Plus Ca Change (or: The More Times Change, The More Tories Stay The Same)

I’ve just found the following fascinating snippet in a recording of the BBC’s News Quiz, c 1993. It’s a reference to a cock-up by then Social Security secretary Peter Lilley, that was revealed right around the time of the Conservative Party Conference that year.

“Peter Lilley had a very successful Blackshirt Rally- Blackpool Rally – in which he made one of those caring, sensitive speeches about how the loss of money and the budget deficit was all the fault of three single mothers in Cardiff,” said Private Eye editor Ian Hislop.

“But then it transpired rather amusingly that his own department had managed to lose, entirely by incompetence, about £331 million, which is more money than all his stupid measures would have saved anyway.”

The legendary Barry Took, chairing the show, explained: “It is Peter Lilley and his team at the DSS. They’ve managed to overspend a massive sum from the welfare benefits, so would the person who received the Giro for £331 million and 48p please send it back to Mr Lilley or to any of his immediate staff: Eva, Unity or Benito.

“It was of course Mr Lilley who attacked scroungers of all sorts, and especially the growth in claims from single mothers, so any young woman thinking of getting into that condition should think again, and stay away from cabinet ministers.”

Now we have Chris Grayling at the Department for Work and Pensions – a man dubbed ‘Goebbels’ by the media, after Nazi Germany’s propoganda minister, in an apt (and entirely coincidental) follow-up to the News Quiz reference to Hitler (Barry Took’s comment namechecked Hitler’s wife Eva Braun, along with Unity Mitford and Benito Mussolini; and Ian Hislop’s reference to Blackshirts was a comparison with Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists before World war Two).

Grayling’s department awarded a contract to Atos Origin that was worth £801 million over a 10-year period, to carry out ‘work capability assessments’ on claimants of sickness and disability benefits, at which people with terminal illnesses or severe medical conditions have been declared fit for work and had their benefits cut.

The cost of appeals against Atos decisions is running at £50 million per year, and the number of successful appeals is currently around 40 per cent, according to The Guardian.

So, this time, we’re already up to nearly £1 billion (£801 million plus around two years of appeals against decisions) wasted on the latest attempt to demonise “scroungers”.  The language is exactly the same as in 1993, although it is now being used to attack the sick and disabled, rather than single mums.

And the situation is exactly the same. The Coalition wants to cut £9.2 billion from sickness and disability payments but is already on course to spend far more in the attempt, due to – in my opinion, and I’m sure I’m not alone – incompetence.

The more times change, the more Tories stay the same. It would be pathetic if it wasn’t so dangerous.

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