A rather horrible week for social progress in the UK. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement speaks for itself. Further austerity will be unforgiving in raking back government services that will clearly hit lower and middle income families. There were titbits of liberalism… bringing forward the 10k tax allowance increase, scrapping the fuel duty increase… but with slashed corporate tax rates and an increased threshold for the top tax band and inheritance, it is very easy to accuse the Chancellor of not protecting the more vulnerable, but rather unapologetically improving circumstances for business and wealth.
It’s more complicated than that of course, it always is, but despite young George’s attempts to veil his distinctly conservative statement with convolution and detail, the spirit of it was clear to see. With as much disregard for the less affluent as is politically feasible, he will drag the nations economy back into stability. His perspective seems to be driven by interest rates, inflation, credit ratings, borrowing and spending; macro factors, as opposed to those niggling details like quality of life for families or youth unemployment.
As a young individual with a complex liberal/libertarian stance, one despairs. I approve of Osborne’s mandate to return the country’s finances to a sound place and appreciate that it’s not going to be done without some tears. There is absolute legitimacy in undoing some of the bloated social infrastructure of the Labour years. I just wish with every ounce of my being he didn’t have to be quite such a dick about it. Perhaps if his opposite number, the truly unbearable Ed Balls, had some serious thoughts to throw into the mix, Osborne would be more obliged to balance his approach.
The intricacies and uncertainties of the budget have been well dissected however, and better than I could, and really were just worth a mention in context with two other social issues that have sprung up. All thrown together, I’m pondering a possible lifestyle elsewhere in the world. These issues are drug policy and gay marriage.
Drug policy will be dealt with briefly as I largely said my piece in an earlier article subsequent to the UKDPC report. But last week, a further extensive study, this time by MPs and led by the broadly respected and experienced Kieth Vaz, recommended an immediate royal commission on national drug policy. It was called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to redress a failing system, backed by evidence from alternative systems that have found success in Portugal and elsewhere, and are being generally lauded due to their success and focus on care, not criminality.
To describe a mix of emotions that includes horror but also a total lack of surprise is difficult, yet so it was when Home Office minister Jeremy Browne deftly swatted the idea of the commission down. He was then followed by a sweaty David Cameron going further to say that drug policy wasn’t on the table for discussion as actually the current system is apparently working and we shouldn’t abandon it. This was so patently a case of sidestepping another protracted war against his socially draconian backbenchers I was almost willing to forgive him until I reminded myself that my early interest in Cameron was as a potential moderator of the party. If losing on Europe was enough for him to bow down in submission to this noxious clique then all hope is lost.
If further proof was needed that the party was slipping back in time, then all one needed was Maria Miller taking to the dispatch box and detailing her “quadruple lock” on the sanctity of a church’s authority to allow gay marriage or not. It being Church of England Canon that this is illegal, she was basically rubber stamping the illegality of a traditional form of homosexual union in this nation. Other religious institutions may choose different stances but that is somewhat not the point here. Using so cynically the separation of church and state and freedoms of religious expression, that abhorrent wing of the Tory party dodged a bullet in achieving their aims but not also looking overtly discriminatory.
How totally infuriating this has all been. Social values in politics is incredibly dangerous territory in the first place, as generally it is little more than a downward projection of the values of one or a few individuals who find themselves in a position of authority. I don’t belief the government should have a jurisdiction any greater than the handling of revenues, the implementation of law and the defence of the realm. Yet the three major issues in government of late, as I’ve identified them, are all so tainted by social values that I enforce my position that government should entirely avoid the arbitration of values.
It is a slightly difficult line to tread. The implementation of law that prevents murder is to some extent a law influenced by the social value that we should not kill each other, but this is a perfectly defensible and morally utilitarian example. The best way to feel safe about my person is with mutual reassurance – I shall not murder, am not a threat, and so shall not be murdered. Or at least, should not be murdered. But how that logic extends to one individual or group saying, “I disapprove of this thing that in no way directly effects me and so it should not be allowed,” is beyond me.
Students smoking legal marijuana will not have Browne getting high in the Commons – smokers will smoke, abstainers will not. Traditionally recognised gay marriage will not have Miller turning cheek and hitting the Soho bars and neither is there a jot of validity in that contemptible argument that it would erode the heterosexual interpretation of the union. It’s just all such thinly veiled, subjective, bigoted, unintelligent, unintelligible, irrational… codswallop.
Also known as bullshit. If I were Cameron I would re-establish my backbone and take to the backbenches with a cleaver. Conservative values politics in the last week has socially regressed the nation yet again.