Out of the Party: But would Patrick Mercer have resigned if a major TV documentary wasn’t about to reveal allegations against him?
Tory MP Patrick Mercer has resigned from the Parliamentary Conservative Party to “save … embarrassment” over a BBC Panorama programme alleging he had broken lobbying rules.
Mercer, MP for Newark, will remain as an Independent but will not stand for re-election in 2015.
The coalition government is committed to setting up a statutory register of lobbyists – companies who influence government policy, often by paying current and former MPs for advice and guidance. But, you know, it’s one of those matters that just doesn’t seem to make it onto the legislative programme – like proper bank regulation and measures to make tax avoidance impossible.
We call on HM Government for new legislation to ensure that:
i. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation in which they have a financial interest; and
ii. No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation which has made – or currently makes – donations to themselves personally or their political party.
We believe this is necessary to prevent corruption. It is also in accord with the spirit of political reform supported by the government.
I’m not saying Mr Mercer has been engaging in unacceptable behaviour; we’ll have to wait and see what happens.
But I am saying that, if the ban I propose had been in place, he would have known not to do it.
‘Snail’ media: The BBC News website was nearly two months behind the political blogs in its reporting of a major story.
“On Tuesday, this was a serious Conservative Party policy proposal, being reported in national newspapers. Now, it’s ‘never’ going to happen,” trumpeted web campaigners 38 Degrees in an email last night.
They were, of course, referring to the Tory idea that it would be all right to restrict consultations with an NHS doctor to three per year per person – presumably the Rupert who dreamed it up thought everybody who mattered would have private health insurance instead, and this seems to be borne out by the material in the rest of the policy document.
I’ll admit, the material in the article was sourced from the newspapers, but what’s interesting is that it took a further two days for the mass – or as I intend to call it from now on, the ‘snail’ – media to cotton on that the whole idea is utterly ludicrous and the public won’t fall for it.
During that time, the Vox article went viral, and Vox readers have never really been known for keeping their opinions to themselves.
A ‘snowball’ effect then ensued, leading to reports in the papers of the public reaction and the 38 Degrees petition, which resulted in Jeremy Hunt’s grumpy tweet: “In case being misled by ‘neutral’ 38Degrees e-petition, it IS NOT and WAS NEVER going to be Conservative policy to limit GP appointments.”
He’s only upset because we spoiled his fun, I expect.
Vox Political was not the only blog covering this story, as far as I’m aware, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that it was any more instrumental in this little victory than anyone else. What I’m saying is it demonstrates that bloggers are starting to drive the political agenda.
The problem is the length of time it takes the mass – sorry, ‘snail’ – media to catch up.
Under the headline ‘Incapacity benefit test claims ‘conflated figures’ – watchdog’, it states: “Suggestions that 878,300 benefit claimants dropped their claims rather than take a medical test have been challenged by the statistics watchdog.
“Tory chairman Grant Shapps was quoted saying that nearly a million people had “taken themselves off” incapacity benefit instead of sitting the test.”
Again, it’s great that this nonsense has been challenged, and the challenge has been reported. What’s not so great is the timescale.
The comment in the BBC story – by Andrew Dilnot, the now famous head of the UK Statistics Authority – was that “research by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that one important reason for those cases being closed was because the person ‘recovered and either returned to work or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’ instead.”
That is uncannily close to Steve Walker’s comment that “this represents nothing more than ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn because of perfectly normal things like people getting better, or finding a job they can do even if they’re ill” – published on April 2!
I’ll accept some people may dispute the blogs’ influence on the outcome of the ‘NHS consultation’ issue, but on this one it seems unlikely there can be any doubt. Mr Dilnot’s letter followed an inquiry from Sheila Gilmore MP, who follows Vox Political and is certainly likely to have read my report on this matter. It seems likely that she also follows Skwawkbox. The amount of time between those articles’ appearance and the piece on the BBC website is the time it took for her to receive a response to her inquiry on the matter from Mr Dilnot.
Isn’t it a shame that the BBC didn’t do any fact-checking for itself?
So there you have it: If you want proper political news – and proper analysis of events – forget the ‘snail’ media and go to the blogs. We’re faster and more accurate, and what’s more, we make things change.
For the better (in case Iain ‘We’re changing their lives’ Smith was wondering).
The villain of the piece: Iain Duncan Smith drives all of the government’s policies that discriminate against the sick or disabled. Others have memorably noted that his idea of helping them is to kick away their walking-sticks to see how far they can crawl.
The UK Coalition government is to face trial by the European Court of Justice over an alleged failure to correctly assess the benefits EU migrants are entitled to claim. This is very laudable, but begs the question: When are the European courts going to address the Coalition’s transgressions against its own citizens?
I refer, of course, to the continuing scandal of Employment and Support Allowance, the disability benefit that isn’t (according to the government’s plans for another so-called benefit, Universal Credit).
Vox readers are, by now, well aware that the so-called “work capability assessment” that allegedly determines whether a person is entitled to the benefit or is fit for work is in fact a sham, run by a French Information Technology company (Atos), using a computerised, tick-box assessment system that is based on a scheme that earned the American insurance company that devised it (Unum) a criminal record, because its sole intention was to prevent as many people as possible from fitting the criteria necessary to win a claim.
The application of this assessment system has led to an average of 73 deaths every week. This means that, between the moment I woke up this morning and the time I’m writing this (around midday), at least two more people are likely to have died – either because their condition has worsened due to the strain of the assessment procedure, or through suicide; their mental health was not strong enough and they decided to give up, rather than fight for what should be theirs by right as UK citizens.
A BBC documentary (Week In, Week Out, May 28, 2013) recently quoted a statistic that claimed people with chronic pain – who are therefore entitled to claim ESA – are twice as likely to die prematurely than those without, so why is the Coalition forcing them through these fake “medical” examinations and then telling them they are fit to work – effectively trying to induce such premature deaths?
That question has been taken to the European courts – and the United Nations’ International Criminal Court. The response, so far, has been breathtakingly disappointing. It seems that they need proof that the UK’s own justice system will not rectify the problem before they will agree to take action.
How much proof do they need?
Within the last couple of weeks, Linda Wootton, a lady who had endured multiple organ transplants due to illness, died – within days of receiving notice that a work capability assessment had found her fit for work and her ESA had been cancelled.
In the same period, a High Court tribunal ruled that the Coalition has broken the law by discriminating against people who are mentally ill. This is exactly the kind of discrimination that causes the suicides. It is something about which the government has been warned – not rarely, but continually and with passion. And what is the government’s response?
It intends to appeal against the decision. It says it has made enough concessions to the mentally ill already.
We know what happens when the government appeals against court decisions. It loses.
And then it changes the law, in order to make its actions legal again.
That is the act of a criminal regime.
But the international courts are still sitting on their thumbs.
By the time I finish posting this article, according to the averages, another ESA claimant will be dead – making three, or thereabouts, since I woke up this morning. If the international courts finally get their act together, examine the mountain of evidence that has built up against the Coalition over the last three years, and find it guilty of corporate manslaughter – or procuring suicide under the Suicide Act 1961 – it will be a tremendous day for the most vulnerable people in the UK.
And make no mistake – the chronically sick and disabled are far more vulnerable than most European migrants.
But one fact will remain: Thousands upon thousands of these vulnerable people will have died, and no court decision will ever bring them back.
ESA isn’t the only benefit system that is failing the British people. Look at Stephanie Bottrill, who committed suicide because she was facing eviction. She couldn’t afford to pay the Coalition’s hated Bedroom Tax.
You see, these aren’t just numbers. They’re people. Thousands and thousands of real people. With real families who are left to mourn the loss.
In the UK, the Coalition and the press have worked hard to create a lack of empathy for these people – calling them scroungers, or skivers, or work-shy. In reality they are nothing of the sort. They are seriously, seriously ill. They are victims of a libellous hate campaign. And they are too sick, and too poor, to mount a challenge against what is happening to them.
Now, I don’t want the Comment column after this article to fill up with hate-speak for Johnny Foreigner. The fact is, the Coalition probably is denying benefits to migrants.
My rationale for suggesting this is the fact that it is denying benefits to the UK’s own citizens, and is perfectly comfortable with letting them die as a result.
So, while I applaud the European Court of Justice for taking this step against the UK government, I must also add this:
Get your priorities right.
Postscript: You know, it isn’t my job to point out these things. There are people in this country who are employed – in fact, there are people in this country who are elected – to do so. Why aren’t these people spending every waking hour campaigning for justice, for their constituents and for the nation as a whole? Why aren’t they fighting the media lies? Where is the opposition to this government criminality?
Post-postscript: Have a look at this article, reporting that the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights has found the Coalition government in breach of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. Now we have proof that the Coalition is actively discriminating against the disabled, and breaking UN conventions to do it, will the UN, finally, step in?
Oh! I just looked at the time. That’ll be another person dead, then.
Not such a sweetheart: Dave Hartnett, formerly of HMRC, now of Deloitte’s. There’s a line by Herbert Morris – “something in the lad’s upturned face appealed to him. He hurled a brick at it”. Would THIS man’s upturned face appeal to you in the same way?
Dave Hartnett, the former tax executive responsible for the hugely controversial “sweetheart deals” that allowed multinational corporations including Vodafone and Starbucks to avoid paying billions of pounds in taxes to the UK treasury, has started work with Deloitte, the accountancy firm and auditor of – guess who? – Vodafone and Starbucks.
Hartnett quit as Permanent Secretary for Tax at HM Revenue and Customs and then took on the one-day-a-week role (according to, among others, The Independent). Deloitte – one of the so-called ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms at the heart of every major scheme for tax avoidance – continues in its role at the UK Treasury, helping (if you can call it that) to write the law on – guess what? – tax avoidance.
Considering all of the above, does anybody seriously expect us to believe that Hartnett was working for the public when he was at HMRC?
Schizoid report: José Ángel Gurría, secretary general of the OECD. He’d probably object to the way we’ve defaced his sign, but it now provides a more accurate description of his organisation’s opinions.
How can the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development tell George Osborne that he should invest in infrastructure projects but continue with his policy of cutting public spending, when the first public spending he cut was infrastructure projects?
Is this a sign of the delirium into which the western economies are sinking, partly through slavish adherence to neoliberal nonsense – in the face of all the facts – and party through a lack of raw intelligence?
The OECD, according to The Guardian, has revised down its economic growth forecast for the UK. What a surprise; they haven’t revised our growth upwards since before Osborne became Chancellor – and that alone indicates where the problem lies.
It says spending cuts and a lack of consumer and business confidence are restricting what we should all call “the recovery” only in mocking terms.
But, as the newspaper reports, “it [the OECD] backed George Osborne’s plans for further spending cuts, saying: ‘With a high budget deficit and gross government debt rising to 90 per cent of GDP in 2012, further fiscal consolidation is necessary to restore the sustainability of public finances.'”
What? It’s still supporting the discredited view that when public debt hits 90 per cent of GDP, growth is slowed? Hasn’t that idea been comprehensively rubbished – not only on paper but in the fact that UK growth hit standstill point the instant Osborne came in as Chancellor and inflicted his policies on us all?
It isn’t the amount of debt that’s the problem – its the stupid things that blinkered upper-class idiots do in response!
The OECD said the Labour market was “resilient”, so it obviously has been paying too much attention to DWP press releases when it should have looked up the facts. According to the Resolution Foundation (yes, another thinktank), as reported in The Independent, “The jobs market remains weak and is likely to continue to struggle well into the second half of the decade, making this a more severe downturn for employment levels than the two previous recessions”.
The article states: “The Resolution Foundation has performed an analysis of the total adult employment rate – which reflects the increase in the size of the population and the growth of the available workforce – and found that there remains a “jobs gap” of 930,000. This is the number of new jobs that would be required to restore the employment rate from its present level of 58.5 per cent to the 60.3 per cent recorded in 2008. This jobs gap has actually grown from 830,000 in the final quarter of last year.”
Once again, we see the facts do not support Coalition government press releases.
The OECD’s claim that average real earnings are “weak”, on the other hand, is realistic and gives the necessary perspective to a report from the Office for National Statistics that the total number of weekly hours worked across the economy hit a new record high of 950.3 million in the first quarter of the year.
If everybody’s working so much, why haven’t we got any money? Answer: Because the Tory-led government has been pushing wages downwards, ever since it came into power. Average earnings for bosses of FT350 companies have rocketed upwards, but the worker on the street had a pay rise of just 0.8 per cent last year. Look at the way benefit increases have been pushed below the rate of inflation (the DWP again!) in order to make the unemployed desperate to take whatever work they can get – no matter how poorly-paid – and to put those who have jobs in fear of losing them, so that they won’t be demanding pay rises anytime soon.
Back to the OECD: It wants a house-building programme to spur jobs growth. Without this, it warned that house values could overheat, sparking another price bubble. Isn’t that what George Osborne wants? Look at the so-called “second-home subsidy” he announced in the March budget, when he said the government would underwrite a percentage of new house purchases. Already we have seen warnings (from Sir Mervyn King in this Vox article) that it will create a price bubble.
So not only is Osborne right; he’s also wrong. Growth is down because of his policy of cuts, but he should continue making them. Unemployment is down – but the jobs gap has grown.
Also, not only is Osborne wrong; he’s very wrong. Low wages mean economy-boosting demand is also low – but the government is pushing wages down still further. House-building is needed to spur jobs growth and prevent a price bubble – but he isn’t building houses and he is actively pursuing the creation of a price bubble.
That’s what the OECD report says. There’s no way Osborne should be using it to support his policies but I bet he will.
If I were the secretary of state in one of the government departments he’s trying to squeeze for more cuts, I would be phoning the local mental hospital, saying a dangerous madman was loose in Whitehall and demanding that he should be sectioned.
But it seems that, instead of this, the ministers who’ve dragged their feet will be subjected to a grilling by the all-new ‘Star Chamber’, which is the name for the public expenditure committee Osborne has set up. Apparently ‘Star Chamber’ has a “mystique” about it (according to The Guardian); in fact it will consist of Osborne, Danny Alexander and those ministers who’ve given in and agreed cuts, haranguing the dissenters until they fold up like cheap thugs who’ve been punched in the kidneys once too often.
The fact that they will all eventually capitulate means we can laugh at them next time they’re on television trying to act tough, but the whole sorry story leaves us with one immutable fact:
Don’t shrug your shoulders, Smith! It’s time the people of the UK found a way to make him care about the deaths he is causing.
Today’s article on the Skwawkbox blog is extremely interesting, for anyone with an interest in the public services and the welfare state.
It seems the Department for Work and Pensions has pushed ahead with a regime including the Work Programme and the sanctions imposed for those who refuse to take part, and even changed the law to reinforce its position, despite having documentary proof that is two years old, showing that these policies do more harm than good and are not in the national interest.
So the report concludes that the Work Programme, and other training programmes imposed by the DWP, cause harm by preventing people from looking for work and forcing them to attend useless training sessions (as flagged up in this Vox Political article).
It admits the policy harms people who were already involved in training or volunteer work – on their own initiative – because they had to end it to take part in ‘mandated’ training or face sanction if they declined (Cait Reilly, for a much-publicised example).
People who didn’t attend, didn’t complete or rejected a training course because it was unsuitable were still sanctioned (even though the policy states – and the government has adamantly claimed for many months – that this does not happen. Transport difficulties and childcare problems were also flagged up as potentially leading to sanctions, even though they were not the fault of the jobseeker.
The report went on to criticise the sanctions regime – because it is harmful not only to the jobseeker but to members of that person’s family and friends as well. This is because it forces them to rely on family and friends for their survival, if they are lucky enough to have such people around to help; it damages family relationships and harms the well-being of low-income families who have to stretch their resources to help a sanctioned person, including younger brothers or sisters who have to rely on the money earned by their elders for their own sustainance. In other words, not only do sanctions harm individual jobseekers, but they also harm people who have had nothing to do with the benefits being suspended. As Steve Walker writes, that is “about as unjust as you could possibly get”.
There’s more, but you should visit the article because I want to ask a few more, searching, questions.
We’ve seen that the DWP was warned against imposing Workfare onto people who were already involved in training or volunteer work that they had initiated themselves. Isn’t that exactly what happened to Cait Reilly?
Then, rather than admit its mistake, pay her back the money she had lost through sanctions and let her go back to the volunteer work that might actually help her get a long-term career, the government forced her to take the matter to a lengthy (and, one expects, expensive) judicial review to prove her case.
When Ms Reilly won at the Court of Appeal (meaning the costs had to be paid by the DWP), it meant that tens – maybe hundreds of thousands of jobseekers who had been wrongly sanctioned could claim their money back. Mr… Smith immediately told the world that he wasn’t putting up with that and, diverging even further from the path of wisdom, tabled a Parliamentary Bill to change the law, in order to keep the money he and his department had stolen – yes, I think ‘stolen’ is the appropriate word – from the many taxpayers they had wronged.
Faced with this evidence, one finds it necessary to ask: In the name of sanity, why?
Why go ahead with a policy that cannot possibly be in the national interest? It stops people getting jobs; it harms jobseekers, their families and friends; it drives them to despair.
It drives them to despair.
Another recent article came our way via Facebook, and relates to the Suicide Act, 1961. It draws attention to the fact that the DWP and the wider UK government has been told, repeatedly and at length, that its policies are leading to suicides. The article itself refers to the many deaths we know take place every week because of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, but it is also known that jobseeker suicides rise by around 10 per cent during times of high unemployment and the figures should be available to support a contention that this is taking place now.
The article goes on to say that continuing to authorise procedures that are known to end in suicide – as Iain Duncan Smith and his various lieutenants, Mark Hoban, Esther McVey, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller, have done – may therefore be viewed as procuring suicide from the disabled and otherwise disadvantaged population of the UK.
This is a criminal offence under the Suicide Act, 1961.
So it seems we have a government that has ignored the advice of its own reports in order to pursue a course of criminality that has led (as we all know) to many thousands of deaths.
This is a prelude to many more – possibly worse – such events happening as bedroom tax evictions start to take place. Here we have a 16-year-old, disabled youth left fighting for his life, due to the callous actions of social housing staff in Hackney, and despite the fact that his family continues to be entitled to social housing.
From what we see here, it seems that, following the death of this young man’s father, the heads at Hackney Homes decided the family home of the previous 40 years was now too big for them.
“In September they [our old friends the DWP] were telling us everything was great then too: so either they were lying then or they are lying now or they have been lying all along… millions of people could face misery.”
An even-handed appraisal of the precarious project we know as Universal Credit – and of the position of its architect, Iain Duncan Smith. It’s a quick read and I recommend it. Thanks to the Skwawkbox blog for finding it.
We always knew that the Tories don’t give a damn about the fundamental principles of our National Health Service – for example, the one that says access to healthcare should be based on clinical need.
The papers today are reporting on a Conservative Party document which proposes a cap on the number of GP consultations you will be allowed to have every year.
The attitude seems to be that allowing people to see their doctor as many times as are needed is a luxury that the UK cannot afford. From this, we can conclude that money is more important than health to them.
This is contradictory, though – didn’t the Conservatives push through an unnecessary top-down reorganisation of the health service in England at a cost of £3 billion? And aren’t they busily opening up opportunities for their chums in private health companies to make a profit out of the NHS, meaning billions more will be siphoned off into their bank accounts as profit, rather than being used to benefit patients?
The paper asks readers to respond with their opinions on what a GP’s “core” or “essential” services should be, and asks if they should be better-defined so that patients know what they can expect. Significantly, it provides ‘case studies’ from Switzerland and the Netherlands, concentrating on health insurance schemes in use within those countries.
This is the direction of travel, then: We can see that the Tories definitely intend to push us all into buying health insurance schemes, rather than enjoying the current service which is free at the point of use.
Now join the dots:
Health insurance means we would only get what we pay for. If this consultation provides the blueprint, then the rest of the country would get a basic package that is defined by only a few Tory adherents and optimised to make the most profit for the companies running the schemes.
There is already an insurance company working with the UK government – Unum, the company with a criminal record in its home country, the USA, for selling schemes designed to make it close to impossible for anyone to receive a payout.
Do any of you seriously believe, if these plans go through, that you would receive any healthcare worth having?
I read about this on the day I also read about double-heart and lung transplant patient Linda Wootton, who died just nine days after being told her entitlement for Employment and Support Allowance had been stopped because she was fit for work (she was, in fact, dying on a hospital bed at the time).
My first impression was, therefore, that this was an attempt by the Conservatives to stop people from compiling the medical evidence needed to contest ESA entitlement decisions.
But then I remembered: The work capability assessment is not a medical test and does not rely on medical evidence from anyone who is qualified to have an opinion about it. So it can’t be that.
If this gets passed into law, you should expect your health, and that of everyone you know, to worsen exponentially as time goes by. It’s as the U2 lyric from the 1980s put it: “The rich stay healthy while the sick stay poor”. There will be many, many deaths due to preventable causes.
The New World Order conspiracy theorists are probably salivating at the thought of this – they’ll believe it proves what they’ve been saying all along, that there is a cadre of ‘elite’ manipulators who intend to thin out the world population and this is part of that agenda.
There is only one thing to do: Protest. The ‘discussion brief’ entitled ‘Local Health’ was buried on the Conservative Policy Forum website when the papers reported on it, but now it has magically found its way to the top of the homepage. So why not visit www.conservativepolicyforum.com, read the document for yourself and make your opinions known in no uncertain terms:
Hands off our NHS!
Ask yourself how many of the people who wrote the paper actually use the NHS. If they don’t play the game, why are they so determined to make up the rules?
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