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Listening to this furious, caustic, industrial NSFW anthem is like witnessing the nervous breakdown of the British underclass crushed under the boot of an uncaring state. But amongst the confused ramblings that take in escalating working hours, sexual violence, social inequality and media sedation, there's an embittered clarity - a message for a jaded generation sick of the machinations of politicians in their ivory towers.

"The best way to scare a Tory is to read and get rich," shouts Idles lead singer Joe Talbot in the refrain of Mother. There aren't a lot of lyrics in this deceptively sophisticated song, but let's unpick that one, because it says an awful lot in those 13 monosyllabic words. So, take a leaf out of Mr Talbot's book and start your reading here.

First, what is a Tory?

Any British citizen will be able to tell you that it's a member or supporter of the Right-leaning Conservative Party, but actually the word Tory dates back long before the use of the word Conservative. And make no mistake: words are important and whilst most people know Tories and Conservatives as synonymous, the use of former is favoured by many on both sides of the divide: "Conservative" has connotations of compromise whereas Tory is more dynamic, derived from an Irish Gaelic word meaning "outlaw".

"I use 'Tory' and 'Tories' to describe our opponents because to me, those terms place them somewhere backward-looking, negative and reactionary," former Labour MP and cabinet minister, David Blunkett told the BBC's Leala Padmanabhan in her excellent 2015 article about the usage and meaning of the word. "'Conservative' sounds more positive; it's about preserving and protecting. 'Tory' is shorter and easier to say and it has more negative connotations, which is why we use it".

Second, why would you want to scare a Tory?

Well, from the perspective of this song, they're very much the bad guys - the rich and the powerful. But their power over you will diminish if they think you are a threat.

The Tories were originally a faction of parliament that divided against the Whigs to support the Roman Catholic future King James II as the successor to King Charles II. By the 19th Century, the Tories had a very different agenda and under Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, the Conservative Party ushered in The Poor Law Amendment Act, ostensibly to care for the sick and the elderly who could not provide for themselves. But in practice, this was a far cry from the state welfare we know today - instead, it was a system of centrally-controlled workhouses where the quality of life was so appalling - effectively punishing the poor for their poverty - that some would rather die than subject themselves to the indignity of sheltering there.

The Conservative Party blocked the introduction of the state old age pension twice in the House of Lords in the early 20th Century but eventually did come around to accepting the idea of the welfare state, introduced by the first post-war Labour government in 1945, promising a new system of universal social security ensuring minimum standards of education, health care and financial support for every British "from the cradle to the grave".

Tempting though it might be, it is a bit simplistic to cast the Conservatives as the only bad guys in British political history. They could, after all, have dismantled the welfare state as soon as they returned to power in 1951, but they recognised it as one of Britain's crowning achievements of the age and it was politically expedient to preserve it. The NHS, in particular, is beloved on both sides of the House. The never-ending dispute is over how it should be funded.

Finally, what's so scary about reading and getting rich?

Right-wing politics, by its most simple definition, is the politics of minimal government intrusion. In other words, the Right believes in letting people get on with living their lives as they see fit, being productive and enjoying the benefits of their enterprise, with the government acting essentially to enforce the rule of law to maintain a civil society.

There's nothing innately mean-spirited about the desire to have a free market society, but when the free market is the moral centre of that society, individuals who do not contribute to society fall by the wayside. The elderly and the disabled who cannot work have no future in a society without social care. Unless they can get an education.

In a society with no social care, like Britain until the 20th Century, there is no social mobility and so the class system is perpetuated through the generations - uneducated workers toil in the fields and factories, incapable of earning a living from anything other than physical labour; the aristocracy, by contrast, is conditioned for rule through a system of elite educational institutions. The middle class, meanwhile, is encouraged to borrow more and more, forced to work to preserve a way of life that is never quite paid for in order to line the pockets of the industrialists and landowners who own the means of production.

The last truly dynamic Tory government, under the reign of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, created a generation of people who believed that financial independence was the secret to social progress. The lure of owning your home was used to distract the working class while the trade unions were decimated and state-owned utilities privatised.

When more of us have an education, there's a widespread grasp of history, economics and politics, giving people the perspective to see through the false hopes offered by politicians like Thatcher to the hidden agendas that motivate those in power. That perspective puts power into the hands of the voter. And with the swing in power can come real and lasting change.

 

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About the curator: Jon Ewing

After graduating from the University of Keele in England with a degree in Politics and American Studies, Jon worked as editor of a music and entertainment magazine before spending several years as a freelance writer and, with the advent of the internet, a website designer, developer and consultant. He lives in Reading, home to one of the world's most famous and long-running music festivals, which he has attended every year since 1992.

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