Friday, July 06, 2007


The idea that nice David Cameron has transformed the Tories into a party of caring, sharing greenery and social concern begins to look decidedly suspect whenever you actually examine their policies on crunch issues involving, er, money. After all, wanting to hang on to your piles of dosh is still one of the main reasons for voting Conservative. So part of the aim of the current veneer of social progressivism is, apart from trying to steal Gordon Brown’s clothes, aimed at removing the one barrier that has stopped many people doing so in recent years – the ‘nasty party’ image.

But what of the substance behind the spin? Well, confronted with the mounting evidence about soaring private debt and its clear relation to unscrupulous lending policies in the private sector, the Conservatives are conveniently trying to blame government borrowing (which is actually running at a third of the general rate) for the Bank of England’s decision to hike interest rates. They are also seeking to magic away the case for financial regulation (which New Labour is no more committed to, incidentally). And astonishingly they are suggesting that ‘more competition’ in the financial services industry sub-prime will help. As Will Hutton of the Work Foundation pointed out on BBC2 TV’s Newsnight programme yesterday – this is a major part of the problem, not part of the solution. Economically vulnerable people are already swimming in an ocean of meaningless and often misleading choices.

But the suasions of neo-liberal ideology – which is really a form of deformed secular theology – are such that the facts of the dislocated money economy (which operates on quite different terms to the productive economy) are obscured – especially in the hands of those whose vested interests (in spite of rhetoric about combating poverty) are firmly entrenched on the side of the ‘haves’ rather than the ‘have nots’. The image may change, but the centrifugal nature of organised conservatism does not. Meanwhile, interest rates are likely to increase and house prices slow down – a double trap for many.

Some of the underlying issues are explained in Peter Selby’s important 1997 study Grace and Mortgage: The Language of Faith and the Debt of the World (Darton, Longman and Todd).

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