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Do any British readers remember what it was like to live in a country where the government respected the law, and accepted facts without making up silly little stories about them?
What an amazing place that must have been.
Sadly, we’re all trapped in Tory-Coalition purgatory for the next 19 months at least, and have to endure the relentless procession of nonsense associated with it.
Yesterday (Friday) we were provided with two glowing examples.
Firstly, the visit of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, was treated with extreme prejudice by the Tories and their poodles in the right-wing press, after she announced she would be filing an unfavourable report after investigating the effect of the bedroom tax on the British people.
Vox Political covered these events in some detail, so there’s no need to rehash them here.
Tory chairman and ‘Michael Green’ impersonator Grant Shapps then wrote to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to complain about the Special Rapporteur’s behaviour. A reply has now arrived and, rather than give it the due consideration it deserves, Shapps seems to have handed it straight to The Sun.
That newspaper reported that the UN had “slapped down” Ms Rolnik for her behaviour. Shapps himself told the paper: “People expect the UN to be neutral, yet on this occasion a former Workers Party politician came with a clear agenda” – a bizarre claim, when the letter itself creates a completely different view.
Guido Fawkes’ blog provides the text of the UN letter – along with a bit more right-wing spin which we’ll ignore as it is irrelevant.
It states: “Ms Raquel Rolnik is one of 72 independent experts appointed by the United nations Human Rights Council – the lead UN body responsible for human rights – on the basis of their expertise and independence, and following a competitive selection process. As in the case of all mandate holders, Ms Rolnik serves in an independent capacity and in accordance with a Code of Conduct adopted by the Council. She is not a staff member of the United Nations, is neither accountable to nor appointed by the Secretary-General, and does not receive any compensation beyond a daily allowance when engaged in mandated activities.
“Among other activities, Special Rapporteurs are mandated to undertake country visits to assess human rights enjoyment on the ground. The United Kingdom is one of 94 Member States which has extended a standing invitation to mandate holders thus indicating that it is open to the visit of any Special Rapporteur. Country visits are governed by rules and procedures set out in the Code of Conduct referred to above and the Manual of Operations adopted by Special Procedures. Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organised over many months in consultation with the Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations. The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Council’s twenty-fifth session which will take place in March 2014 in Geneva.”
Reading between the lines, we can piece together the gist of Shapps’ correspondence – and it’s clear that he made a lot of mistaken assumptions. Firstly, it seems likely he wrote to Ban Ki-moon demanding that Ms Rolnik be fired from her position, in the belief that she is a hired hand and that the Secretary-General can hire and fire her as he pleases, the way Tories would like to run the UK. She’s just ‘the help’ in Shapps’s eyes. He must also have made a claim about her remuneration – possibly that she receives too much money from the UN or that, as a Socialist, she must be pulling pennies out of the public purse like there’s no tomorrow. Both claims get short shrift.
It seems Shapps then asserted that Ms Rolnik had not been invited to the UK and had no reason to be there. Wrong again, as the UN letter clarifies. A claim that she went beyond her remit is similarly batted away by reference to the governing rules which, we may conclude, were available to Mr Shapps before he wrote his letter. Oh yes, look, they’re available from the introduction page to the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) website, here!
Next, Shapps is likely to have reasserted his claim that “It is completely wrong and an abuse of the process for somebody to come over, to fail to meet with government ministers, to fail to meet with the department responsible.” The UN response is the same as Ms Rolnik’s own statement in her preliminary report.
And the final paragraph seems to be a response to his further claim that it was out of line “to produce a press release two weeks after coming, even though the report is not due out until next spring.”
Taken at face value, then, this is a letter that entirely supports Ms Rolnik, both in her position within the United Nations and the way she carried out her role in the UK.
But that wasn’t enough for the United Nations, whose higher echelons clearly wanted to ensure there can be no doubt about the way this – let’s face it – international incident is being viewed.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the Huffington Post: “The Sun‘s take on it – that ‘The United Nations has slapped down’ Ms Rolnik – is pure spin. There was no such intention whatsoever.
“In the face of a blizzard of misinformation and personal abuse of Ms Rolnik, published in one or two other UK tabloids during and immediately after her visit, the letter to Mr Shapps simply corrects the factual errors that have been asserted about her status and her role as an independent UN expert, or ‘Special Rapporteur.’
“Ms Rolnik’s visit was planned and organized over many months in consultation with the UK Government in compliance with these rules and procedures.
“As in the case of all country visits, Ms Rolnik’s visit concluded with a press conference and a press statement, provided to the Government in advance, which indicate preliminary findings and recommendations.
“The final report on the visit will be submitted to the Human Rights Council’s session next March in Geneva.
“In short, there was nothing unusual or untoward about Ms Rolnik’s visit – apart from some of the reactions to it.”
No doubt Mr Colville will have drawn his own conclusions about the current UK administration from that Sun article – conclusions that, one hopes, will be included in that final report next March.
The New Statesman reckons the Tories have an “antipathy for evidence” and presents a theory regarding why this should be so: “If all the facts are against you, your best tactic is to make stuff up and hope you can shout the other person down (changing your mind obviously not being an option).”
Alternatively, we return to V for Vendetta territory. The graphic novel’s writer, Alan Moore, referenced Enid Blyton’s novel The Magic Faraway Tree several times. For an anarchist like the story’s protagonist, the Land of Do-as-you-please would be very attractive – but here in reality, it seems the Tories think they’ve taken the ladder to that land and can do and say whatever they want – and facts don’t matter.
For more evidence of this, let’s turn to our second example: The Department for Work and Pensions and its reaction to a benefit tribunal in Scotland, who ruled against Fife Council, saying that a room of less than 70 square feet should not be considered a bedroom for the purpose of the bedroom tax. This led the council to call the tax “unworkable” and demand its reversal. Since then, a disabled gentleman has won a ruling against Westminster Council, after he claimed that a room used to store equipment that helps him manage his disability was not, and never has been, a bedroom.
In his decision notice, the judge wrote: “The term ‘bedroom’ is nowhere defined [in the relevant regulations]. I apply the ordinary English meaning. The room in question cannot be so defined.”
In response to the first ruling, the DWP has issued an ‘Urgent Bulletin’ in which an attempt is made to retroactively define a bedroom, for the purposes of administering the tax.
Perhaps we are to assume Iain Returned-To-Unit Smith believes that, having achieved one retrospective law via the normal legislative route, he can now ordain such rulings willy-nilly. He’s wrong.
His Department’s demand that “when applying the size criteria and determining whether or not a property is under-occupied, the only consideration should be the composition of the household and the number of bedrooms as designated by the landlord, but not by measuring rooms” is worthless.
If he wanted that to be the case, he should have written it into his silly little Bedroom Tax Bill (or whatever it was called).
For the moment, Shapps and RTU can get away with their bizarre pronouncements – although they can’t expect to be believed – because the Conservatives are in office.
But they won’t be in office forever.
In the meantime, let’s all keep supporting the opposers, wherever they turn up. If you are being subjected to the Bedroom Tax – appeal. And write to the UN, supporting Ms Rolnik and her findings against the tax.
You have a chance to prove that the Land of Do-as-you-please is a very small place.
And, as in the book, the return to normality involves a very, very long descent.