Organised Chaos – Reflections on the Current State of Neo –Liberal Politics in the UK

Dr David Bates – Principal Lecturer in Politics and International Relations

The emerging orthodoxy in the media – never really challenged by ‘political scientists’ – is that the Tory led coalition has lost the ability to ensure the delivery of its policies. The relationship between civil servants and elected members of the government is ‘dysfunctional’.  Some may take solace in this ‘dysfunctionality’; telling themselves ‘at least these ideologically driven hard line neo-liberal policies are unlikely to be translated into practice’. They point to those much reported ‘U-turns’ on the part of Ministers – from Health to Education – where highly controversial policies have (so it would initially seem) been placed on the backburner.   (Of course, Nick Clegg – at least from what he said in his speech to his party conference – wish to claim credit for acting as a break to such policies!)

As practitioners of ideological critique know only too well, we need to invert the dominant problematic. The ‘chaos’ is only apparent; or to put it another way, the chaos is precisely the point. The Government was well aware of the turmoil that was likely to result from the ‘bedroom tax’. They are not at all concerned that – particularly in more marginalised Labour constituencies – we are witnessing an exponential growth in food bank provision. (Michael Gove of course remarked that those using food banks are feckless – should they not have made more of an effort to ‘save’ in the good times?)

Those to the right of the Conservative Party on economic issues are more effectively represented in Government than even in the days of Mrs Thatcher. They are supported by a group of Liberal Democrat Ministers who would not have looked out of place in the administration of Mr Gladstone. (See David Law’s chapter in the influential Orange Book, if you think this claim is too strong! For Laws, the social liberalism of the 1906 Liberal Government – which ushered in unemployment insurance and old age pensions – was profoundly mistaken.)          

The focus of these neo-liberals is not the effective and smooth delivery of policy; rather, they are concerned to bring about a fundamental shift in the distributive structure of the current regime of capital accumulation. Apparently, not long before Mrs Thatcher died, she remarked that the Tory led coalition had not yet made ‘enough enemies’. Mrs Thatcher in her prime would never have demonstrated such a lack of understanding. The hegemonic project in which she played such a dominant role achieved one of its fundamental objectives – to instil the belief that there is ‘no alternative’.  So, it is to be expected that there will be very little resistance.   And any attempt to articulate an alternative discourse of ‘fairness’ is equally doomed to failure.

The so-called chaos of current policy – particularly in the arena of welfare reform – is better understood as a coordinated attack on welfare recipients. The ‘social insecurity’ which results further undermines the possibility that an effective agency of resistance will result. Some individuals (and families) will go to the wall. Others – at least those ‘able’ to do so – will enter highly unstable sectors of the labour market – where their vulnerability will be only too pleasing for their employers.

And the ‘savings’ made possible by Mr Duncan Smith’s reforms will go to fund further privatisations and  inefficient private tenders, Ministerial expenses, Academies and Free Schools, the socialisation of financial risk, arms procurements, and an endless list of other efficiency drives, and ‘worthy causes’.  

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