Life is a series of choices. Big ones, little ones, clear-cut ones, difficult ones, ones that creep up on you without you realizing you’re making them. We’re all constrained by a finite amount of time, money and energy, and what we choose to do with them reflects our priorities. Should I apply for that job? Should I move? Should we have kids? Should I go for a run? Should I sit on the sofa with a double pack of Jaffa cakes watching Aircrash Investigation? Who should I vote for?
We choose our representatives in parliament, and government makes choices on our behalf. With the finite amount of money and time they have, governments’ funding and policies have to reflect their priorities. Do you, for example, prioritise a multi-billion pound nuclear missile system designed to vaporize hundreds of thousands of people in nanoseconds, or do you prioritise something less useful, shiny or tangible… say health and social care?
If you lead a party, you need to convince the electorate that your priorities reflect theirs. But what if they don’t? Well you still need to be elected don’t you? Just blur a few lines, muddy a few waters, shift a few blames. Government talks of compassion but the words don’t match the action. It jars, like if Joe Pasquale was asked to narrate a documentary about the Hindenburg disaster.
2016 was a dumpster-fire of a year. We were encouraged to clamber over each other to escape from it, whilst turning round to blame the charred corpses for getting in the way. The “anti-establishment” triumphed over the “metropolitan elites”. Finally. Thank goodness. And whether your preferred anti-establishment candidate was a multi-billion dollar property tycoon who spent his entire life milking the establishment, or a privately-educated tax-avoiding ex-commodities broker who is currently losing his shit about not getting a knighthood from the establishment, at least now is the time to bask in their victory. They’ve taken back control. I just wished they looked happy about it rather than flailing about with a mixture of confusion, anger and panic, like a dog handed the controls of the Space Shuttle and asked to complete re-entry.
So how do you project a unifying message, a message of hope in troubling times? You don’t. You just blame the situation on someone else. Remember when those nurses, firemen, teachers and policemen crashed the entire global financial system? What were they thinking? Thanks a lot guys. Sheesh. Now we’re going to have to “live within our means”.
I say we, but it’s only fair some people are excused. We don’t want to go too overboard. Better give MPs a pay rise, they’re going to have to work hard to sort out our mess. And bankers too, let’s not forget them. Better start increasing their bonuses again, we want to attract the top talent over here. And if worst comes to worst at least we can blame immigrants or refugees, because nothing shows you live in an inclusive, caring society like focusing on exactly which part of our tiny orbiting projectile vulnerable and desperate people were born on.
The crash was a great excuse for austerity, which was a great excuse to cut public services. And when the deficit went up, they didn’t change course: cut further, cut deeper. Like a malaria-riddled Victorian missionary struggling through dense jungle, just machete the holy fuck out of everything. We’re on a mission. Keep going. Keep going. Keep going. We hear the mantra “we need a strong economy first to fund services”. I can see that. It’s not like having a healthy, happy, educated, safe and secure population ever helped anyone is it? Maybe think of it the other way round.
After the crash we thought there might be a light at the end of the tunnel. Just keep our heads down, work hard, and it’ll all get better eventually. But it didn’t. Then things turned to Brex-shit. *Sighs* It’s like the end of the Shawshank Redemption, you’re Andy Dufresne, crawling through that sewer pipe towards a life of freedom. But when you get to the end of the pipe, you realise there’s another, and another, and another, until you can’t remember what it’s like to not be crawling on your hands and knees, surrounded by fetid stench, yearning for a different life. But by then it’s too late. You’re institutionalised. One of the pipe-people. Make the most of it. Raise a pipe-family. Little Billie and Rowdy Roddy. The Pipers
But how do you convince people that cutting services is the right thing to do? After all, these are national institutions that people are rightly proud of. Well, you don’t. You just “control the narrative”. Be creative. Use the right language. Say things like ”Overspend” rather than “Underfund”, “Efficiency savings” rather than “Crippling cuts”, “Sustainability” rather than “Privatisation” and “Ringfencing” instead of “Failure to keep up with an entirely predictable increase in demand”.
Ringfencing or protection of budgets is a great one, as all it relies on is convincing people that things don’t change over time. I could have “ringfenced” my pocket money back in the 80s, but although at the time that was sufficient to fund my ‘sitting around watching He-man and drinking Um-Bongo’ lifestyle, demands on my finances have increased and it would no longer fund the ‘crippling mortgage, wife, three kids and despair at humanity’ lifestyle I lead today.
If that doesn’t work, just remember to use really really big numbers. Like properly huge ones. It’s less obvious if one number is substantially smaller than another if it still seems pretty big. If you feel it isn’t big enough, make it seem much bigger by combining a number of years together, and if you can, compare it to a much smallerr number, ideally from the mid 18th century when you could buy a house for a tenner. If all else fails, just keep repeating a number and repeating it and repeating it, with the absolute confidence of a cult member. Say for example “An extra 10 billion pounds for the health service”. Don’t worry that it’s not true, that it’s been disproved by countless people including fellow government ministers, that you’ve stretched the time over which it’s given and that in order for it to be given you’re asking for over double that amount in cuts. In the end it sounds like a really really big number. Whoah - check out Billy Big Budget over there. Thanks mate, we’ve never had it so good. Because the trick is not just convincing people the real news is fake, it’s also convincing people your fake news is real.
And here’s the problem. To make proper choices you need to have an honest debate and weigh up the evidence. And we’re not getting that debate. Our priorities and choices may be different but at least let’s talk about it properly. Don’t let them sell us their image of a society when they do everything they can to avoid paying their fair share towards it. Don’t let them tell us something’s unaffordable or unsustainable, just because they think the 1% deserve a tax cut instead.
Keep a close eye on their choices. They’ll show you what their priorities really are.