Magazine article The Spectator

How Big Government Has Swallowed the Tory Party

Magazine article The Spectator

How Big Government Has Swallowed the Tory Party

Article excerpt

The secret to everlasting leftwing government was discovered in Sweden decades ago.

First raise tax and employ as much of the electorate as possible. Next, offer generous welfare and bribe the middle classes with childcare. Soon, a critical mass of voters becomes part of the government project, and votes for its expansion. Higher private sector earners may squeal at the tax rates, but are easily outnumbered. Eventually the right-wing opposition grows tired of losing elections, and starts pledging to outspend the government, if elected. Then victory is complete.

The architects of New Labour used to dream about such an outcome. 'There will never be a common morality of the citizenship until a majority of the population benefit from the welfare state, ' wrote Anthony Giddens in his book The Third Way. So it must be enormously satisfying for the Prime Minister, after years of expanding welfare and the public sector workforce, that he has achieved this goal. His army of state beneficiaries now has four divisions:

state employees (15 per cent of the electorate), the out-of-work and on welfare (11 per cent), benefit-dependent pensioners (18 per cent) and pensioners with independent means (8 per cent). Add these all together, and it turns out that more than half of the electorate are today, in one way or another, in the pay of the government.

And this is before counting untraceable tax credits or subsidy-dependent farmers.

New Labour has, then, entered its psephological promised land -- where no party can win power on a platform of radical cutbacks in government. Worse, it has dragged the Tories with it. Rolling back the state, once the leitmotif of Conservatism, has become the mission that dare not speak its name.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are not modest men, so it must pain both to have to hide the scale of their accomplishment beneath decoy statistics. No post-Soviet country takes pride in buying up so much of the electorate, so the real figure is hidden beneath far more modest assessments.

The official count of 5.8 million state workers leaves out the likes of university staff, GPs and anyone who is subcontracted to work for the government. Include them, and the true figure is 6.8 million people -- a staggering 784,000 more than there were in 1997. Today, one in four employed people in Britain works for the government.

Unemployment, too, is massaged down.

At 5.1 per cent of the workforce -- 870,000 people -- Britain's official claimant count is about half French and German levels. But this is just a tiny part of a far larger story.

Among those not included in the unemployment figures are the 2.7 million who have been put on incapacity benefit -- which pays out for life, once a doctor is willing to sign the requisite form. Ministers privately believe two thirds can work, but they have have no stomach for the upheavals involved in forcing them off benefits.

The story of state dependence does not end here. Some 790,000 are on lone parent benefit, and once other schemes like the carers' allowance are included, the total figure is 4.51 million out of work and on benefits. But unlike in the 1980s, when the unemployed were bitter because they wanted to work and suffered without salaries, millions now choose benefit dependency as a lifestyle. And it is not irrational: with the right combination of other allowances, incapacity benefit can pay up to £278 a week -- against the £176 a week guaranteed by the minimum wage. And this is before the free cars which are often thrown into the deal.

Little wonder that some 2.5 million have been on welfare for five years or more and are, statistically, more likely to die than find another job. They are a permanent part of the British electoral landscape.

Politically, they are a powerful block which forms the backbone of Labour support. Of the 200 most welfare-dependent constituencies in Britain, just seven are represented by Conservatives. …

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