When I rented a small office above a shop in Saltaire, the Victorian heritage village to the north of Bradford, I would sometimes bump into Paul O’Grady in the street.
The comedian and presenter rented a flat in the village while recording shows at Yorkshire Television’s studios in Leeds, and was regularly seen walking his dogs. He would often stop to chat and was every bit as friendly as people said in the outpouring of social media tributes that followed his sudden death a few weeks ago.
One particular Twitter post sticks in my mind because it included a video clip from his Channel Four show a decade ago in which he subjected the Conservative Party to perhaps the fiercest public tongue-lashing ever given to UK politicians.
Accusing the Tories of lacking compassion O’Grady said: “I bet when they were children they laughed in Bambi when his mother got shot.” He went on to characterise the party’s supporters as believing in the abolition of wheelchairs and pensions.
While these are not (yet) on the government’s agenda, O’Grady had put his finger on something that people have come to realise. The Tories are brutally heartless.
The benevolent, paternalistic strand of right-of-centre politics that existed before the days of Margaret Thatcher has been all but wiped out. It had a name, One Nation Conservatism, and its core belief was that the privileged and wealthy should pass on their good fortune to anyone less advantaged.
Some of these old-school Tories now openly admit that One Nation Conservatism has been consigned to history. David Liddington, a minister in Theresa May’s cabinet, said that Tory MPs once went into politics to make life better for their fellow citizens but what motivated them now, he admitted, was naked self-interest, specifically the acquisition of power and money.
Sure enough, hardly a week goes by without an MP from the government’s benches being caught sticking their noses in the trough. Most recently, the Blackpool South MP Scott Benton was filmed by undercover reporters offering to lobby for a fake gambling firm in exchange for cash. A fortnight earlier, former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng and disgraced ex-health secretary Matt Hancock were seen demanding £10,000 a day to work for a fake South Korean firm.
Meanwhile levels of poverty in the UK continue to rise. Whereas the old strand of Conservatism would have responded to this with what Shakespeare called the milk of human kindness, all you’ll get from today’s Tories is a shrug and “hard cheese!”
Their heartlessness is especially evident when it comes to benefits, where cuts since 2010 have totalled over £40 billion. As a result, four million adults and over 300,000 children live in poverty, victims of the Conservatives cynically sucking money away from the most disadvantaged and bunging it to those who are likely to vote Tory. One example of this that’s just come to light is the Conservatives giving £157 million in loans to public schools to help them through the Covid pandemic, while state schools got nothing.
Wages had flat-lined before last year’s hike in inflation saw them cut in real terms. Foodbanks are closing because people can’t afford to donate groceries. Whichever area of life in the UK you look at, the nastiness of this government shines through. Dear old Paul O’Grady’s assessment was spot on.
Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe
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