I've said before here that the key to the success of the government's programme lies in encouraging us to hate one another. In some areas at least, things seem to be coming together nicely:
There has been a new dialogue over disability, characterised by the constant drip-drip of stories implying vast numbers of disability claimants are bogus, that benefits are doled out without proper checks and taxpayers fund free cars for thousands of children with minor behavioural disorders.
Many emanate from the Department for Work and Pensions, which has twisted facts, manipulated statistics and distorted data to win support for its drive to cut costs and crack down on benefit fraud. This cascade of spurious claims and scandalously spun stories ends up demonising the disabled. It does no credit to Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state, who proclaims himself a compassionate Conservative. Ministers say they cannot be blamed for the actions of the media, but they know how the game is played.
Meanwhile, there has been a significant increase in articles about "cheats", "scroungers" and "skivers" in the media. Not just tabloids, but broadsheets and broadcasters. A recent Glasgow Media Group study revealed a near-tripling of these words in papers, alongside a reduction in reports on discrimination and sympathetic stories about disabled people. Focus groups found people suggesting seven in 10 claimants were fraudulent; in reality, levels of fraud for disability benefits are 0.5%, much lower than for other benefits – and less than the level of errors made by officials.
Worth pointing out that this wasn't invented by the current lot. A lot of the groundwork, including the grass your neighbour hotlines, was laid down by the previous government. And on the cultural front, the lads off Little Britain can give themselves a pat on the back, too.
In a way, I think this ties in to the Clarkson furore too. He didn't exactly say what he'd been attributed as saying, at least not in the way in which it was generally understood. But we seem to be operating increasingly according to the law of the school playground, if not of the jungle. People are sensitive because nobody wants to be seen as a potential victim.