In some cases, it is difficult to see how. The truly awful Woolas and Purnell, to give two examples of Ministers who have used their power against the weakest and most vulnerable in society (as well as taking it out on civil service unions) would be difficult to beat for sheer nastiness; though this is a list that could go on and on. But, of course, they will be.The real question is whether the Tories’ savage cuts will be any worse than the long-lasting cuts that Labour would inflict if elected. That’s a harder one to tell. On the one hand, the union leaders might stand up and fight the Tories, instead of posturing about the "influence" they have had over Labour while indulging in the beer and sandwiches in the corridors of power (or rather the prawn cocktails and cappuccinos). On the other hand, the degree of demoralisation these leaders have injected into their own ranks, and their failure to take up the struggle (with the few very noteworthy exceptions, such as Mark Serwotka, Matt Wrack, Bob Crow), and their seeming desire to witch-hunt their own activists in preference to fighting the cuts and privatisations of what they say is their own government - all suggest that it will take something more.
We need an alternative. Not just to fly the flag of socialism, but to make public the fact that cuts are not inevitable, that this recession is the fault of the government and the bankers, not the workers and those who want to work but can’t, that the wealth exists in society to fund our essential needs and services – and that environmentally sustainable jobs and production are possible. In short, to say that we should defend public services and promote public ownership and that we should argue for a democratically accountable society that plans and organises for the needs of the many and not the profits of the few. And we need the left to present this alternative. A simple and clear alternative to cuts and privatisation, to war and racism, to ecological destruction, and to the far right – notably the fascists that seek to fill the vacuum created by New Labour. And to be clear that the responsibility for the rise of the far right is that of Labour and its odious spokespeople who have legitimised their smears and lies and practically written the BNP’s website for them.
To do so, we need the left to organise in new ways, to develop a broad understanding between ourselves and our many organisations, to put forward an alternative that goes beyond the bourgeois democracy of first past the post and single party monoliths – and the obsession with tv debates and party political broadcasts. We have seen this year the trust develop between sections of the socialist left and the green left, so that candidates will not stand against each other in key seats. We need to encourage this trust and reject the age-old attempt to launch new flags shortly before elections and to insist that unity means everyone must come and join them, now. The list of things we can do together is not finite. Three immediate initiatives have identified themselves recently. First, the Peoples Charter has set out six simple demands, and local activists (for example in the North West) have started to ask all potential left candidates (including Labour) if they will support and implement these demands if elected.
Second, the Convention of the Left (prompted by Robert Griffiths of the CPB at the last Convention meeting in Brighton in September) is organising the one day conference "Making It Public" on February 27th in Manchester, where it is hoped everyone can unite to develop and promote the public alternative to cuts and privatisation, regardless of which electoral parties we may be supporting shortly after. And third there is a chance for ordinary activists on the left to "back the left". A simple letter now circulating [send to email@example.com or join the facebook group at http://bit.ly/backtheleft] suggests that there are candidates of the left, across several political organisations, who should be supported by everyone who agrees that there is an alternative to Brown, Cameron or Clegg. Its not a definitive list, just some of the most well-known and principled left representatives, with Green Caroline Lucas, Respect George Galloway, independent Val Wise, Socialist Dave Nellist and Labour John McDonnell. And in the interests of unity the letter calls for left candidates to avoid clashing in the same seats.
He called it a "sit up and think" moment. For all those musing on what being David Cameron means, and who the Conservative leader is, this might indeed be a "eureka" day. Now we finally begin to get it. In a lecture today at the thinktank Demos on how families build character, he said he had found the social science equivalent of E=MC2. The research on which he will base his child poverty policy was "one of the most important findings for a generation". As used by him, the research for Demos was certainly a gem, a priceless pearl, a gift to conservatism beyond his wildest dreams. It proved, he claimed, that "the differences in child outcomes between a child born in poverty and a child born in wealth are no longer statistically significant when both have been raised by confident and able parents". What matters is not "the wealth of their upbringing but the warmth of their parenting". He challenged "the left who have always argued that the best way to tackle disadvantage is to redistribute money from the rich to the poor". Instead – eureka – what children from every background need is "strong and secure families, confident and able parents, an ethic of responsibility instilled from a young age". With one bound, he is free.
In the realm of the blindingly obvious, children brought up by loving parents do better than the unloved. Is it all about money? No, the beloved children of a curate as poor as a church mouse will do fine. Unloved children of rich but frosty parents may do badly (don't mention the Queen). But there is no escaping the fact that children of families poverty-stricken for generations stand least chance. No one ever said they only lack money – they lack nearly everything. There was a wince at Cameron's interpretation from the Demos researcher who analysed the figures from the Millennium Cohort – a large group of children born in 2000. Jen Lexmond, co-author of Building Character, says poverty has an immense effect. Looking at what the report defines as the two key ingredients of good parenting – love and consistent boundary-setting – the authors found love scattered regardless of social class. But poor children had fewest rules imposed, because, she suggests of "more pressure, less support, a harder life".
And Cameron's "no statistical significance" between poverty and bad parenting stands everything on its head – though it may suit him to imply they are all down there because they are bad characters. Lexmond, however, makes another telling point: "It may not be in the best interests of the child growing up in hostile surroundings to be trusting and full of empathy. It may be rational to be bad, aggressive and impulsive." Cameron is a serial abuser of social research. He has form. This time he also turned upside down the work of Leon Feinstein, whose famous research found that after 23 months of age, the dim but rich child begins to make faster progress than the bright but poor child – until at the age of six their achievements cross over, the poor child sinking, probably for ever, as the dim but rich rises inexorably. Nurturing, conversation, stimulation, a good nursery and attention from educated parents push one upwards while the other falls prey to adversity.
In his recent Hugo Young lecture on poverty, Cameron badly misused the ground-breaking work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level. He acknowledged their incontrovertible proof that "the more unequal countries do worse according to every quality of life indicator", but in the next breath he ignored the very foundation of their work when he said: "That doesn't mean we should be fixated only by a mechanistic objective like reducing the Gini coefficient" – the measurement of the inequality that causes social dysfunction, crime, drugs, drink and all the social evils that put Britain near the bottom of the league for civility. But no one could be a Conservative and want to narrow the gap between top and bottom. Instead Cameron said he would seek to "focus on the gap between the bottom and the middle". Leaving the rich untouched is, of course, exactly what his inheritance tax plans do. But how lightly he treads, how delicately he picks his way among the prickles of the wicked issues, scattering a caveat here and there. Speaking on what builds "character", he was in his airy element yesterday, opining on family, parents and responsibility. But his dreamy vision of good parenting with two loving married parents sealed in matrimony by a tax allowance was blasted off the lectern by the reply to his speech from the magnificent Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company.
She takes no prisoners in her raw description of the 1.5 million children she estimates are profoundly neglected and abused by drunk, drugged, mentally ill and incapable families. Two parents? If only they had one half-functioning carer. Baby P is just one that came to notice – but shortage of social workers means most are kept off the register and thrown off after a few short visits. Long queues for children's mental health services leave them unsupported. These children are often left bereft by state as well as parents, a world away from the moralistic finger-wagging of politicians. And, no, she told him, voluntary organisations can't do it all. What would David Cameron do? Ominous threats were breezily implied, leaving no fingerprints. How about this? "We support tax credits but this exciting new evidence from Demos sets us a new challenge: to alleviate poverty of parenting, in the knowledge that it is the best way to help children escape material poverty." Will parenting classes compensate for tax credit cuts? He promises much needed extra health visitors – but Sure Start would face cuts, contracted out to voluntary groups in "a new spirit of enterprise" that would "pay by results". Here was his final homily: "Parenting is the coalface of creating character" – and who could disagree?
One deep character question remains: the nature of David Cameron, slippery as silk, smooth as his airbrushed cheeks, adept at allusion yet elusive on everything and totally out of touch with the real world. But little by little the blue beneath the skin seeps out with each new speech. We can now see the elitist Eton-educated Bullington Boy David Conman is; and increasingly as we realise this, we loathe him. Compassionate Conservatism, let alone "Progressive Conservatism" is exposed as a head-swivellingly empty oxymoron. Day by day we may understand it a little less and condemn it a little more.
A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.