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Esther McVey: She was Theresa May’s second choice for the role of Work and Pensions Secretary – and now the Tories have launched a bogus campaign to distract us from her appalling record [Image: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA].

What do Tories do when their (second) choice as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is shown up as a liar and a law-breaker who positively revels in torturing the unemployed, the sick and the disabled?

They dig out an old recording of a Labour frontbencher talking about her, clip it so the words are taken out of context, and use it to accuse their opponents of abuse.

This is low, even for them.

And as inept as ever.

The person they chose to launch their ‘Respect’ offensive (and I use the word with several meanings) was Brandon Lewis, the new Tory Chairman and private landlord who is on record as having shown his own kind of respect for his tenants by voting down a Labour Bill to ensure that all rented properties are fit for human habitation. That shows which side his bread is buttered.

Politics Home explains:

New Tory chairman Brandon Lewis has called on the Labour party to crackdown on abuse in politics by pledging to suspend candidate who breach a new code of conduct.

Mr Lewis… challenged Jeremy Corbyn to tackle the ‘rot’ of violent language being used by senior political figures.

He announced a new ‘respect pledge’ which all Tory candidates will have to sign up to, binding them to “behave responsibly” throughout the election process, and urged Mr Corbyn to follow suit.

Mr Lewis also criticised John McDonnell for previous remarks in which he referred to Tory MP Esther McVey being lynched and called her a “stain on humanity.”

Mr Lewis said: “When we have got people at top of the party, of the Labour party, the Shadow Chancellor, using the kind of actions and language and behaviour they are and endorsing threats against other MPs, physical threats… He has not apologised for that he has simply condoned that.

When it was put to him that Mr McDonnell maintains that he was merely repeating comments made by others, he replied: “If you look at the recording that is what he actually said.”

It’s not good form to start your campaign for respect with a fat lie, but there you are. When you have friends in the media, you hope to get away with it, one supposes.

That seems to be the message from the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, which ran a segment on the McDonnell claims, including the edited recording of Mr McDonnell’s comments about Ms McVey, from 2014:

Presenter Sarah Smith, discussing the issue with Barry Gardiner, admitted that Mr McDonnell had been quoting other people, but went as far as to say he did so “approvingly”. Mr Gardiner dragged the discussion back to the real political issue – Esther McVey’s suitability for her DWP job.

And after the Labour Party complained about the inaccuracy of the segment, Ms Smith had to eat humble pie:

Still, The Spectator seemed content to hop on the bandwagon, publishing its own perverse version of the story:

Why wouldn’t Labour complain about broadcasters referring to this three-year-old story out of context? It’s an unwarranted attempt to blacken a man’s name – as Ms Smith had to admit in her “clarification”.

The Tories are pressing on with their campaign:

But they’re only preaching to the converted; the only support they’ve received is from Tories.

The rest of us take a different view:

Apologies for the profanity in the tweet quoted above, but I wonder how many readers saw that and thought it was meant seriously, rather than ironically?

Susan, below, nails the Tory credibility problem:

Mention of racist, misogynistic, homophobic abuse instantly brings Toby Young to mind – and raises a pertinent question:

If you need reminding of his behaviour (it has been a few days since Mr Young resigned from the Office for Students), here’s Evolve Politics with a brief refresher:

So, yes – let’s see the Tories sign up Mr Young to their “Respect” pledge. Oh – but he’s not likely to be a Conservative Party electoral candidate, is he? So it won’t count for him. Or perhaps the Tories think their pledge should only apply to Labour candidates and members?

Yes, that seems more likely.

But Labour candidates and members are encouraged to be respectful, and avoid abuse, at every opportunity. Look:

Here are some of the tweets that resulted:

They’re not friendly – and nobody would expect them to be. But they aren’t abusive either.

And right-wingers? Shall we see the kind of “Respect” they show – for example, in response to the Spectator tweet? Let’s see:

And so on. Of course, the whole story is a matter of deflection – from Esther McVey’s unsuitability to be Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, has written to Ms McVey, in accordance with Parliamentary protocol, with an offer to “work constructively”.

But she has made her opposition to Ms McVey’s appointment to the role an underlying theme, quoting many – if not all – the concerns that have been raised about her.

Here are the relevant parts of what Ms Abrahams had to say:

“As we know from numerous studies more and more people, in work and out of work, are living in poverty. More worrying still is that these numbers are expected to rise over the next few years. But instead of getting the support that they need, they are being driven to destitution as a result of the decimation of the social security safety net by your Government. On top of this the culture you and your predecessors have developed in your department has meant that instead of feeling supported and enabled, people feel demonised and even dehumanised. Your policies are hurting the people they should helpl most.

“The manner in which you quietly pushed back the retirement age for women born in the 1950s has detrimentally impacted on a generation who have worked hard, paid into the system, often for decades, only to be badly let down when they most needed it. So much for “tackling burning injustices”. Your predecessors’ unwillingness to even consider Labour’s cost-neutral or low cost proposals that would make an immediate difference to millions of older women’s lives is unfathomable.

“Sick and disabled people have faced savage cuts in support which at the very least have driven more and more into poverty and isolation, and, at worst, has led to many deaths of disabled people. The Equality and Human Rights Commission has estimated the average cumulative cuts for a disabled adult at £2,500 a year, and the UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Disabled People has said this Government’s treatment of disabled people amounts to a “human catastrophe”. Your Government’s failure to make any reduction of the Disability Employment Gap adds insult to injury.

“The incompetent roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) is having a devastating effect on these claimants, causing rent arrears, debt and even homelessness. The poverty that they and their children are facing in 2018, in the sixth richest country in the world, shames us all. I recognise the measures introduced at the Budget to address some of the many issues associated with Universal Credit, but as I said to your predecessor, these are not nearly enough. I set out Labour’s key asks on UC and I look forward to your response on these.

“Of course, as a previous DWP minister, you have personally seen through many of these ill-advised reforms. In fact, we have had exchanges at the Work and Pensions Select Committee on these matters on many occasions. I’d be grateful to know, given the impacts of these reforms, if you now have a different position?

  • You saw through a cut in support to more than 300,000 disabled people when Disability Living Allowance was replaced by Personal Independence Payments.
  • You refused to undertake a second full independent inquiry into the effect of the Government’s punitive sanctions policy.
  • You suggested that the bedroom tax was never about saving money.
  • You originally estimated the number of children to be lifted out of poverty be 350,000 but downgraded this in 2013 to 150,000. Now your Government has refused to publish figures on the impact of UC on poverty, although the Child Poverty Action Group has estimated that by 2022 the number of children living in poverty will increase by one million, directly as a result of cuts to UC.
  • You suggested rising foodbank use was not the fault of Conservative social security reforms although foodbanks across the UK have consistently maintained that the demand for emergency food is as a direct result of social security cuts, sanctions or delays; in UC areas demand is up by an average of 30 per cent.

“Do you still stand by what you said? Do you finally acknowledge the real hurt these so-called reforms have inflicted? Do you recognise that you need to go beyond the measures introduced in the Budget to fix UC and when will you be making a statement to the House on this? Will you guarantee, as your predecessor David Gauke did, that there will be no further cuts to the social security budget?

“Will you look again at the ‘rape clause’? It is fundamentally wrong to include a ‘rape clause’ in our social security system. This, and the wider impact of the two-child policy on the poorest busts the myth of your Government’s support for families.

“I share my colleague Jon Trickett’s concerns, outlined in his letter to the Prime Minister, about your record as a director of J G McVey & Co regarding Health and Safety breaches. Given that Health and Safety at work are DWP responsibilities, how is your role compatible with your record as a director of this company?

“The DWP has a huge impact on millions of lives. It needs compassionate leadership. At a time when your local Mid Cheshire foodbank has seen a 30 per cent increase on food parcels in the previous year you must now fix the botched roll-out of Universal Credit. You much rethink the inhumane cuts that disabled people are facing and provide the dignity and security in retirement that our older people deserve.

“We need a fairer social security system which works for the many, not the few, which provides hope and restores trust between citizens and Government. I am willing to work constructively with you in the best interests of the country. However continuing down the current road will only cause more misery.”

These are the issues – and Brandon Lewis wants his “Respect” campaign to distract you from them.

How would you describe that?

I would call it: Disrespectful.


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