Is it democracy or populism? Decentralisation or a postcode lottery? That all depends on whether the person deploying the words likes or dislikes what they see and wants to evoke cheering or booing. The Countryman is one of many who thinks that Dave’s Big Society is actually more likely to translate into a Big Business Society, down on the cold hard ground:
“[A]nyone who has dealt with local politics and town councils, especially where planning and development is concerned, already knows that there can be wheels working within wheels. I’m not necessarily talking of anything illegal here, but about strings being pulled through an active ‘who you know’ network … ”
And just look at the poor old Tea Party foot soldiers over the Pond, so easily bamboozled, “mostly … passionate, well-meaning people who think they are fighting elite power, and who are unaware that they’ve been organised by the very interests they believe they are confronting” as George Monbiot put it, ever apt.
Here in inherently surreal England we might naturally associate the phrase “tea party” with Mad Hatters, but the Yanks have got their own fairy story about how they, The People, nobly stood up to an evil despot who wanted to tax without giving them a say.
Only that isn’t what actually happened. What actually happened was that a small group of wealthy Boston merchants had been taking advantage, smuggling tea into America and making a tidy profit for themselves. Then when the East India Company started shipping tea in at a lower price, even with a bit of added tax added on by the government, of course the Boston Brahmins saw their nice little earner under threat, but acted cunningly to hide their self interest under the guise of principle, by tricking ordinary people into seeing only The Tax and rendering invisible the benefit of cheaper tea.
And now in 2010 a small group of wealthy merchants is again laughing up its sleeve and playing on the prejudices of ordinary Americans to make believe that they would lose out from healthcare or banking reforms, when in fact it is the wealthy few who would lose and the poorer majority who would gain. In with generous lashings of (superficially) high-minded rhetoric, here from Edward Cline:
“It is time for Americans to understand that it is not merely a political fight they have on their hands, but a moral one. They must reject the moral code, altruism, that asks them to live for the sake of other men … Americans must proudly, loudly proclaim the selfish virtue of individual rights, which has been the source of all the wealth and prosperity that we enjoy but which Obama and Congress seek to destroy through socialist redistribution.”
But before we English get too smug that we would never fall for this line, back here in the UK we’re not so different. Many times I’ve spoken to people on quite low incomes or on benefits and raised the issue of the super-rich getting away with vast “remuneration” and very little tax, only to find that what really gets up their noses is not the super-rich, who might as well be in another universe, but the thought that some man or woman they know round the corner is getting a few quid more than them because of one dodge or another!
That sort of petty envy along with the fatalistic idea that “there’s nothing we can do anyway, it’s always been like this” are what make me suspect that the Coalition may well have a relatively easy ride from the mainstream British public.