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The very un-conservative George Osborne


2:17 pm - October 5th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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Yesterday George Osborne announced some big changes.

A cap system that will reduce income, housing and council tax benefit is going to affect a lot of people’s lives. You can read various good analyses here, here, here, here and here. Personally, I’m still reeling from the extent of Osborne’s assault on those receiving state support, disgusted at his fig-leaf excuses about preventing people seeing benefits as a “lifestyle choice”.

But one thing strikes me about these reforms: how cavalier and unconservative the Conservative Party is now being.

As we heard from Adam Smith the other week, politicians should always bear in mind the law of unintended consequences. Changing A with the intention of bringing about B, might inadvertently also cause X, Y and Z – and the end results may be far from pretty.

Think, for example, of an imposed cap on housing benefits. One group I bet Boy George hasn’t thought about who this might affect is battered women. As Hopi Sen tweets:

“Another point on welfare cap. Emergency housing is expensive. Say you leave abusive partner with family, need rehousing, what then?”

Now, I don’t know for sure if it’s the case that women trying to flee partners will now find it even more difficult to leave abusive households (on top of, y’know, the fear of being tracked-down and murdered, which is a common and very real fear in a country where one woman a week dies at her partner’s hands). But it seems likely. I would sincerely like to know if George and Team have factored-in the impact on all similarly vulnerable groups, in every possible permutation of possibile outcomes. My guess is not, because it’s impossible. But they are going ahead regardless. What bold and brave steps our leaders take for us.

Or consider what’s happening here at Cambridge University. Anticipating huge government cuts over coming years, the University has drastically increased the number of fee-paying graduate students admitted. The University Colleges have apparently been ordered to accept this – regardless of whether they have sufficient accommodation or teaching resources available.

On the flip side, the new Coalition immigration cap is causing havoc for overseas students. Many now find themselves struggling to secure entry to the UK, with knock-on effects for the University bureaucracy who are struggling to cope with the myriad resultant problems. I would imagine that many, if not all, universities in Britain are in the same position. The knock-on effects for both UK higher education and – in the longer run – the whole economy simply cannot be fathomed.

These are just two particular illustrations. There must be hundreds more.

What intrigues me, therefore, is the disregard for the radical change that must now surely arise – with unknowable, unforseen consequences. Michael Oakeshott, possibly the greatest modern conservative philosopher, would surely be appalled. Oakeshott likened the running of a state to the sailing of a ship cast adrift on a boundless ocean.

The ship could be sailed safely only by the use of tested practical wisdom, and that came only from experience which demanded only gradual and organic change. By contrast, theoretically-driven sojourns – i.e. the pursuing of politics by way of abstract ideology – were more likely to sink the ship than keep it afloat.

Frederick von Hayek, however, wrote a famous article called “Why I am Not A Conservative“. This fascinating essay contains much to think about, but one of its central messages was that Hayek, under the right circumstances, would accept anti-conservative change if it brought about the small-state libertarianism he believed best for all.

George Osborne, it would seem, is not a conservative either.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Reform ,Westminster

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Reader comments


1. Chaise Guevara

I really HATE it when articles lead me to defend the bad guys, but still:

“I would sincerely like to know if George and Team have factored-in the impact on all similarly vulnerable groups, in every possible permutation of possibile outcomes. My guess is not, because it’s impossible. But they are going ahead regardless. What bold and brave steps our leaders take for us.”

It sounds like you’re either saying a) that the Tories should hang their heads for failing to do something you yourself say is impossible or b) nobody should do anything ever because you can’t ever truly predict every outcome of an action. Neither of which would be particularly fair.

As an aside: have the authors on this site started a competition to see who can raise the issue of domestic violence in the least relevant context possible?

2. John Merediith

“It sounds like you’re either saying a) that the Tories should hang their heads for failing to do something you yourself say is impossible or b) nobody should do anything ever because you can’t ever truly predict every outcome of an action.”

Which was the criticism most often levelled at Oakeshotte, of course.

Go to LDV and read the fucking disgraceful party apologists there, the LibDems claim they want to look after those in the greatest need yet these policies they’re supporting hit those very people hardest. And what is the average LibDem cyber-activists response to a plea from one of those people that are going to be hammered by the benefit cap – “On your fucking bike!!!”

I really HATE it when articles lead me to defend the bad guys

Chaise, I feel like LibCon is putting out a lot of those recently. There are valid grounds to attack the government on – Nick Clegg does himself or his party no favours with his apparent volte-face on cuts, as an example – but I had hoped Miliband’s promise to not oppose for the sake of opposition was meant sincerely, and that such a spirit would be adopted by the left.

The cap on foreign students is mad, of course. But I think we need to have a debate about university, education, welfare, health, localism, and so on – i.e. what kind of state we want. For example, I don’t think we need 50% of graduates going into university. It has led to too many useless degrees, too many unemployed graduates in unnecessary debt, and has made higher education too expensive to be funded purely out of taxation.

Yep,

Two people on my course (of around 18) are having visa issues. One Chilean and one Colombian, both on a two year courses (one year in one country and one in another, in this case LSE). They have funding from their respective governments, have already completed half their course, have been to another country and not vanished, and yet they are still not being granted visas. Stupid anti-immigrant crankdowns (i.e. immigrant crackdowns are stupid in general and this particular immigrant crackdown is stupid in particular).

The Tories are not conservative at the moment, they are radicals. However, they’re not really capitalist or market radicals, a lot of what their doing is economically inefficent, like the child benefit claw back. They are ideologues, but not Hayekian. They seem more dyed in the wool elitists helping their friends than free market liberals or conservatives, the two just overlap in many places.

@Chris The benefit cap seems to me like a reasonable attempt to ensure that you cannot earn more through benefits than you can through work – i.e. that it always pays more to work than it does to live off benefits. I think we are sometimes a bit oblivious to the fact that there are a lot of people in the UK who live on benefits. Whilst I think that is their right, the problem is that then their children are not encouraged to seek education and employment, and a generational worklessness arises. Let’s not shit on the poor, but let’s also not romanticise them and say that there’s nothing that can be done to actively change their situation, rather than to mollify it with a few more pounds a week.

@LO How is the child benefit reduction for individuals earning over £44k “inefficient”?

@blanco and chaise

Apologies if I’ve misunderstood your point, but the article isn’t suggesting that the conservative approach is the correct one, just pointing out that the current Tory policies contradict that approach. That’s a point worth making as it would be easy to confuse the two.

@6

The problem isn’t that benefits are too high, it’s that wages are too low. (And employment in low-wage sectors way too insecure).

10. Ken McKenzie

@blanco

“For example, I don’t think we need 50% of graduates going into university. ”

This doesn’t make any sense.

What do you think the policy actually was (clue: you’re probably wrong), why was it wrong (evidence, please – a well-thought out explanation of why the Leitch Review was wrong on this would be sufficient), and what would you do instead (clue: back to the 80s would be a disaster).

Because – and I’m going out on a limb here – I suspect you don’t understand the issues at all.

What was the policy?

I assume that the value of an additional 10% of the workforce educated to Level 4 is rather dependent upon what is actually studied??

12. Matt Munro

So the entire benefits system should be designed to meet the perceived needs of battered women and migrants?

11. cjcjc

I assume that the value of an additional 10% of the workforce educated to Level 4 is rather dependent upon what is actually studied??

Is it though?

Much Uni level education is about soft skills useful for any business, such as self-driven research, problem solving and communication – this is true no matter what subject is studied.

Although some subjects test these skills better than others, even those much maligned media studies grads would have had to do a dissertation which pulls together all of these elements.

14. Matt Munro

And how is asking someone living, at public expense’ in a 9 grand a month central London townhouse, to move somewhere which vaguely resembles what the average worker can afford, be called “bashing the poor” ?

@blanco

Here we go, proto-tory apologists arrive from LDV.

“The benefit cap seems to me like a reasonable attempt to ensure that you cannot earn more through benefits than you can through work – i.e. that it always pays more to work than it does to live off benefits. I think we are sometimes a bit oblivious to the fact that there are a lot of people in the UK who live on benefits.”

When you write this stuff do you start to feel cold inside? Because of your party political allegiance your regurgitating right-wing attack lines straight from the time-honored tradition of the tory party.

See http://bit.ly/avIoqw

The benefits cap is a sop to the Daily Fail reading loonies who believe everything is the fault of immigrants, single mothers, scroungers, etc your vilifying the people at the bottom of society.

“Whilst I think that is their right, the problem is that then their children are not encouraged to seek education and employment, and a generational worklessness arises. Let’s not shit on the poor, but let’s also not romanticise them and say that there’s nothing that can be done to actively change their situation, rather than to mollify it with a few more pounds a week.”

Fuck off you sanctimonious bullshitter. See the above link for the rebuttal to the Nick Clegg/Chris Grayling attack lines on generational idleness! And lets not forget history – which party closed down all the mass industry in this country and based our economy so heavily on financial services.

Above all the thing that is literally giving me a stomach ulcer is the sheer hypocrisy and opportunism of you Nick Clegg apologists. You repeat tory myths about the idleness of benefit claimants children and preach Nick Clegg’s “I believe in work” bollocks yet you also state you don’t agree with expanding higher education. University expansion has done a lot to encourage children to stay in school and aspire to better themselves.

I can’t wait until Vince Cable announces the *substantial* increase in tuition fees, watching you fucking LibDems who have made a fucking living out of tuition fees squirm.

So funny to see the Daily Tory graph whining about removal of child benefit for the rich.
So lets just check off the Tory graph position on all those nice libertarians.

Child welfare for those sweet, rich, Tim Dim but nice. Check.

Barrels and barrels of nice juicy subsidy for their farmer readers. Check!

Lets keep trident and spend lots of money on defence for our Imperial wars, and that should keep all the Tuffton Bufftons happy. Check!

Abolish inheritance tax for a joint couples up to £2 million. That will keep are property page readers happy. Check.

But remember folks We are all in this together!

Mmm, a university degree is the only thing that got me out of the “generational laziness” poor-dome.

Let’s keep university open to as many people as possible, please. Feel free to raise the 20% tax band to do so, Mr. Osborne – I, personally, don’t mind too much as long as the money actually goes there.

Hmmm, you’ll no doubt be familiar with the argument that Oakeshott wasn’t really a conservative at all. Conservatism as an actually existing political force, on the other hand, isn’t too fussed about precedent and custom when these as obstacles to their objectives – which are to promote hierarchy and justify inequality.

these as obstacles

Sorry – present themselves as obstacles….

20. Dick the Prick

@16 – Hey, Sally

You must be loving watching Tories eat themselves. Hmmm…

21. gwenhwyfaer

And how is asking someone living, at public expense’ in a 9 grand a month central London townhouse, to move somewhere which vaguely resembles what the average worker can afford, be called “bashing the poor” ?

Well, you might like to reflect on the fact that of 9 people living in such circumstances, 8 will be in jobs that don’t pay them enough to afford said townhouse outright. They’ll have to move. They’ll probably have to leave their jobs, too.

Still, clearing the capital of all its key workers is a necessary price to pay in order to hoover up a few “feckless scroungers”, isn’t it? …Isn’t it?

22. gwenhwyfaer

The benefit cap seems to me like a reasonable attempt to ensure that you cannot earn more through benefits than you can through work – i.e. that it always pays more to work than it does to live off benefits

Sweetie, the only variable element in the benefits system is housing benefit. If you cap benefits, that’s what you’re going to be limiting. Which means that you’re either driving people into poverty or away from their support networks.

Please enlighten me as to what’s reasonable about that.

If you want people to always earn more from work than they’d receive on benefits, set the benefits rate at 0. There’s no other way to do it. In a means-tested system, someone will always get screwed on the margins.

“@LO How is the child benefit reduction for individuals earning over £44k “inefficient”?”

It is a shit way of getting money. See here:

http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2010/10/britains-proposed-child-benefit-taxback-is-inefficient.html

Just tax people slightly more, we already have the infrastructure and it is less disruptive.

24. Matt Munro

@ 21 “Well, you might like to reflect on the fact that of 9 people living in such circumstances, 8 will be in jobs that don’t pay them enough to afford said townhouse outright. They’ll have to move. They’ll probably have to leave their jobs, too.”

So what ? They couldn’t afford to live there in the first place – I can’t afford to live in mayfair so I dont – it’s called stratification – and it’s a fact of life for all working people.

I’ll treat the rest of your post with the contempt it deserves because it sound like the typical leftie “concern for the poor” argument as a smokescreen for not wanting to pay too much for his cappucino/nanny/gardner/sommalier and expect the rest of us to subsidise it.

25. Matt Munro

@ 22 “The only variable element in the benefits system is housing benefit”

That is simply bullshit, there are huge varainces depending on which benefits people claim/are entitled too. No one has yet given a convincing reason why the taxpayer should subsidise housing benefits claimants in some of the most expensive real estate in europe.

@Matt Munro

someone living, at public expense’ in a 9 grand a month central London townhouse

Please tell us how many people, exactly (or to the nearest 100), are living at the public’s expense in £9000 a month houses in London.

27. gwenhwyfaer

I’ll treat the rest of your post with the contempt it deserves because it sound like the typical leftie “concern for the poor” argument as a smokescreen for not wanting to pay too much for his cappucino/nanny/gardner/sommalier and expect the rest of us to subsidise it.

You keep telling yourself that, petal. It’s obvious to the rest of us you just don’t have a comeback.

28. gwenhwyfaer

@ 22 “The only variable element in the benefits system is housing benefit”

That is simply bullshit, there are huge varainces depending on which benefits people claim/are entitled too.

Right, we’re back to a “do not feed the trolls” situation here. Thanks for clarifying.

On the flip side, the new Coalition immigration cap is causing havoc for overseas students.

It applies to students? Sheesh, what idiocy. What possible rationale can there be for that? As far I know not even the anti-immigrant press is up in arms about students coming to study at UK universities, subsidising domestic students with the extortionate fees they have to pay, and then leaving.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The very un-conservative George Osborne http://bit.ly/cu173u

  2. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: The very un-conservative George Osborne http://bit.ly/cu173u

  3. Walter Levin

    Web: The very un-conservative George Osborne | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/d6Mh4O





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