T. S. Eliot starts his poem The Waste Land with the words “April is the cruellest month.” April 2013 will undoubtedly be the cruellest month for many of our fellow citizens who are to be hit by a vicious one-two-three combination. They will be struck with deep welfare cuts and then by the withdrawal of access to the law, as legal aid is cut, and finally they will be denied even advice as the budget for that too is slashed.
These are the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society. Many are disabled. Many are children. They are all effectively voiceless.
A few Establishment voices have been raised on behalf of the voiceless. It is heartening that the new Archbishop of Canterbury seems determined to speak out, as did his predecessor. Four Churches have issued a joint statement condemning the “unjust welfare cuts targeting society’s most vulnerable”. The most senior judge in the land, Lord Neuberger, has warned that the cuts in legal aid go too far and even risk people taking the law into their own hands.
The poor and vulnerable are being bullied. There are few sights more disgusting than seeing the rich, powerful and comfortable bullying the weak.
The Tories have prepared the ground, of course. Their narrative is that these people are being knocked about because either a) they deserve it as they are cheating and idling scroungers or b) it is being done for their own good to prod them off welfare into work or c) the country needs harsh measures to deal with the deficit.
The Tories are smearing the weak and vulnerable by use of half-truths and quarter-truths and cynical stereotyping. They ignore the fact that most people on benefits are working and, indeed, many of those on low wages are working as hard as anyone. They ignore the fact that many are simply unable to work - let alone to “strive” - such as many of the disabled and all the children. They ignore the fact that in much of the country there are no jobs available.
In the same cruel month of April 2013 that the weakest and poorest are to be plunged into deeper suffering, the strongest and richest are to be given a windfall as the top rate of tax is cut. The change will mean that 13,000 millionaires will be over £100,000 richer each and every year. One of the beneficiaries will be the aptly named Barclays banker, Rich Ricci. He was given a £17.6 million bonus last month and will now gain far more than £100,000 annually as a result of the Tory tax cut. A pound in Ricci’s pocket is one less for the deficit reduction which the Tories cite to justify taking money from the poor.
How do the Tories get away with it? They couldn’t do it without the press. Even in the internet age, the press still has immense power over public opinion. Our so-called “free press” – for the most part owned by billionaires, edited by millionaires and with commentators on six figure salaries – has constantly pumped out the Tory’s noxious narrative of the deserving rich and the undeserving poor.
The economist J K Galbraith once observed: -"The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy: that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness." I am sure that Rich Ricci believes he is morally justified to his six figure annual windfall from the Tory tax cut. He can rely on Fleet Street’s finest to be trenchant and fearless in their agreement.
Most readers of the British press never learn the truth about how those at the bottom of our society are treated. Sadly, many would ignore the truth even if confronted with it. This is due in part to the phenomenon of cognitive dissonance - the deeply unsettling and uncomfortable feeling that people experience when something forces them to question their pre-existing beliefs. People will usually do anything to avoid it.
Perhaps in April or in the following months, there will be a Milly Dowler moment. Perhaps something so awful will happen to someone as a result of Tory policy for the poor and vulnerable that the Tories and the press will lose control of the narrative. Perhaps, finally, millions of Britons will ask how such events could be allowed to happen in our country in 2013.