Monday, 7 October 2013

Target audiences

There was a rather strange feel to the wording of part of Cameron’s conference speech last week, when he was talking about stopping benefits for people under 25 years old.  The section which struck me in particular was this one:
"Think about it: with your children, would you dream of just leaving them to their own devices, not getting a job, not training, nothing? No – you’d nag and push and guide and do anything to get them on their way, and so must we.”
It tells us something about his target audience – and about the way he thinks.  Clearly, he wasn’t talking to those whose benefits he was proposing to stop.  Nor was he talking to their parents.  He was talking to ‘people like us’ (from his perspective – ‘people like him’ from mine).  The privileged, the well off, the middle classes whose children start with all the advantages and walk into jobs as a result of daddy’s connections or the school they went to.  He’s talking to those who share ‘our’ background, values, and advantages. 
But the final four words of the passage are also interesting – ‘and so must we’.  It’s almost as though he sees his government as surrogate parents to all those children brought up by parents who don’t act in the way he described, with the task of taking their place with all the nudging, pushing and nagging.  He’s not, though, proposing that the state should in any way fulfil the other part of the role of those ‘good’ parents – the bit about providing the resources, the contacts, the advantages.  Quite the reverse in fact.
He’s deconstructing a very complex set of factors which determine which young people find work and which end up on the dole, and reducing it to a simplistic matter of the use of the stick, whilst keeping the carrot for ‘our own’.  But then, he’s not really interested in ‘solving’ the problem anyway.  He knows as well as I do that the savings involved are so small as to be insignificant in the overall scale of government spending, so it’s not really about money either.
It is, rather, a blatant electoral appeal to a particular set of prejudices and attitudes, based on stigmatising and casting out a section of the populace which he calculates will never vote for him and his party anyway.  It might even work electorally, but it will add to inequality in society.  That’s probably another bonus from his perspective.

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