Owen Jones wants to tell us all that we should remain infantilised. Nothing can ever be our own fault, nothing is to be our own responsibility. Instead, government should do all. That is not just the implication of this, it’s the bedrock idea embedded within it:
But the strategy in the government’s new approach is clear. “Stay alert” is meaningless, of course, except to devolve responsibility for what happens next to individuals. Grownups don’t need a nanny state to hold their hands, scoff the government’s outriders: rather than relying on detailed instructions and central diktat, we should rely on our judgment. The implication, of course, is that if there is another spike in infections and death, that will be the public’s fault for not exercising adequate levels of personal responsibility.
The problem with Jones’ insistence being that of course the greater, aggregate, behaviour is made up of the aggregation of the smaller behaviours. It isn’t, for example the Tory b’tards that sneak out at night and go visit your granny. It’s you and it’s you that thereby spreads – or of course does not spread – Covis-19 while doing so. The overall behaviour of the population is made up of all of the individual ones of the people within it. The game of stopping a pandemic is that of changing those individual behaviours so that the aggregate does. Thus, yes, ineluctably, it is a personal responsibility for it is the individual behaviour that requires the change.
Jones also needs to be reminded of something rather important about poverty:
Here is a revival of the ideals of High Thatcherism, except applied to a pandemic. Back in the 1980s, what were once known as social problems requiring collective solutions – such as unemployment and poverty – became redefined as individual failings. “Nowadays there really is no primary poverty left in this country,” declared Margaret Thatcher herself. “In western countries we are left with the problems which aren’t poverty. All right, there may be poverty because people don’t know how to budget, don’t know how to spend their earnings, but now you are left with the really hard fundamental character – personality defect.”
This isn’t an idea that originated with Thatcher. In fact, it was entirely common in his own beloved Labour Party:
It is this which led to that change in the definition of poverty. From having near nothing – the previously accepted definition – to having less than others. For, if the having nothing style is gone then what’s the point of a leftist calling for redistribution? How can the rich be expropriated if there’s no justification for doing so? At which point reinvent poverty as that having less and so reignite the justification.
Which is exactly what Owen Jones is doing. The definition of poverty in use there is less than 60% of median household income. This causes terrors in the British population. Even if all suffering it are gaining income higher than, say, Bulgarian median income – and it would be an interesting calculation to see if basic benefits in the UK were such – where that same level of real income doesn’t cause such terrors. That is, the definition has changed, as the quote says, from one of poverty to one of inequality.
The complaint, even the observation, isn’t new to Maggie Thatcher. Indeed, we’ve got that record of Barbara Castle saying it the year St Maggie was first elected to Parliament.