Yesterday evening I had the pleasure of attending the People’s PPE event ‘The Trumping of the Political Class’ and it certainly gave me much to think about. So much, in fact, that I’m going to carve some of them up into separate articles and want to start with my thoughts on one of the panelists contributions to the event; Peter Oborne, who made some odd outbursts but, also, some interesting thoughts. Notably, there were three ‘negative’ contributions; two very odd and one just wrong.
One of the weird aspects of the People’s PPE event was Peter Oborne losing the plot with, at first, John Snow and then an imaginary hostile audience. Oborne aggressively objected to Snow’s explanation that he had found very worrisome overt racism expressed in America’s hinterlands during time he spent there in the build up to the recent election. To Oborne, Snow had adopted a sneering attitude towards those Americans outside of the metropolitan liberal elite cities but I feel I shared the same confusion of the majority of the audience towards Oborne’s unjustified and, frankly bizarre, response. Oborne revisited much the same theme with another very odd castigation of an imaginary hostile audience in defence of the Daily Mail’s readership, railing against the injustice of people sneering at “unfashionable” people in “unfashionable” corners of the UK. All five million of them.
Where the rant against Snow was straight up out of the blue, swivel-eyed, batshit crazy, the more interesting rant was the impassioned and aggressive defence of the Daily Mail readership. It might be that Oborne genuinely believes that the Daily Mail speaks for people in the UK whose views and opinions are “unfashionable” but those who oppose the Daily Mail do not do so because of the readership. The Daily Mail is known as The Daily Hate because of its hate-mongering front pages and its hate and fear mongering editorial slant that infests the paper. At one point Oborne claimed that the Daily Mail stands alone because it isn’t a megaphone for the establishment and answers to its readers. It was an incredibly weird thing to hear given who owns the Mail and by how much the Mail panders to the owner’s political ego. I would hope that Oborne’s indignation about the hard ride the Mail gets, for the readers, was genuine but he is very wrong if he thinks that people object to the Mail because of its readership.
The third ‘negative’ contribution Oborne made to the event was the insight into his odd reading of the government’s welfare reforms. To believe that the welfare system was in need of reform is one thing but to think and argue that the Tories, over the past six years, have been making an effective job of it is a step too far. I forget the exact words Oborne used, for which I apologise, but he suggested what the Tories had been doing was courageous. I accept that you can fairly make an argument that the welfare system can create conditions that discourage people from re-entering work but the solution is not to starve people back to it.
The incentive for working should be that you can a) get meaningful employment and b) that you can earn a salary that makes you better off working than being on benefits. It really is not rocket science. A government that cannot guarantee those two conditions for work has no business starving people just so that they can pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest in society, because that is the reality of the Tories welfare reforms. Sanctioning people off of benefits creates a situation where labour becomes desperate, which forces down wages. It isn’t immigrants who have attacked the wages of people in the UK, it is a Tory government who have set out to create an army of the cheapest labour possible by denying people choice over how they exercise their labour.
It is economically illiterate to think that flooding the labour market with desperate workers who will literally starve if they don’t accept any job at any salary will not drive down wages and productivity. Britain now has millions of people who rely on food banks to subsidise their meager earnings, hundreds of thousands of children live in poverty, and homelessness has more than doubled and is ever increasing.
Oborne talked of the dignity of working and spoke of the opportunities created for more flexible work through technology, permitting people to work from home for example, and that is true but where are these jobs and how do people get them? One audience member pointed out that the government had been removing differently abled people’s opportunities to work through the cutting of disability benefits and withdrawing transport assistance, denying them their dignity and losing people’s jobs.
But, stepping back from Oborne’s contributions there is actually a lot to agree with. Oborne’s attack on Snow and defence of the Daily Mail readership were underpinned by a belief that Britain has a conservative political section of society who have become marginalised and who ‘suffered’ by being patronised by the ‘liberal’ politico-media class (I would call circus). The ‘hard working’ people that the Conservative party profess to represent but who have been abandoned (which I discuss in my next PPPE article ). I agree with Oborne, these people do exist and they have too easily been dismissed as racists and bigots by a very narrow sect of our society, one that nestles in the pocket of the 5%. These conservative people have become unserved by their governments and the votes to leave the EU and the election of Trump has seen these people grasping at rare opportunities to make their voices heard.
Oborne made the case for the ‘nation state’ and the importance for it to challenge the march of globalisation, even as he went on to argue for the Tories’ welfare reforms that have, in reality, created cheap labour to be exploited by the same globalisation. Oborne partially made the point that Austerity was a myth, in that the Tories had not reduced spending since 2010 but increased it (the victims of Austerity paying the price for the Tories Long term economic plan of transferring nation state wealth to the globalised privateers). So Oborne’s thinking seemed at times contradictory and I think it is his conservative political leanings that create those contradictions. The nation state is important but citizens of that state do not appear to have a right to a share in the nation’s wealth unless they can scrabble for a second hand share of it from an employer who has a greater right than the nation’s citizens.