The pen is mightier: It is the war of words between Coalition distortion of the facts and those of us who value accuracy that will determine the outcome of the next UK general election.
It is most vexing when people refuse to believe facts that are presented to them.
Readers may recall an article on this blog nearly two months ago, in which the claims of Powys county councillor and Conservative general election candidate Chris Davies were thoroughly repudiated, using verifiable factual information. It was entitled ‘Does anybody believe this Conservative claptrap dressed up as information?’
You may be astounded to learn that, despite the veritable mountain of information in my 700-word missive, some people still did believe it!
Admittedly, they waited a while before breaking cover, but sure enough, in the letters page of the Brecon and Radnor Express dated June 6, a Mrs Lloyd of Brecon wrote the following:
“I must write to convey my disappointment at the handful of people who have written to your paper recently opposing welfare reforms. I assume from the tone of these letters that they are probably Labour Party supporters.
“Like lemmings blindly following each other off the cliff, these people have decided to oppose one of the most popular government policies in recent memory.
“I am no great fan of the Lib Dem/Conservative coalition but this handful of socialist Labourites must be the only people left in the UK who don’t think the welfare system needs urgent reform.
“I say I am disappointed because I have always voted Labour and it saddens me to see Labour so out of touch with public opinion.
“Our benefit system is far too soft and state handouts simply must be cut. Why can’t Labour see this?
“I am also ashamed that the local Labour Party… has decided to adopt a policy of scaremongering by trying to label one reform as a ‘bedroom tax’.
“It is not a tax and Labour knows that full well.
“A tax is a levy on something you own, earn or purchase: state provided housing benefit is none of these.
“Is it any wonder that people do not trust politicians when an established and legitimate political party like Labour resorts to such trickery?
“Having spare rooms wasting at the taxpayer’s expense is simply inexcusable and unaffordable.
“Why do Labour want the taxpayer paying for people to be in large flats or houses with unused bedrooms, when there are larger families who need this space?
“If people receiving housing benefit refuse to move to smaller housing and insist on staying in excessively large accommodation, then they should be prepared to pay for it just like every other family.
“To be fair to the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, they have decided to tackle an issue that Labour feels it cannot.
“The cynical amongst us would say Labour’s refusal to support benefit reform is because of their historic reliance on the votes of the unemployed and those receiving benefits.
“A turkey doesn’t vote for Christmas.”
You’re probably shaking your head in disbelief but in fact this is quite a cleverly-constructed letter. Look at the way she tries to establish that right-thinking people must approve of the way Iain… Smith and his mates are hacking apart our social security and that anyone who doesn’t – “probably Labour Party supporters” are a “disappointment”. She later attempts a feat of mind-reading when she tells Labour members that they feel they cannot tackle an issue that the Coalition parties have – and her final comment attempts to tar Labour with dishonest, or at least covert, intent by claiming that the party relies on the unemployed and benefit-receiving vote. One might hope that Labour’s recent adoption of a harder attitude to benefits will have persuaded Mrs Lloyd that this is not true, but this is by no means certain. It wouldn’t suit her purposes.
I particularly enjoy the next line because it conflates two gross misapprehensions: Lemmings do not fling themselves over cliffs suicidally. The makers of a Disney (!) documentary created that myth for reasons of their own, and it seems likely that Mrs Lloyd had reasons of her own for running it together with the myth that the Coalition cuts are “one of the most popular government policies in recent memory”. They’re not, and never have been.
Labour does not oppose welfare reform. It opposes the Coalition’s attack on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, carried out under the pretence of reform. The only Coalition welfare policy that has won any popular support – the benefit cap – is also supported by Labour. But the average family income is not £26,000 per year, as the Coalition states – that is a lie. That family would receive state benefits, bringing its income up to £31,500, or slightly more than £600 per week. This was glossed over because the Coalition would not be able to penalise enough poor people if the cap was set at that – realistic – level.
The other cuts to social security benefits have provoked a storm of protest – particularly the genocidal pogrom against the sick and disabled, and also the bedroom tax, which Mrs Lloyd singles out, and to which she applies her own quaint definition of ‘tax’.
So let’s put her straight. It is a tax, as it is a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s property, to support government policies. Mrs Lloyd seems unaware that 97 per cent of the 600,000 families it affects – that’s 582,000 families – simply have nowhere else to go. The smaller accommodation into which she expects them to move does not exist. And the definition of ‘bedroom’ has been applied to small box rooms that would not accommodate a bed, let alone the person who would be expected to sleep in it! The tax is therefore exposed as a scheme to screw money out of the very poor, put them into arrears with their landlord, and sling them onto the streets.
This is why I support the redefinition of these ‘spare’ bedrooms, as taken up by some councils, into ‘offices’ or ‘non-designated rooms’. This is legal tax avoidance – putting the tenants of such homes into the same category as the billionaires who are sitting on £21 trillion of untaxed earnings in offshore tax haven bank accounts. If the government kicks up a fuss about ‘bedroom tax’ avoidance, it can damn well go and get those trillions back first.
As for the taxpayer being made to pay for unused bedrooms, that decision was made by the Coalition government, not the Labour Party, when it decided to cut Landlord Subsidy (that’s Housing Benefit to you, Mrs Lloyd) rather than cap rents at a reasonable level.
The remark that people are refusing to move to smaller accommodation is so far removed from reality that it defies belief, as is the implication that they do not pay anything towards their rent. For Mrs Lloyd’s information, the vast majority of Housing Benefit claims are made by people in work, who do pay the majority of their rent; the amount of Housing Benefit they receive is a top-up because the wages they receive are too low. I don’t see you blaming employers who have increased their own pay eightfold over the last 30 years, while employees’ pay rises total just 27 per cent – far less than cumulative inflation, Mrs Lloyd.
The opinions expressed by this correspondent are based on nothing but myth and should be fought tooth and nail. If her distorted views are accepted as fact by the majority of the voting population, then the Conservative Party will win the 2015 election, and those of us who value facts and honesty will only have ourselves to blame if we have not done all we can to rectify matters.
By the way, the Brecon and Radnor Express‘s editorial email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
I was going to write about a more recent letter to the same newspaper, which prompted me to contact the UK Statistics Authority with a complaint. But that will have to wait for another day.