Two decades ago the economist J K Galbraith published a book with the title The Culture of Contentment. His broad thesis was that in an age of affluence the contented majority in rich western countries couldn’t care less about the poor and therefore they had become politically marginalised. Arguably, this phenomenon has become even more pronounced in the intervening 20 years. What we witnessed on Wednesday, in the spending review announced by chancellor George Osborne, was its elevation into a political philosophy. His brutal attack on the poorest members of our society – the disabled, the infirm, the long-term unemployed – through plans to scythe away their benefits was truly shocking. This is fairness, Tory-style.
While there is a broad consensus at Westminster on the need for the state to rein in spending, the clear difference between the political choices the coalition has made and the path preferred by those on the Labour benches (less deep cuts over a longer timeframe) is now glaringly apparent. How unfortunate, then, that shadow chancellor Alan Johnston made a meal of his reply.
The chances of it happening are probably nil, but the country really needs to have a grown-up debate about values and taxation/spending. The political classes have quietly been spending more than they believed voters would tolerate handing over in taxation, a fundamentally dishonest state of affairs but one which they were able to get away with prior to the financial crisis.
Surely the test of a civilised country is how it treats the poor? Are we really as reluctant to pay (more) taxes as the right wing press would have us believe? Are we going to let the deformed Tory/Lib Dem version of fairness prevail?
The full impact of the spending review locally will not be known until the size of the revenue funding the SIC is to receive from the Scottish government is declared. In the meantime, surely common sense must prevail over the daft decision to cut the coastguard emergency tug.