Election campaigns are occasions for politicians to act generously with tax payers money, lavishing goods and services on constituencies in return for votes. But Labour wasn’t even aware of the forthcoming campaign when Jeremy Corbyn last week announced a series of polices, one of which attracted widespread attention. Labour wants all primary school children to receive free school meals, paid for by introducing VAT on private school fees. While obviously progressive and in line with Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of hard left politics, this policy illustrates another, more sinister aspect of socialist policy making.
The call for free school meals joins a list of policy proposals that fall into the category of ‘universal benefits’. In times of pressure on public budgets, it can seem strange to push policies that bestow ‘free’ goods on voters independent on income. It could seem bizarre for Corbyn, who has spent his time a leader for the Labour party berating the Tories for every attempt they have made at limiting the explosion in state spending, to prioritize free school meals for middle class children.
But these universal benefits are not to be seen as political goals in themselves, but serve higher purposes. First, a give-away to all is appealing to all, a shrewd move by any politician. But more sinister than this, universal benefits serve the insidious purpose of wedding the electorate to the welfare state. The more the state is directly involved in the lives of the people, the more difficult it is to imagine a world without this state involvement. The left wants benefits to be seen as rights, administered by the benevolent welfare state. Once dependency is established, the electorate is likely to keep voting for more of the same.
The welfare state is then not only to provide a safety net should one fall on hard times, as was the original intention, it is to intimately micro-manage every aspect of everyday life. This is the socialist vision of the individual as a subject of the collective, producing to fund the public coffers and being paid in kind according to the whims of the political class. There is no distinction between ‘contributors’ to and ‘consumers’ of public resources. We all benefit. We are in it together. From cradle to grave, child care, school meals, bus passes and TV licenses indebt all to the benevolent welfare state.
Corbyn himself says he is ‘strongly wedded to the principle of universalism in benefits’. He knows the power of entitlements and how unwilling the electorate is to let go of any. He wants your child’s lunch to be a right, guaranteed by the state. He wants the state to be a father figure, the guarantor of your family’s happiness. By framing even a serving of chicken nuggets and peas in collectivist terms, he furthers this agenda. Let’s hope that the country firmly rejects his collectivist vision on June 8th.