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Coalition nodding dogs oblivious to unintended consequences

Posted on 13 October 2010 | 6:10am

As Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were standing on their heads once more yesterday, and quietly forgetting their ‘I pledge’ posters on student finance, I was back in my classroom with a group of teenagers who have completed their formal schooling without being overly bothered about the impact of higher tuition fees.

The tragedy is that at least some of them are easily bright enough to have made it to university but for whatever reason – family and social background, circle of friends, school, other circumstances – it never happened.

I have been trying to show them not only that politics is important to their lives but that it can also be interesting, and encouraging them to come up with their own ideas on policy and ‘change the world’ campaigns. Yesterday we had friends and former Labour campaign colleagues of mine from Saatchi and Saatchi, who took some of the ideas of the students and turned them into instant posters.

It is the benefits debate that seems to get them going. One girl, Danielle, came up  with a pretty good slogan – make benefit cuts fair … it acknowledges there are going to have to be tough decisions but wants the principle of fairness at the heart of any change. Saatchis came up with a few ideas, some of them really clever, but the one Danielle went for was a simple message, not a picture in sight … ‘When is a benefit not a benefit? When it is a neccessity.’ She and others in the class were able to take from that pretty much all of the main arguments that are going to rage as the cuts bite.

Harlem went into the detail of benefits and after making a lot of calculations come up with a slogan … ‘you don’t live on fifty quid a week. You survive,’ and in minutes Saatchis had designed a really powerful bus stop ad.

Meanwhile my rugby-playing friend Conor, who has a real thing about footballers’ wages, has a dozen to choose from that contrast Wayne Rooney’s wages with those of nurses, police and teachers.

I see in some of the papers that youth services are to be cut substantially when George Osborne makes his spending statement on October 20. One of the most powerful campaigns the students came up with, courtesy of Nana Kwame and Michael, was one warning that if young people have nothing to do, youth crime is likely to rise. ‘Cut youth services and they won’t be the only thing being cut,’ someone shouted out, but the general feeling was that was too agressive and threatening, powerful though the posters were.

But they are definitely of the view that there is something rather arbitrary about the way the cuts are being made, and that there will be a whole lot of unintended consequences.

That is very much the theme of the Price Waterhouse Coopers report suggesting that in addition to half  a million public sector jobs being lost as part of the cuts, the private sector will see a similar amount being shed as a result of a shrinkage in government commissioning of major building and other projects. I have gone on about this before. The coalition talk of the public sector cuts in isolation. But if PWC are right – and they are hardly at the TUC end of the market, let alone Trots yearning to bring on the revolution – then what exactly are the implications for the welfare bills the coalition governemnt is pledged to cut?

As I watched Cable and Clegg doing their nodding-dog act for Cameron and Osborne last night, I wondered what their answer was. And I wondered where their moral compass was as they sought it? It seemed so clear once, when Vince was a Saint, and Nick was telling us all there had to be a better way.

  • Jacquie_reed

    The consequences of the intended cuts will be felt for years, particularly by the poorest. It’s a Tea Party solution to our economic problems. The fairer path would be to increase tax for those on higher incomes, but the main argument against this is that wealth-creating high tax payers would leave our shores.

    This is technically hard to prevent, but there is something we can do. We can create a change in cultural attitudes at home. Wealth creation is vital, but taxes are good for the whole of society. We need a PR campaign for tax!

    It would be refreshing to see Ed Miliband leading it but, in his effort to appear “more electable” it looks increasingly unlikely, particularly as the right wing media is inately hostile to higher taxes.

    Even so, times have changed and people may be more receptive to more progressive policies. Ed should take the risk. Just as the Tories have used the deficit to roll back the state, he should be using the cuts to call for a fairer society.

  • This sounds like a brilliant session. Any chance of making the posters public – could be a good viral…

  • Alice F

    As someone else said, Vince Cable has gone from national treasure to national laughing stock .

  • Chris lancashire

    It’s a pity you didn’t also wonder how to solve the defecit.

  • Sarah-dodds

    As Clegg and Co rip up all they once stood for they are bad for politics. The AV vote is much less likely to pass if the people think that coalition politics is unpincipled politics. The more the electorate see the Libs next to posters of broken promises the political cynics are given the oxygen they crave.
    The unintended consequences will be, in my view, what bring this lot down. But what a shame we, and more importantly the most vulnerable, will have to suffer the fall out.
    Theresa May is going to need to keep the police officers very sweet. Because I don’t like the look of the train coming down the tracks.

  • Peter Sadler

    I wish I could agree that the cuts are arbitrary but the more I hear the more calculated it seems. The Con Dems are not just dismantling the welfare state they are chopping and privatising every pillar of our society. I am beginning to understand the meaning of the ‘Big Society’. Privatisation, Americanisation and polarisation. The Big society is not ours – it is global and its mantra is: ‘there’s a profit in everything’ and ‘the strongest will flourish’.

  • James

    During the leadership debates I remember cheering Nick Smegg’s comments when he referred to the Tories record in Europe and their pact with ‘xenophobes and homophobes’.

    Now he refers to them as ‘our coalition partners’.

    I can’t believe that his approval rating is now 12%. Who were they polling, his wife and mother? Total joke.

  • Olli Issakainen

    David Cameron and George Osborne are going to fundamentally reshape the welfare state in the name of fairness. Rich people losing their universal entitlement of child benefit is the start.
    But Jeremy Hunt has said that people should control their family size within the new cap. And there will be a mass exodus from London when a lot of people lose their housing benefits.
    Fairness is not quite the same as equality. Fairness means that you are proportionately rewarded.
    Fairness should not be applied to the poor only. Taxing banks is also important, and tax avoidance and evasion should also be tackled.
    Will Hutton has said that fair society cannot be achieved by vendetta against the poor.
    According to Oliver Letwin welfare reform is not just about the cuts. The coalition aims at more progressive welfare system. Work must always pay. Reform is also about social and cultural elements. It is about creating incentives for people to do the right thing.
    Julian Glover says that left should understand that equality is undesirable. John Rawls understood that fair opportunity in liberal society does not mean equal outcomes. Life is not fair.
    Luck does matter as well as ability and effort. State´s mission is to try to minimise the dependency on luck. But we cannot eradicate inequality.
    Progressives have long relied on the enlightenment model believing that people make rational decisions based on assessing facts. But in reality we accept information that confirms our identity and values.
    Our social identity is shaped by extrinsic or intrinsic values. Extrinsic values concern status and self-advancement. People with these values cherish financial success, image and fame.
    Intrinsic values concern relationships. People with intrinsic values have more empathy and do not accept inequality.
    The righwing shift in Britain started with Thatcher and continued with Blair and Brown. Virtues included competition, market and financial success. Values were changed.
    Fascination of celebrity, fame etc. involve extrinsic values. New Labour endorsed and legitimised extrinsic values.
    Ed Miliband understands this. Labour must not adapt to the shift in values. It must champion its own values!

  • Peter Sadler

    The last thirteen years, with their low interest rates and improvements in services and infrastructure, have been the best of my life. Over-ambitious spending combined with the on-going cost of war and the inevitable banking crisis have created the deficit. I make no judgement about which was the main culprit. The pace and extent of the cuts suggest that they are ill-considered and everything I have heard smacks at political dogma and opportunism. I genuinely believe that these circumstances are being used to de-construct society as we have known it, and we will end up in a place none of us will want to be.

  • Nicksmeggmhead

    We need “Good Society” to counter Cameron’s “Big Society”. The Good Society is where we look after the vulnerable and needy in the society.

  • s chapman

    Madness from Finland again – why do you care ?
    Your blog is full of quotes – why not think for yourself and your starting point should be we are in a financial mess – then,how do we reduce the debt.You,as usual, over complicate and write 10 words when 3 is already too much.We have a debt culture that must stop,we have a benefit culture that must stop and we must pare back the State where it is most inefficient.Its that simple.The UK ,my Finnish friend , is naturally right wing ( you are aware of our voting history I presume).I very doubt your friend AC would agree about his old boss Blair being right wing….and re your mutterings on inequality – even Communism doesn’t mean equality – its not achievable mate.
    P.S Hunt didn’t say what you said pls correct it

  • Quinney

    Ever thought of standing as a Tory MEP? You’d get selected, no problem.

  • Janete

    Another contribution lifted straight from the Daily Mail. I don’t think it’s Olli who isn’t thinking for himself.

  • Teresa

    We may not be wealthy but our children still matter.

  • Julie

    Small point – I think Olli has paraphrased Mr Hunt’s eugenic views quite succinctly, actually. Take a look and see what you think. The relevant bit, save you looking, is about 3mins 30 secs in.

  • Chris lancashire

    Everyone is concerned about the effect of the cuts – whether they will directly affect themselves or not. However, continuing to pay out £40bn every year in debt interest alone is unsustainable as is attempting to borrow more than £100bn every year to plug the hole. It needs to be corrected urgently. Pretending we have the luxury of time isn’t on.

  • Gary John Lloyd


    Sadly, it was the Labour government who introduced the concept of tuition fees. We are now seeing the logical extrapolation of that, with the Tories relishing a future where Oxbridge will return, fully, to being for the moneyed classes.

    Incidentally, for me, Tuition Fees was one of three key issues where TB departed from the public mood that he had previously judged so well. The other two were GM and, obviously, Iraq. I did write to tell him, before those policies were executed but, of course, received no more than an acknowledgement slip. Alas he had now become a “conviction” politician.