Pointing the way

Last week, Kenneth Clarke started to unveil details about yet more cuts in public spending. Clarke set a slash-and-burn target of £5 billion. It does not take a genius to glean that this ‘rightist’ move by the supposedly ‘leftist’ Clarke is a crude attempt to secure pre-election tax cuts, which have to come from somewhere - therefore ...

This has delighted the Tory right, who have long advocated such a course. However, this has only whetted the appetite of ‘radical’ rightwingers like John Redwood, who want to keep hacking away at the public sector budget. Redwood has openly called upon the cabinet to cut an extra £7 billion from next year’s £268 billion budget, ‘constructively’ suggesting that British Waterways and the Ordnance Survey should be privatised and that the department of the environment’s eight regional offices in England be closed as part of a cost-cutting masterplan.

Peter Lilley has started the ‘minimalist welfare state’ ball rolling, by announcing that payment of child benefit is to be handed over wholesale to the private sector. Without a doubt, this dramatic privatisation of a £7 billion benefit, which covers seven million families, will pave the way for the contracting out of much of the social security system. Lilley’s move is highly symbolic, as child benefit has always been viewed as a cornerstone of the modern welfare state. To hive off child benefit is to broadcast the fact that nothing is ‘sacred’.

Computer consultancies and lottery/pools promoters must be rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of getting the lucrative child benefit contract - which is likely to be worth up to £100 million a year, according to trade union sources.

But it gets worse. A leaked treasury ‘option’ paper, Strategic considerations for the treasury: 2000 to 2005, outlines a foreboding future: road tolls, compulsory private insurance for unemployment and sickness, savage cuts in state support for education above the age of 16, massive extension of the ‘voucher’ system, ‘intimidation’ of teenage and single mothers, etc. The author could have been Newt Gingrich himself.

Yet the future sketched out in Strategic considerations looks almost like utopia compared to what Frank Field, ‘renegade’ Labour MP, has in mind. Outraged by the widespread ‘abuse’ of the social security system, particularly housing benefit fraud, Field has proposed that DNA samples be taken from everyone at birth. Under his scheme, everyone would be given a number at birth which combined their NI and NHS identification and would tally with the genetic code in their DNA. This information would be stored on a plastic card which might also contain their address, medical history or criminal record. Even the most eccentric rightwing think tank would probably baulk at such suggestions.

Clarke may dismiss Strategic considerations as the work of “kids in the office” (one of whom is 37 years old and earns £41,092 a year), but the very fact that such schemes are being discussed indicates the lack of working class opposition. The political agenda of all the ‘mainstream’ parties is becoming increasingly dominated by the rightwing ‘radicalism’ of the Gingrichs of this world.

We need to resist now, before the American nightmare becomes a reality.

Eddie Ford