How many column inches, hours of air time and rage in one hundred and forty five characters have we had this last week over a kitchenette? Too many to mention, and I know I’m adding to it all. I do so because the kitchenette saga is symptomatic of what passes for political discussion.
Tune into PMQs at any point since 2010 and the commonest emotional feeling is – gloom. I don’t write this as someone who bewails adversarial politics – far from it. Yet I can’t be alone in thinking that, while insults have always bounced about, there has in the past been some attempt at answering the question.
Nowadays an exchange goes something like this. Last week Ed Miliband asked about the general election debates. He accused the Prime Minister of resorting to; “feeble excuses” after Downing Street announced that the prime minister would refuse to take part in a head-to-head televised debate with him during the general election campaign.
The absurdity of it all is instead of a debate about the state of the economy its on who has a kitchen or a kitchenette. This is at a time when we have a major housing crisis.
While I’d have preferred that Cameron’s refusal to take part had been used as a supplementary line rather than a central point, it was nevertheless a perfectly legitimate question.
The Prime Minister’s response was predictable in its boorishness:
“The truth is you are weak and despicable and want to crawl to power into Alex Salmond’s pocket”.
The language of the playground gets him through weekly jousting session, but not enough to get him through a TV debate hence the Crosby veto.
Not surprisingly Cameron’s allies in the right wing press are doing all they can to shore up the Prime Minister with a constant drip, drip of poison against the Labour leader. Their interests, along with the Tories ideological drive to dismantle the state and tear up regulations that might rein them in, are synchronized.
It was into this noxious atmosphere that Justine Miliband entered and let in the cameras.
Politicians parading themselves in ‘at home sessions’ are nothing new. Margaret Thatcher let TV cameras into her Downing Street kitchen as she poured tea out of a china teapot in Downing Street’s kitchen.
Photo calls at home were used by Thatcher’s PR people to soften her image. Frankly it needed more than photo ops to make acceptable the damage her policies had wreaked on the UK. Her legacy of a devastated manufacturing base, weakened trade unions, the wholesale privatization of our utilities and mass unemployment are still causing negative consequences. Chuck in sales of council houses and we have all the conditions that polarized the UK.
She tore up the post war consensus and Tony Blair and New Labour bought into it. Osborne and Cameron have taken her legacy on to a much further level. They have over-seen an economy predicated on an insecure jobs market with low wages, zero hours working, and the new scam in the mix, ‘umbrella companies’ that force workers into bogus self-employment. The upshot is a blatant shifting of obligation from the employer to the employee.
Yet it hasn’t even worked in their own economic terms. Nevertheless here we are on the eve of the election and their finger tips are still clinging on to 10 and 11 Downing Street.
This really is the election of a lifetime and unless Labour wins we can kiss goodbye to a welfare state, an end to a National Health Service and a country where inequality reigns supreme.
Instead of the economic crash bringing about a social democratic revival the Tories seized the moment to consolidate neo economic liberalism. As Tony Blair once famously said about New Labour ‘I really do believe it’ – Osborne and Cameron – ‘really do believe it’. They appear to have won the argument that the misery of austerity aligned to Duncan Smith’s malevolent welfare strictures are necessary to repair the consequence caused by the last Labour government and its ‘profligacy’ on public services.
It wasn’t only Thatcher at home that we were lumbered with it was her pearls of economic wisdom that became established truths. “Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country”, was as patronizingly inane then as it is now. But it served an economic purpose and it is still churned out today by Tories who turn cutting the deficit into a fetish and idolize austerity.
This article first appeared in Tribune.