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Remember Chris Davies? The Tory candidate I shot down in the letters page of the local press because he was parroting the lies of Iain Duncan Smith and Grant Shapps at the population of my constituency as though they were the Gospels and he was God’s Own Messenger?
Well, he came back for more.
“Please allow me the opportunity to respond to the letter from the Labour Party’s Llandrindod branch chairman, Mike Sivier,” he writes. I’m not the branch chairman – just the secretary. Believe me, this is not the biggest mistake he makes!
“He obviously exists in the deluded fantasy world of the Labour Party, a party that has failed to learn the lesson from the last period in government and still actively promotes state dependency over individual responsibility and work.” He’ll contradict himself a few paragraphs down, but I wondered what he meant by that – “still actively promotes state dependency over individual responsibility and work”. I can’t say I do that. I actively promote work that benefits all those who carry it out – look at my article about the Liberal Democrat employee-ownership idea. I campaign against zero-hours contracts, Workfare/the Work Programme, and other practices that exploit the worker in order to make a big profit for bosses while they sit back and do nothing (the lazy scroungers!). I campaign against forcing people into work that is inequitable, and recalling that Cllr Davies’ original letter was about benefits, I include forcing the sick and disabled to seek work in that category. So if he is criticising me for actively promoting fairness and equitable employment practices over his party’s exploitation, then I stand guilty as charged. But I believe this reveals something about himself he would rather keep hidden.
“This is the same Labour Party which, despite bringing this country to the brink of bankruptcy,” – this is impossible – “still has the audacity to deny spending too much whilst they were in government,” – Labour didn’t – “and is still calling for even more borrowing and spending.” Labour isn’t.
“The last Labour government allowed the welfare budget to soar by 60 per cent in a decade.” It’s more like 40 per cent, and if you think that doesn’t excuse Labour, wait until you see my proof that social security spending has never been under control for any sustained period since the modern welfare state began, with the exception being between 2001-7, during the last Labour government! “They allowed housing benefit alone to increase by 100 per cent to £21 billion! The cynical among us say they did this to simply buy the votes of benefit claimants. Whatever the reason, the benefit system inherited by the Conservative-led coalition government was horrendously bloated, disgracefully unfair and heavily defrauded.” Wrong again. Welfare reforms since 1996 have unpicked around 30 per cent of the dependency that built up during previous Conservative governments, and the long-term pattern of social security spending relative to GDP had been falling since the year 2000. It was only the recession engineered by the Tories’ friends, the bankers, that pushed spending upwards – and Cllr Davies won’t blame Labour for a problem created by bankers, surely? (I’m being sarcastic. Of course he will. Every other Tory seems to).
“Benefit fraud totals £1.2 billion a year. You could build a lot of hospitals for £1.2 billion.” This is something that another Tory councillor wrote in a letter to a different paper. My response was: The claim that money saved will be used on hospitals and schools is fantasy. The aim of the cuts is to shrink the state – reducing the amount provided for vital public services. It was never the intention to redistribute savings to hospitals. In fact, David Cameron himself has been rebuked for lying when he said the Coalition was putting extra money into the NHS – funding dropped by nearly £1 billion between 2010 and 2012.
“Yet despite these facts,” WHAT FACTS? “Mr Sivier and his socialist comrades in the Labour Party are still opposing reform of the welfare system.” Absolutely untrue! The system now needs reform more than ever before – to eradicate forever the changes made by Iain Duncan Smith and his Tory-boy friends, and remove the bloodstains from its character, caused by the deaths of thousands upon thousands of innocent people whose only crime was to have fallen ill or become disabled.
“What is so sad is Labour’s inability to see how their reign over the welfare system proved so disastrous for hardworking families, the most financially disadvantaged and the most vulnerable members of our society.” I don’t see that – but then, this is because it didn’t happen.
“We now have a generation of people trapped in welfare dependency.” That’s an Iain Duncan Smith lie. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation stated that this claim has no basis in fact. “We have widespread abuse of the benefits system.” IDS lies again. Benefit fraud stands at 0.7 per cent of the total number of claims. Widespread. HA ha-ha! “We have people travelling from the other side of the world to exploit the UK’s ‘generous’ benefits.” Yet another Iain Duncan Smith lie! Channel 4 News Factcheck looked for the figures, but when they asked HM Revenue and Customs for them, the response was that the tax credit system does not record nationalities of claimants, and HMRC doesn’t have the figures! No basis, therefore, in fact. “Who picks up the bill for all this?” All what? “As always it is the UK’s hardworking families who have to pay for Labour’s incompetence.” Except they’re not. They’re paying for the BANKERS‘ incompetence (see my reference to the bank crisis, earlier).
“I am more than happy to discuss our welfare reforms every week for the next two years if Labour really wants to.” That’s good because it’s exactly what’s going to happen! “They are on the wrong side of the argument on this issue and on the wrong side of public opinion.” If he has to tell newspaper readers that Labour is on the wrong side, he’s already lost the argument. As for public opinion, we know the national media are owned by right-wing press barons who push the Tory side of the stories.
“I might just add that in the last fortnight, it seems that Labour has started to realise the electoral folly of their opposition to welfare reform and is beginning to perform some screeching u-turns. Despite months of howling protests from Labour, their party leader has now said that should they get into government, they will NOT reverse any of the coalition’s spending cuts, including those on welfare!
“It would seem that Labour high command failed to inform Mr Sivier of that policy change.”
Readers of this blog will know that I’m well aware of that issue – and will also know exactly what I think of it!
Here’s my response – going out to the paper today:
Chris Davies seems to have his ideas back to front. At first he tells us I’m the epitome of current Labour thinking, but by the end of his latest missive, I’m out of touch with Labour’s “high command”, whatever that is. The truth is that I am lucky enough to be a member of a party that does not require its members to be mindless drones, parroting the latest approved message from above – like the nonsense that has been handed down to Cllr Davies from Tory Party head office.
There are so many lies in his letter that it is hard to know where to start, so I’ll concentrate on the heart of the matter: Social security reforms and Labour’s record. I have already quoted some figures to Mr Davies but he clearly doesn’t want to take my word for it. Perhaps he’ll accept that of Bristol University Professor Paul Gregg instead (I have no idea what Prof Gregg’s political leanings are).
In his 2010 paper, ‘Radical Welfare Reform’ http://www.bristol.ac.uk/cmpo/publications/bulletin/winter10/gregg.pdf he stated: “The number of welfare claims has actually declined, given the state of the economic cycle… welfare reforms since 1996 [under Labour] have unpicked about 30 per cent of the build-up of excessive welfare dependence after 1979 [under the Conservatives].”
Professor Gregg continues: “In terms of worklessness leading to reliance on welfare, the picture is not of a broken system. Rather it is of a system that has been steadily improving since 1995 but masked by the current recession… Welfare growth has never been under control for any sustained period since the modern welfare state began, with the exception only of the six years from 2001-2 to 2007-8 [under Labour]”.
He is saying that the last Labour government is in fact the ONLY government to have got social security spending under control since the Welfare State was introduced. The graph accompanying his paper shows this to devastating effect, with spending under the Conservative governments of Thatcher and Major increasing by up to 80 per cent in a single year!
In short Professor Gregg finds Labour’s record good – and the Tories’ record appalling. As for Cllr Davies’ other assertions, may I direct readers to my article on the Internet, where they should find responses to most, if not all, of them. In brief: The UK, as a sovereign country with its own currency, cannot be brought to bankruptcy. It didn’t spend too much in government until the Tories’ friends, the bankers, engineered the crisis and recession that caused all our current woes. It is not calling for more borrowing and spending. The benefit system was neither bloated nor unfair, and certainly was not heavily defrauded – unless you consider a 0.7 per cent total fraud rate to be excessive. No hospitals will ever be built from benefit savings under a Conservative government and the suggestion that they could is nothing but a lie. We do not have intergenerational welfare dependency. We do not have widespread abuse of the benefit system. We do not have foreigners travelling here for so-called ‘benefit tourism’.
Labour does not oppose reform to the welfare system – it simply opposes Conservative changes that are intended to cause harm.
If Cllr Davies is determined to continue making a fool of himself, every few weeks for the next two years, I’m quite happy to take him up on it. Perhaps he should bear in mind that, with the Internet, we are all perfectly able to check his so-called “facts” for ourselves.
And where is his apology for repeating IDS’ and Grant Shapps’ statistical claims about DWP benefits? Those claims have now been proved, beyond any doubt, false.