Thursday, 29 October 2015

Callous indifference and lack of compassion: they may just reflect a Prime Minister's inability to make an effort

The Devil, they say, makes work for idle hands.

With an idle mind, however, it’s far worse: the Devil makes its owner his tool.

Underneath the surface, and despite the crass indifference of the entitled, David Cameron may well be a not entirely unpleasant human being. He’d probably be most upset, say, by the sight of a woman starving with her children. He’d almost certainly want to help.

The problem is that he has no imagination. He can’t see that woman when she’s out of sight. He can’t connect the effect of his actions as UK Prime Minister with the damage they do to women such as that one. That’s not because he lacks the capacity for compassion, or even the intellectual ability to picture someone else’s suffering, it’s because he simply doesn’t make the effort to exercise them on a scale above the individual.

It was fascinating to read a piece by Fraser Nelson in the Daily Telegraph, in other words by one of the most outspokenly Conservative commentators in one of the most loyally Conservative of newspapers, which warned us that “it’s David Cameron’s laziness that should worry us.” 

Cameron: no effort is too small
Nelson points out, among other incidents from Cameron’s time in office, that when he lost the parliamentary vote on military intervention in Syria, “it was the first time in two centuries that a Prime Minister lost a vote on war and peace – through a basic failure to prepare.”

A failure to prepare. Yes. He simply can’t find it in himself to do the work that’s needed to understand what he’s doing and the effect it will have. Fraser Nelson claims that Cameron didn’t read the NHS Reform Bill, which led to one of the most disastrous reorganisations of the NHS we have seen – and there have been many others that have been dire – until the draft legislation was published.

Nelsons account is wholly plausible. After all, recently Cameron ruled out any kind of tax on high-sugar foods and drinks to fight obesity. He then admitted that he hadn’t read the report which recommended such a tax. That didn’t stop him rejecting its recommendations.

Nelson also describes him as “utterly loyal to his inner circle” which is perhaps why he stood by the hapless Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, who introduced the NHS measures. It took years before he was shifted away from Health, and even then it was a while before he was dropped from government entirely.

Returning to our fictional woman, Cameron presumably simply can’t imagine the suffering he’s causing by actions over the NHS which will deprive her, or her family, of the kind of care which her own mother’s generation had come to regard as a right.

Now, though, there’s worse news for her. She’s struggling to get by on a minimum wage job while bringing up her children alone – yes, I’m assuming she’s a lone mother – and Cameron’s government intends to reduce her benefits, in the form of cuts to tax credits. She is likely to lose £1000 a year or more, which is painful since she only earns £15,000.

The move to cut her benefits has suffered a setback, with the House of Lords voting for transitional arrangements to be put in place to lessen the impact on people like this woman. That was effective opposition from the non-Conservative parties. The leader of the biggest of them, Jeremy Corbyn of Labour, followed up that powerful move by demanding of Cameron that he guarantee to the House of Commons that there would now be no negative impact on tax credit recipients.

Corbyn dedicated the whole of his ration of six questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time to this theme. Six times he asked. And six times Cameron failed to answer.

At one point Corbyn claimed that “he must know the answer.”

Actually, Jeremy, I think you may be wrong. It does sound like standard politician’s deviousness, ducking and evading a question he’s uncomfortable with. But Cameron’s not a clever politician. It’s far more likely that, actually, he doesn’t know the answer.

To know it, he’d have to read some of the background briefing material. Which is quite boring. He simply can’t find it in himself to make the time for it.

And so, with his idle mind, he ends up doing the devil’s work.

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