Ian Austin’s attempt to take the moral high ground after being notified of disciplinary action against him suggests he is a very cynical individual.
He says he is angry about anti-Semitism – but then why did he verbally attack the poet Michael Rosen at a committee meeting examining Holocaust education?
Mr Rosen tweets about the experience here:
No, no, no. There was a sub-committee of the Education Committee looking at Holocaust Education. A wide range of people were invited to give submissions an talk to them. For some reason, @IanAustinMP decided to break the pattern and start shouting at me. https://t.co/yBd0HWocgy
What was weird was that it wasn't a Select Committee grilling. It was meant to be an information and experience exchange. And it was up until @IanAustinMP singlehandedly changed the terms of reference and started shouting at me. https://t.co/kjHdYIPOj0
He was enraged that I had questioned the narrative that 'Britain stood alone'. I hadn't questioned that. I questioned whether Holocaust Education in the UK should insert gratuitous self-congratulation. https://t.co/zsinGghGQs
Mr Austin is probably best known for trying to shout down Jeremy Corbyn’s response to the report of the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq War.
It seems he also refused to vote against the fiscal rules brought in by George Osborne, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, that introduced us all to Tory austerity.
And his expense claims are, reportedly, a disgrace.
Yet he is trying to use the manufactured anti-Semitism crisis in the Labour Party to gain sympathy – and attack Mr Corbyn again.
Labour faced fresh controversy over its policy on antisemitism on Saturday after it emerged that a second MP who has criticised the party’s new code on the issue may face disciplinary action leading to suspension from the party.
Ian Austin, whose adoptive parents were Czech Jewish refugees who lost relatives in the Holocaust, was sent a letter earlier this month from the party’s head office warning that he was being investigated for “abusive conduct” in parliament.
The MP for Dudley North had clashed with the Labour party chair, Ian Lavery, in the House of Commons just before the parliamentary recess in a heated exchange that was witnessed by other MPs.
Austin was angry about the party’s new code, which recognises the internationally accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism but does not replicate in full its list of examples.
Austin told the Observer: “Wouldn’t it be great if they dealt with the people responsible for racism as quickly as they dealt with the people who are understandably upset about it? I am angry about antisemitism and I am angry that the Labour party can’t deal with it adequately.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has created a serious headache for the Conservative government with her silly chatter about the ‘rape clause’.
If you still don’t know, this is the rule that forbids parents from receiving benefit for a third child unless it is the product of rape. The mothers are forced to relive the trauma of that crime in front of assessors in an ordeal that Ms McVey had the sheer, unadulterated arrogance to describe as “double support” for them.
I know. If you felt a fraction of the anger, reading those words, as I did writing them, then it is a miracle Ms McVey hasn’t becoming confined to her home by a crowd of enraged British citizens whose sense of decency has been so violated by her words that they feel the need to stand up against her.
The SNP’s leader in the House of Commons, Ian Blackford, certainly stood up against her at Prime Minister’s Questions. He asked: “Does the Prime Minister agree with her Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, who is sitting just along from her, that the rape clause provides victims with “double support”?”
Mrs May’s response was as infuriating as that of her minister. She started by admitting that the issue was extremely delicate: “It is an incredibly sensitive issue, and of course I fully recognise the sensitivities that are involved for the mothers involved.”
Then she ruined it by siding with Ms McVey: “We have taken great care—considerable time and care—to set up procedures, following extensive consultations, that mean that no Government staff will question these mothers about what they have experienced. The point my right hon. Friend was making was that a mother will be granted the exemption through engaging with specialist professionals, such as health and social workers, who may be able to provide them with support in those circumstances over and beyond the issue of their entitlement.”
No. That’s not what she said. McVey said the assessment itself was extra support. It isn’t. It is another assault.
That’s what Mr Blackford said in his response: “That is not quite the point that the Secretary of State made when she seemed to offend all who were at the meeting of the Parliament in Edinburgh. Rape Crisis Scotland has clearly stated: “Hinging benefits on proving trauma isn’t a choice, it’s a disgrace and one which may well re-traumatise women.” The chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland has said that the rape clause “is fundamentally damaging for women—forcing them to disclose rape and abuse at a time and in a manner not of their choosing, at pain of financial penalty.” This is the form, Mr Speaker, with a box for the child’s name. What kind of society do we live in?”
Mrs May’s reply was shocking: “We live in a society in which we have taken every care to ensure that this is dealt with in as sensitive a manner as possible.”
That is a lie.
We live in a society whose government believes that people who aren’t born with a title, or money, are property; they don’t understand why you should have any rights and expect you to do as you are told by your so-called “betters”. They do not understand the distress that their demands will cause. Even if they do, they’ll deny it in order to get what they want.
The sensitive way to deal with this issue is not to make it a condition of receiving benefit – but that is beyond the understanding of a creature as low, as vile, as base as the woman currently squatting in 10 Downing Street.
And under her government, sensitivity has been banned from the Department for Work and Pensions. Consider the other nightmare policies that have generated horror stories in the news lately. Let’s start with the continuing war on people with disabilities:
“Disabled people are being forced to skip meals and sit in cold homes in a climate of benefit and social care cuts, according to new research.
“Analysis by ComRes on behalf of the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity shows almost a quarter of disabled adults aged 18-65 in the UK missed at least one meal in the last year, while a fifth said they were not able to keep their home warm.
“The findings follow a recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission that found disabled people had disproportionately borne the brunt of tax and welfare changes since 2010, with disabled families facing an annual income loss of up to £10,000.
“Leonard Cheshire said their latest research shows the impact has been “catastrophic” with essential heating, food or travel often becoming unaffordable.
“Absence of any social care, or inadequate support, also left more than half (54%) of those who need it feeling isolated and lonely, according to the latest research. Meanwhile 53% said the lack of help had a negative impact on their mental health.”
The intention is to drive disabled people to suicide. If enough of them do it, the Tories will be able to fund another tax cut for their rich friends.
How about Universal Credit – the hugely expensive, critically flawed system intended to cause “poverty, hunger and suicidal despair”? Here‘s a whistleblower to discuss that nightmare:
“The cruelty and suffering the Government’s new universal credit system is inflicting on thousands of vulnerable people in “abject poverty” has been exposed by a benefits case worker.
“He tells of a system beset by delays and confusion, of suicidal claimants, of seeing “suffering on a daily basis” and how “turning away those in abject poverty” has become “part of the job”.
“Even parents without the money to feed their family, he says, are turned away, leaving children to “suffer in hunger for weeks”.
““Often,” he adds, “the call involves telling them we can’t pay them anything else, even if they are genuinely penniless and will be for weeks.
““Many claimants react in anger, others break down in tears. It’s only minutes until we’re dealing with the next caller – and the last caller is quickly forgotten.
““I see so much suffering on a daily basis.””
The latest scandal is that payment delays are forcing women back into abusive relationships they have been trying to escape:
“Demelza Lobb, of Refuge, which offers support to those escaping domestic violence, revealed to MPs that some women who had to wait weeks to receive their benefit had returned to dangerous situations “because they would have an income”.
“Lobb, who specialises in the impact of financial abuse, said many women who find themselves in a refuge may have to start their own Universal Credit claim again from scratch – leading to a lengthy weight for their first payment.
““It has led to several women saying to us ‘I’m going to go back because it might be easier, because then at least I know I’ll have an income, at least I know I will have food’.””
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Seen to be done: The tribunal took place at the Law Courts in Cardiff (pictured), in public – which allowed friends of Vox Political to hear the case.
The Information Commissioner’s Office and the Department for Work and Pensions have highlighted the weakness of their own case for hiding the number of people who have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits – by failing to turn up at a tribunal on the subject.
They had the opportunity to explain why mortality statistics for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance since November 2011 have been suppressed, at a tribunal in the Law Courts, Cardiff, yesterday (April 23).
But, rather than be grilled on the reasons for their decision by a judge, a specialist in this area of law, and a ‘lay’ person (representing the opinions of right-thinking members of the public), they chose to stay away.
The tribunal had been requested by Vox Political‘s Mike Sivier, after he made a Freedom of Information request for access to the information – and it was refused on the grounds that it was “vexatious”.
The Department for Work and Pensions said he had written an article about his request on the blog, containing the line, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers.” According to the DWP, this line constituted a co-ordinated, obsessive and protracted campaign of harassment against the department.
One line in a blog article, added as an afterthought – an obsessive campaign designed to “disrupt” the workings of the DWP. It’s ludicrous.
The DWP claimed it had received 23 requests that were similar or identical to Mike’s, in the days following his own, and inferred from this that they were from other members of this fictional campaign. Mike has only been able to track down evidence of seven such requests and, of them, only one mentions him by name. Without a tangible connection to Mike or Vox Political, the case is not made out – and one connected request does not constitute a campaign.
In fact, Mike’s own request was made after he read that a previous request had been refused – that of disability researcher and campaigner Samuel Miller. Mr Miller had published this fact in the social media and expressed that he was “furious” about it, and this inspired Mike to write his own request. Who knows how many other people did the same in response to Mr Miller? Yet he has (rightly) not been accused of starting any conspiracy.
Mr Miller’s original request has now received a reply, after the Information Commissioner’s office ruled that it had been mishandled by the DWP. This reply contained the wrong information and Mike urged Mr Miller to point this out. Clearly Mr Miller’s claim is not being treated as vexatious, even though it has inspired others to follow his example – as Mike’s article shows that he did. The contrast in treatment betrays a clear double-standard at the DWP (and the Information Commissioner’s office, after appeals were made to it in both cases).
Perhaps it is because of this fatal flaw in their logic that neither the ICO nor the DWP saw fit to send representatives to the tribunal. This left the floor free for Mike to make his own case, with nobody to speak against him or cross-examine him. Tribunal members asked questions, but these were entirely helpful in nature – allowing Mike to clarify or expand on his argument.
So the claim that the number of similar requests, received soon after the blog article appeared, indicated a campaign against the DWP was refuted with the simple observation that the subject was of topical interest at the time, because of what had happened to Mr Miller. Mike said an appropriate comparison would be with complaints to the BBC over the now-infamous radio show involving Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. The corporation received only a couple of complaints from people who listened to the show at the time, followed by thousands from people who heard about it later. Mike asked: “Were all those thousands of complaints vexatious in nature? Were they the result of organised campaigns against Messrs Ross and Brand? Or were they genuine expressions of horror at behaviour they considered to have gone beyond the pale? The BBC accepted the latter choice because logic mitigates in its favour.”
The claim that abusive or aggressive language exhibited by blog commenters indicated harassment that was likely to cause distress to members of the DWP was batted away with the argument that nobody from the department would have seen it if they had not gone looking for it (after reading the FOI request from a Vox Political reader who referenced the blog).
Mike said it would be “like a social landlord gatecrashing a residents’ association meeting, listening to the grievances of the tenants and then saying they are harassing him and he’s not going to service any of their requests for repairs. That is not reasonable”.
The DWP had claimed that actioning the 24 requests it insisted on connecting with Mike’s “could impose a burden in terms of time and resources, distracting the DWP from its main functions”, but Mike showed that this was not true, as an email to the ICO, dated October 21, 2013, makes clear: “We can confirm that the Department does hold, and could provide within the cost limit, some of the information requested.”
Nevertheless, the ICO had upheld the claim, saying on November 27, 2013: “For the DWP to respond to all of the requests, it is not simply a matter of sending an email to 24 people. There is a requirement to collate the information, consider exemptions under the Act which may apply, provide a formal response and then, if necessary refer the decision to an internal review…. The Commissioner considers that 24 requests on the same topic in a few days could represent… a disproportionate use of the FOIA.”
In his speech to the tribunal, Mike responded: “It is reminiscent of the line in the TV sitcom Blackadder The Third, when the title character, butler to the Prince Regent in Georgian times, demands a fortune in order to buy votes in a by-election for a ‘tupenny-ha’penny place’. Challenged on the amount, he responds: ‘There are many other factors to be considered: Stamp duty, window tax, swamp insurance, hen food, dog biscuits, cow ointment – the expenses are endless.’” He said the ICO’s claim “smacks of desperation”.
One aspect that worked in Mike’s favour from the start was the fact that both the DWP and the ICO have accepted that there is a serious purpose to his request – publication of figures showing how many people have died while claiming ESA. This is important because the assessment regime for this benefit has been heavily criticised as harmful to claimants and the government has claimed that it has made changes to decrease any such effect. The only way the public can judge whether this has worked, or whether more must be done to prevent unnecessary deaths, is by examining the mortality statistics, but these have been withheld. This is the matter at the heart of the request and the fact that the ICO and DWP acknowledge this is a major element in Mike’s favour.
Perhaps realising this, the ICO tried to claim that the intention was changed by the volume of requests submitted: “The purpose of the totality of the requests as a whole may have gone beyond the point of simply obtaining the information requested and may now be intended to disrupt the main functions of the DWP.”
It is not reasonable to suggest that the purpose of an action changes, just because other people carry out the same action within a similar time-frame. Mike put it this way: “Millions of people make a cup of tea in the advertising break after Coronation Street; would the Information Commissioner suggest that this was a campaign to overload the national grid?”
With nobody on hand to provide the ICO/DWP side of the case, the hearing ended at around midday, after Mike had been speaking for two hours. He was grateful to be supported by his McKenzie friend, Glynis Millward, who provided help and advice, and by a group of Vox Political readers who attended to hear the case.
Now the bad news: No decision was handed down on the day. The tribunal judge explained that the panel must now think about the issues raised and discuss their findings. He said they would aim to provide a full, written decision within 21 days.
It is interesting to note that Mr Miller has acted on Mike’s advice and has been advised that a revised response to his request should be with him soon.
If this response contains updated information under the same headings as the original ‘ad hoc’ statistical release provided by the DWP in July 2012 (and from which we derived the 73-deaths-per-week figure that shocked so many people at the time), then a decision by the tribunal to release the same information may seem redundant. In fact, it is possible that the DWP may provide the information to Mr Miller, simply to spite Mike.
But this would be yet another misunderstanding of what this case is about. Mike doesn’t care who gets the mortality statistics first; for him, it is not about who gets to say they were the one who forced the government into submission – this is about getting the information out to the public, so the people can decide whether ESA does more harm than good.
The tribunal’s decision will still be important as it will establish whether the DWP – and other government departments – will be able to manipulate the principles behind the Freedom of Information Act to avoid providing politically inconvenient information in the future.
In Mike’s opinion, a decision in the government’s favour would effectively turn the Act into a dead letter.
It seems to me that this legislation is being made partly to deal with concerns about section five of the Public Order Act. This, as stated in Vox Political‘s article last year, states, “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he: (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or (b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby” – but only applies if a person has been the victim.
It could not be used if an organisation had been subjected to abuse – as was claimed, in this case of the Department for Work and Pensions. Now, it seems, a law is coming into force that can.
This is entirely unwarranted. Abuses of the Public Order Act have clearly demonstrated that the law needs to be relaxed, rather than tightened. Your freedom is being taken away from you, including your right to free speech.
It’s no surprise that this is going on even after this blog, and Scriptonite, and others (I’m sure) have pointed out the problem. We are tiny islands on the media map; most people only ever visit the continents that are the TV news and newspapers, which are happy to pander to their prejudices.
The Public Order Act, as Rowan Atkinson stated in his (should be) legendary Reform Section 5 speech, has led to several alarming exercises of power, “like the man arrested in Oxford for calling a police horse ‘gay’.”
The new Bill introduces Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs) to replace ASBOs, which were also widely abused. Scriptonite quotes some of these abuses, including:
An 87 year old man was given an ASBO threatening a prison sentence if he was sarcastic to his neighbours.
“The ASBO has allowed the line between criminal behaviour and annoying behaviour to become hopelessly blurred – and the IPNAs will only serve to increase the problem,” says Scriptonite. “We have seen the abuses permitted under ASBO legislation, the test for which included wording to the effect that ASBOs could only be issued where an actual act of ‘harassment, alarm or distress’ had occurred. IPNAs have a much weaker test, applicable where on the ‘balance of probabilities’ a person has or might engage in behaviour ‘capable of causing annoyance’ to another person. How many times a day could this legislation apply to any of us? Eating with our mouths open, talking too loudly into our phones in a public space, walking too slowly or quickly or belching without saying ‘pardon me’. All of this may very well cause annoyance – but soon it might well also be illegal.”
More to the point: If you had a complaint against a government department – no matter whether it was justified – and you publicised it… wouldn’t that cause annoyance to them? Would it not cause them a nuisance?
And, considering the reaction to one woman’s complaint outlined in the VP article mentioned above, would this legislation not give ministers the power to lock you up for it?
This is not a law that should be passed. It is an attack on your freedom, and mine.It is a badge of repression, to be worn by our police as they continue their metamorphosis into symbols of the totalitarianism into which the UK is falling.
There is a petition against this. Please sign it before the law is passed and this document itself becomes a nuisance or annoyance.
I can find no better way to end this article than by paraphrasing what I said before: Police intimidation of those who speak out against injustice is not only an attack on free speech; it is an attack on the entire philosophy on which our society is based.
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