Call me old-fashioned, but was George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, having a laugh yesterday?

Cameron & OsborneOK, no party has so far come up with anything radical in respect of the public debt. Freezing public pay rates was hardly demanding of the grey matter and miserable prioritising of the rich over the poor (see Polly Toynbee‘s sums in yesterday’s Guardian) didn’t come as a great surprise. Still no grasping the nettle of the banking/financial system per se.

What is in place today (other than fear – and a restriction by banks on lending the money they were given by the taxpayer for … er … lending…) that would prevent a second meltdown? Answers on a postcard…

But two things struck me from yesterday:

1. Objections to the new Tory alliances in Europe were dismissed by the party as ‘politically motivated allegations made by the Labour party’. I see. Avoid the complaint by slandering the complainant and casting aspersions about his integrity. Isn’t this the way the Old Tories (Thatcher’s ‘vegetables’, according to Spitting Image) used to operate: consider anyone who differs from you as an idiot? The response to the CDU’s downgrading of relations with the Tories was equally dismissive and equally suggestive of the old ways: we are so self-evidently right that we can afford to dismiss as simply stupid anyone who disagrees with us. Anyway, it saves us having to engage with the argument.

2. Why did no one laugh when Osborne announced that ‘we are all in it together’? I know this is the new Cameron mantra – and I wish I could believe it. But Osborne and Cameron aren’t ‘in it’ in the same way thousands of the people I serve in South London are ‘in it’. They are rich kids with inheritances to spare them worrying about their future – whatever happens to the economy in the future. If any party’s policies fail, it won’t lead any of them to claim Incapacity Benefit or any other type of social safety net.

I know the Old Etonians (who, along with their chum, Boris, will soon run the country) are doing their best, but … why did no one laugh?

It didn’t take long, did it?

Despite the financial disaster of the last two years, and against the wishes of their European partners (particularly the Germans and the French), the Labour Government has refused to get tough with bankers over bonuses and irrationally high pay. The argument seems to be that if you disincentivise high earners, they will all scoot off to the USA and earn their fat salaries there instead. Whereas the argument advanced this week by the Tories is that if you squeeze the poorest or most disabled people, this will incentivise them to ‘get out and work’.

Boris JohnsonBrazen Boris Johnson (great character – but which pre-election promises has he actually delivered on in London?) stoutly and admirably defended the bankers at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester the other day, guaranteeing favour by claiming that to do so would turn everyone against him. What great rhetoric! Everybody loves Boris and David Cameron probably (a) fears him or (b) wishes he would go away.

But, am I alone in hearing the defence of bankers set against a squeeze on the poor or disabled and wondering where these priorities derive from?

I’d like to believe that the Tories could offer something radically new that would offer a clear alternative to Labour and bring some dignity back into politics – especially into the values that underlie economic policy-making. But, I don’t see it. All we get is the same old stuff dressed up in new language. ‘Let’s help the poorest (or most vulnerable)  in our society – by making them poorer if they don’t play our way. And let’s not disturb the richest in our society – by making them invulnerable to the consequences of their decisions.’

It doesn’t look great, does it?

Let’s get this straight. Some of my friends are bankers. I don’t have a problem with bankers getting paid for the work they do. Some bankers should get paid more than others. Big bankers should get paid big salaries. But bonuses should be rationalised and spread about the people who work at all levels of the business. How do you justify a single individual getting a one-off (almost guaranteed each year) payment amounting to many multiples of what the ordinary bank staff earn in  several years? And whose money is it that they are playing with anyway?

My problem with this is that this nettle still appears not to have been grasped. We are afraid to impose limits – even when ‘we’ own the banks by virtue of having bailed them out of the mire of their own making.

goodwinAnd when we hear about the ‘poor’ or the ‘disabled’, we are not talking about ‘shirkers’, ‘blaggers’ and ‘spongers’. But, even if we were, couldn’t we describe the failure of the banks and their subsequent cap-in-hand rescue by the taxpayers as ‘sponging’ (claiming money that isn’t theirs), ‘shirking’ (responsibilities to those they damaged) and ‘blagging’ (claiming special rights and threatening government against squeezing with arguments about ‘incentives’ that only apply to them and not those at the bottom of society who don’t have the voice or the power to claim the same)?

It’s the values underlying the policies that need questioning, not just the apparent policies. And the double-standards need to be exposed wherever they seek to hide.

Any chance we’ll hear something useful this week from Manchester other than the blindingly obvious or the obviously blind?

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party, has exploited Labour’s internal wranglings and governmental failures. They are a party and a government falling apart, he says. Obviously in contrast with the united Tory Party which is just waiting to take up the reins of power and unite the country in a new era of peace, harmony and prosperity.

Er… and then Europe pops up. Rather than Communism being the spectre that haunts Europe, Europe is the spectre that haunts the Conservative Party. Just when all is going well, the ‘E’ word slides in and spoils the party.

DAVID_CAMERONCameron took his MEPs out of the centre-right bloc in the European Parliament and placed them with the oddballs, racists and pseudo-fascists that create an embarrassment every week in Brussels. Yesterday the Christian Democrats in Germany – newly elected under Angela Merkel and refreshingly confident of their new mandate – reduced the level of their relationship with Cameron’s Conservatives. They have cancelled bilateral working and have cancelled meetings. So, Cameron responds by saying that nothing has changed and that relationships are good and strong.

Who are we to believe? Which party is living in fantasyland: the Germans who have downgraded their relationship or the Brits who pretend they haven’t?

Then the Irish mess it all up by bringing Europe to the top of the agenda again – just in time for the Tory Party Conference. Like all good comedy, it’s all in the timing.

And today we hear that Cameron is working behind the scenes to generate momentum for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in Britain even after it will have been ratified by Britain.

Will this be his Waterloo?

I can’t wait for the fickle fate of politics to run its course this week…