The ferocity of the cuts in UK public spending to be announced next week should not hide two interesting consequences we might expect. The first is that it will bring many people to understand for the first time how much those services cost and what cutting them back – or out altogether – will mean for daily living.
Here I’m thinking particularly of the services provided by local government which, for long-established reasons to do with lack of resources and political drive, have always been fairly opaque and humdrum; until they are withdrawn, that is. We shall soon see the TV breakfast sofas filled with people loudly protesting that this or that service provision is absolutely indispensible, and the “coalition has got it all wrong.”
Which leads on to the other consequence. I believe that it will not be long before the Conservative Party splits, at least psychologically, into the three core tribes that usually, but not always, vote for it. Leaving aside the Notting Hill elite currently in charge, these tribes consist of the hard-headed, hard-faced business element, habitually anti-labour and perpetually in full cry against ‘government taxes’ and regulations; the neocons on an ideological mission to shrink the state, permanently; and ordinary, decent suburban and country Tories who would never vote Labour, worry about empty shop premises and prize their local hospital and libraries and refuse collections.
How such a split as this might affect voting patterns is currently unclear but it will be less so when cuts in defence and police budgets (the only thing, J K Galbraith said, that the Right likes paying for) take hold, and hollow out our sense of security. Then we shall begin to see whether the Prime Minister’s faith that Big Society, uniting these tribes and all the others in a common purpose and shared survival instincts, will pull us through has any footing in reality at all.