The Department for Work and Pensions seems to love pushing the public around, but has a real problem when the public pushes back.
Don’t these people understand that they are civil servants?
The system of government is described as a mechanism by which the public elects members of Parliament to serve the interests of the majority, and MPs in turn are supported by the civil service, which is constituted to ensure that those interests are promoted and safeguarded in a practical and legal way.
When MPs get it wrong – as they clearly have in the case of mandatory work activity (MWA) – and the public makes its wishes known, it is not the place of the civil servants to subject those people to derision or to describe them in derogatory terms – even when the harshest language is used to describe the scheme.
That is free speech.
Having looked at the Sue Ryder Facebook page, I have to admit that the charity has a point when it describes “recent online lobbying using strong and emotive language” as the reason it has chosen to quit the scheme.
However I would dispute that it is withdrawing to protect staff from an online campaign of harassment, and I would want to see proof that the claims made about its volunteering practices – with regard to people on mandatory work activity – were misleading.
The simple fact is, the scheme is morally repugnant to the majority of people in this country and Sue Ryder should never have taken part in it. If the charity had stayed away, it would not have exposed itself to criticism.
Behind this lies another simple fact: Any flak taken by Sue Ryder is merely incidental to the escalating war of words between an unrepentant Department for Work and Pensions and an increasingly-embittered British Public.
This is a dialogue that has been running for many years now. It started reasonably enough but the intractability of the government department (civil servants, remember) and the misleading propaganda it purveys has provoked campaigners to increasingly strong reactions.
So perhaps Sue Ryder should put the blame where it belongs – with the Department for Work and Pensions.
The DWP is quoted by the Guardian as saying it was “deeply regrettable that a small number of people have targeted charities and subjected them to intimidation and abuse in an effort to disrupt the operation of this scheme”.
This statement is factually correct. Only a small number of people have subjected charities to intimidation and abuse.
The vast majority – and they number in the tens of thousands at the very least – have been polite. They have put their objections in writing, making reasonable arguments against mandatory work activity.
But they don’t get a mention in the DWP’s slanted appraisal of the situation.
So you see, it is the DWP’s language that is provoking and escalating hostilities. Until that organisation wakes up and remembers that it is an organ of the public will, accepts the majority view that Workfare/MWA is entirely abominable and agrees to put an end to it, the only option open to the rest of us is to find increasingly more strident terms in which to raise our objection.
My own opinion is that this goes back to the general election of 2010. Remember at the top of this article, where I said the mechanism of government is based on the principle that the public elects MPs to represent the will of the majority? In 2010, that didn’t happen.
No political party gained a majority of the vote. The Conservatives wormed their way into office by making a deal with a party that got far fewer votes than even they did. As a result, we are seeing minority-interest policies being forced upon the masses by a minority-interest party that should never have got back into government.
The only way to protest against its policies is to argue against them and to boycott those organisations that support them, and if a government department like the DWP is willing to combat this reasonable behaviour with propaganda then it must expect a savage backlash.
And so must Sue Ryder.
So let’s not have any more whining.