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Wednesday, October 06, 2010 

Fairness and fatutity.

If you were to use one word to describe David Cameron's speech to the Conservative party conference, and there are a good few choice ones which would be almost equally apposite, then it would have to be fatuous. Fairness was meant to be the theme, yet apart from the few paragraphs given to the media in advance, it hardly got a look in. Instead Cameron treated us, once again, to his vision of the "big society", which was, once again, so lamely sketched out as to be laughable.

Let's put it this way: compared to Ed Miliband's speech last week, large parts of which must have been thrown together at the last moment following his "surprise" victory and which inevitably suffered as a result, his could be a case study in both honesty and humility. It for the most part struck the right tone, and did what had to be done, even if I ripped into parts of it. Cameron, despite knowing just how much anxiety there is throughout the country at the cuts to come, said relatively little to calm nerves, although when the party has already so botched the child benefit cut this week that might well be either unsurprising or surprising according to your view.

In there among an especially ill-thought out attack on Labour for more or less everything they ever did, one which resembled one of the more impenetrable rants left on a website comment thread rather than a critique from a prime minister was a denunciation of spin. Say what you like about Alastair Campbell, at least he was almost always good at what he did, even if the end results were ignoble. He or someone else in New Labour's inner circle would have spotted the obvious problems with Cameron's "your country needs you" motif which must have passed Coulson and Hilton by. Not just that in the most famous case of the government declaring that it needed you personally the reality behind the slogan was the establishment sending off a generation to needless suffering and slaughter in the trenches, although that ought to have stopped them immediately in their tracks. It also isn't just that next week the government is going to be declaring loudly and clearly that it doesn't need tens of thousands of current state employees, told in no uncertain terms that their country doesn't need their services in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat imposed age of austerity.

More than anything, it's that for millions either unemployed or currently on almost any kind of benefit, it's never been more apparent that they are surplus to requirements. Despite this Tory conference being dominated by talk of work and how those willing to work will be rewarded for not sitting on their sofas as in Cameron's distasteful remark on responsibility, talk of jobs or growth has been almost wholly absent. Cameron mentioned the former word just 5 times, and all but one of those uses was in a context other than the creation of them; two of them were in the terms of the government cutting them. You can change the welfare system as much as you like, it's not going to make a scrap of difference when there are simply not enough jobs for those who are on jobseeker's allowance, let alone on the sickness benefits which Iain Duncan Smith is determined to get so many off of. Much is instead being left to the "wealth creators", as window cleaners are now to be known if we take Cameron at his word. The unemployed will get access to an "enterprise allowance" to start up their own business, yet for many who find themselves out of work that will be the last rather than the first resort, when such start-ups require further capital which they either can't borrow or which they don't have. These are the real people who are going to suffer even more when the cuts begin to bite, and the prime minister is offering them the opportunity to join in the "big society spirit" to take their mind off it.

The fatuity was in far too many places to deal with them all (although Left Foot Forward has given it a go). Even by the standards of certain sections of the speech though, talking of the "selfishness" of the Labour years and "unchecked individualism" takes a whole lot of chutzpah for a Conservative leader and prime minister. Labour at least believed in equality, and even if it achieved it almost through stealth, the redistribution it managed mainly through tax credits stopped the poorest from completely falling off the scale. It wasn't enough, yet now David Cameron wants us to not just measure fairness through "the size of the cheque given" but "by the chance we give", one of which is, of course, those elusive jobs. Seeing as most of those cheques are going to be reduced vastly thanks to the various cuts and caps to be imposed, this makes perfect political sense. Cynicism certainly wasn't one of the things Cameron identified as characterising Labour's time in power.

Much else was drearily familiar. No alternative to cutting now, however much Cameron wished there was. Greece beckoned if action hadn't been taken immediately. Everyone agrees with the Tory-Lib Dem position, even the EU, that august economic body much respected amongst Conservatives. Except, oh, Ken Clarke, who admitted there was a possibility of a double dip recession. Ireland certainly didn't merit a mention, despite taking much the same medicine as we're about to and also with the backing of everyone. The debt and deficit a disaster of Labour's making, despite the Tories having supported the government's actions up until mid-way through 2008. A crisis of the private sector transformed into one of the public sector, with those with broadest shoulders sharing the most burden, even when the budget showed it will be the poorest hit the hardest.

If we take Cameron at his word, he wants to build a country defined not by what we consume but what we contribute, something he'll hopefully remember should that dreaded double dip become a reality. Rather than eating cake, he wants us to eat optimism, all in this together, our country needs us, sunshine winning the day all over again. It leaves only one question: will next year Cameron tell us it hasn't been raining despite pissing on us for 12 months?

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'The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men's lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.'

So said Field Marshall Hague, who saw the need to soften up public opinion on the eve of the Somme.
Like Cameron, he was often wrong, but never uncertain:

'Bullets have little stopping power against the horse.'

'The machine gun is a much overrated weapon, and two per battalion will be more than sufficient.'

'The horse is the future. Aeroplanes and tanks only aid the man and his horse and I feel sure that as time goes on you will find just as much use for the horse – the well-bred horse – as you have ever done in the past.'

It's lions lead by donkeys, part 2...

...or even lions led by donkeys... stupid typos - the mortal enemy of biting satire...

...or even lions led by donkeys... stupid typos - the mortal enemy of biting satire...

Aw diddums! Poor little Mr Obsolete! Did the nasty man not calm your nerves? Despite knowing how much anxiety there is too? Well, Mr Obsolete, I would agree that yes it is "either unsurprising or surprising depending on your view" - that's a very good point you big political commentator you!

No such thing as society, according to Lady Gaga; now it's the Big Society. But it's the same result; you're on your own, pal.

Faithless: Getting out of the wrong side of bed this morning or not, you more than have a point. That was an awfully poor observation.

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