Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

What is “the State” – and why is under attack by Cameron?

In Editorial on October 3, 2011 at 11:24 am

According to his own propaganda, David Cameron’s declared mission is to cut back on the “Big State”, and replace it by the “Big Society”. State control of services, of provision for our citizens, is to be cut back to the bare minimum – to be replaced by an amorphous concept where our general wellbeing is provided by eager volunteers who will work willingly for the good of all.

The reality is of course very different. And it it also dodges the question – what do we mean by “the State”? According to the Oxford Compact Dictionary, “the State” is a “political community under one government”, or alternatively, “civil government”. However we define it, it is the glue that holds our society together, and we diminish it at our peril.


Of course in any healthy democracy, it should involve us all participating in the political process. That should go without saying. What is worrying, though, is the fact that since the bleak years of Thatcher (when the concept of the State was last under attack), the proportion of the population bothering to vote has dropped significantly. And the number of us who are actual members of political parties has dwindled to a mere fraction of the population. This has affected all political parties, but in Labour’s case, membership is now under half what it was in 1997 – despite an increase in the number joining since the last election. Union membership, too, has seen a long-term decline – at a time when jobs and working conditions are under attack.

These are worrying signs for those who are involved in politics, and in the defence of what remains of our Welfare State. In the short term this trend might not concern the Camerons and the Osbornes of this world. They live in their own little political cocoon, bolstered by their own hype, whilst they cut and slice the fabric of our society under the pretext of “cutting the State down to size”.


The impact of their policies will last for generations and we, as a society, will be all the poorer for it. Once social provision has been abandoned, the Health Service been transformed into a structure to serve the needs of the big multinational “health” corporations, and pensions that are meant to provide security in our old age have been cut back to the minimum, then it will be difficult to return to the kind of society in which the State provided for the wellbeing of all in a participating, caring society.

We have been warned. As Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian at the end of April, “few yet realise the scale of the conservative revolution in progress. Professors Taylor-Gooby and Gerry Stoker have just revealed that by 2013 public spending will be a lower proportion of GDP in Britain than in the US.”

Yet, for many, Cameron’s smokescreen still hides the true intentions of his Government. Whilst his promotion of the “big society” has been met by general cynicism, the wider claims that we must cut public spending to the bone to eliminate our deficit are still widely accepted. And his attacks on “the State” are not being countered.

Yes, there has been opposition to his policies. Protests by students, by trade unionists – and mass opposition to the Government’s NHS reforms have hit the headlines. But so far these have been fragmented. The fact that so few of us join political organisations – and the growing number who don’t even both bother to vote – is all grist to the mill for the Conservatives and their tacticians. Sadly this goes for many in the Lib Dem leadership as well.


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