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A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn - but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

A strong hand: Ed Miliband has plenty of ammunition with which to hammer the Conservative-led Coalition this autumn – but using it would mean a break from his recent policy direction. Does he have the stomach for it or will he continue to ignore the majority of Labour supporters and favour an inner circle of advisers who have, so far, served him poorly?

Vox Political reblogged a post on the Skwawkbox blog yesterday, identifying a commonplace tactic used by members and supporters of the Coalition government.

It works like this: You make an assertion in the media that will harm your opponents, even though you have no evidence to back it up. You argue your case vehemently, refusing to accept any alternatives to what you are saying. And when the evidence comes in and it’s against you, you say it is a stitch-up and continue claiming both the moral and factual victory.

This is what the Conservative Party has been doing, loudly and continually. Look at its record on the NHS and on social security reforms and you’ll see that this assertion is supported by fact. Now, more factual evidence has arrived to undermine other Tory claims.

In spite of this, the Labour Party presents the appearance of an organisation torn by inner disagreement, after several high-profile figures broke ranks to criticise the leadership for failing to go on the attack during the summer, when the Conservative-led Coalition was vulnerable on any number of levels.

The BBC ran a story in which Labour’s Tessa Jowell warned that public criticism of Labour leader Ed Miliband by party colleagues creates an “unappealing sense of toxic disunity”.

We’ll come back to the BBC shortly, but for now it is enough to say the story quoted an article by Dame Tessa in the Observer, claiming that “disloyalty” of this kind risked handing the next election to the Tories.

She wrote: “There is… nothing constructive in publicly delivering ‘helpful advice’ that could be much better delivered quietly in private,” but for all we know, Mr Miliband’s critics had already done this, only for him to turn a deaf ear.

She is wrong, of course. Those people spoke up because they believed that their leader has been ignoring the mountain of evidence piling up against the Coalition – evidence that he could use to pummel David Cameron and Nick Clegg into the dust long before the next election; that Mr Miliband is unaccountably trying to avoid criticism from the likes of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express, in an attempt to court the right-wing readership of those papers; and that he would get more respect from those people – and win back disenchanted Labour voters – if he acknowledged and supported the evidence against the Coalition’s policies and set out opposing plans that mapped out a different course for the UK, one that might actually have a chance of success.

There are so many ways to strike against the web of so-called ‘myths’ (in fact outright lies) spread by the Conservatives since they came into office with the Liberal Democrats that it is hard to know where to start.

Let’s begin with the report by the international doctors’ organisation Medecins Du Monde (Doctors of the World), stating very clearly that the claim, by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, that health tourism is rife in the UK, is nonsense.

In a policy briefing, the organisation stated: “Seven years of data… shows that service users had, on average, been living in the UK for three years before they tried to access healthcare. Only 1.6 per cent of people using the service had left their country of origin for personal health reasons.”

Concentrating on one particular illness, “Research carried out by Terrence Higgins Trust and George House Trust found that people living with HIV using their services had been resident in England for between 12-18 months before testing positive for HIV. If access to HIV drugs had been their motivation for coming to England, they would have been unlikely to wait so long to become eligible for life-saving treatments.”

Therefore, “Research by Doctors of the World’s European network indicates no correlation between accessibility of healthcare to migrants and migration patterns.”

The government has made health tourism a major part of its anti-immigration campaign, claiming that it costs the taxpayer a fortune, but even this was rubbished by the professionals: “Current estimates vary greatly, although last year the NHS estimates it spent £33 million treating foreign nationals and wrote off £12 million of this sum. This represents about 0.01 per cent of the £107 billion NHS budget. These sums are considerably less than the net contribution made to the UK by migrants of 1.02 per cent of GDP, or £16.3 billion, according to the OECD.”

Just 0.01 per cent of the NHS budget is lost treating foreign nationals who do not pay – even less than the 0.7 per cent of the social security budget that is lost to fraud, according to DWP figures. But the government talks up these comparatively tiny amounts as though they will topple us all into bankruptcy (impossible).

One might almost believe there was an intention to distract us from something else. Remember, the Conservatives are well-practised at ‘bait-and-switch’ fraud, as mentioned in an earlier article. Perhaps they don’t want us examining their lackadaisical attempts at pretending to counter corporate tax avoidance that costs up to £120 billion per year? Or maybe they don’t want us thinking about what could have been done to restore respectability to our bankers after the financial crisis they caused.

Meanwhile, Tory claims that the Bedroom Tax – I said the BEDROOM TAX – would cut the Housing Benefit bill by £480 million have been destroyed after Labour MP Karen Buck retrieved figures from the House of Commons library, showing that the cost will in fact increase by £1.5 billion this year – and still further over the next three years.

The Mirror reported that this is because more than 40,000 more people have claimed HB since this time last year, with the biggest pressure coming from working people who need help with housing costs because their wages no longer cover them, especially since private landlords have increased rents by an inflation-busting three per cent over the last 12 months.

Meanwhile, councils have been forced to rehouse victims of the Bedroom Tax from cheaper social housing into more expensive private rented properties, creating more unwanted extra costs.

It was previously reported that larger social housing is going empty because people do not want to move in and then fall foul of the Bedroom Tax. I can’t currently find the reference for that, but if anyone can help out, please send in a comment with the link.

The SPeye blog has filed an alternative take on Housing Benefit, which claims that the current amount paid by the taxpayer on HB, at £23.77 billion, is £5.77 billion more than George Osborne predicted in 2010 when he said his changes to HB meant it would be “controlled and reduced” from £20 billion in that financial year to £18 billion by 2014-15.

This blog is highly critical of Labour’s reasoning, as reported in the Mirror story, but then comes up with an even greater loss to the taxpayer, caused by the Conservatives’ changes.

Back to the NHS now, where the Coalition government has spent £1.4 billion on redundancy payoffs, rather than care, since it came to power. This can be added to more than £3 billion that was spent on the pointless and unnecessary top-down reorganisation that David Cameron promised, prior to the 2010 election, would not take place.

The government has claimed that the redundancies will save £1.5 billion per year, which will be reinvested in patient care – but this will only bring annual spending back up to just above where it was when Labour left office, as it was revealed at the end of 2012 that annual spending on the NHS has dropped by nearly £1 billion. The government has stated that spending will have increased by £12.7 billion by 2014-15 which, in financial terms, is next year.

The Coalition lied when it said changes to the planning system would protect the Green Belt. This land, “intended to provide countryside access for urban dwellers and ensure conservation of nature, as well as maintaining agriculture and forestry” according to a BBC website article, is being eroded away with the help of new rules introduced by the Coalition, with planning applications on Green Belt land in England almost doubling from 81,000 homes in 2012 to 150,000 this year.

The government said protection was being maintained but the Council for the Protection of Rural England said the Green Belt was under threat. Who do you believe?

The announcement that the UK economy grew by 0.7 per cent, rather than 0.6, has been greeted rapturously by the Coalition, whose representatives have claimed that it shows the economy has moved “from rescue to recovery”. This is, of course, utterly ludicrous. There is no way an improvement of this kind – after years of economic flatlining thanks to Coalition policies – can be claimed as either evidence of a sustained recovery or evidence that Coalition policies are responsible for the improvement. The weakness of the upturn suggests the change brought on by conditions that would have arisen, whether the Coalition had tinkered with the economy or not.

Thankfully Michael Meacher has returned, after a brief holiday from blogging, to give us chapter and verse. “Today’s announcement by the ONS that its initial 0.6 per cent growth estimate for the second quarter of this year has now been upgraded to 0.7 per cent is insignificant when put into perspective against the recoveries of the five other UK recessions in the previous 100 years,” he writes.

“This time the economy still remains 3.3 per cent below its pre-crash level in 2008, while at the same stage of cycle (ie five years on from the crash) it was nearly FIVE per cent above the pre-crash level in the early 1980s, SIX per cent above pre-crash in the 1920s, SIX per cent above pre-crash again in the early 1930s, SEVEN per cent above pre-crash in the early 1970s, and nearly 10 PER CENT above pre-crash in the 1990s.” (Caps and italics mine)

“Come on, at this stage 0.7 per cent is to be apologised for – both historically and in comparison with other other economies emerging from recession this time round – Britain still three per cent down, but France one per cent down, Germany two per cent up, the US four per cent up and Canada six per cent up.”

The above stories emerged over the past couple of days. Look back over the rest of August and we have:

  • The revelation that the upcoming Lobbying Bill will do nothing to prevent professional lobbyists from influencing Parliament unduly, but will attack your right to campaign politically in “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech”.
  • The revelation that a ‘top ten’ list of benefit fraudsters, reported by right-wing newspapers, does not exist.
  • Information that the government may be corruptly supporting fracking because several of its members have stakes in fracking firms.
  • Home Office vans stirring up racism in London.
  • Conservative plans to abolish the human rights of everybody in the UK, in order to inflict a dangerous and exploitative regime on working people that will amount to slavery.
  • The revelation that recent attacks on the NHS for causing needless deaths have been blown out of proportion in order to make public opinion more receptive to further privatisation.
  • The revelation that the DWP is spending £1.3 million on extra staff who have been calculating the government’s flagship benefits cap – perhaps its only popular policy – because the computer system needed to do the job has not yet been built. Ministers had no intention of admitting this and the information only became public after it was discovered by somebody else.
  • And then there’s the fact that the fundamental claim of the Coalition government – that the financial crisis of five years ago happened because Labour overspent massively and mishandled the economy – was absolute and total groundless fabrication. Labour in fact handled the economy responsibly, even when the financial crisis hit.

That has to total more than 10 ways in which Labour could undermine the Coalition. All Mr Miliband has to do is open his mouth and tell people about them in ways that will be reported by the media.

And on that subject: If and when he does, and it is reported by the BBC, we can all be certain that right-wing commentators will claim that this is because the BBC is full of pinko left-wingers who support Labour. Let’s put that myth to rest as well.

A lecturer at Cardiff University has checked the facts and found that the BBC has a broadly right-wing bias. The study showed that the government of the day generally gets more airtime than anyone else (natural considering it is making policy and actually carrying out the business of government) but in reporting of immigration, the EU and religion, in 2007 Gordon Brown’s appearances on the BBC outnumbered David Cameron’s by less than two to one, while in 2012, Cameron’s outnumbered Ed Miliband’s by around four to one. The same ratios occurred for other prominent members of each party. When reporting of all topics is taken into account, Conservative politicians were featured more than 50 per cent more often than those from Labour in both 2007 AND 2012.

Going into the autumn Parliamentary session, Ed Miliband has a strong hand to play – if he has the stomach for it. And if any of the media try to suppress his arguments, he can just point to the evidence of right-wing bias and tell them they need to clean up their act just as much as the Coalition.