Yearly Archives: 2012

Iain Duncan Smith: Monster of the Year 2012

Some people just don’t know when to keep their mouths shut.

It seems Iain Duncan Smith, the creature whose Department for Work and Pensions launched an ethnic cleansing programme (in all but name) against the sick and disabled in 2011 and 2012, has now turned his baleful glare on the working poor.

Tax credits – the system devised by the last Labour government to try to relieve poverty for people who work but receive low payment – has created “a sorry story of dependency, wasted taxpayers’ money and fraud”, according to the Immoral Delusional Sadist.

Let’s remember that this is the man who is using recorded fraud of 0.4 per cent, among sickness and disability claimants, to force at least 20 per cent of them off benefits altogether. His understanding of the extent of fraud is, well, flawed.

Let’s also remember that his planned replacement for tax credits – the Universal Credit – is already far over budget and still far from ready, despite pilot projects being scheduled to start in April. Its expected national roll-out in October may be put back to 2014. This man knows how to waste taxpayers’ money with the best of them!

As for tax credits creating dependency – this is the only part of his argument that could possibly be justifiable, and even then it is only because of government laxness regarding pay. If the national minimum wage had risen in line with company bosses’ average pay, it would currently stand at more than £18 per hour – three times its actual current level. That should explain everything you need to know about why low-paid workers may be dependent on tax credits to survive.

Tax credits – and other state top-ups for the working poor, like housing benefit and the soon-to-disappear Council Tax benefit – are only paid in high amounts because they subsidise employers who refuse to pay a living wage. If the private sector paid working people what they are worth, the benefits bill would drop like a stone.

The Insidious Dole Snatcher is currently leading an overhaul of the welfare system that will see a number of benefits replaced by a new universal credit that is designed, he says, “to make work pay at each and every hour”. He keeps saying this. I don’t understand why. Cutting benefits to less than what people are paid at work won’t “make work pay” – it’ll throw more and more people into poverty, debt and destitution.

But this is a creature who is determined to do his worst – actually refusing to be moved from Work and Pensions in David Cameron’s autumn reshuffle in order to continue inflicting his wrath on the defenceless poor.

The latest attack on the unemployed is the Universal Jobmatch computer system. Jobseekers are coerced into signing up (they don’t have to) and into ticking a box which allows Job Centre Plus staff to view their activities and pass their personal details on to possible employers (again, this is not a legal requirement). Advertisers on the site have, so far, included identity thieves and pimps.

Obviously, if you don’t have a computer – and many claimants don’t because, in case you’ve missed it, they’re poor – this system is impossible to use.

That’s not good enough for the Irrational Debt Starter. Under a headline that stated “Log on or stop signing on”, he told Metro: “I’m a job adviser and I’ve got someone who doesn’t want to do this. I will haul them in a lot. Instead of them going in every two weeks, these job advisers can bring them in every day if they want, if they think they are not getting out of bed in the morning.”

If the adviser does not believe the claimant is looking for work, their benefits will be withdrawn, he added.

In other words, not owning a computer is not, in this lunatic’s world, a good enough reason not to use a computerised jobsearch system.

I wasn’t going to do an ‘end-of-year awards’ feature but it is for the above reasons that Mr Smith takes the biscuit – ahead of other heavyweight contenders like Andrew Lansley (ruined the English NHS), George Osborne (expenses cheat, continuing to ruin the national economy), Maria Miller (expenses cheat, threw disabled people out of work by closing Remploy factories), Michael Gove (ruining our education system), Jeremy Hunt (too close to certain media barons) and of course David Cameron (living embodiment of dishonest with an embarrassing combover to boot) – to take the title.

Smith – YOU are Vox Political’s Monster of the Year!

Of course, in Britain we have a long tradition – look at Beowulf and Grendel, or St George and the Dragon – of killing monsters

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Lib Dems’ new message for the New Year: Don’t laugh – they mean it.

Nick Clegg, that standard-bearer for sticking to your principles and refusing to let short-term expediency change your mind, has released his Liberal Democrat New Year message. It would be hilarious if the implications weren’t so serious.

You’ll remember Clegg dropped a flagship policy not to raise student tuition fees, just as soon as he could after going into coalition with the Conservative Party, and recently apologised for it as though he thought that would make everything better.

His party has been propping up some of the most poisonous policies the UK has ever seen, including the dismantling of the English NHS, starvation of the education system to prop up ‘free schools’, and the hate campaign and genetic cleansing programme against the sick and disabled that masquerades under the heading ‘welfare reform’ as run by the odious Iain Duncan Smith.

Still, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and see what he had to say.

“We will hold firm to our key purpose in this Government – the Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy, in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.” I told you it was funny. Just try not to laugh; there is a serious point to all this.

“We will stay the course on the deficit. We will cut income tax bills and help with childcare bills.

“We will invest in boosting jobs and we’ll reform welfare to get people into work.

“A stronger economy. A fairer society. Where everyone can get on.” He mentioned this twice because it’s their keystone.

It’s also utter, utter nonsense.

All of the above is taken direct from the Lib Dems’ new ‘party message script’, which I intend to elaborate in full below. I am grateful to Liberator’s blog for making the information publicly available.

Lib Dems are advised to “make it the basis for every communication we make” and “communicate from this script at every opportunity” so you’re going to hear this stuff a lot from now on. In fact, you’re going to get bored stiff with it. And remember: It’s nonsense.

So here we go. The message script runs as follows:

“Building a Stronger Economy in a Fairer Society

The Liberal Democrats are building a stronger economy in a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.” The same words used by Mr Clegg. But of course we know they’re not true. The economy is NOT strong; society is becoming more UNfair. FEWER people are now able to get on in life. It’s complete doublespeak and they need to be challenged on it at every turn.

“That’s why we have:

“1. Fixed the mess left by Labour. We have reduced the deficit by a quarter, kept interest rates down and created over a million private sector jobs.” What mess left by Labour? The one that would have been created if the Conservatives or the Liberal Democrats had been in power? The one caused by the bankers lending irresponsibly until they tipped the economy of the western world right over the edge? HOW have they reduced the deficit? By investing in industry and employment that will increase the nation’s tax take? Or by hacking away at public services and ensuring that the infrastructure is no longer available to make such investments, thereby ensuring the economy’s pain will continue for many years to come? (I’ll give you a clue – it’s the latter). Have they really KEPT interest rates down? Or is it in fact nothing at all to do with this government and its crazy schemes? (I’ll give you a clue – it’s the latter). Did they REALLY create more than a million private sector jobs? (I’ll give you a clue – no, they didn’t. Many of those jobs are public sector jobs that they sneakily reclassified in the hope that nobody would notice. Too bad. We did).

“2. Ensured that 24 million people will not pay any income tax on the first £9,440 of earnings, putting £600 back into their pockets from April 2013.” That’s fine by the Conservatives. You know why? It means less tax money coming in to the Treasury, ensuring that the deficit and the debt continue, meaning that they can carry on saying that they need to cut services in order to make ends meet – and blaming the previous Labour government in the process. Not Labour’s fault, then; clearly the Liberal Democrats wish to take responsibility. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all in favour of giving the lowest-paid in society a chance to keep the money they earn, but there are better ways of doing it.

“3. Put an extra £2.5 billion into schools targeted at the least well-off pupils, raising standards for everyone.” I have no idea what they’re on about here. If anyone can enlighten me about this – clearly vitally important – Liberal Democrat policy that has slipped under my news radar, I would be very grateful. In the meantime all I can say is that £2.5 billion, in terms of the education budget, isn’t very much. Isn’t it about £1 billion less than Lansley spent, ruining the English NHS?

“4. Created a Green Investment Bank that will unlock billions of pounds of private investment in renewable energy and create thousands more jobs in the green economy.” Would this be the “Non-bank needing to prove itself” that Damian Carrington has discussed in his Guardian blog? If it hasn’t done anything yet, it’s pointless to trumpet it as an achievement.

“5. Got young people off the dole and into work through apprenticeships, work placement or training with our £1 billion Youth Contract.” Ah yes, the Youth Contract. From memory – Average length of time a person stays in a job last year: four months. Effectiveness of work placements at getting people into jobs: less than if they had simply gone looking themselves. How many young people are on the dole? Is it around one million? The figures speak for themselves.

“6. Delivered the biggest ever cash rise in the state pension.” Because you can always rely on a pensioner to vote. Therefore you try to keep ’em sweet so they’ll vote for you.

“The Labour Party can’t be trusted to manage the economy. Labour borrowed and borrowed and nearly bankrupted Britain. In power they cared more about bankers, media bosses and union barons than they did about ordinary, working people.” Labour borrowing during the vast majority of its 13 years in power was LOWER – let me say that again, LOWER – than any Conservative government during the previous 40 years or so (Labour average: 39 per cent; Tory average: 41 per cent – you see, keeping lots of people unemployed in order to artificially depress wages is a poor arrangement). Overborrowing was NOT habitual for the Labour Party and so that part of the Liberal Democrat message is a LIE. Labour did borrow a huge amount of money to deal with a single issue – the banking crisis – and was supported in this by the other main political parties of the time, including the Liberal Democrats. So, a lie followed by hypocrisy. As for bankers and media bosses – I notice the Coalition has been chumming up to these since May 2010, so that’s also a matter of hypocrisy. Labour tried hard for ordinary working people with tax credits and social reforms but I don’t agree with much of what the party did. Better by far to ensure they get paid enough not to need benefits at all. I notice that is not part of any Liberal Democrat policy.

“The Conservatives can’t be trusted to build a fair society. Until the Lib Dems got into government, no one could stop the Tories from looking after the super rich who fund their party, while ignoring the needs of normal people who struggle to make ends meet.” Until the Lib Dems got into government, the Tories were LOSING super-rich funders because they weren’t in power. The Lib Dems have shored up Tory funding by going into coalition with them. It’s true that they can’t be trusted to build a fair society, though. Since the Lib Dems accept that, why continue with the Coalition at all?

“That’s why we have blocked Tory plans to:

1. Allow bosses to fire staff at will.” But the notice period for mass redundancies is being cut from 90 days to 45, with help from the Liberal Democrats.

“2. Let local schools be run for profit.” But it’s all right to allow the creation of so-called ‘free schools’ at huge cost, run by amateurs and sucking funding away from the established education system?

“3. Cut inheritance tax for millionaires.” But allowed the forthcoming Income Tax cut that will put £107,000 per year back into the pockets of those who are paid more than £1 million per year.

“4. Introduce lower rates of pay for public sector workers outside of the South East.” But allowed the abolition of Council Tax Benefit, meaning those who are worst off will have to pay more, just to keep their homes.

“Now, with your support, we want to keep building a stronger economy in a fairer society.” Keep building? KEEP BUILDING? When will they START?

“Over the next two years we will:

“1. Increase our tax cut for low and middle earners to £700 for 24 million people.” Thereby forwarding the Tory ‘Starve the Beast’ policy of cutting the flow of tax money into public services. As I said before – pay people enough money in the first place and they won’t need this help.

“2. Dramatically increase parents’ access to child care so that it’s easier for parents to get back into jobs.” What jobs?

“3. Reform the welfare system to get people off benefits and into work.” What work? There are previous few jobs out here, a fact of which both Coalition parties continue appearing to be oblivious. Meanwhile, welfare cuts (I refuse to call them reforms) are driving hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to despair, destitution, and in many cases death. Remember: the Liberal Democrats are swimming in blood, just like the Tories.

“4. Create tens of thousands of jobs across Britain in the new, green economy.” This is meaningless – a promise that cannot be supported at this time.

“Let’s never go back to the way things were, because Labour can’t be trusted with your money, and the Tories can’t be trusted to build a fair society.” I think I’ve already explained the reasons this is a stupid thing for Liberal Democrats to be saying.

“Only the Lib Dems can be trusted to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, enabling every person to get on in life.” See my response to the paragraph immediately above.

“STRONGER ECONOMY. FAIRER SOCIETY.” Vote ALL Liberal Democrats out of Parliament at the next election, then.

Money to burn (fixing the economy part four)

I was browsing the web fairly aimlessly the other day (finding myself at a loose end and, it being Christmas, having little better to do) and I found a comment that has since buried itself in the ether, so I can’t quote it exactly. The gist was as follows:

This government keeps telling us there is no money – but keeps finding the cash for any crazy project its ministers come up with.

It’s pretty hard to dispute this, you know! Look at Andrew Lansley’s hugely costly and completely unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the National Health Service in England. Look at Michael Gove’s ‘free schools’ – what’s free about them? Look at Iain Duncan Smith’s pointless Universal Credit – his latest bid to make welfare unfair by using a computerised system that doesn’t work.

The simple fact is that cutting these vanity projects, and doing away with a few already-running schemes that have proved a complete waste of money into the bargain, would yield dividends for the UK. But nobody seems willing, even to talk about it.

I actually did a little research into this a while ago and came up with the following list. Some of the information may be a little out of date, for which I apologise – however, this should provide an opportunity for those of you who are better-informed than myself to offer up some illumination. Some of the suggestions may strike you as being barking mad – but we can discuss them as well.

First up: Why not save £3bn every year in user fees and interest charges, by replacing PFI schemes with conventional public procurement?

The idea behind PFI (Private Finance Initiative) schemes was simply to raise money for a new service by getting private organisations, firms or consortia to provide it. This meant the cost would not appear on the nation’s balance sheet.

However, and I quote from Bremner, Bird and Fortune’s excellent You Are Here: “The long-term value of PFI contracts may go down as well as up. Your public services are at risk if you don’t keep up the repayments. The return for consortiums running PFI projects may go up and up and up. Standard terms include: cost-cutting, short-term employment contracts, high management costs, huge legal costs. Every element must be a profit centre. Please note that after expiry of contract (typically 35 years) the consortium is under no obligation to renew the terms of the lease and can renegotiate at more favourable rates or move out of the public service sector and turn the property into a hotel or office block.

“PFI often means that an organisation which previously worked to a single goal is now in competition with itself, as different parts of the same system strive to outbid each other., the primary goal being to enhance profitability rather than to deliver a service.”

If you think this seems suspiciously like what Mr Lansley did to the NHS, you’d be absolutely correct. Some would say the major problem suffered by the NHS (until Lansley came along) was the risk of infection that has been incurred ever since cleaning services were contracted out to the private sector and substances that actually killed germs were replaced by those that smell nice.

So: £1bn could be saved every year by eradicating healthcare acquired infections from the NHS.

In other words, do whatever it takes to get rid of the parasites that are making a profit but failing to provide a proper service and make sure our hospitals and health centres are clean again. This would no doubt cut down on the number of complaints against the service from people who have – or whose relatives have – been inflicted with secondary infections after going into hospital, relieving the amount of stress on NHS staff, and contributing to the next possibility.

This is to adopt measures to improve the health and well-being of NHS staff, thereby reducing sickness absence and saving £500 million each year.

Discussion of parasites has reminded me of an irritant that I find particularly annoying: private sector consultants. These expensive know-alls seem to be proliferating like flies around a carcass (which is what, in many public sector cases, they might as well be). Let them get their teeth into a project and if it isn’t stillborn, it will be dead in very short order.

I have a friend who tells the story of a county council that had half a million pounds available to renovate a derelict industrial site. The consultants were brought in and, in the course of a very few extremely expensive lunches, managed to squander the entire £500,000 budget without a penny being spent on any actual work.

That council’s annual fee for private consultants stood at £6.1 million in the last financial year. Parasites.

So: Cut government employment of private sector consultants. The government could get better advice and ideas by engaging with its own staff and their trade unions.

Now we’re down to some obvious/controversial suggestions:

Cut Trident and other heavy military goods – what is the point of having a nuclear deterrent which we can’t use without the permission of the USA, and which exists to combat a nonexistent enemy? We also have two aircraft carriers on order, to be delivered in 2018 at a current cost of £5 billion, and an expensive new batch of Typhoon Eurofighter aircraft last estimated to cost £20 billion in 2003. The cost over the next 30 years is put at £120 billion – or £4 billion per year. I agree the nation must be defended – but there must be a better way than just splurging out money on these huge contracts.

Does anyone know if the Mini-Titan prison programme is going ahead? If so, it should be scrapped. The capital and maintenance cost of expanding prisons or building Mini-Titans to accommodate an extra 100,000 prisoners will be about £1.3 billion. Britain already has the highest per capita rate of incarceration in Europe; to raise it further would be a clear failure of social and economic policy.

If I were to sum up the theme of this article in a nutshell, it would be this: Get rid of the freeloaders.

Unfortunately we toil under a government whose Chancellor – the man who should be jealously guarding our money – has doubled the number of staff he employs on six-figure salaries.

David Dennis – Disregarded? Not anymore!

David Dennis, the author of Disregarded: The True Story of the Failure of the UK’s Work Programme, seems to have a hit on his hands. The book has attracted considerable interest, following my article earlier this month. It is therefore with pleasure that I am publishing the following interview with him, conducted by writer Alex Laybourne.

After reading the new bestseller “Disregarded: The True Story of the Failure of the UK’s Work Programme”, I knew I had to interview expose genius David Dennis. Not only did the book hit a chord with me, it has also hit a chord with readers and is currently flying high in the Amazon.co.uk chart. David is a curious guy, he doesn’t like to show his face. I asked him for a photo to include with this interview. He declined to share one and said he is choosing to remain anonymous. I asked him why, and thus our conversation began.

Q) So, tell me, why don’t you want your face out there? Your name will be on everyone’s lips soon. This book is hot! Don’t you want to be famous?

A) I’m not concerned about being famous, Alex. This book was written for the millions out there who are suffering and unemployed. Millions of faces, men and women, all different. Just one face can’t represent everyone or take credit for a small part in trying to improve things.

Q) David, how does it feel, now that you’ve got a hit on your hands to be away from the “Work Programme”.

A) Well, Alex, I guess it’s not exactly apt to say that I am away from it. It still haunts me and it makes me feel sick when I think of all those other people having to go and slave away day after day for the sake of a few quid.

Q) By “a few quid”, you really mean millions that are heading into the pockets of private companies – companies that could well afford to hire and pay employees to work for them.

A) Exactly– private companies are milking our taxpayers of money and our unemployed of their dignity to make vast profits. It’s disgusting to say the least and illegal to say the most.

Q) Illegal? Didn’t a court say it was legal?

A) A court might have said it was legal, but I think the definition of slavery fits like a glove. To work for your ‘benefit’ is to work for something like £71 a week. That isn’t a wage anyone would ‘choose’ to work for. Now, if the companies were happy to add in the rest to make it up to a living wage, that might be a fair deal people would agree with. There’s got to be some leeway given. Somebody has got to give and the unemployed have given too much as it is. It’s the private companies’ turn to put some money into the coffers if they want the benefit of workers.

Q) You believe those on benefits should get them for nothing then?

A) Of course not. I believe there should be a programme where people learn skills and get experience the fair way. REAL help needs to be offered. I do not believe sending people into a multi-billion pound company to stack shelves for free is in any way beneficial to those on the programme– it only serves to help a rich company that’s already rich.

Instead, let’s start getting people into university, college and supporting them through it. Let’s bring back jobs for people– real jobs. The government are paying their private training companies up to £14,000 for every single person on the work programme, over and above the cost of their regular dole. Couldn’t less money be spent sending people through college courses, university or other programmes where we would see a higher return? The way I see it, the unemployed are becoming less employable with every passing day on the work programme. I believe everyone can have productive work, work they enjoy and are fulfilled by, and I think it’s unfair to tar those genuinely unemployed with the same brush used to tar ‘layabouts’.

Q) So Dennis, you believe there are ‘layabouts’ milking the system?

A) I do, and I know that there are more than a few out there. The government has every right to try and keep those people from sucking precious monies from the public purse. But should it be to the detriment of those actually trying to find work? No, absolutely not.

Q) How many people did you actually meet who found work on the programme?

A) (laughs) Found work? None. Sanctioned– many.

Q) Sanctioned?

A) The sanction is the way the government and the system control the jobseekers– if they don’t do as they’re told, then they just cut the money off. If you miss an appointment or you’re ill, you can be sanctioned. Then, how are you meant to survive? There are “crisis loans” available, but good luck getting one. It’s a fear-based, bullying system.

Q) So, you believe the government are willingly cutting people off from benefits and squeezing them to try and make them drop off?

A) Well, I don’t remember saying that, but, yes if you’d like to put it that way– yes– I think there are probably mandates out there that ask the Job Centre to cut people off as much as possible.

Q) What’s the difference between the Job Centre and the work programme?

A) The Job Centre is one of those things that we all know about. It’s the first stop. You go in and see an advisor and they, on the whole, do try to help put you on the right track towards finding a new job. They have targets and regulations, but on the whole, they are pretty straight up and if you follow the basic rules, you receive your dole payment without issue.

The “Work Programme” is something else altogether. I think you could sum it up quite easily as ‘forced labour’. You are sent into a work placement, whether you want to or not; whether it suits your skills or not; and you work. For free. I’ve heard some horror stories and I, myself, had an awful time.

The other part is the “Work Programme” scheme to teach people supposed new skills and help them to write CV’s. The training centre I attended was a complete waste of time. The turnover of staff seemed as though there was a revolving door. The CV’s are useless and to my knowledge sending an architect to a basic maths course is just a weak way to waste money.

Q) Care to elaborate?

A) Sure. I was sent to a placement at a leading gardening store and was shown a health and safety video– then I was sent out to work in a busy warehouse without protective clothing– gloves or the like– legally mandated by health and safety law. When I complained, I was told it was too expensive and we didn’t need them.

As for the architect in one of my classes– there were also health and safety officers, accountants and other professionals sitting through a very basic maths course and to my knowledge many are still doing the same course six months on. As I said– it’s just a way to keep bodies in seats so these training companies can keep charging the government.

Q) Can you tell me which store?

A) The name doesn’t matter. Take your pick. I have heard horror stories from charity shops, supermarkets– you name it and it’s been heard of. As far as I can see, it’s the same across the board, no matter which store it is.

Q) So what do you intend to do now?

A) I am promoting the book. I have several interviews lined up. I had a journalist call me the other day offering to set up a TV interview– the works. I can’t wait– I want to fight for those guys who have no one to fight for them. I believe people should have freedom and choice. If you are unemployed then you shouldn’t automatically become a slave to the system. You should be assisted to find a career that is right for you.

Q) How does the programme affect working people?

A) Good question. Well, as you know, Slavery was abolished many years ago. If we bring back slavery– who will want to pay people to work? This system is bringing down wages across the board. The end effect will be simple– more people will become unemployed and then be thrown in as slave workers. The government will create a wider gap between the rich and the poor. The middle class will disappear and years of hard work will be thrown down the drain.

Q) I believe you are very brave to even attempt to sell this book. There are people out there who are going to call you a liar.

A) Alex, I know, and there always are. The truth is in the book and if people want to insist that those on benefits are having a great time, I suggest they try it for themselves. Let the Tories go down and work at supermarkets and perhaps they would be kind enough to give their real, well-paid job to a work programme worker. I can tell you, there are qualified people out there who would be able to do it just as well. I don’t believe all this crud about “knowing your place”. The world is there for those who want it– the world is everyone’s– it doesn’t  just belong to those guys with huge bank accounts.

Q) Have you got another book in mind?

A) Yes. I am half tempted to compile case-study interviews with people who went through the “Work Programme”. It would be an interesting eye-opener for all those who say that my experience was some sort of aberration. Let people see what real people are going through and let’s give everyone a voice.

Q) Are you a ‘Working Class Hero’?

A) No. John Lennon was a working class hero. I am just a guy who wants people to be treated fairly. I don’t believe in sitting at home on my arse all day. I believe in work and let’s get people into jobs that will give them a fair lifestyle. Let them add to the economy and let them enjoy the prosperity others enjoy.

Q) Thanks, David, I better let you go, you seem to be pretty busy!

A) I have got a long road ahead of me spreading the word of the silent majority and I intend to see it through to the end.

David was busy with other interviews at the time. I spent enough time with him to realise that he has a story here that is growing daily. His book is a hit and he himself is certainly driven enough to realise it. I wanted to give you a taste of what this guy is like. I have read the book and I know it’s a good one. Find it here and then tell David what you think of it.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Disregarded-Story-Failure-Programme-ebook/dp/B00AO6O9QG/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1356273446&sr=8-2

Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Disregarded-The-True-Story-of-the-Failure-of-the-UKs-Work-Programme/433776256677128

Queen’s Christmas betrayal of Jubilee Workfare forced-labourers

Whoever wrote the Queen’s Christmas message this year should be hung as a traitor for making her appear to be another uncaring exploiter – like her current government.

Confused? Allow me to explain. The message might seem to be full of praise for the UK’s efforts to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee year – and it was – but it also contained this passage, referring to the Olympics and the Jubilee event on the Thames:

“The success of these great festivals depended to an enormous degree upon the dedication and effort of an army of volunteers. Those public-spirited people came forward in the great tradition of all those who devote themselves to keeping others safe, supported and comforted.”

In the case of the Olympics, her words might well ring true – people did come forward freely to take part in that great sporting event.

However, the regatta is a very different matter. We learned very shortly after the event that many – if not all – of the ‘volunteers’ were in fact nothing of the kind. They were unemployed people who had been coerced onto the government’s Workfare scheme and then misled into taking part, under the belief that they were being paid for it.

They were bussed into London at night, told to sleep under a dirty bridge before taking part in a work shift that lasted 14 hours, with no toilet facilities, and only a wet campsite awaiting them as rest facility afterwards.

They were originally told they would be paid for their efforts, but then the organisers revealed that the weekend was just a “trial” – no extra money would be forthcoming for what – let’s face it – was their suffering. The Duke of Edinburgh was hospitalised for days after this event, and he only had to endure four hours of it!

It’s doubly disappointing to see the BBC reporting Her Majesty’s speech in glowing terms. ‘Queen’s message praises 2012 “army of volunteers”‘ read the report on the corporation’s website.

“The Queen has praised the ‘army of volunteers’ at the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” the story stated.

Was this the same BBC that reported ‘Jubilee stewards “humiliated” by the pageant experience’? This report stated “A group of unemployed workers at the Jubilee river pageant were left to shelter under a bridge in the middle of the night. The unpaid volunteers say they felt humiliated by the experience.”

Was this the same BBC that reported Lord Prescott’s fears that such cheap labour could be used at the Olympics? That report stated on June 7: “Volunteers bussed in from Bristol, Plymouth and Bath were reported to have spent part of Sunday night under London Bridge in cold and inhospitable conditions.”

“The appalling treatment of staff working for free over the Diamond Jubilee weekend highlights the damage that unpaid work experience risks causing people who are desperate to get back into proper employment, as well as the exploitative treatment that they can face,” said TUC general secretary Brendan Barber in the report.

So let’s have a bit of consistency in our news reports, please. What happened to those so-called “volunteers” can’t be a travesty in June and a triumph in December.

And let’s have an apology from whoever wrote the Queen’s Christmas message – not just to the nation, but also to the Queen.

Goons of the Year, 2012

I hope nobody’s expecting me to produce any serious political commentary on Christmas Eve!

Instead I’m going to get right into the modern spirit of Christmas by dishing you up a repeat of last year’s programming. It was my first ever blog entry – and not intended to be taken too seriously.

I commented at the time: “I wrote what follows, a pastiche of the late, great Goon Show, to highlight governmental failings in the middle of last year [2011], and I wanted to present it to you in this, my first ever blog entry.

I’d like to think it offers a small, satirical snapshot of the way we saw our political leaders in 2011.” Now, after another full year of Coalition lunacy, I suppose we could all look back on those days and smile wistfully. We didn’t know when we had it good.

THE GOON SHOW

THE DIARY OF NEDDIE CAMERGOON

Or

THE TIGER ECONOMY

SPEAKER: This is the BBC. Big Budget Cuts presents: The Goon Show! Welcome to the House of Commons on this glorious day in mid-2011! I call on the Prime Minister, Mr Neddie Camergoon. Mr Camergoon!

SFX: Background noises of the House of Commons. Wolf-whistles, jeers, sheep-like bleating etc.

NEDDIE: My friend, the member for Shipley, makes a very good point when he asks why we’re letting disabled people sit on their backsides. Let me be clear on this: Walking sticks cost money and in times of austerity this government can hardly prop itself up, never mind anyone else!

SFX: Bleating, jeers.

NEDDIE: But his claim that they should be allowed to do an honest day’s work for less than the minimum wage is one that I’m sure our friends in big business will be very pleased to hear!

SFX: Bleating, louder jeers.

SPEAKER: Mr Millie Bandister!

MILLIE: Thank you, Mr Speaker, buddy. What – what – what does the Prime Minister intend to do, to allay fears that the NHS will be privatised by the back door?

NEDDIE: I thank the honourable gentleman for his question. In answering – and let me be clear on this! – I think he should know the only private backdoor I’m worried about is this!

SFX: RUSTLING

SPEAKER: Mr Camermoon! Pull your trousers up at once! Order! We will now hear a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence on Why We Want to Bomb Johnny Foreigner At Huge Cost to the Public Purse. The Defence Secretary – Dr Liam Censored!

SFX: Background noises fade out during the following line by Neddie.

NEDDIE: Dear Diary: Leaving the House of Conmen, I made for the Prime Minister’s office in the Palace of Westminster – a sanctuary which was itself feeling the strictures of the modern drive to Austerity!

SFX: A wild party. A band is playing a sleazy version of ‘The Stripper’; there are sounds of people at gambling tables; screams of ‘Champagne all round for the Bullingdon boys!’

POSH VOICE: Great booze-up, Neddie!

BUTLER: Excuse me, sir.

NEDDIE: Yes, what is it, Clegg?

BUTLER: Sir, there’s someone to see you in your inner sanctum.

NEDDIE: My inner sanctum? But I’m the only one who’s allowed to be sanctimonious in ‘ere!

BUTLER: I’m afraid she insisted.

NEDDIE: She?

SFX: A door opening and closing behind his next line; the party sounds become much more muffled, but do not die away completely.

NEDDIE: Good heavens! Isn’t that–?

THATCH: Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Baroness GretMarg Thatch and this is my associate, the Lord Geoffrey—

GEOFF: Owww!

NEDDIE: He’s just been Owww!

THATCH: Yes, it’s all the rage.

GEOFF: You gotta go Owww!

THATCH: So, Neddie, dear boy, how are you enjoying the office? I remember when it was mine, I had it decorated all in black leather, as far as the eye could see, with an erect horsewhip motif!

NEDDIE: Very striking!

THATCH: Yes indeed. I notice you’ve retained it.

NEDDIE: Well, I did go to Eton!

GEOFF: Owww!

NEDDIE: He’s just been Owww! Again!

THATCH: Yes. He never thinks of anything else these days.

NEDDIE: Perhaps he went to Eton, too.

THATCH: Settle down, Neddie. Have a gorilla.

NEDDIE: No thanks; they hurt my throat.

THATCH: Oh – naughty gorillas!

NEDDIE: Have one of my monkeys – they’re milder!

THATCH: All right; I’ll have William Hague.

GEOFF: And I’ll have Francis Maude! Owww…

THATCH: Quiet, you steaming Lord! Now, Charlie –

NEDDIE: Neddie!

THATCH: Did I call you Charlie? I do apologise. You see, you look like a Charlie to me. Why don’t you pull up a chair?

NEDDIE: I prefer to stand.

THATCH: Very well – stand on a chair. Now, Neddie, we need your help! We’ve learned that – in their last months in office – the dreaded Laborious Party were raising a deadly creature to defeat us!

NEDDIE: Those fiends! So it’s all Labour’s fault!

THATCH: You see, the Eco-gnome is too small, Neddie!

NEDDIE: Sort of an eco-garden-gnome?

THATCH: Precisely! So they started building it up into a thrusting new ‘Tiger’ eco-gnome, worthy to take on even the emerging powers of India and the Far East!

NEDDIE: Bonsai!

THATCH: Gesundheit. They had been holding this Tiger at bay –

NEDDIE: Tiger Bay? So it was the Welsh eco-gnome!

THATCH: – Awaiting the signal to strike! But we’ve heard that there’s a little problem with their great big tiger…

NEDDIE: What’s that?

GEOFF: It’s escaped and gone back to the wild. Owww…

THATCH: And that’s where you come in. Neddie, we want you to bring this tiger to heel before it gets out of control altogether!

GEOFF: You’ll be Top of the Toffs if you do!

THATCH: And as a reward, I shall personally give you a postal order for five pounds in fivers. That’s five whole pounds, Neddie, plus my gratitude!

NEDDIE: What an honour! I shall start at once! Top of the Toffs? Me? CLEGG!!!

SFX: Door opening and closing; party noises get louder when it opens and die away again as it closes.

THATCH: If he brings the economy under control, we’ll be well in the money. We can call on favours from the whole financial sector. Our friends in the city will make us rich beyond the dreams of Goodwin! And you know what that means, don’t you?

GEOFF: Owww…

TOGETHER: (singing) April in Paree…!

NEDDIE: I knew I’d need help tracking down a tiger, so I called my friend Boris. Let me be clear on this: he resembles a bear more than a tiger but I thought he might have contacts.

SFX: Telephone ringtone ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’.

NEDDIE: Hello yes Boris? Fancy some cash? I need to trace an escaped—

SFX: WHOOSH!

MURDOCH: G’day Prime Minister! I hear you need help with your etcetera etcetera etcetera!

NEDDIE: How did you know?

MURDOCH: I’ve been hacking into your phone calls. What? No! What am I saying? I mean, I have my sources!

NEDDIE: And who are you?

MURDOCH: Allow me to introduce myself! I’m Major Rupert Murdoch, late of Her Majesty’s First Dirty Diggers! I’ll be delighted to chase your beast to ground – for a small consideration, of course!

BROOKS (incredibly deep voice): Major! The Tiger Economy is at large in the North of England!

MURDOCH: Thank you, Rebekah! How do you know that?

BROOKS: We got it from John Prescott’s voicemail!

MURDOCH: The game’s afoot! And now, a short interlude.

NEDDIE: Right, round the back for the old brandy!

MUSIC: Captain Ska – ‘Liar Liar’

SPEAKER: Part Two, in which our heroes (ha ha) find themselves in a position familiar to many commuters in modern Britain.

NEDDIE: Why are we slowing down?

MURDOCH: We can’t go this way! There are rioters up ahead and your Home Secretary has called out the Army!

NEDDIE: She’s done what? I thought we sacked all the squaddies. Right! Turn around!

SFX: Car screeching to a halt, reversing, squealing into motion again.

NEDDIE: That’s better.

SFX: Car screeching to a halt.

NEDDIE: What now?

MURDOCH: It’s a student demonstration against the trebling of tuition fees and the scrapping of the EMA, whatever that is!

NEDDIE: Turn around again!

SFX: Car reversing, squealing into motion again.

NEDDIE: All these U-turns! At this rate – and let me be clear on this! – we’ll never get anywhere!

SFX: Car screeching to a halt.

NEDDIE: This had better be good.

MURDOCH: It’s a tree that’s fallen across the road!

NEDDIE: What what what what what! Now even the forestry is putting us into reverse? (Sighs) You know what to do.

SFX: Car reversing, squealing into motion again.

NEDDIE: Stop! Stop the car! I want to get off! Stop stop stoppeee!

SFX: SCREECH!

SFX: Door opening.

SFX: Ha-RALPH!

BYSTANDER: ‘Ere – ain’t you the Prime Minister?

NEDDIE: Why, yes! That’s right…

BYSTANDER: If that’s what you do to yourself, think how we feel about yer!

NEDDIE: Dear Diary – We found ourselves in a desolate slum alley that could be anywhere north of Finchley.

MURDOCH: Right, this’ll do. Assemble the troops, Rebekah.

BROOKS: Yes sir. Anything else?

MURDOCH: Yes!

BROOKS: Right.

SFX: Lots of ‘falling in’-type sounds as Murdoch’s slovenly band of ragtags assemble themselves.

MURDOCH: Hacks – from the right, number!

HACK 1: One

HACK 2: One!

HACK 3: One…

NEDDIE: Why are they only saying the same number?

MURDOCH: My hacks all think they’re number one! Right, boys – spread out and look for it!

HACKS: (Rousing cheer).

MURDOCH: The beast! Look for the beast! You’re not at the News of the World now!

SFX: WHOOSH!

HACK: Major M – we’ve found a lead and we’re pursuing it!

MURDOCH: What? Ooh, me narglers, that was quick! Show me.

BROOKS: This is the man, sir.

MURDOCH: Thank you, Rebekah. Go and have a drink of water. Now, what’s the matter with him?

NEDDIE: He’s out cold.

MURDOCH: That won’t do at all! Quick! Open up his jacket and take the weight of his wallet off his chest!

WILLIUM: Ohhh – Mate! Hands off the merchandise!

MURDOCH: That’s more like it! Speak up, man – what happened to you?

WILLIUM: Ohhh – Mate! I come up here to get away from the pressures of the city, didn’t I? Me banker’s bonus was getting’ me down, mate!

NEDDIE: What what what what what what? You were feeling guilty that you had so much and other people didn’t have anything?

WILLIUM: Nah, mate! Not big enough for the holiday I wanted in Bermuda!… Only six watts? You’re not very bright are you?

NEDDIE: I don’t wish to know that.

WILLIUM: Well, I just—

NEDDIE: Ying Tong Iddle I Po!

WILLIUM: All right, well I come up ‘ere instead. There I was, mindin’ me own business when some bloke sez, ‘Dost tha’ see that ‘orrible cloud on’t ’orizon? ‘Appen ah wunduhs what that is, lake’. I didn’t understand a word but up I looks an’ WALLOP! First I was inflated, then deflated and then I went into a slump!

HACK: That’s how I found ‘im, sir!

NEDDIE: You poor man! How do you feel now?

WILLIUM: A bit downhearted, mate.

NEDDIE: He’s going into a double-dip depression! Quick! Get him to a hospital!

SFX: WHOOSH! (Ambulance noises) WHOOSH!

MURDOCH: That was quick. Was that a National Health ambulance?

NEDDIE: Good lord, no. They can’t afford ambulances these days! That was from the new, private healthcare company – Neddie’s Health Service! Now give me his wallet. Let me be clear on this: he’ll need every penny where he’s going!

ORCHESTRA: Musical link.

NEDDIE: Dear diary: Days passed by – I couldn’t stop them! – with no sign of the recalcitrant beast. Then:-

SFX: Door opening.

MURDOCH: Camergoon – we’ve got a lead! And we’re going to put it on your beastie! This man says he’s seen the eco-gnomee in the flesh!

SPRIGGS: Hello Jim! Hello Ji-im! Hello Jim.

CAMERGOON: You’ve seen it? It’s come out of recession?

SFX: Groans.

SPRIGGS: No Jim, I’m saying it’s been living in my house!

SPRIGGS: I came home for the weekend and there it was, feet up, reading the paper, Jim. In the library.

CAMERGOON: Hmm. The library, you say?

SPRIGGS: The library I sa-ay!

CAMERGOON: Where does he live? I mean, where do you live?

MURDOCH: Number 23 Perversity Gardens, Twinge! We can get there quick if we hop on the next musical link.

ORCHESTRA: Musical link.

MURDOCH: Ahooh Oh Ooh! That’s what I get for hopping on a link with no corridor! Here we are!

SFX: Knocking on the door. Door opening.

SFX: Donkey noises.

CAMERGOON: Excuse me. I’m so sorry to bother you, but we have reason to believe the British economy is living at this address.

SFX: More donkey noises.

CAMERGOON: Only we’d like to have a word with it, if possible. Could it come to the door?

SFX: Elephant roar, followed by donkey braying and farting. Door slams.

SPRIGGS: Oh dear, Jim. What will the neighbours think?

FLOWERDEW (camp voice): Shut up you! It was perfectly quiet here before you came along!

NEDDIE: Hang on. An elephant – and then a donkey? And we’re looking for the tiger economy?

NEDDIE: It’s all rather confusing, really.

MURDOCH: We’ve got to show it who’s boss!

NEDDIE: Let me be clear about this-

OTHERS: (collective groans at what is now clearly a catchphrase that he’s used far too often)

NEDDIE: We’ll have to starve it out! Quick! Cut public spending by 16 billion pounds! In Sterling!

SFX: Animal shrieks.

MURDOCH: Here it comes!

NEDDIE: I don’t wish to know that – oh I see.

SFX: Door opens. Hoofbeats galloping nearer.

SPRIGGS: At last! The economy is speeding up!

MURDOCH: Don’t let it get away! Grab it! Look out – it’s going to charge!

SFX: Hoofbeats. Thud!

MURDOCH: Mind the pond!

SFX: SPLASH

LITTLE JIM: He’s fallen in the wa-ter!

MURDOCH: Here lad – take my hand!

NEDDIE: Why? Are you a stranger in paradise?

NEDDIE: I swam to the shore, towelling myself off as I went to save time. Then:-

SFX: Hoofbeats. Donkey noises and farting sounds.

NEDDIE: It’s weakening! One more push ought to do it! Push VAT up to 20 per cent!

SFX: Donkey farts. A monumental crash to indicate the beast keeling over.

MUSIC: The Specials – Ghost Town.

NEDDIE: Dear diary – oh! I seem to have mislaid it! Perhaps I dropped it in the melee? It’s all Labour’s fault! Never mind. We returned to London in triumph and imprisoned the beast in the darkest dungeons of HM Treasury. For the task of minding it, I called on my two best men…

(PAUSE)

BOTTLE: Have you ever minded a vicious tiger eco-gnome before M’Eccles?

SFX: Rapturous canned applause.

M’ECCLES: (Pause) No.

SFX: More rapturous canned applause.

M’ECCLES: Oi’m not really boddered by it now, either. Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer Bluebottle sir.

BOTTLE: No.

M’ECCLES: It does not bodder me… at all.

BOTTLE: You’re a happy-go-lucky boy, ain’t you, M’Eccles?

M’ECCLES: Yer. ‘Ere, wait a minute…

(PAUSE)

M’ECCLES: OI!

SFX: Elephant/donkey noises.

M’ECCLES (over the top): Dat made ‘im jump! Did you see dat? Ha ha har! Did you see, Bottle, dat-

BOTTLE: You’re a naughty cruel thing, M’Eccles! You might have an eco-gnome of your own one day!

M’ECCLES: Oi don’t t’ink so, Bottle. Oi always wanted to work in der Treasury but der bigger boys wouldn’t let me! Look at M’Eccles dere, dey said. ‘E can’t do ‘is sums, loike. So, I just sit ‘ere wid moi bricks an’ ignore dem!

M’ECCLES: One an’ one is two; two an’ two is four; four an’ four – One an’ one is two…

BOTTLE: I can add up better than that! Alice Thripp has been teaching me. You’re a silly-

M’ECCLES: You want to be careful what you say to me, Bottle! ‘Ave you heard of Traf’n’galgar Square an’ Mill’n’bank? Well… just you watch it den! Oi’m der Secretary of State for Education, me!

BOTTLE: Yes. You’re an important man in White’n’hall!

M’ECCLES: Yeah, yeah.

BOTTLE: So why does you keep on makin’ up different types of school and then spending hundreds of dozens of Sterling-type pounds on them?

M’ECCLES: Oi’ll tell you why, moi good man! If oi keep goin’, oi’m bound to foind one dat doesn’t make me stand in a corner wid a pointy ‘at on moi ‘ead!

BOTTLE: But I don’t know which school I’m goin’ to, now! There’s five on my street!

M’ECCLES: Dat’s freedom of choice for you.

BOTTLE: Is that enough amusing-type dialogue for the listeners? Good, ‘cos it is time to feed the ani-mile.

M’ECCLES: Well all right, oi’d like bangers and mash. And afterwards, if you’re nice, oi might let you pat me on der head.

BOTTLE: Not you, my good man!

M’ECCLES: Oh you mean der udder animal. Ho-kay den, what ‘ave we a-bin givin’ it?

BOTTLE: Disabled people … and students.

M’ECCLES: Yeah- ‘Ere! Oi’m der Minister for Students ‘ent oi? If you’m feedin’ ‘im students, who am oi goin’ ter be der boss of?

BOTTLE: Do not worry, my good man! My captain says it is all right. He says he’s makin’ your job easier.

M’ECCLES: Well den, moi good man, oi’ll make your job easier!

SFX: Footsteps fading away into the distance.

BOTTLE: What is this? M’Eccles? Where is you goin’? Don’t leave me in da dark! I don’t like it here!

SFX: A loud clank – a chain rattling. Then a loud noise of a chain breaking.

BOTTLE: What’s dat? M’Eccles? Was that you? Are you having a practical joke-type laugh? Are you gonna come back so we can be all boys together? I’ll let you go ‘Owww’!

BOTTLE: He’s gone.

(PAUSE)

BOTTLE: I wonder what it would be like to see the inner workings of a major western economy first-hand?

SFX: CHOMP!

BOTTLE: Oaoww so this is what it’s like!

SFX: Choking noises. Loud crash. Death rattle.

NEDDIE: (Voice fading in, to show he’s entering the room) Right, let’s get to work on this Econo-thing! We’ll soon have it jumping at our very command – wait! What’s this? Why is it lying on its back with its legs sticking up in the air like that? Call me a pessimist, but- I… don’t think it’s supposed to be doing that!

NEDDIE: Clegg! Prise its jaws open!

SFX: Loud creaking sound.

BOTTLE: You rotten swines!

NEDDIE: It’s a masticated Chancellor! What are you doing in there?

BOTTLE: You’ve deaded me! Look at my superhero-style shorts! They’re all chewed to ribbons! I am expo-sed! How am I going to get Molly Prock to look at me in the playground now?

NEDDIE: If you’re that exposed, it won’t be a problem! Clegg! Close it up again; it’s the only way he’ll be quiet!

SFX: Loud creaking sound, over BOTTLE’s protestations.

BOTTLE: But- No- My Captain- Wait- It’s all gone dark!

NEDDIE: Dear diary- oh, silly me! I lost it. I’ll have to make a mental note. Mental note: What am I going to do now? The economy is as dead as the NHS will be, if Andrew Lansley gets his way. We must revive it! But how? It’s all Labour’s fault!

MURDOCH: He’s musing.

BUTLER (Clegg): Not very.

MILLIE BANDISTER: Mr Camergoon! I want a word with you!

NEDDIE: Mr Bandister! Good morning! What can I do for –

MILLIE: (drowning him out as soon as he’s said ‘morning’) Mor-ning!

(Everyone joins in, so we get a chorus of ‘Morning!’s for a few seconds).

NEDDIE: Are we done?

MILLIE: Yes. Mr Camergoon, allow me to introduce Henry Crun. He’s a private investigator.

CRUN: Yes, Millie. I investigate privates.

MILLIE: You naughty devil!

MILLIE: Tell him what else you’ve investigated.

CRUN: Mr Camergoon, I found a diary!

NEDDIE: What’s that got to do with – wait! No! Not … my diary?

CRUN: Would you mind toning down the overacting so I can read you an extract? Here’s a good one: “May 10. Now I’m PM I’ll be able to give tax breaks to all my rich pals from the banks and the Bullingdon club – the plebs can pay down the deficit! When they fail, I’ll use it as an excuse to cut public services or privatise them, then my rich chums can profit even more! I’ll say it’s all Labour’s fault!’

MILLIE: Shame on you, Mr Camergoon!

CRUN: Yes, Millie. Or this one: “I may have been economical with the truth during the election campaign but I’m sure nobody will remember me saying that VAT won’t be going up. Or that we won’t reorganise the NHS. Or that there won’t be any frontline cuts. Or that –‘

MILLIE: Yes, Henry, you’ve made your point.

CRUN: That – what? Please don’t interrupt, Millie! This is a long list! Now… where was I?

NEDDIE: Who knows?

MILLIE: Mr Camergoon, you have not been straight with the British people! When I heard about your tax breaks, I asked the people at Customs and Exercise what was going on and they said £120 billion per year isn’t being collected from the rich! Either you get them to pay up now, or you can pay it off yourself!

NEDDIE: Now, let’s be reasonable-

MILLIE: We have your diary! It’s all the proof we need. When the public find out about this, they’ll want your head on a plate!

CRUN: And possibly other parts of you. Your cuts have made them very hungry and you are quite… rotund.

SFX: Commotion as of a door opening. Sound of a tape being played very fast to indicate conversation.

BUTLER: Sir! Disaster! Riots have broken out in London and are spreading to other cities! It’ll cost at least £100 million to clean up!

MILLIE: So Mr Camergoon – who will have to pay? Your rich tax-dodging Bullingdon banker chums? Or will you foot the bill?

NEDDIE: Come come, dear friend! Let’s not be hasty! Let’s discuss strategies! Let’s talk about it! Let me be clear on this!

EVERYONE ELSE: (Groans. Cries of ‘Not again!’)

NEDDIE: Let’s all go ‘Owww’ together!

MILLIE: Yes – for £100 million pounds!

NEDDIE: Owww!

MILLIE: One hundred million pounds please!

ORCHESTRA: Signature tune and down for:-

SPEAKER: That was The Goon Show, a Big Budget Cuts programme. Script by Mike Sivier in tribute to Spike Milligan – Order, order! – and the programme that was originally produced by Peter Eton, Pat Dixon, Charles Chilton and John Browell.

ORCHESTRA: Signature tune up to end.

Osborne v Smith, according to the Telegraph. Oh, really?

Peter Oborne’s attack on Gideon George Osborne would be extremely amusing if he was defending almost anyone other than Iain Duncan Smith.

Oborne’s article in the Telegraph suggests a rift in the Conservative leadership between Osborne and Smith, with Osborne – whose attitude to welfare comes down to numbers – trying to take over the Department of Work and Pensions covertly, firstly by knocking £10 billion off the welfare budget without telling the work and pensions secretary, then by trying to replace him with a ‘yes’ man.

I have two problems with that. The first is that Oborne is probably right in suggesting that Osborne would not make matters better for the millions who are suffering persecution due to the welfare cuts and a demonisation strategy in the right-wing press. The second is his description of Smith himself.

“A committed Christian, he ultimately understands his task in terms of human redemption,” witters Oborne. “He does not believe that people are out of work because of their own fault. He believes that the vast majority are victims of a cruel system, partly created by Gordon Brown, which creates perverse incentives that encourage men and women to stay away from the job market. Mr Duncan Smith believes it is his life’s work to end this monumental tragedy, and to provide the best environment for the unemployed to find work and obtain the human dignity that a job brings with it.”

That is not what we see. What we see is a monster, cruelly throwing sick and disabled people off of the benefits they so clearly and desperately need, to face a short life of destitution followed by death caused by a worsening of their condition, or suicide because they cannot see a way out.

His policies for the unemployed involve coercing them into carrying out work-related exercises that are little other than an excuse to give money to the private firms providing the so-called service, and forcing them onto Workfare programmes that keep unemployment artificially high by ensuring that the firms taking part never have to actually give any of the participants a job.

All of this has been supported by a flimsy justification narrative that says he is encouraging these people out of a disgraceful cycle of benefit dependency and back into the job market; in fact he is doing nothing of the sort. But I have already made my opinions of Smith’s policies perfectly clear in the past. Just Google ‘Vox Political Iain Duncan Smith’ and you should get the gist.

Oborne himself appears to be utterly deluded. “There are, at the heart of this Government, only three majestic ideas,” he burbles. “The first is the restoration of the public finances, a task to which the Chancellor, strikingly, does not devote his full-time attention. The second is the grand programme of educational reform, masterminded with such admirable courage and verve by Michael Gove. The third is welfare reform.”

I would suggest those are the three policies that this government has got the most badly wrong.

Some readers might take joy from the thought that two Tory heavyweights (by the standards of the times) may be slugging it out, but I can’t. Firstly, we don’t know that it is true. The Telegraph seems to have a vendetta against Osborne at the moment; I won’t be convinced by its story – well-constructed as it seems to be – until I see substantive proof. Where’s the proof about Osborne’s expenses claim paying for a paddock and why has it not been submitted to the police and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards?

Secondly, even if the story is true, it doesn’t matter who wins. The people of the UK will continue to lose.

The rise of food banks and the fall of the Big Society

Isn’t it a shame that in the season of goodwill, the Prime Minister cannot extend any to those who are worst-off in his bold Big Society?

Instead, all they’ve been given are bad statistics and platitudes.

I’m referring, of course, to his performance in the last Prime Minister’s Questions of 2012, when he was asked to explain why there has been a sixfold increase in the number of food banks in the UK during the last three years – the time since Mr Cameron’s Coalition government took over.

A food bank, for those who don’t know the exact definition, is simply a place where food is contributed and made available to those in need. In the UK, there are currently 13 million people living below the poverty line (according to the Trussell Trust, which is the authority on food banks in this country). These include working people, whose income does not cover their costs; the unemployed, who are finding they do not have enough money to buy food due to the vicious and unwarranted benefit cuts thrust upon them by the Coalition; and of course the homeless, a sector of society that is due to grow exponentially, again due to the many cuts inflicted by the bloodthirsty Conservatives.

As a consequence of the rise in poverty, overseen and orchestrated by Mr Cameron and his lieutenant Iain Duncan Smith in the Department for Work and Pensions, the classic poverty-related diseases of rickets and tuberculosis are on the increase. In 2012, the Conservatives have achieved their aim to revive the Dickensian Christmas.

“The problem is that it is working people who are turning to food banks,” said Ed Miliband at PMQs. “One head teacher of a school rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted, Vic Goddard, says that even children with a parent or parents in work are often struggling with the choice of heating their homes, buying their children clothes or buying them food. A report last week from the Children’s Society said that two-thirds of teachers knew of staff providing pupils with food or money to prevent them from going hungry.”

This rings true. There is a reason that working people have been receiving benefits, and it is that they are being paid too little. It is a ridiculous situation, in the seventh largest economy on this planet, but one that has been perpetuated by successive governments – including, I’m sorry to say, Labour – since the 1970s. In contrast, executive pay has shot through the roof. If the minimum wage had risen in line with executive pay – just since it was introduced in 1998 – it would be more than £18 today, three times the actual level of £6.19.

The comedy Prime Minister responded with nothing of substance. He said the most important thing was “to get on top of inflation, and inflation is coming down”. How out-of-touch! It is true that inflation must be controlled, but his comedy chancellor, Gideon George Osborne, has decided that benefits – including those for people in work – will rise by less than the rate of inflation for the next three years, and Cameron himself has indicated that poor economic indicators may see him increase this to six years. The longer this rule stays in place, the further into poverty low-waged working people will go.

“The most important thing is to get more people into work and out of poverty,” said Cameron. This is not the same thing. We have seen that working people in the lowest-paid jobs are being plunged into poverty and forced to the indignity of seeking help from food banks – and remember, those starting in work will be the lowest-paid.

“And we see 600,000 more private sector jobs this year,” added Cameron, failing once again to admit that this figure includes around 200,000 that were already-existing public sector jobs, re-categorised as private in order to boost the Coalition’s statistics.

“We are helping […] families by freezing the council tax,” he said, neglecting to add that he is forcing people with limited cash to – from April – pay at least 10 per cent of it where they would have received council tax benefit before. “And making sure that we help families with the cost of living,” he droned on. This comment is meaningless other than as a complete fabrication. How can he expect to be believed when he is mercilessly forcing them into poverty?

“We have lifted the personal tax allowance and taken two million of the lowest-paid people out of tax altogether,” he said. But they still have to use their own money to make up the huge losses in benefits that are coming. This government gives with one hand but takes with the other.

“Because of the decisions that we made in this Government to increase the child tax credit by £390 ahead of inflation, we have helped those families with their bills and we will continue to do more in the future.” How? Child tax credit will be abolished when Universal Credit is brought in across the UK.

Cameron’s denouement was his declaration that Labour had nothing to offer, “except for the same old something-for-nothing culture that got us in this mess in the first place”. We all know that this is not true. Until the banking crisis, Labour ran a lower deficit than any Conservative government of the previous 30 years. The Conservatives had supported greater deregulation of the banks right up until the crisis hit, meaning that it would have been much worse if they had been in power at the time. And they supported Labour’s actions to solve that crisis – meaning that, if we are in a mess now, the Conservatives should take as much responsibility for it as Labour. They would have done no different.

Possibly the most astonishing moment was when David Cameron said volunteers in food banks were part of his Big Society idea, “to help those in need”. The stated aim of the Big Society was to create a climate that empowers local people and communities, taking power away from politicians and giving it to people. Now, here, Mr Cameron seemed to be saying the opposite – that it is about taking so much away from people that they are forced to rely on charity to survive. It seems, therefore, that the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, was correct when he labelled it “aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable.”

His words were, to some extent, echoed by Ed Miliband at PMQs: “I never thought that the big society was about feeding hungry children in Britain. The reality is that in the third year of the Prime Minister’s Government, more children are going hungry and more families are relying on food banks.

“Is it not the clearest indictment of his Government’s values that while lower and middle-income families are being hit, at the same time he is giving an average of a £107,000 tax cut to people earning over £1 million a year?”

And those were the truest words spoken on the subject.