Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Cameron Patronises Liverpool

Yesterday, Cameron paid us a visit to talk about his ‘Big Society’. You can read his speech here, if you’ve got a strong stomach. He wants Liverpool to be a vanguard community, paving the way for a society where volunteers and charities do the work of local services, funded and controlled by business interests, thus saving a whole lot of money for the wealthier taxpayer by putting park maintenance, museum and library workers out of a job, on the basis that they can get some unemployed people to do it under some kind of coercive voluntary scheme.

You can call it cuts. You can call it corporate takeover of public services. You can call it passing round the collection tin to fund what our taxes already paid for. You can call it a bunch of empty sound-bites obscuring the fact that what David Cameron is really suggesting is abandonment of the public sector to whatever business interests will fund our schools and hospitals for their own purposes. I call the “Big Society” a bunch of self-serving Tory hokum dressed up in libertarian language.

It sounds like what every anarchist wants to hear – people working together in their communities and workplaces, bypassing “officials, local authorities or central government” because they have the power to help themselves and each other. What you’ve got to wonder is, if that’s the case, what are we keeping these authorities around for? If the power’s truly in the hands of the people, if the administrators aren’t administrating it, and the government aren’t governing us, then why are our taxes paying them to just sit around allowing us the freedom and empowerment to sort everything out for ourselves?

Cameron’s speech gives away a little of the Big Society’s real implications when he talks about “Businesses helping people getting trained for work” and “Charities working to rehabilitate offenders”. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting the government out of education (and out of everything else as well), but giving that control over to businesses isn’t the same as giving it to the community. Businesses don’t answer to communities. They don’t even, ultimately, answer to customers, though they’d like them to think they do. At the end of the day, businesses answer to shareholders, who respond to dividends. Training funded by business will serve the needs of profit, not people. Businesses aren’t charities.

Oh yes, charities. I’m not going to say they’re all a bunch of profiteering hucksters who line their founders’ pockets by tugging at the heartstrings and the purse strings of the people who can least afford it. Some of them are genuinely well-intentioned and do difficult and necessary jobs, as well as they can, taking only the minimum out of donations to cover their own administration. Some of them. You have to wonder, though, why we need charities to rehabilitate offenders, provide legal advice to citizens in need, research cancer and heart disease and rescue and rehabilitate children from abuse when we pay taxes that are supposed to cover all of these things as basic necessities. There is also a concern about who controls the charities. Corporate funding is the major part of most large charities’ income, and corporations don’t give out of the goodness of their hearts. When we give to, say, a charity researching cures for a particular disease, what happens when they find that cure? Will it be distributed for free, charitably, to all those who need it? Or will the patent mysteriously be held by a drugs company that was part-funding the charity, and so part-using public donations to fund research that it will ultimately use to profit from the very people it claimed to be altruistically helping? This is the kind of manipulative use of “charity” we can expect to see from businesses wanting control over our public services for their own profits.

Cameron is right about one thing – centralised government that tries to micro-manage industries and services in which it has no expertise is doomed to failure. But he’s pulling a fast one when he tells us that funding through business and charity will give the ordinary person any more control over their workplaces, neighbourhoods and services than they had through government. If we’re to truly take control of our own lives, we have to reject the control of top-down government and that of businesses, Private Finance Initiatives and charitable trusts. We don’t need to channel our wealth through these institutions and wait for it to trickle back down to us and our communities. We can take control of that wealth for ourselves.

David Cameron says “we're all in this together.” I can entirely get behind that when it comes to people who live in the same community, or work in the same factory, school, hospital or office. I just don’t get exactly where he fits in. Who’s Cameron in this with? And why are we paying him to tell us we have to sort the country’s problems out ourselves? Are we in it with the bankers whose mistakes we bailed out? Are we in it with the politicians who claimed our money to pay for the soft furnishings of their second homes? If so, I think it’s about time we threw their dead weight out of this “Big Society”, and got on with being in this together as a class.