Philip Whiteley's Blog

October 22, 2010

The alarming rise of selfish socialism

Filed under: Uncategorized — felipewh @ 8:10 am

We used to make a distinction between enlightened capitalism and red-in-tooth-and-claw capitalism. There is a need for a new distinction: between enlightened socialism and the selfish, entitlement culture. What passes for ‘progressive’ politics in the UK now seems to be the following concepts: the world owes us a living; the state has to sort everything out for me; nothing bad should ever happen. It is a selfish, babyish culture.

Socialism started as a humanitarian movement, seeking to protect people from the arbitrariness and cruelty of fate. There was the recognition that we work best in cooperation with one another, not pursuing our own selfish agendas. At its best, it is still like that. The finest people I’ve met were the Sandinista women’s groups, who organised daily soup kitchens for all the neighbourhood’s children; arranged for a school building to be constructed; badgered the authorities for a teacher. The term ‘solidaridad’ in Latin America is not a direct translation of ‘solidarity’ – it’s more about community than class struggle.

Step back a bit, though. Although they carry the label ‘radical left’, isn’t there a family resemblance between the Sandinista women’s groups and David Cameron’s idea of the ‘Big Society’?

Here we come to an historic inversion: a Conservative leader promoting collective action; if not solidarity, then certainly solidaridad, and a Labour movement promoting an unsustainable, selfish culture of acquisition, with little consideration of the impact of their demands on the rest of society or future generations.

Now, there are thousands of fine Labour people, I know, who probably volunteer more than I do. They do, however, have to recognise the cancer in their movement, and stop using the word ‘Tory’ as the pantomime villain, assuming everyone will boo and hiss and ignore the waste and exploitation in Labour’s policies.

Many people will say, as the cuts bite: ‘But what about the effect on vulnerable people?’ Actually, vulnerable people suffer most from the growth of the entitlement culture. If everyone treats the state as their personal piggy bank, then it can be difficult for those who distribute funds to distinguish between genuine and fake need. Or they can simply be overwhelmed by demand. I used to operate the door at a night-shelter with a fixed number of beds, so I know what it’s like.

So if, over the next couple of years, some genuinely vulnerable people suffer a loss of much-needed help, the Coalition Government should be held to account. But also responsible are the non-disabled people who have claimed incapacity benefit; the state workers throwing ‘sickies’; the rich people claiming child benefit and minimising their tax exposure; the investment bankers taking risks in the knowledge they will be bailed out. In creating a dysfunctional, entitlement culture, we’ve all been in this together.

  • Note: thanks for all the congratulatory notes on Meet the New Boss being shortlisted for the Chartered Management Institute’s e-book of the year award. Ceremony in January. Full shortlist is here. The book is available on Amazon or by emailing me

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