In 2002 Theresa May told a packed Tory Conference ‘You know what some people call us? The Nasty Party.’ The statement was made to the horror of her own party, who could not believe that one of their own would dare to point out the home truths that had been staring them in the face for years, and to the horror of Labour and Lim Dem supporters, who were happy that the Tories hadn’t realised the obvious, because it was taking them ever more into the margins and away from a return to power. Theresa May had unleashed the truth that could turn her party round, and to achieve this, they didn’t even have to be nice, they just needed to make the public think they were.
Not that the lesson was immediately learned. After ditching Iain Duncan Smith, the party did not set out to find a leader that could represent their nice side, instead they took a lurch even further towards the dark side with Michael Howard, the sort of grotesque villain who, if he cropped up in a Bond film, would lead people to say that the franchise had finally taken it too far. But eventually, after a third election defeat they started to get their house in order. The Nice Party was unveiled under David Cameron, and, to prove their credentials, he even hugged a hoodie, a species the Tory old guard wanted the public to see as more life threatening and dangerous than the BSE burger John Selwyn Gummer once fed to his daughter.
With the aid of Labour Party moving into a self-destructive mode where on one hand it could no longer rely on selling itself as ‘actually quite right wing’, and on the other couldn’t agree whether it should go further right or return to some of the principles it was meant to stand for, the Tory makeover seemed to work. It wasn’t Changing Rooms but it was Ten Years Younger, with all signs of decay from age and physical and mental self-abuse hidden under a peeled-back, surgically-uplifted face. It fooled so many people that they came close to winning an election, but not close enough to prevent the murmurings of a deluded faction who thought they would have achieved an outright win if the Nasty Party had never gone.
And now they’re back. They probably never really went away, and they’ve certainly been seeping through the cracks in the polished veneer of niceness for months if not years, but this week in Manchester they’ve made a full throated return, rising forth onto a stage, spitting and spewing out bile, and setting out their agenda with an ill-disguised glee. They’re back and they’re proud. So proud, and indeed so bold and unashamed, that their former leader is standing on the podium announcing nasty policies. Of course, he’s not their leader anymore. The puppet master turned controller is a far more evil character who in true super villain style, has somehow managed to conceal his real identity from the Nice Party even when it’s clear to the rest of us that George Osborne is the new king of the Nasty Party.
When Osborne says we’re going to have to suffer the pains of austerity for another five years, in spite of claiming it’s working so well that continuing with it seems like malice, you get the feeling that he is smiling inside and wants people to suffer just for the fun of it. But that’s only half of the story of the Nasty Party. The other half is a concerted attempt to demonise the unemployed and stir up public anger to such an extent that they can claim to have a mandate for policies that could only be justified if everyone without a job really was a workshy idle layabout, with nothing better to do than watch Jeremy Kyle with the curtains closed all day.
And not only do they use the rhetoric to support policies like making them do unpaid community work rather than paying the minimum wage for the same work, they also use it as a way to focus anger on someone other than themselves for the current economic situation.
You can almost imagine Osborne at a Nasty Party meeting saying ‘What reason can we give for why working people should continue to suffer, other than because we haven’t done quite as well as we said we would. Who can we blame?’ Someone would have immediately given the answer ‘let’s blame it on a section of society we can demonise and present as an amorphous mass of vagabonds, vagrants and cheats.’ At which point someone would have said ‘do you mean immigrants?’ someone else would have said ‘no, sadly our go home or get thrown out vans didn’t go down to well’ and another would have said ‘how about the Lib Dems?’ before being told ‘we can’t, we need their support for another two years, and besides, we need to blame them for the last five years when we get elected in 2015’. After anyone who offered the correction of ‘if we get elected in 2015’ has been laughed at and asked to leave, Smith would have revealed that it was a rhetorical question, and he and Osborne already knew the answer, it was the unemployed.
The facts don’t bear out the rhetoric behind their claims. They will have ignored the fact that there are a lot of people who are unemployed through no fault of their own, that many people out of work are victims of the Government’s austerity programme, while others would probably have had a happy and fulfilling working life if only we hadn’t sacrificed the manufacturing industry their non-academic skills were suited for in order to remodel Britain as the centre of IT and Finance. And as for unemployed graduates with years of debt-funded knowledge, they would be dismissed as people who should lower the expectations the Government’s previous drive to get more people into higher education had fuelled, and stack shelves instead.
But the Nasty Party are not going to let any of this stand in their way. Instead, they will spin every rotten stereotype, every outdated cliché, and every piece of partial ill-informed ‘evidence’ they can find to appeal to every base prejudice that might exist. I am not saying that there is no-one who is ‘on the dole’ who doesn’t want to work, but if the unemployed were a religious group the Nasty Party and their followers would probably be breaking a law by seeking to inspire hatred towards them all on the basis of the behaviour and belief of a minority.
It doesn’t matter what crumbs of reasonableness may lie in the details of the Nasty Party’s proposals, the thing that gets the attention and the thing they want to get the attention is the headline ‘we’re punishing the unemployed’ as if they are a breed of people that are responsible for all of society’s ills, along with anyone else that has ever claimed a benefit, and deserve nothing other than unmitigated contempt and public disgust at their fecklessness. Meanwhile any other proposals for dealing with the country’s economic mess, or improving the lot of the average person, are dismissed as harking back to the 70’s, as if every value held in that decade, rather than just some of them, was wrong and as if the policies that were implemented in response to them were an unmitigated success, rather than, at best, the very mixed bag they can now be seen as.
And that’s the Nasty Party. They’re coming to town, and they’re trying to take over the country. You know what you have to do if you want to stop them. It starts with a letter. The letter is X. You need to put it somewhere sensible and hope enough other people do the same thing and make the Nasty Party go away again.