You were warned

A white woman wearing a grey suit and blouse, with an upset expression.I rarely watch Question Time, the late-night show on BBC1 in which an audience gets to ask questions of a panel of politicians and journalists, because it’s on too late (I usually start work at 7am). However, last night the talk of Twitter was a woman who attacked the Tories for cutting working tax credits after promising not to before the General Election. She said she had voted Tory at the last election because she thought they offered the “best chance” for her family, but wailed that they were now taking that away from her. She shouted that she worked “bloody hard” and cannot pay her rent or bills. The Daily Mirror’s report has a one-minute clip of the exchange in which they say Amber Rudd, the Tory Energy minister, “looked away in silence”. The Mirror’s headline claimed that the woman “totally nails” Rudd. She does no such thing. Complaints of this sort, that “I voted Tory and now my benefits are being cut / local hospital is closing”, go back to the 1980s and usually reflect astonishment that Tory attacks on waste, scroungers and the like won’t affect them. (You can view the programme here in the UK for the next year.)

As someone who spent five years campaigning against most of the coalition government’s policies, I can say that I don’t believe anyone could have been tricked into voting Tory. With their supine Lib Dem coalition partners, they spent that time cutting services and benefits for the less well-off, initially on the pretext of cutting public debt (falsely claiming Labour ran it up in “good times”, rather than during a crisis while bailing out banks that held everyone’s money), and then justifying them with platitudes about morality, self-reliance and dignity. When we told you that disabled people need money because disability makes life expensive, because not all can work and those that can face discrimination, and that the fraud rate was tiny, you believed them when they told you they needed to reduce ‘error’ and you believed their press when they said people were getting benefits for ‘trivial’ mental health issues or ‘blisters’. When we told you that people were being thrown out on the streets and having to junk all their property because of rent rises caused by the Bedroom Tax, they told you that you shouldn’t have to pay to subsidise another’s “spare room”, and you believed them. You listened to their moralising and their sniggering with their posh boy accents, and you still believed them.

The political Right has always existed to serve the rich. It is based in both “old money”, the aristocracy and other major landowners (more here), and big business (more in the USA). The Tories do not have a mass membership; the party is supported by donations from the wealthy, and buttressed by a commercial mass media owned by the wealthy, and by broadcasters of the same class, from the same schools, echoing their propaganda with ‘authoritative’ voices on the radio and TV. In the 1980s the Tories kept themselves in power by bribing the lower middle class with cheap council house sales and tax cuts; the American right used morality and patriotism to get the same class to vote against their own economic interests. Now that the state has run out of decent council houses, the Tories keep up the bribery by selling other people’s property instead, while moving to the American model to buy votes using fear of immigration, Europe, Scotland, and “Labour’s economic chaos”.

As a Muslim I’ll always remember the two times when Muslims supported the political Right in a general election and ended up getting dumped on (Chirac and Bush jr). The Right’s strategy is to appeal to White middle-class voters, while ignoring or demonising (and in some cases disenfranchising) minority, poor and working-class voters. I knew the Tories were bad news well before the 2010 election, well before they tore their “compassionate conservative” masks off and threw aside the “big society” rhetoric in coalition, when they promoted Boris Johnson, the much-published Islamophobic scaremonger and bigot, to the shadow cabinet and allowed him to become their candidate for mayor of London. If you were a provincial lower-middle-class white woman with a head full of Daily Mail stories about Muslims banning Christmas and piggy banks, you probably didn’t care about this in 2010. But if you voted for them after they attacked disabled and poor people during the coalition years, all the while using ‘benefits’ and ‘welfare’ as dirty words, because you didn’t think they would come for your benefits, you only have yourself to blame now. We warned you, and they warned you.

(As Owen Jones points out in his Guardian column, for Labour itself to say “I told you so” to Tory voters being hit by Tory tax credit cuts is political suicide and the party needs to reach out to them. I’m not a member of the Labour party and live in a constituency where the party makes no effort. I think that if people vote for a party of bigotry and public service cuts because they’re swayed by fear- and hate-based propaganda and don’t think it will affect them, they ought to be told that their choice was a stupid and immoral one.)

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