Johann Hari: The dark blue heart of Cameronism

Click to follow
The Independent Online

On the surface, it looks like David Cameron is turning the Tory party into an abattoir of sacred cows. The patients' passport has been given a 600-volt shock to the eyeball, and - if you believe this week's front-page headlines - tax cuts have joined it on the Tory slicing board.

But there is another reality lying just blow this blood-slippy surface. Imagine it's 1995 again, and Tony Blair - as he runs his hand through a full head of hair - quietly ushers through the next stage of the modernisation of the Labour Party. To run his new task force on the nationalisation of industry, he unveils Tony Benn. As exemplars of New Labour and shimmering symbols of the world he would like to create, he holds up the Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe.

Absurd, of course. But for all the no-tax-cuts-we're-Tories rhetoric we heard this Tuesday, Cameron has done something remarkably similar. Just a week before this portentous announcement, he appointed John Redwood - as toxic a figure on the market fundamentalist right as Benn was on the nationalise-everything left - to write and run his economic competitiveness strategy. This is a man who believes the only problem with rail privatisation is it didn't go far enough, a man who wrote recently that "you can have all the nurses, teachers, doctors, policemen and service personnel [we currently have] for a quarter of current public spending." After joining Cameron's camp, Redwood promised to carve £12bn from the public purse.

And Redwood is not just a streak of blue cheese to toss to the Tory heartlands - his philosophy chimes with Cameron's. As he plotted to beam the Vulcan back to Tory HQ, the leader made a speech that contained distinctly un-Redwoodian language - it promised to "stand up to big business" - but with a heart that was true blue. The ex-corporate spin-doctor said he wanted business to "behave responsibly", but insisted this doesn't mean anything as ghastly as legally enforceable regulation, the only thing that brings real change. No, it is "simply a matter of common sense and good manners." Indeed, Dave believes he must "roll back" regulation so the fundamentally benign nature of corporations can shine through. Cut their taxes, ask them nicely, and of course they'll be Good Chaps.

And who are the great examples of this? Why, Nike and Sky, he explained. Perhaps Dave could tells this to Leily, a young woman Oxfam recently found working in a factory supplying Nike in West Java. She was beaten with a shoe if she did not produce a tough quota for wages of 20p an hour. On one occasion, she was forced to work until she collapsed and was hospitalised. The BBC and CBS have found these vicious working practices to be rife in Nike's supply chain. Some "good manners".

Or how about Sky? Its parent company, Newscorp Investments, is so responsible that an army of accountants has ensured that for long stretches it paid no net corporation tax in this country. It is a leech on the economy - but Dave says it has sponsored a few football pitches, so it's great. If the company had actually paid more taxes, the Government could have built all these football pitches and a dozen hospitals on the side - but that's not the "modernised" Tory way. He prefers to let them minimise taxes and then fawn about their benevolence when they toss a few PR crumbs our way.

A few days ago, Cameron insisted he is "Conservative to my core". No matter how much he points toward his showcase slaughterhouse, it's time we started believing him.

Farewell, then, People's Whale

In my lifetime, only three things have united London, this city of 7 million strangers: the poll tax, the passing of a princess, and a big dead whale. The first I heard about the People's Whale - as Tony Blair would surely have dubbed it - was a phone call from my grandmother. "They think it would follow its mother, or any other huge grey thing, back to the sea," she said, "so why don't you put on that tight grey T-shirt of yours and get paddling?"

I turned to Radio 4 for a voice of sanity, only to hear them announce that the whale was a fake mocked up by Fathers 4 Justice. Eager to see this miracle of origami, I headed for the Thames. "The whale is confused by the bright lights and pollution of London," I heard an announcer say. But everyone feels like that when they first arrive in town. If only they had given him a flat in Hoxton and a job temping in Covent Garden, he would have become a real get-out-of-my-way Londoner in weeks, gloriously ignored as he crammed his way on to the Northern Line like everybody else.

* As the world warms to temperatures unknown since records began, our governments are shutting down scientific centres scrambling to understand this man-made disaster. In Britain, Professor Jeremy Thomas - who studies the impact of global warming on biodiversity - is seeing his lab closed because of "competing pressures for government funds". In the US, George Bush has ditched Nasa's Deep Space Climate Observatory, even though it costs a thousandth of the useless International Space Station. It seems the President's paymasters in the oil industry would rather we didn't know what was happening. What's a little thing like the planet when there's cash to be made?

j.hari@independent.co.uk

Comments