On the Rees-Mogg scale of slappably smug pitilessness where ten is a creature that can be loved only by a Nanny on bonus and zero is Marcus Rashford, where might we place the Tory MP who casually suggested that the unemployed should be sterilised – presumably at their own expense – and who imparted the peculiar wisdom that feeding children is a bad idea because it is likely to increase dependency – presumably on food? I have eleven! Do I hear twelve? I think we can agree that the scale may need to be recalibrated to accommodate Ben Bradley.
Leaving aside for the moment the abhorrent vacuum where human empathy should reside – we’ll come back to this once I’ve scoured the thesaurus for appropriate adjectives – I have questions. How does a person like Ben Bradley get to be a person like Ben Bradley? How do we explain such repulsive disfigurement of the soul? Whence this malign indifference to others’ distress? But first of all I want to ask what the hell is wrong with dependency anyway?
It is informative that Bradley considers dependency – reliance on the state – as a Very Bad Thing. But it is also telling that this perspective seems to be generally accepted. Or at least unchallenged. Condemnation of Bradley’s heartless attitude to hungry children appears not to question his use of dependency as a pejorative term but take this as a given and argue that while dependency is obviously a Very Bad Thing it is a price worth paying rather than let children go hungry. Which prompts me to wonder whether and how being dependent on the state for the basics of life can possibly be consider such a Very Bad Thing as to outweigh the fundamental welfare of children.
It occurs to me that similar expressions refer to quite different conditions. Dependency as being dependent on the state is one thing. Dependency as depending on the state is another. The former refers to the societal condition of having people who depend on the state for provision of certain necessities. The latter implies having a state people can depend on for provision of those necessities. I doubt if Ben Bradley’s ‘thinking’ on the issue extends to such distinctions. Please, don’t be like Ben Bradley.
Having people dependent on the state may be considered a Somewhat Bad Thing. Unless we are persuaded – or choose to believe – that these people have come to this condition by their own fecklessness then we are left with little choice but to assume their dependency is the consequence of a broken system. I hardly have to tell you how Ben Bradley sees it. At least while that system is being administered by those who share his worldview and ideology, he cannot countenance any suggestion that said system is being administered other than perfectly.
I have another question. If the state is the provider of last resort then why would those most likely to find themselves in need be excluded? The ‘Bradley Doctrine’ looks to be that people should only have resort to state provision if they find themselves in need through no fault of their own. Which means they must have been reduced to this point by some failure of the system which is supposed to enable them to provide for themselves. But as there can be nothing wrong with the system then they must be at fault and therefore undeserving. You have to admit it’s neat. It leaves the Ben Bradleys bearing no responsibility whatever for anything whatever, ever – even as they pontificate about others’ responsibility to provide for themselves and avoid having to depend on state provision.
One of the things it takes to be a Tory is a dressing-up box full of faces – all of them self-serving.
I am not a Tory. I am not a Ben Bradley. I count my blessings. My view is that everybody should be able to take it for granted that the state will provide. They should regard the state as something on which they can depend. The state should be something that can be relied on by every citizen. The state should not be something separate from the people. It certainly should not be antagonistic towards people. It should not provoke antagonism from the people. The state should be the collective spirit and conscience of the people. The state must be the ultimate provider because there is nothing beyond the state. If the state is not the ultimate provider then ultimately there is no provision. If the state is not the ultimate and totally dependable provider then there is no firm ground beneath society. There is only insecurity.
One of the things it takes to be a Tory is an inability to comprehend insecurity.
Children going hungry is a Very Bad Thing. But worse by far than going without a meal is the corrosive, debilitating, soul-destroying hopelessness of never knowing where the next meal is coming from. Poverty is a blight on society. But it is not being poor that destroys people. It’s being unable to see anything better in the future. It is being convinced to the very marrow that there is no way out. That poverty is forever. What the Ben Bradleys see as fecklessness is more likely to be despair. Deep, deep despair. Despair so profound that it either kills or becomes normality.
No Tory understands this. Rather, I don’t see how it might be possible to truly understand insecurity and be a Tory. If the Ben Bradleys had ever experienced that kind of insecurity they could not sustain the worldview that underpins right wing ideology. They would see society differently. They would experience society differently. They would grasp how essential security is to human well-being. And how crucial it is that children know security.
It should go without saying that children cannot possibly know security if they are immersed in the insecurity of their carers. The cannot live in the absence of insecurity when insecurity exists in their lives. Insecurity must exist in their lives if there is no ultimate provider. If the state does not provide security then insecurity must seep into every corner of society. It will exist everywhere. It’s cold, callous hand will touch every community, every family, every individual. But it will not touch all in the same way or to the same degree. A privileged few will experience no insecurity at all. They will be unable to comprehend real insecurity.
One of the things it takes to make a Tory is privilege. Rather, those who have been privileged are more amenable to right wing ideology.
At best, the Ben Bradleys think of the state as a safety net. Although even the ones who think this way tend to want the mesh-size of the net big enough to catch fat-cats while letting the rest fall through. As a non-Tory – a socialist – I don’t want the state to be merely a safety net for anyone. I want it to be the solid ground on which everyone stands. I want the state to be something everyone can depend on. And if people depend on it, why would I have a problem with that? It’s what the state is there for.
I expect the state to ensure no child goes hungry. But more than that I want the state to be such that there is no possibility of a child going hungry. Or homeless. Or deprived of any of the necessities of life. I want the state to be such that no child experiences the insecurity of not knowing where their next meal is coming from or where they will lay their head that night. I aspire to a society in which it is impossible for children to be unsure of the basics. A society which has eradicated insecurity by structuring the state to be the ultimate provider of security.
I cannot be a Ben Bradley. I cannot be a Tory. I cannot regard hungry children as merely politically problematic. I cannot see a hungry child and be prompted to think only of the economics of feeding them. Call me an idealist and I shall demand to know why I should aspire to anything less than an ideal in which there are no hungry children. Were I to aspire to less I would necessarily be accepting that it is acceptable for children to be allowed to go hungry. I would be saying, in effect, that I was content that children should live with the prospect of hunger a constant in their lives.
I would be saying that the state should not be something on which people can depend. I would be saying that dependency is a Very Bad Thing and that the way to end dependency is to ensure that there is nothing for people to depend on.
I would be saying I was a Tory.
It’s the wrong question, Asking what it takes to make a Tory seems to imply that ingredients must be added. But I now realise that make a Tory is a subtractive process. The question is not what it takes to make a Tory but what must be taken away. You start with a person possessed of the attributes which in aggregate comprise what we know as humanity and you remove empathy and social conscience and altruism and a few other things. You whittle away the humanity and when you have whittled away enough you are left with a Ben Bradley. You have made a Tory.