The longer this government lasts, the more its rhetoric sounds like the bad old days of the Thatcher years – and the easier it gets to spot its mistakes coming.
Today we see a leak of new ‘work for dole’ plans, which have had the Tories hopping up and down claiming they published the same ideas six months ago – but, if they did, they cribbed them from some dusty document left over from the days when the favourite target of the popular prints wasn’t asylum seekers but benefit claimants.
Political discourse was dominated by questions of eligibility and whether or not great swathes of the population were work-shy, and if you happened to be on the margins of the workforce (as I then was) you were permanently looking over your shoulder.
Yes, there are undoubtedly people who take the piss. And if you read police blogs you’ll be familiar with the concept of the evil poor – a real-life version of Shameless with the jokes taken out.
But you don’t tackle them by trotting out all the half-baked platitudes of a discredited government whose obsessive Puritan work ethic left it unable to comprehend how it was possible for a person to live a life not defined by their economic activity.
In fact, these proposals have nothing to do with trying to end a lifestyle choice of benefit-funded criminality. Linking a person’s eligibility for benefits to their ability to keep their nose clean is the place to start looking for a way of doing that – a difficult idea to make work in practice, but surely the root of the answer.
Instead, these proposals are transparently the same old attempt to reduce the social security budget by restricting the number of people who receive benefits. But the problem with that is there’s no point at which you can draw a line and say you’ve succeeded – the temptation becomes irresistible to announce just one more measure to crack down further and claw back just a bit more.
And before long you’re back where we were 20 years ago – with a government that wastes more and more valuable time and money in futile and intrusive attempts to direct the lives of ever-increasing numbers of harmless citizens, while the true urine extractors swiftly learn new ways of making the system work for them.
It was ever thus, I suppose, but it’s just so bloody frustrating seeing it start all over again.