Are MPs who celebrate the opening of a food bank shameless hypocrites? Maybe—but that's not the full storyby Chaminda Jayanetti / December 4, 2018 / Leave a comment
Tory MPs posting photos of themselves smiling at food banks provoked well-deserved derision from critics, who pointed out the role of the benefit cuts those same MPs voted for in driving up malnutrition.
After nearly a decade during which government policy has kicked away the chair from beneath millions of families, to see MPs who helped create this situation posing for the camera amid the consequences left many incredulous. How can they be so cynical?
While it would hardly be the first time that politicians have acted in a shameless manner, to simply cast it in these terms is to ignore the effect of right-wing worldviews in shaping their perceptions.
While parliament is undoubtedly overstocked with outright charlatans, most MPs, most of the time, genuinely think they are doing the right thing.
Even on the Tory benches, for every Etonian chancer, there are many more whose lives before parliament were more ordinary than stereotypes would predict: Sheryll Murray, the Tory MP who infamously said she was “really pleased” there were food banks in her constituency, left school at 16 and was a medical receptionist at a GP surgery.
So how do we explain the food bank photos? Pure shamelessness? Cognitive dissonance? In some cases, perhaps. But more broadly, there are two dynamics at work.
First, the Conservative view of society favours ‘stories’ over sterility. Even though free-market ideology promotes brute efficiency and allows the unearned inheritance of economic privilege, its adherents talk more about the working-class kid who knuckles down, works hard and makes a fortune than they do about hedge fund supercomputers betting billions of electronic dollars on split-second micro-movements in the value of aluminium derivatives.
Part of this is pure salesmanship, of course. But we should not assume its supporters do not believe the hype. After all, the Conservative Party is laden with people from working-class backgrounds who “did well for themselves.” Being surrounded by real-life evidence of the transformative potential of free-market economics obscures the wider reality—that such people stand out because they are the minority. Sajid Javid’s ‘backstory’ is a selling point because of its rarity.
But such ‘backstories’ provide much more compelling narratives than that provided by fiscal policymaking. Nobody will ever make a Hollywood film about the tax credit system supporting a single mother…