When Britain’s coalition government came to power in May last year its intentions were rather fuzzy apart from the priority it would be giving to eliminating the deficit by imposing draconian cuts on public expenditure. What has since been revealed is that the real project is to bring about the final triumph of organised capital over public provision of services. Substitute organised capital for the Wehrmacht and the parallels with Vichy France are rather striking. Two nations in crisis, each with an untested form of government. Our coalition government, like the Vichy administration, is composed of politicians with a broad spectrum of views, many of whom have unhesitatingly abandoned their most cherished principles. The coalition claims that it has no choice but to follow its austerity policy because of the unprecedented incompetence and irresponsibility of its predecessors. (Mr Clegg, the leading collabo, in a recent interview with Channel 4 News, referred to the “appalling inheritance from Labour” no less than 7 times.) In the same way, Vichy blamed the failure of France to resist the German military advance exclusively on the moral laxity and cowardice of the Third Republic, especially the Popular Front, and claimed that they had no choice but to come to an accommodation with the occupying power. Thus we see how easily and effectively the banks and financial institutions in Britain and the armed forces and military leadership in wartime France were officially absolved of any responsibility for the crises facing their respective countries.
The coalition has embarked upon a cultural assault on the public sector - not simply held up as an example of chronic inefficiency and waste where employees allegedly enjoy higher wages and better working conditions (with gold-plated pensions) than their private sector equivalents but, even more damagingly, as enemies of private enterprise dedicated to obstructing entrepreneurship with red tape of their own devising and by extension, responsible for any failings on the part of British business. The success of this propaganda campaign can be measured by a recent opinion survey finding that 70 per cent of private sector employers would not consider employing a candidate who had previously worked in the public sector. There is, as yet, no proposal to draft former public sector employees into labour camps but it wouldn’t be inconsistent with this narrative.
In Vichy France a similar culture war was underway with the object of undermining any lingering pride in French cultural achievements and inducing a state of mind where the only realistic position was to acknowledge the cultural superiority of the invader. In Britain, business, in the form of any willing provider, is preparing for the ultimate assault on what remains of the public sector after three decades of looting the most profitable elements. The jewel in the crown is the NHS and legislation is on the way to insinuate private enterprise into the service wherever it can abstract value for redistribution into private hands. The most unequal country in Europe in terms of income distribution, social mobility, education, physical and mental health and trust has a government that has turned its back on these problems to pursue policies that are certain to intensify inequality.
How far can we push this analogy with Vichy? Mr Cameron lacks the distinguished military service to make a convincing Marshal Pétain and Mr Clegg is, physically at least, no Pierre Laval. Mr Pickles however, with his glorious history of defending the city of Bradford from the tyranny of Socialism, is an ideal candidate for the role of Pétain. Whether he possesses the vanity to commission 200,000 busts of his remarkable figure (Le Vainquer de Bradford) for display in public buildings, as Pétain did, is something I hope we never find out. It would be interesting to know if even the Vichy régime had a philosopher in its ranks who could match the perverse brilliance of Mr Duncan-Smith when he recently remarked that placing extra cash in the hands of the poor often had the effect of making their lives worse. I suppose that we shouldn’t be surprised that he has not been heard to deploy this argument in the vexed matter of bankers and their bonuses where it might make some sense. It would take the proverbial heart of stone not to be moved by the tortuous utterances of the Quiet Man as he struggles to reconcile an over-sensitive social conscience with a fundamentalist adherence to the sacred principles of free market economics.