For anyone who is wondering what life in the ‘Big Society’ will be like for working people in this country after the Tories (with the support of their Lib-Dem puppets) have finished with us, I strongly urge you to read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell.
A painter and decorator by trade, Tressell based the book on his own experiences of poverty, exploitation, and his terror that he and his daughter Kathleen – whom he was raising alone – would be consigned to the workhouse if he became ill. He embarked on a detailed and scathing analysis of the relationship between working-class people and their employers. The ‘philanthropists’ of the title are the workers who, in Tressell’s view, acquiesce in their own exploitation in the interests of their bosses.
All this was in a Britain before Trades Unions and the Welfare State. Workers had no safety net and were at the mercy of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councillors. It was the Victorian version of the ‘Big Society’ that Cameron keeps banging on about.
In the book, Tressell makes the case for a socialist society and provides a glimpse of a grim social life in Britain at a time when socialism was beginning to gain ground. It was around that time that the Labour Party was founded and began to win seats in the House of Commons.
Now, all the gains made by generations of Trade Unionists, socialists and progressives are about to be destroyed with a return to a world where the rich and powerful rule. For make no mistake, the Tory cuts are ideological. They have seen their opportunity to dismantle the state and privatize the country. These are changes even the demented Margaret Thatcher balked at.
This nightmare is summed up in a recent letter to The Independent. I’m sure its author won’t mind me repeating it here.
‘Furious arguments rage about whether this, that or the other budget should be cut and by how much, or this that or the other quango abolished – hardly any about the ideology behind it all.
Behind the windy rhetoric of Cameron’s Big Society is an ideological agenda which seeks to end the gains painfully achieved over the past century, supported by the likes of Lloyd George, Keynes, Beveridge, and the 1945-51 Labour government, based upon the notion that the state has a duty to protect the poor and vulnerable against the worst effects of free-market capitalism, and provide small but significant benefits which would slightly reduce the vast inequalities that it creates.
In the Big Society, with the state’s role in education, health, housing, old age and poverty relief minimized, it will be everyone for him- or herself. Inevitably it will be the rich, powerful and cunning who will win out.
The deficit, combined with the abandonment by Clegg and others of everything decent that they stood for, provide a wonderful opportunity for Cameron and his party to achieve a historic change, using the disguise of a government bringing in expedient measures to cope with a short-term crisis.
It’s important to defend one’s corner against the cuts. In the long term it is more important to fight against the ideological agenda behind them.’
If you have read the book, you will already know what to expect. If you haven’t – read it now, and quickly. For the ‘Big Society’ is almost upon us.