Mile-wide: Mr Miliband explained his idea to bridge the gulf between the public and the Prime Minister to Andrew Marr.
Ed Miliband engaged in a particularly compelling piece of kite-flying today (July 27) – he put out the idea that the public should have their own version of Prime Minister’s Questions.
Speaking to Andrew Marr, he said such an event would “bridge the ‘mile-wide’ gulf between what people want and what they get from Prime Minister’s Questions”, which has been vilified in recent years for uncivilised displays of tribal hostility between political parties and their leaders (David Cameron being the worst offender) and nicknamed ‘Wednesday Shouty Time’.
“I think what we need is a public question time where regularly the prime minister submits himself or herself to questioning from members of the public in the Palace of Westminster on Wednesdays,” said Mr Miliband.
“At the moment there are a few inches of glass that separates the public in the gallery from the House of Commons but there is a gulf a mile wide between the kind of politics people want and what Prime Minister’s Questions offers.”
What would you ask David Cameron?
Would you demand a straight answer to the question that has dogged the Department for Work and Pensions for almost three years, now – “How many people are your ‘welfare reform’ policies responsible for killing?”
Would you ask him why his government, which came into office claiming it would be the most “transparent” administration ever, has progressively denied more and more important information to the public?
Would you ask him whether he thinks it is right for a Prime Minister to knowingly attempt to mislead the public, as he himself has done repeatedly over the privatisation of the National Health Service, the benefit cap, the bedroom tax, food banks, fracking…? The list is as long as you want to make it.
What about his policies on austerity? Would you ask him why his government of millionaires insists on inflicting deprivation on the poor when the only economic policy that has worked involved investment in the system, rather than taking money away?
His government’s part-privatisation of the Royal Mail was a total cack-handed disaster that has cost the nation £1 billion and put our mail in the hands of hedge funds. Would you ask him why he is so doggedly determined to stick to privatisation policies that push up prices and diminish quality of service. Isn’t it time some of these private companies were re-nationalised – the energy firms being prime examples?
Would you want to know why his government has passed so many laws to restrict our freedoms – of speech, of association, of access to justice – and why it intends to pass more, ending the government’s acknowledgement that we have internationally-agreed human rights and restricting us to a ‘Bill of Rights’ dictated by his government, and tying us to restrictive lowest-common-denominator employment conditions laid down according to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a grubby little deal that the EU and USA were trying to sign in secret until the whistle was blown on it?
[Image: David Symonds for The Guardian, in February this year.]
Britain has returned to prosperity, with the economy finally nudging beyond its pre-crisis peak, according to official figures.
Well, that’s a relief, isn’t it? Next time you’re in the supermarket looking for bargains or mark-downs because you can’t afford the kind of groceries you had in 2008, you can at least console yourself that we’re all doing better than we were back then.
The hundreds of thousands of poor souls who have to scrape by on handouts from food banks will, no doubt, be bolstered by the knowledge that Britain is back on its feet.
And the relatives of those who did not survive Iain Duncan Smith’s brutal purge of benefit claimants can be comforted by the thought that they did not die in vain.
NO! Of course not! Gross domestic product might be up 3.1 per cent on last year but it’s got nothing to do with most of the population! In real terms, you’re £1,600 per year worse-off!
The Conservatives who have been running the economy since 2010 have re-balanced it, just as they said they would – but they lied about the way it would be re-balanced and as a result the money is going to the people who least deserve it; the super-rich and the bankers who caused the crash in the first place.
You can be sure that the mainstream media won’t be telling you that, though.
Even some of the figures they are prepare to use are enough to cast doubt on the whole process. The UK economy is forecast to be the fastest-growing among the G7 developed nations according to the IMF (as reported by the BBC) – but our export growth since 2010 puts us below all but one of the other G7 nations, according to Ed Balls in The Guardian.
“Since most international trade is in goods and not in services, once the proportion of the economy devoted to producing internationally tradable goods drops below about 15 per cent, it becomes more and more difficult to combine a reasonable rate of growth and full employment with a sustainable balance of payments position,” he writes.
“In the UK, the proportion of GDP coming from manufacturing is now barely above 10 per cent. Hardly surprising then that we have not had a foreign trade surplus balance since 1982 – over thirty years ago – while our share of world trade which was 10.7 per cent in 1950 had fallen by 2012 to no more than 2.6 per cent.”
All of this seems to be good business sense. It also runs contrary to successive governments’ economic policies for the past 35 years, ever since the neoliberal government of Margaret Thatcher took over in 1979.
As this blog has explained, Thatcher and her buddies Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph were determined to undermine the confidence then enjoyed by the people who actually worked for a living, because it was harming the ability of the idle rich – shareholders, bosses… bankers – to increase their own undeserved profits; improvements in working-class living standards were holding back their greed.
In order to hammer the workers back into the Stone Age, they deliberately destroyed the UK’s manufacturing and exporting capability and blamed it on the unions.
That is why we have had a foreign trade deficit since 1982. That is why our share of world trade is less than one-third of what it was in 1950 (under a Labour government, notice). That is why unemployment has rocketed, even though the true level goes unrecognised as governments have rigged the figures to suit themselves.
(The current wheeze has the government failing to count as unemployed anyone on Universal Credit, anyone on Workfare/Mandatory Work Activity and anyone who whose benefit has been sanctioned – among many other groups – for example.)
You may wish to argue that the economy is fine – after all, that’s what everybody is saying, including the Office for National Statistics.
Not according to Mr Mills: “The current improvement in our economic performance, based on buttressing consumer confidence by boosting asset values fuelled by yet more borrowing, is all to unlikely to last.”
(He means the housing bubble created by George Osborne’s ‘Help to Buy’ scheme will burst soon, and then the economy will be right up the creek because the whole edifice is based on more borrowing at a time when Osborne has been claiming he is paying down the deficit.)
Ed Balls has got the right idea – at least, on the face of it. In his Guardian article he states: “We are not going to deliver a balanced, investment-led recovery that benefits all working people with the same old Tory economics,” and he’s right.
“Hoping tax cuts at the very top will trickle down, a race to the bottom on wages, Treasury opposition to a proper industrial strategy, and flirting with exit from the European Union cannot be the right prescription for Britain.” Right again – although our contract with Europe must be renegotiated and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement would be a disaster for the UK if we signed it.
But none of that affects you, does it? It’s all too far away, controlled by people we’ve never met. That’s why Balls focuses on what a Labour government would do for ordinary people: “expanding free childcare, introducing a lower 10p starting rate of tax, raising the minimum wage and ending the exploitative use of zero-hours contracts. We need to create more good jobs and ensure young people have the skills they need to succeed.”
And how do the people respond to these workmanlike proposals?
“You intend to continue the Tories’ destructive ‘austerity’ policies.”
“The economy isn’t fixed but you broke it.”
There was one comment suggesting that all the main parties are the same now, which – it has been suggested – was what Lynton Crosby told David Cameron to spread if he wanted to win the next election.
Very few of the comments under the Guardian piece have anything to do with what Balls actually wrote; they harp on about New Labour’s record (erroneously), they conflate Labour’s vow not to increase borrowing with an imaginary plan to continue Tory austerity policies… in fact they do all they can to discredit him.
Not because his information is wrong but because they have heard rumours about him that have put them off.
It’s as if people don’t want their situation to improve.
Until we can address that problem – which is one of perception – we’ll keep going around in circles while the exploiters laugh.
Evil eyes: Esther McVey seems to get a perverse thrill from pretending her government’s policies are helping people; it is more likely they are driving the needy to despair and suicide.
Note to Iain Duncan Smith: It is not a good idea to try to inspire confidence in a £multi-billion “money pit” disaster by wheeling out Esther McVey to lie about it.
The woman dubbed “Fester McVile” by some commentators has accumulated a reputation so bad that the only way she can hide the metaphorical stink from the public is by associating with …Smith himself, in whose stench she seems almost fragrant. But not quite.
This is a woman who has lied to the public that it is impossible to carry out a cumulative assessment of the impact on the sick and disabled of the Coalition’s ‘final solution’ changes to the benefit system.
This is the woman who, in the face of public unrest about the prevalence of zero-hours contracts, announced that Job Centre advisors will now be able to force the unemployed into taking this exploitative work.
She has previously misled Parliament over the loophole in Bedroom Tax legislation that meant the government had removed Housing Benefit from thousands of people who were exempt from the measure – including Stephanie Bottrill, whose suicide has been attributed to the pressure of having to survive on less because of the tax. Asked how many people had been affected by the loophole, McVey played it down by claiming she did not know the answer, while other ministers suggested between 3,000 and 5,000. In fact, from Freedom of Information requests to which just one-third of councils responded, 16,000 cases were revealed.
Mark Hoban stood in for McVey to trot out the lie that independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment had identified areas of improvement on which the government was acting. In fact, out of 25 recommendations in the Year One review alone, almost two-thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.
In a debate on food banks, McVey’s lies came thick and fast: She accused the previous Labour government of a “whirl of living beyond our means” that “had to come to a stop” without ever pausing to admit that it was Tory-voting bankers who had been living beyond their means, who caused the crash, and who are still living beyond their means today, because her corporatist (thank you, Zac Goldsmith) Conservative government has protected them.
She accused Labour of trying to keep food banks as “its little secret”, forcing Labour’s Jim Cunningham to remind us all that food banks were set up by churches to help refugees who were waiting for their asylum status to be confirmed – not as a support system for British citizens, as they have become under the Coalition’s failed regime.
She said the Coalition government was brought in to “solve the mess that Labour got us in”, which is not true – it was born from a backroom deal between two of the most unscrupulous party leaders of recent times, in order to ensure they and their friends could get their noses into the money trough (oh yes, there’s plenty of money around – but this government is keeping it away from you).
She said the Coalition had got more people into work than ever before – without commenting on the fact that the jobs are part-time, zero-hours, self-employed contracts that benefit the employers but exploit the workers and in fact propel them towards poverty.
She lied to Parliament, claiming that children are three times more likely to be in poverty if they are in a workless household. In fact, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in-work poverty has now outstripped that suffered by those in workless and retired households; children are more likely to be in poverty if their parents have jobs.
She attacked Labour for allowing five million people to be on out-of-work benefits, with two million children in workless households – but under her government the number of households suffering in-work poverty has risen to eight million (by 2008 standards), while workless or retired households in poverty have risen to total 6.3 million.
She claimed that 60,000 people were likely to use a food bank this year – but Labour’s Paul Murphy pointed out that 60,000 people will use food banks this year in Wales alone. The actual figure for the whole of the UK is 500,000.
She said the Coalition’s tax cuts had given people an extra £700 per year, without recognising that the real-terms drop in wages and rise in the cost of living means people will be £1,600 a year worse-off when the next general election takes place, tax cuts included. She said stopping fuel price increases meant families were £300 better-off, which is nonsense. Families cannot become better off because something has not happened; it’s like saying I’m better off because the roof of my house hasn’t fallen in and squashed me.
Her talents won exactly the recognition they deserved when her Wikipedia entry was altered to describe her as “the Assistant Grim Reaper for Disabled People since 2012, second only to Iain Duncan Smith. She was previously a television presenter and businesswoman before deciding to branch out into professional lying and helping disabled people into the grave.”
In her food bank speech, she also said the government had brought in Universal Credit to ensure that three million people become better-off. There’s just one problem with that system – it doesn’t work.
Who said it could never happen here? Children are starving on the streets of Britain as the Tory-led Coalition’s hate policies bite ever-more-deeply into the poor [Image: Stoke Sentinel].
British children are sifting through bins left outside houses in search of scraps of food because they are starving, it has been revealed.
But Tories and their supporters in rich London won’t have to look at them – because they are in Labour-held Stoke-on-Trent.
The Stoke Sentinel reported that “Youngsters have been searching through bins in the Hollings Street and Brocksford Street area of Fenton before eating any leftovers.”
It said, “Dozens of hungry families are referred to Fenton’s food bank for help every week.”
What’s really sad about this story is that some of the people interviewed seemed to think the problem was with the mess left behind by these children – youngsters who are, remember, so hungry that they are rooting through rubbish for stale leftovers.
One said: “It’s horrible to see… Some days on the school run we have had to actually cross over the road because there’s so much rubbish on the pavement because of this. Luckily I keep my bins to one side so we haven’t been too badly affected.”
Clearly she is full of the milk of human kindness. According to the newspaper, that person was just 26 years old. Perhaps she should consider growing up.
Police in the area said the matter had been reported to them. What did people think they were going to do – arrest starving children?
Fortunately, Sgt Jason Allport demonstrated that police have the right attitude: “The issue isn’t theft; it’s children going around not having enough clothing and food.
“That issue is really something for social services to look at.”
In fact, it is something for every single citizen of the United Kingdom to look at.
This is the sixth-richest economy in the entire world. It is a land of plenty. Yet people here are happy to allow their neighbours to starve – probably to the point of death.
Their only concern is that they shouldn’t have to see it.
If I was living in Stoke, I would be ashamed to share the streets with people who think like that.
If I had voted for the political parties that have inflicted this misery on our nation, I would be ashamed of what I had done.
But you can be sure that David Cameron isn’t ashamed.
You see, not only has this been going on ever since the Coalition government established welfare-to-work in its current form –
Not only have government ministers and backbenchers been lying to you about the payouts given to the profit-driven privately-owned provider companies –
Not only have these companies been sucking down on your hard-earned taxpayer cash as though they had done something to earn it –
But the people they were supposed to be helping – people who have been forced into ever-greater poverty by the benefit uprating cap, arbitrary and unfair benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the £26,000 cap on benefits for families, the imposition of council tax on even the poorest households (in England at least), the stress of continual reassessment (if they are ESA claimants in the work-related activity group), the humiliation of having to visit food banks and who knows what else…
The people who are desperate to get any kind of paying job, despite the fact that zero-hours contracts could make them worse-off than unemployment, due to the effect on in-work benefits, despite the fact that those in-work benefits are also being squeezed hard, and despite the fact that there are at least five jobseekers for every job that becomes available…
These are the people that government ministers, backbenchers and the right-wing press keep victimising with their endless attacks on “skivers”, “scroungers”, the “feckless”, the “idle” and the “lazy”!
If I was unemployed and my MP had been caught slagging me off while praising these good-for-nothing so-called work programme ‘providers’, I would make it my business to bring them before the public, lock them into some medieval stocks and pelt them with rotten vegetables. Public humiliation is the least they should get for this continual insult to common decency.
But wait! There’s more.
It turns out that, not only are these work programme providers a bunch of lazy good-for-nothing parasites, but many of them are also a bunch of foreigners who’ve come to the UK to take our jobs!
Ingeus is Australian. G4S is part-Danish. Maximus is American.
It seems that all the politically-fuelled and media-driven anger against immigration into the UK from the rest of the European Union and beyond may be designed to distract us all from the fact that foreign firms are immigrating here to take government jobs that should be yours, and to steal your tax money.
Nobody can say they’ve earned it, after all.
But let us not be unfair. It would be wrong to concentrate on welfare-to-work providers when all of government is riddled with foreign interlopers.
Look at the Treasury, where the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms have been re-writing tax law to suit their tax-avoiding corporate clients for the last few years. They are Deloitte (American), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (part-American), Ernst & Young (part-American) and KPMG (Dutch).
And then there is the huge, criminal, foreign firm that has been advising the Department for Work and Pensions on ways to privatise the welfare state since the mid-1990s – a firm so controversial that there is currently a moratorium on the mention of its name in the national mainstream media. It is an American insurance giant called Unum.
The best that can be said of these five corporations is that – at least to the best of our knowledge – they do work for a living.
“This particular Secretary of State, along with his Department, is pushing people through [the] cracks and hoping that the rest of the country will not notice that they have disappeared.” – Glenda Jackson MP, June 30, 2014.
If the man this blog likes to call RTU (Returned To Unit) thought he would be able to show that his behaviour had improved, he was sorely mistaken – as the comment above illustrates.
It is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
But we were discussing the debate as a trial. Let us first look at the evidence in favour of the government.
There. That was illuminating, wasn’t it?
Seriously, the government benches were unable to put up a single supportable point against the mountain of evidence put forward by Labour.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary-in-a-State, resorted yet again to his favourite tactic – and one for which he should have been sacked as an MP long ago – lying to Parliament. He accused Labour of leaving behind a “shambles” – in fact the economy had begun to improve under intelligent guidance from Alistair Darling. “The economy was at breaking point,” he said – in fact the British economy cannot break; it simply doesn’t work that way. His claim that “We were burdened with the largest deficit in peacetime history” is only supportable in money terms, and then only because inflation means the pound is worth so much less than it was in, say, the 1940s – or for the entire century between 1750 and 1850. He called yesterday’s debate “a cynical nugget of short-term policy to put to the unions,” but the evidence below renders that completely irrelevant.
He said complaints about long delivery times for benefits were “out of date” – a common excuse. He’ll do the same in a few months, when the same complaint is raised again.
“Universal Credit is rolling out to the timescale I set last year,” he insisted – but we all know that it has been ‘reset’ (whatever that means) by the government’s Major Projects Authority.
He said there had been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, with more than 50 recommendations by Sir Malcolm Harrington accepted by the government. This was a lie. We know that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his first review were not fully or successfully implemented.
He said appeals against ESA decisions “are down by just under 90 per cent” – but we know that this is because of the government’s unfair and prejudicial mandatory reconsideration scheme – and that the DWP was bringing in a new provider to carry out work capability assessments. Then he had to admit that this provider has not yet been chosen! And the backlog of claims mounts up.
He tried to justify his hugely expensive botched IT schemes by pointing at a Labour scheme for the Child Support Agency that wasted hundreds of millions less than his Universal Credit, without acknowledging the obvious flaw in his argument: If he knew about this mistake, why is he repeating it?
Conservative Mark Harper said Labour opposed the Tories’ most popular scheme – the benefit cap. That was a lie. Labour supported the cap, but would have set it at a higher level. We know that the Coalition government could not do this because it would not, then, have made the huge savings they predicted.
Now, the evidence against.
First up is Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions: “After £612 million being spent, including £131 million written off or ‘written down’, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money.
“Over 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and… projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £800 million since December… The Government [is] still not able to tell us which provider will replace Atos.
“Personal Independence Payment delays have created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for disabled people and additional budgetary pressures for Government… Desperate people, many of whom have been working and paying into the system for years or decades and are now struck by disability or illness, waiting six months or more for help from the Department for Work and Pensions.
“The Work Programme has failed to meet its targets, the unfair bedroom tax risks costing more than it saves, and other DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray.
“Spending on housing benefit for people who are in work has gone up by more than 60 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are in low-paid or insecure work and are unable to make ends meet, even though they may be working all the hours God sends.
“More than five million people — 20 per cent of the workforce — are paid less than the living wage. Furthermore, 1.5 million people are on zero-hours contracts and 1.4 million people are working part time who want to work full time.
“This… is about the young woman diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who has waited six months for any help with her living costs. It is about the disabled man whose payments have been stopped because he did not attend an interview to which he was never invited.
“The Government are wasting more and more taxpayers’ money on poorly planned and disastrously managed projects, and are allowing in-work benefits to spiral because of their failure to tackle the low pay and insecurity that are adding billions of pounds to the benefits bill.
“The Government are careless with the contributions that people make to the system, callous about the consequences of their incompetence for the most vulnerable, and too arrogant to admit mistakes and engage seriously with the task of sorting out their own mess.
“What this Government have now totally failed to do is to remember the human impact, often on people in vulnerable circumstances, of this catalogue of chaos. Behind the bureaucratic language and spreadsheets showing backlogs and overspends are people in need who are being let down and mistreated, and taxpayers who can ill afford the mismanagement and waste of their money.
“To fail to deliver on one policy might be considered unfortunate; to miss one’s targets on two has to be judged careless; but to make such a complete mess of every single initiative the Secretary of State has attempted requires a special gift. It is something like a Midas touch: everything he touches turns into a total shambles.
“Meanwhile, the Secretary of State will spew out dodgy statistics, rant and rave about Labour’s record, say “on time and on budget” until he is blue in the face and, in typical Tory style, blame the staff for everything that goes wrong.”
Julie Hilling (Labour) provides this: “The Government do not know what they are talking about… They talk about the number of jobs being created, but they do not know how many of them are on zero-hours contracts or how many are on Government schemes or how many have been transferred from the public sector.”
Stephen Doughty (Labour/Co-op): “another stark indictment of their policies is the massive increase in food banks across this country.”
Helen Jones (Labour): “When I asked how many people in my constituency had been waiting more than six months or three months for medical assessments for personal independence payment, the Government told me that the figures were not available. In other words, they are not only incompetent; they do not know how incompetent they are!”
Sheila Gilmore (Labour): “Although the problems with Atos were known about—and it is now being suggested that they had been known about for some time—a contract was given to that organisation for PIP. Was due diligence carried out before the new contract was issued?”
Gordon Marsden (Labour): “Many of my constituents have been caught by the double whammy of delays involving, first, the disability living allowance and now PIP. They have waited long periods for a resolution, but because a decision is being reconsidered, their Motability — the lifeline that has enabled them to get out of their homes — has been taken away before that decision has been made. Is that not a horrendous indictment of the Government?”
Emily Thornberry (Labour): “I have been making freedom of information requests.. in relation to mandatory reconsiderations. When people get their work capability assessment, and it has failed, before they can appeal there has to be a mandatory reconsideration. The Department does not know how many cases have been overturned, how many claimants have been left without any money and how long the longest period is for reconsideration. It cannot answer a single one of those questions under a freedom of information request.”
Natascha Engel (Labour): “The welfare state is designed as a safety net to catch people who absolutely cannot help themselves… That safety net is being withdrawn under this government, which is certainly pushing some of my constituents into destitution.”
There was much more, including the devastating speech by Glenda Jackson, partly in response to Natascha Engels’ comments, that is reproduced in the video clip above.
The vote – for the House of Commons to recognise that the DWP was in chaos and disarray – was lost (of course). A government with a majority will never lose such a vote.
But once again, the debate was won by the opposition. They had all the facts; all the government had were lies and fantasies.
By now, one suspects we all know somebody who has died as a result of Coalition government polices on welfare (or, preferably, social security). Two such deaths have been reported in the Comment columns of Vox Political since the weekend, and it is only Tuesday.
That is why it is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
Share it with your friends, use parts of it in letters to your local papers or radio stations, even mentioning it in conversation will help if the other person isn’t aware of the facts.
Don’t let it be suppressed.
You don’t want to do Iain Duncan Smith’s work for him, do you?
Mock sympathy: This is the sort of treatment Ed Miliband can expect from David Cameron if he keeps following policies that are created by the Tory media rather than the needs of the British people.
Labour could be heading for defeat next year, after it set out new policies that have the same chance of success as England’s plan for the 2014 World Cup.
The party put its weight behind a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) that left the public cold. If Labour does not change direction, it seems likely the party will not win the votes it needs to get into office next year – unless its rivals make serious mistakes.
It is a situation almost exactly like that of the England football team.
All right, it’s not a perfect parallel. England got into this fix because it was outplayed by teams with ambitious and flamboyant star players – Balotelli for Italy and Suarez for Uruguay. Labour doesn’t have that problem as the closest equivalent in politics is Nigel Farage.
But, like England, Labour seems unable to defend itself against even rudimentary attacks – partly because leaders have painted themselves into a corner (marked ‘pro-austerity’) and partly because they simply refuse to use the logical arguments. Does anybody remember what a relief it was when, after years of silence in response to Tory claims that Labour caused the financial collapse, Peter Hain finally told Owen Paterson, on the BBC’s Any Questions, “It was the banks that destroyed the economy, not the Labour government – it was the international banking system!”
And where is Mr Hain now? He’s retiring at the next election. The only Labour player who was man enough to fend off this blatantly unreasonable Tory attack and he’s being taken off the field.
Meanwhile, Labour’s leaders continue to make schoolboy mistakes that create the opportunity for the other side to score. Ed Miliband’s publicity-seeking pose with The Sun was a spectacular example; yesterday’s IPPR report was a more subtle one.
The lack of ambition is staggering; it seems that, after four years, the Miliband camp still hasn’t understood that copying Tory austerity will scare voters away. Committing to Tory-imposed constraints that require any new idea to be covered by a cut or a tax increase will just increase the exodus – Labour needs to be ambitious.
Everybody knows now that austerity is nonsense. It’s an excuse to drive money into the hands of those who have too much of it already. After four years of it, we are told that this government is on course to put five million British children in poverty by 2020. Food bank use is at its highest ever. The number of people claiming in-work benefits is at its highest ever because employers refuse to pay a living wage and expect the taxpayer to subsidise them instead; by the time of the 2015 election, working families will be around £2,000 per year worse off than they were in 2010.
You are worse-off under the Tory Coalition. You are worse-off under austerity.
Meanwhile, business bosses and shareholders have been having a spectacularly good time, with incomes skyrocketing. There’s no austerity for the One Per Cent!
Indeed, income inequality has increased hugely to place the UK seventh on the international table, behind the USA (fourth) and Chile (first) – and we all know that Tory neoliberals are huge fans of the systems in those two countries.
What are the wealthy doing with all the money they have parasitised from the rest of us?
Well, they’re not using it to pay their taxes, that’s for sure!
One of the main plans put forward in Labour’s IPPR report was to save money by means-testing benefits for 100,000 young people – saving £65 million. That’s a pittance compared to the £600 million in taxes that is being withheld by Google, Amazon and Apple, according to an infographic that’s currently doing the rounds.
Labour is very quiet about that – copying the Tory attitude of diverting people with stories about welfare abuses because Miliband’s know-nothing advisors think being “hard on benefits” is popular with the public, who don’t like “scroungers”.
They’re not intelligent enough to understand that this attitude has been carefully nurtured in the public consciousness by a right-wing, Tory-controlled media. It has nothing to do with reality, in which only a tiny minority of people are in fact defrauding the taxpayer out of benefit money. Lord Fraud – sorry, Freud – was taken to task for this only days ago.
It seems that – like England’s football team – the Labour Party has been off chasing a fantasy. Austerity and the persecution of people on benefits (most of whom are entirely deserving of them, plus massive amounts of compensation for the despicable way they have been treated for the past few years) are Conservative-created blind alleys. In politics, you don’t oppose anybody by copying them.
If Labour concentrated on the real causes of Britain’s problems, the party might have a hope of success.
Otherwise, like the England team, Labour will have to be content with hoping that the Tories make a big mistake.
And, like the England team, they are most likely to learn that this is not good enough.
Finger-jabbing protest: Iain Duncan Smith talked over Owen Jones in his last Question Time appearance; this time the other panellists didn’t give him the chance.
Around three-quarters of the way through tonight’s Question Time, I was ready to believe the BBC had pulled a fast one on us and we weren’t going to see Iain Duncan Smith get the well-deserved comeuppance that he has managed to avoid for so long in Parliament and media interviews.
There was plausible deniability for the BBC – the Isis crisis that has blown up in Iraq is extremely topical and feeds into nationwide feeling about the possibility of Britain going to war again in the Middle East. The debate on extremism in Birmingham schools is similarly of public interest – to a great degree because it caused an argument between Tory cabinet ministers. Those are big issues at the moment and the BBC can justifiably claim that it was making best use of the time and the panellists (for example Salma Yaqoob is a Muslim, from Birmingham, who is a member of ‘Hands Off Our Schools’).
But Auntie shouldn’t think for a moment that we didn’t notice the glaring omission on tonight’s agenda. With the Work and Pensions Secretary as the major politician on the panel, we should have had a question about his job but were fobbed off instead with non-items about ‘British values’ and whether parents should be arrested for allowing their children to become obese. That’s enough for some of us to read a right-wing agenda between the lines – an aim to avoid embarrassing Iain Duncan Smith.
It seems that, even if Auntie’s twin-set is pink, her bloomers are blue. Blue-mers, if you like.
By the time the fourth question came up, it seemed there would be no opportunity to analyse RTU (we call him Returned To Unit after his failed Army career) and his disastrous ministerial career.
This question was: “After the Newark by-election, are we looking at the destruction of the Liberal Democrats?” Thank goodness some of the panellists realised this was their chance.
Chris Bryant leapt at the opportunity to bypass the Lib Dems altogether. “The real enemy is over there,” he said, indicating the Secretary-in-a-State. “The Conservatives have made this country a place where two million people need food bank handouts.”
Salma Yaqoob pointed out that, thanks to the Conservative-led coalition (and, because he’s the Work and Pensions secretary, Duncan Smith’s policies), “13 million people are now below the poverty line and one million are suffering the indignity of having to use food banks.
“People are suicidal,” she pointed out – a very pertinent claim to make, as the most common cause of death for people going through Iain Duncan Smith’s benefit system appears to be suicide (due to the stress created by Department for Work and Pensions officers who work very hard to push them off-benefit). “They don’t want to be a burden to their families because their support has been taken away.”
She said: “People have been called scroungers… Iain Duncan Smith quite happily labels poor people as scroungers, when he claimed £39 on expenses for his own breakfast.”
Duncan Smith was interrupting from the background to claim that he had never called benefit claimants scroungers. Feel free to go to your favourite search engine right now, type in “Iain Duncan Smith scroungers”, and see for yourself whether his name has ever been associated with the word.
And, thank goodness, a member of the public spoke up to say: “Iain Duncan Smith is systematically taking down public services in this country and destroying people’s lives.”
He went on to invite anybody who cares about this issue to the demonstration in London by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity, on June 21.
(I have since discovered that he was David Peel, press officer for the People’s Assembly Against Austerity. In my opinion, the fact that he was a political representative, planted in the audience to make a point, diminishes what he had to say – but I am still glad that somebody said what he did.)
It was sad that the great satirist Ian Hislop did not take an opportunity to make a few sharp observations – especially as commenters to this site have made it clear that they contacted him to request this action. He addressed himself to the question he had been asked and I make no comment about that; you can draw your own conclusions.
It didn’t happen the way this writer would have wanted, but the job got done anyway.
Expect multiple attempts by the right-wing press to salvage the situation – all doomed to failure.
Last week, Vox Political stated that there was an opportunity here to show the public the homicidal – if not genocidal – nature of the changes to the benefit system this man mockingly describes as “welfare reforms”.
It seems that food bank charity The Trussell Trust has been making too many waves around the Conservative-led Coalition government’s policies regarding benefits, social security and welfare.
Readers may recall how the charity warned that Coalition policies had created a need for a huge expansion in the number of food banks across the UK. The Tories countered this by accusing the trust of “misleading and emotionally manipulative publicity-seeking”, and also of “aggressively marketing [its] services”.
After this failed to make a dent in public opinion, the Daily Mail tried to discredit the trust by claiming it was handing out food parcels without checking whether the people claiming them were bona fide.
But it turned out that the paper’s claim of “inadequate checks on who claims the vouchers, after a reporter obtained three days’ worth of food simply by telling staff at a Citizens Advice Bureau – without any proof – that he was unemployed” was not true. The reporter in fact committed fraud by telling a string of lies in order to falsely claim his food parcel in a flagrant abuse of the system.
The public response was immediate – donations to the Trussell Trust’s fundraising appeal shot through the roof.
Now the government has tried a different tack: blackmail. Instead of trying to justify the government’s position or undermine that taken by the trust in public, it has been revealed that, recently, “someone in power” told trust bosses that the government “might try to shut you down” if the trust continued to cause it embarrassment.
This detail was revealed while Trussell Trust chairman Chris Mould was giving evidence to the Panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector this week.
The Trussell Trust is in a fairly robust position with regard to government interference; a 2005 decision by the charity’s trustees to avoid seeking government funding means it is in a better position to resist pressure.
But the trust has to consider the worst-case scenario. If the government did manage to shut it down, hundreds of thousands of people would starve.
That is the real threat posed by the Conservative-led government. Shutting down the Trussell Trust won’t hurt anybody who runs the charity or volunteers for it.
But it could kill food bank users across the country.
It is exactly the kind of covert, backstabbing move we have come to expect from the likes of Iain Duncan Smith.
Oh, come on! You knew RTU (it means Returned To Unit and is our tribute to his Army career) would figure in this article somewhere.
According to Mr Mould, he received a phone call from “someone” in the office of the Secretary-in-a-State about Work and Pensions, back in 2011. He said it was “basically to tell me that the boss was very angry with us because we were publicising the concerns we have over the rising number of people who were struggling as a consequence of delays and inefficiences in the benefits system”.
Unfortunately – for sly abusers like Duncan Smith – the kind of threats recorded above are really only useful when they are kept secret. The idea is always to present the victim with a double-bind – in this case, not only would food bank users suffer, but the Trussell Trust would get the blame for having withdrawn the service (whether voluntarily or not).
Now that we all know the government itself is putting the screws on – and is doing so in retaliation against the Trussell Trust’s entirely legitimate attempts to raise awareness of government policies’ disastrous effects – it would be electoral suicide.
That being said, watch Iain Duncan Smith on Question Time today.
He’s probably stupid enough to go through with it anyway.
Crocodile tears: Everybody thought Iain Duncan Smith had a change of heart at Easterhouse and intended to help people. Instead, under his direction, the Department for Work and Pensions has caused the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people.
The Department for Work and Pensions reckons that the rise of food banks has more to do with Christian evangelism than with helping people who can’t afford food because of Conservative government policies.
According to Political Scrapbook, DWP director Neil Couling said: “For the Trussell Trust, food banks started as an evangelical device to get religious groups in touch with their local communities.”
Has Mr Couling forgotten Iain Duncan Smith’s ‘Road to Damascus’ moment on the housing estates of Easterhouse and Gallowgates in Glasgow in 2002?
Struck by the run-down housing, visible signs of drug abuse and general lack of hope, Roman Catholic Duncan Smith set out – with evangelical zeal – to do something about it.
He now sits in a government that kicks people out of their run-down houses and turns the lack of hope into abject despair by cutting off the benefits they need to survive (his government has pushed wages even further below the amount necessary for people to be able to live without government assistance than ever before).
So, really, who do you think is misusing the plight of the very poor as an “evangelical device” for his own “quasireligious” ends?
Couling’s attitude defies belief. He refers to a report from Oxfam – one of Britain’s most highly-respected anti-poverty charities – together with Church Action on Poverty and the Trussell Trust, as “unverified figures from disparate sources”.
Okay, then. How about the DWP supplying us with all the figures it collects, and we’ll do the working-out?
We can start with the deaths of people receiving incapacity benefits.