New Cabinet, Same Old Conservatives
Given Britain’s celebrity culture, it was perhaps inevitable that the British media’s reporting of yesterday’s reshuffle would focus on the snakes and ladders game of politicians climbing up or sliding down the Tory hierarchy.
But there is a much deeper significance to the new makeup of the Cabinet. Behind the headlines, the Tory government is now comprised of a determined group of politicians who have set out to build new citadels of privilege and wealth even while they talk of other things.
Put aside, if you wish, the fact that a number of the Cabinet are people of enormous wealth. It’s harder to ignore the fact that they’re now in charge of our state education system when two thirds of them are the product of private schooling, including the new education secretary, which is only available to a few very wealthy families.
In fact, the new Cabinet is hardly a model of the meritocratic British idea that people of talent can rise up the social scale. They are by and large products of privileged backgrounds. Look at the numbers: seven out of ten were privately educated, and half of them went to just two elite universities, Oxford and Cambridge.
They are not by any means the brightest of their year. Rather, they are the products of a crusted-up class system which entrenches elitism.
Perhaps the most important development yesterday was what happened to this year’s Disco King, Michael Gove. On the face of it, he was demoted from the Cabinet Office to Communities and Housing.
But within moments of leaving Downing St with his new portfolio, his people were informing the media that he was in charge of the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda. What Rishi Sunak thought of this claim we do not know.
However, the range and depth of Gove’s responsibilities is indeed extensive – and it is alarming.
This is because Gove’s responsibilities marry together levelling up with election administration, which includes the undemocratic voter ID rollout. It centralises the two functions in one place and will undoubtedly produce both pork barrel politics with Tory gerrymandering tactics.
For example, the Towns Fund is directly targeting conservative-held seats, especially marginal ones. Chris Hanretty has shown that the Towns Fund is ‘the use of public money for electoral advantage’: 39 of the 45 places to receive a share of the first £1 billion in funding are represented by Tory MPs.
In 2020, even the cross-party Public Accounts Committee found that the Towns Fund was ‘not impartial’ and could ‘fuel accusations of political bias’. They went on to say that they were ‘not convinced by the rationales for selecting some towns and not others… In some cases, towns were chosen by ministers despite being identified by officials as the very lowest priority (for example, one town selected ranked 535th out of 541 towns).’
The Committee concluded that the Department had not been open about the process it followed, and that it did not disclose the reasoning for selecting or excluding towns. This lack of transparency has fuelled accusations of political bias in the selection process, and has risked the Civil Service’s reputation for integrity and impartiality.
It is a disgrace that a man like Gove should be put in charge of levelling up communities which have been so badly damaged by Tory austerity. After all, a recent recording emerged of Gove saying that Northerners are ‘cruel, dirty, toothless’.
The truth is that seven of the ten cities with the largest Conservative cuts have been in the North East, North West, or Yorkshire, and on average northern cities saw a cut of 20 percent to their spending. This contrasts with a cut of nine percent for cities in the East, South East, and South West (excluding London).
Meanwhile, local government spending in the North has been significantly reduced, falling by 20 percent, equal to £346.94 per person. This compares to a 13 percent total fall in England, equal to £278.53 less per person.
Let’s be absolutely clear, the whole idea that this government of the privileged will do anything to correct the deeply divided society which they themselves have helped to create is nothing more than a cheap conjuring trick.
George Orwell once remarked that ‘who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.’
We must ensure that we work to reveal the truth about what is happening in our country. Fortunately, we are a nation of sceptics. We can do this – provided that we speak clearly and robustly in order to confront our modern-day manipulators of the truth.