Cameron’s “tough love” is neither tough nor loving

In a post-riots reprise of his earlier injunction that we should all “hug a hoodie”, the Prime Minister now styles himself as the dispenser of “tough love”. Along with Michael “whack’em in Latin” Gove, Theresa “shoe fetishist” May, and Iain “poor law revisited” Duncan Smith, the big guns of the cabinet are going to let them eat cake. Well brioche in fact, I don’t doubt.

At least, that would probably be a more honest assessment of the government’s social policies. The PM waxes eloquent about there being a “shortage of not just respect and boundaries but also love”, requiring on the one hand the “need, when they cross the line and break the law, to be very tough”, whilst on the other, well, that hand seemed rather empty. Michael Gove is rushing around trying to make all schools like the way he remembers his own school days, which seem to be straight out of Jennings. His “free schools” – which certainly aren’t free since we’re all paying for them – are much more prominently engaged in acting as an escape valve for middle class parents who want to opt out of the state system but don’t want the inconvenience of paying fees than they are as ladders out of the quagmire that the “120,000 most troubled families”, who according to Mr Cameron were largely responsible for the rioting and looting, have apparently allowed their children to wallow in. Iain Duncan Smith (I can never quite decide if he’s hopelessly muddled but decent, or just plain vindictive) is busy embarking on a set of reforms to the benefits system that will have much more deleterious consequences for these very families than for just about any other section of the populace. And Theresa May is more interested in exemplary punishment than she is in almost anything else, apart from shoes, obviously.

The government is not being tough, at least, not with the right people. Bankers will now be allowed to continue to put us all at risk for longer, as notwithstanding the Business Secretary’s protestations, a hasty retreat is beaten in the face of their remarkable cheek in suggesting that unless they’re allowed to continue gambling the economy won’t grow, and everything will go pear-shaped. Just a little reminder that everything is already pear-shaped largely because we’ve had to make up a lot of fantasy money to repay the fantasy debts that you lot landed us with in the first place.

And the government’s not being loving because in almost every area of policy the very support mechanisms that might embody that love are being dismantled, sacrificed on the altar of deficit reduction. For sure, many of those being prosecuted as a result of the riots are guilty of rank opportunism. But many more are guilty of incoherent, misdirected “rage at the machine”, born out of a hopelessness and an inadequacy that has been visited upon them, not chosen by them. Our children need bread: the government is content to let them eat cake.

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