by Robin Thorpe
Machiavelli advises any aspiring Prince (or ruler; royal blood not necessary, although being related to the Queen can’t harm) to be ruthless from the day that he seizes power and “to determine all the injuries that he needs to inflict. He must inflict them once and for all, and not have to renew them every day, and in that way he will set men’s minds at rest and win them over when he confers benefits”.
The ruler should do this while his people are still getting used to his rule so that they start off fearful and learn to love him as he becomes more lenient. The lesson is that people do not mind being afraid if they are looked after and that things improve. If they improve, then it does not matter if they are not as good as before, as long as there is tangible improvement on the immediately preceding time. Machiavelli advises not to be timid or delay any acts of violence, but to inflict them once and for all so that “people will then forget what it tastes like and so be less resentful”.
This Tory-Lib Dem government seems to have read Machiavelli. They are certainly inflicting pain early. It remains to be seen whether they will wreak later improvements which will come to symbolise their righteousness.
For this reason, it seems very likely that Tory ministers do intend the coalition to run for five years. Which is why it would be dangerous for the Labour party to leave its policy unformed until the next election. There is merit in the general opinion that there is no need to have detailed policy announcements until 2014/2015, as the macroeconomic environment may change. Nevertheless, it is necessary to have the strategy fully formed in the event that a crack in the coalition can be formed into a wedge and the government can be brought down.
At some stage, the economy will recover; the Tories are banking on this being no more than two to three years. In time for them to claim a strategic victory and time enough for their ideological cuts of the state infrastructure to have taken hold and be practicably irreversible (that is to say, expensive to reform – as if that stops them when they want to). Whether intended or not, the government’s economic decisions will also increase the capital (and therefore control) held by the already wealthy and will augment the domination of the pharmacological corporations over the health and welfare sector.
For Labour prematurely to topple a government we will need public opinion to be in our favour. The polls will not be adequate to show this; direct action will be necessary. Which doesn’t mean a revolution: a sustained public demonstration against the government and an appeal for a general election would surely prompt a vote of no confidence.
For this to be effective, the scale of inclusion must go beyond the public sector and unions to incorporate private sector workers. The starting point is public meetings in halls up and down the country; a dialogue between electors and elected. The arguments against severe cuts to public services and privatisation of health services must be made and a debate must be encouraged to raise the general consciousness and increase engagement in politics.
In order for this succeed, a defence of Labour spending must be made. We must insist that it was not profligate, although admit that at times it was over-complicated. However, as IDS is finding out, making benefits “simpler” means that someone loses out. As these cuts take hold, Labour must be in the vanguard of the resistance; the people must be informed of both sides of the debate before they forget the acrid taste of economic devastation and while the resentment against Tory individualism still bites.