ (the government) who has to discipline children (citizens) to be made into responsible ‘adults’ (morality, self-financing). Once finally adults, the ‘father’ should keep his nose out of their business.
We can see this at play in David Cameron’s speech at the recent Conservative Party conference, where he announced the plans to cut housing and employment benefit for under 25s; if there is a Conservative majority parliament after the 2015 election. This is the ‘strict Father model’ in action. Punishment and self-reliance are, in this model, the way to motivate and incentivise people to achieve self-sufficience. For the Tories, this is to sell off the Welfare State. What Lakoff doesn’t add is the class dynamics of this model- for it is only certain children that need to be disciplined, and that is the ‘skivers’ (in Tory terminology). In our terminology, this is the unemployed, the disenfranchised, the alienated.
Cameron is not interested in disciplining the under-25s who are bankrolled by their parents or those who take up positions in the family business, or friends of the family’s businesses; and we all have those Facebook acquaintances who seem to be on ‘infinite holidays’ and never seeming to work). For Cameron these under-25s already have the correct morality and the correct mindset installed in them- i.e. entrepreneurialism and elitism. ‘The toiling masses’ on the other hand are in this model, ignorant, scrounging and leech-like; taking what they have not earned and they thus need the entrepreneurial morality hammered into them.
Cameron’s vision for how to alter the morality and mindset of working class under-25s is to force young people into destitution and poverty, through more advanced Workfare schemes and cutting housing benefits- essentially to exterminate working class people. The Victorian heart of the Conservative party often oscillates with its newly acquired neo-liberal edge- and we see it poking through here, the Victorian morality of work and the acceptance of the inequality of the class system. The deserving poor. It is the belief that you achieve prosperity through your own hard work alone- rather than the understanding that power in capitalist society comes through exploitation and essentially, the work of others. We see it in the terminology usually seen on the Dragons Den- ‘self-made’ millionaires. No millionaire is self-made. They are there from the labour of others. This point is an integral part of the Tories’ project of dismantling the Welfare State, which they see as an integral part of their role as the ‘Father’, and teaching their ‘children’ self-reliance.
This is nothing new, this is nothing surprising. It is integral to the Tory DNA. This is class politics at its most blatant, and it’s the only politics that Tories know. Tories do not, and do not want to, understand the world outside the halls of Westminster, the pubs of the Bullingdon Club or the classrooms of Eton. They have no interest in what it’s like to be young and unemployed, because the foundations of the Conservative party are intrenched in preserving the current order of things, i.e. preserving the rigidity of the class system. And it is the Welfare State and the notion of ‘universalism’ that challenge the Tory ideology, and it is why they look to bring this notions down.
Tories could do well to pop down to their local job centre and meet the people there. Some of the most inspiring people I have met have been the Tories’ ‘skivers’. Unemployed, alienated, often angry. They want to work, they want to contribute- they do not see a life on the dole as something desirable or a life full of pride. These are not society’s leeches. They are the people who strive for a better future, for a more equal society to live in- usually from difficult areas and backgrounds. They are also the people who drive your buses, pick up your garbage, build your schools, teach your children, drive your ambulances. The leeches sit in the boardrooms and accountancy firms who seek to avoid paying tax, the companys who record record-profits whilst laying off staff, in the private health companies who lobby for privatisation of the NHS and the Royals who clandestinely pursue political ends.
We should be strident in our defence of young people and to reject the paternalistic project the Tories are embarking on; and defend the Welfare state and universalism. If the Tories want class politics, we must meet them measure for measure and be clear what side we are on. We must fight for a future for young people, not treat them with distaste and punishment, and create opportunities for young people to pursue their dreams and desires, not shove them into menial jobs or forced voluntary positions, forcing waged workers into redundancy or wage cuts. All the Tories want to leave for the future is a society of individuals and the reenforcement of society where they are at the top. The line has been drawn.