At a time of miserable conditions for the poor, sick and disabled people, the administration of the welfare state is a disaster. The grand projects the Department for Work and Pensions has launched since the general election have been bureaucratic fantasies and practical catastrophes. Ministers have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds of public money – Tory ministers, mark you, who pose as the defenders of hard-working taxpayers. For all that, Iain Duncan Smith tramps on without a thought of changing his ways: a character study in destructive pig-headedness
The story of the University of London’s cleaners ought to be a modern Made in Dagenham. Immigrant women were scraping a living on a poverty wage from an employer who wanted them to clean up other people’s mess and get out of sight when they’d finished. They fought back and, in a rare uplifting moment in these dismal times, won. They forced the university to raise their pay from £6.15 to £8.80 an hour and give them decent holidays and sickness leave.
But no one will make a film about the university cleaners because it lacks the prime ingredient for a feelgood story: a happy ending.
The government may not mean to kill people with mental disabilities but it’s deeds, not motives, that matter, and when the coalition subtracted political cost from economic gain, it found those with disabilities were the easiest people in Britain to dispose of.
You have to pay attention at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum to realise it is inviting the public to witness the death of old Europe. The Dutch don’t know it. They have spent €370m refurbishing its 19th-century halls and the museum now shines as one of the world’s great cultural centres. Nor do funereal sentiments greet the millions of visitors. They are welcomed instead by two over-confident English philosophers, who have splattered their thoughts over gallery walls like middle-brow graffiti artists.
It is as if the culture ministry of a totalitarian state has taken control.
“Political correctness” is a treacherous ideology, which can turn you upside down. I avoid the term if I can because it has a double meaning. On the one hand, it describes a liberal and in my view admirable campaign to persuade institutions and the wider population to treat people equally regardless of gender, colour or sexual orientation. Like all campaigns in democracies, it can win only by winning arguments.
But political correctness has become a despised term because it also means the silencing of arguments.
Allow me to sketch you a portrait of a political leader. Even by the lax standards of the powerful, he is England’s greatest living hypocrite. He courts popularity by warning that tens of millions from the dole queues of Europe are coming to take British jobs, while employing his German wife as his secretary. He denounces “the political class” for living like princes at the taxpayers’ expense while pocketing every taxpayer-funded allowance he can claim for himself, his wife and his colleagues.
He says he represents “ordinary people”. But he is a public school-educated former banker, whose policies will help him and his kind. He claims he is the voice of “common sense”, while allying with every variety of gay-hater, conspiracy crackpot, racist, chauvinist and pillock. The only sense he and his followers have in common is a fear of anyone who is not like them.
No cause is as dead as the campaign to provide an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Far-sighted politicians once found it intolerable that criminals could abuse and exploit the half a million among us who were living beyond the minimum wage, the tax system and the rule of law.
What image will social historians use to capture our times? Last week, after frenzied bidding, a drab garage next to a Camberwell industrial estate in what was once a cheap part of south London, sold for £550,000. That might do. No one who sniffs the air can fail to notice that London in the Osborne bubble has a whiff of Weimar Germany – but without the art or indeed the sex.
Yet alongside oligarchs buying the capital’s streets, and the Bank of England and Treasury pumping asset prices, we also have poverty that those of us who remember the recessions of the 1970s and 80s have not seen before.
All of which is a long way of saying that the global warming deniers have won. And please, can I have no emails from bed-wetting kidults blubbing that you can’t call us “global warming deniers ” because “denier” makes us sound like “Holocaust deniers”, and that means you are comparing us to Nazis? The evidence for man-made global warming is as final as the evidence of Auschwitz. No other word will do.
No child dreams of growing up to become a pharmacist. They are never romantic leads or action heroes in films. As far as a search of my bookshelves and the web can tell, they are not the heroes and heroines of novels either. Doctors, detectives and spies are everywhere, while the ignored pharmacist is nowhere to be seen.
To become a chemist is to choose a comfortable existence. At Boots they make around £38,000 on average. This money buys the kind of life the rich and the bohemian have always derided: the semi in suburbia with the spare room for the children; the annual holiday and the car on HP. It can sound dull until hard times fall on you or your society and you learn that ordinary achievements are not to be derided.