The real scandal is what Cameron is doing to this country.
Rarely does the Westminster bubble provide us with such explosive entertainment as it did last week. When it was alleged that the Prime Minister had “put a private part of his anatomy into a dead pig’s mouth”, social media erupted. Twitter was abuzz with #piggate, #BaeOfPigs, #snoutrage, #Hameron. Charlie Brooker was forced to fend off suggestions that he knew all along; as that eerily prophetic episode of Black Mirror (where a fictional prime minister tries to have sex with a pig) shot to the top of the 4OD charts.
Some of us on the left even allowed ourselves a moment to fantasize about the potential consequences: could this be the end? Surely public opinion wouldn’t stomach such obscenity? At the very least this should put a big dent in Cameron’s personal popularity.
How wrong we were. Perversely, the Daily Mail were doing Cameron a favour when they broke this story because, behind the smokescreen thrown up by revelations of his bestial behaviour, the Prime Minister and his government have had a productive fortnight doing what they do best: decimating the welfare state at the expense of the poorest in society. And we’ve hardly noticed, so caught up have we been in the hilarity of Cameron’s supposed misdemeanours.
Yet it is worth pausing over the significance of the government’s recent activity. The Welfare Bill which is currently going through parliament will abolish child tax credits, lower the benefits cap, and allow future governments to do so again without consulting parliament. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the loss of child tax credits will make 13 million low-income families worse off. The Tories are countering these statistics by cynically changing the legal definition of poverty, and scrapping the government’s commitment to end child poverty by 2020. All this from a government which handed millionaires a £40,000 tax break by cutting the top rate of income tax, and rewards unethical companies with a reduction in corporation tax. So much for “we’re all in this together”.
The NHS also took a big hit this week with the confirmation of a new contract for junior doctors, which will see them working longer more unsociable hours, and some will have their income cut by up to 40%. If you’re a parent, the prospects are even worse: slower income progression for part-time junior doctors or those who have time off means that predominantly women will be punished for taking maternity leave or time off to raise children. The consequences of such a punitive new contract could be devastating: a potentially huge exodus of junior doctors – 3,500 applied to work abroad in the ten days following the announcement – from departments such as geriatrics, which already gains 48% fewer staff than it needs each year.
This whole episode about the pig plays into a wider narrative purveyed by the government and the media. They use celebrity gossip and salacious stories to distract us from important issues. They run endless scare-stories about immigrants and “benefit cheats” to divert our anger away from those with responsibility at the top and towards the vulnerable. So yes, Piggate is hilarious. But let’s not forget that while Cameron laughs off this scandal, poor families, people on benefits, and NHS staff, are suffering immeasurably at his hands.
Image property of The Sun