Tag Archives: David

#DavidCameron says austerity made us better-prepared to tackle #Covid19. Phew, what a loony!

… and now we can add “the victims of Covid-19” because he dismantled the systems that had been in place to handle a pandemic infection of this kind. He has come out from under his rock to try to make you think he did some good. Don’t believe a word of it!

Can somebody please put David Cameron back in his box?

He turned up out of nowhere to criticise Boris Johnson for planning to break international law – something that Cameron himself did on a regular basis – and now he seems to think he can run around pronouncing judgements on all and sundry as if he still matters.

He wants us to think that his austerity policies made us better-prepared to tackle Covid-19, when in fact they crippled the UK’s response.

Worse still, he personally presided over the dismantling of all the contingency plans and teams that had been set up to cope with a pandemic disease of exactly this kind.

According to The Mirror:

Mr Cameron argues that cuts introduced when he came to power in 2010 did “fix the roof when the sun was shining”.

He added: “Covid-19 was the rainy day we had been saving for.

“Our actions meant that the next but one administration was able to offer an unprecedented package of measures to prop up the economy.

“I sat watching Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s press conferences thinking how vital it was that we had taken those difficult decisions when we did”

Experts… have said that budget cutbacks left parts of the Government – including the NHS, under prepared for the crisis.

Mr Cameron also rejected the idea that the UK was unprepared for a pandemic, claiming that as a PM the prospect of a disastrous event like a pandemic “is never far from your mind”.

He added: “I knew a pandemic would come one day, possibly sooner rather than later.

“That’s why I made it a ‘tier one risk’ at the National Security Council.

“We also established a sub-committee to deal with Threats, Hazards, Resilience and Contingencies.

“The accusation – which is partly accurate – is that subsequently not enough was done to prepare specifically for what followed.

“But this is what strategists mean when they talk about ‘known unknowns’.

What arrogant nonsense.

In fact, Cameron deliberately dismantled the UK’s capability of handling Covid-19 – as I pointed out back in March:

“The government has devised strategies to deal with such a threat. The problem is, they are all out of date.

“Oldest of them all is the guide to dealing with the fatalities of the pandemic,  last published in 2008. This has never been updated since the Conservatives took over responsibility for it.

“The last strategy written specifically to deal with pandemic flu was published in 2011 – the same year David Cameron’s Conservative-led Coalition government closed the dedicated government Pandemic Influenza Preparedness Team based in the Department of Health, which was tasked with tackling this type of crisis.

“It may explain much that the government’s UK Pandemic Influenza Communications Strategy, the crucial document for getting the right messages across to the public, was written in 2012 and is now wildly inaccurate in its assumptions about how and where people get their information.

“In October 2016, David Cameron’s now wholly-Conservative government carried out an exercise to estimate the impact of a hypothetical influenza pandemic on the United Kingdom. Exercise Cygnus showed that such a pandemic would cause the country’s health system to collapse, due to a lack of resources.

“The Chief Medical Officer of the time said that a lack of medical ventilators was a serious problem that should be rectified, but in 2017 this advice was ignored by the Department of Health under Jeremy Hunt – because it would cost too much. The government was committed to austerity policies, remember.”

That is the legacy of Cameron’s austerity.

It seems clear that he has only come back in a vain attempt to whitewash himself after the facts were publicised.

Don’t let him fool you.

Source: Austerity made UK better prepared to tackle Covid-19, David Cameron claims – Mirror Online

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David Cameron regularly broke international law when he was prime minister. Why the change of heart now?

 

Legacy: this spoof heritage plaque gives a very good summation of David Cameron’s role in the UK’s ongoing Brexit disaster. Why should we take any interest in his views now?

He’s saying the right thing – but for the wrong reasons, and it is still a grotesque act of hypocrisy.

I refer, of course, to former prime minister David Cameron, who regularly, during his time as prime minister of the UK, broke international law but is expressing concern at Boris Johnson doing the same now.

You don’t remember? Allow me to remind you that the United Nations ruled that Cameron’s government broke the law to deliberately harm people with disabilities.

And he broke international law to attack Libya too.

The UN launched its probe into “grave and systematic violations” of the human rights of people with disabilities in 2014, when Cameron was prime minister.

It reported in 2016 – after he had quit (and we’ll get into those details momentarily). The findings showed that austerity policies introduced by Cameron’s government had systematically violated the rights of people with disabilities.

That is an offence in national and international law. The Cameron government had already signalled an intent to repeal the Human Rights Act and withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights that the UK created, possibly in order to dodge this finding.

Boris Johnson’s renewed plan to cut human rights legislation out of the statute book signals that he intends to continue this illegal persecution of people with disabilities. Oh, did you think it was about nailing refugees who have been abusing the law to stay in the UK? Now you know better.

The attacks on Libya took place before Vox Political‘s time but I offer this as an example of commentary explaining why the Cameron government was breaking international law – and, indeed, human rights law – by participating.

So it seems out of character for Cameron to come back from the wilderness after four years and attack Boris Johnson for planning the same:

“Passing an Act of Parliament and then going on to break an international treaty obligation is the very, very last thing you should contemplate. It should be an absolute final resort, so I do have misgivings about what is being proposed,” he said.

It shouldn’t even be a last resort, as others have pointed out:

It is an entirely fabricated threat – indeed, it is one that Boris Johnson created himself. He came up with the EU Withdrawal Agreement that put a customs border in the middle of the Irish Sea. He campaigned for it in a general election and all his current Tory MPs did the same. And he signed it in January.

So it is nonsense for him to turn on us all now and say it is vital to change the terms of the agreement – and all his MPs should be opposing him, not just the few who have so far put their noses above the parapet.

And let’s not forget that Cameron is the man who is most directly responsible for the entire Brexit mess.

He launched the EU membership referendum – it was part of his election manifesto in 2015 – in an attempt to keep the Conservative Party from splitting.

He thought the vote would result in the UK remaining in the EU, silencing Eurosceptics in his party. He was wrong. The public narrowly voted to leave (admittedly on the basis of a stream of lies from Brexiteer campaigners including Boris Johnson). That has led us to where we are now.

And he didn’t even save his party from splitting. Some Tories quit voluntarily to join the ill-fated “Change UK – the Independent Group” or whatever it ended up calling itself. Others were forcibly thrown out by Boris Johnson when they refused to support his withdrawal agreement.

That’s the very agreement he is now saying is not acceptable, by the way.

So don’t let David Cameron’s words influence you.

He put the UK into this mess.

Source: Brexit: David Cameron joins all living former PMs in condemning Boris Johnson’s plan to break law | The Independent

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David Miliband’s intervention over #LabourLeaks has only shown up his faction’s hypocrisy

Hypocrite: David Miliband.

I bet you find this tweet as amusing as I did:

https://twitter.com/ToryFibs/status/1292805261237911553

It is ironic, isn’t it? David Miliband, the darling of the Labour Right, regularly threatened to return to frontline politics and challenge Jeremy Corbyn during the latter’s leadership of the party.

Right-wingers in the party made successive attempts to wreck the Corbyn project through all five years of his leadership. I’ve managed to dig out a report of Mr Miliband making one such attack, from February 2017, months before Corbyn nearly won the 2017 general election (and we’ve all seen the evidence that it was sabotaged by Labour right-wingers by now). Consider:

Labour loses an extremely marginal seat and the right-whingers pull out David Miliband to criticise the leadership. It’s all so predictable.

… As was his message: A lie, based on apparent facts.

So he reckons Labour is further from power than at any time in the last 50 years. This may be accurate.

He reckons Labour’s situation isn’t a repeat of the 1980s. This may also be accurate.

But his conclusion – that Labour needs to become a right-wing party again, because he thinks socialism won’t address the problems the UK faces or get Labour elected, because he thinks watered-down Tory policies are what the public wants – is completely whacko-jacko.

Liam Young had it right, as This Site reported yesterday: Timidly copying Tory policies – failing to challenge them – is what has caused Labour’s problems. The party should be taking risks, pushing boundaries, and pushing radical ideas.

Labour’s decline in support isn’t because it has rejected right-wing policies; it is because New Labour ignored the working-class voters who have always been the party’s power-base – to such a degree that five million of them turned their backs on the party. Jeremy Corbyn has managed to bring some of them back but that process is being sabotaged by right-wing Labour MPs and commentators like Mr Miliband.

And those right-wingers need to be addressed – quickly. They cannot be allowed to continue backstabbing Mr Corbyn and Labour’s current direction.

It is clear that they want Labour to lose elections – why do you think Tristram Hunt and Jamie Reed resigned? They wanted Corbyn to lose both Copeland and Stoke Central – and are quite happy to allow homicidal Conservative policies to continue.

After all, they aren’t suffering; they’ll get another huge pay rise in April.

And Clive Lewis was right when he said that Labour needs to tackle a lot of vested interests, including those in the media who are desperate to keep Labour out of office…

And people like David Miliband, who say they are Labour but aren’t really Labour at all.

I’m quite proud of that article, looking back. It was prescient, pointing out that the right-wingers wanted Labour to lose elections and needed to be rooted out before they did serious damage to the party’s chance of winning elections.

My words were ignored. Factionalists in the party were accusing me of anti-Semitism at the time (as, indeed, they continue to do).

And now Miliband – hypocrite that he is – is back, accusing Corbyn of exactly the behaviour of which he was guilty back in 2017.

Ironic.

Miliband’s words themselves were, of course, utterly ridiculous. His claims about Labour’s losses in 2017 and 2019 ignore the facts we know – that he and his fellow right-wingers had been working hard to hold Corbyn back in both polls, and deny the claims that are being tested now.

What’s he going to do if those claims are proved true? His faction has never been quick to admit being wrong.

No doubt there are die-hards among the Labour right who are delighted with this intervention.

But the rational opinion is that he has made a fool of himself and everybody in his faction.

And some are not as polite:

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Tory corruption? Party supporters get £180m of OUR money to supply PPE. But will they?

Michael Gove: this minister (who once got caught making a joke about rape on the radio, by the way) is in charge of handing out procurement contracts for PPE. They seem to be going to his friends but we’re being told it’s all perfectly fair and above-board.

You’d think the Tories would have learned their lesson after Liz Truss was caught handing £150 million to a Board of Trade crony for face masks that don’t work.

But no – the UK’s corrupt-to-the-core Tory government won’t learn because it will never face any consequences.

So Tory ministers have handed a further £180 million of our cash to supporters of their political party, on the grounds that it is paying for more PPE (personal protective equipment) that will be used to help treat people with Covid-19.

Will it arrive? I don’t know. If it does, will it work? I doubt it.

Seven contracts – worth £65 million alone – were handed to businessman David Meller’s firm Meller Designs.

Not to be confused with the former Tory minister David Mellor, this Tory donor handed £65,000 to the Tories over the last 10 years, so the contract represents a markup of 1,000 times his outlay.

How did he get his contract to provide gowns, gloves, masks and hand sanitiser? Well, he provided thousands of pounds’ funding for Michael Gove’s failed Tory leadership bid and Gove is now in charge of PPE procurement but perhaps you see no connection there.

According to the government, ministers are not involved in the selection process because there is a “robust” system to ensure that orders are of high quality and meet safety standards.

That’s what they said about Ms Truss’s friend and his face masks, wasn’t it?

Some members of the public are sceptical about the Tories’ protests:

Are the Tories still using emergency powers to avoid scrutiny of these contracts?

If so, I would have thought the emergency was over.

There’s certainly grounds for suspicion of foul play; the firms themselves may say they submitted their tenders in good faith but the Tory decision-making process deserves scrutiny.

But we know what they’ll say:

First it’ll be “now is not the time”, and then it will be “it’s all in the past”. Consequence-free.

Source: Tory backers ‘handed £180m worth of contracts’ to supply the Government with PPE – Mirror Online

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Statistics supremo slams misleading Tory Covid-19 test figures

Next time you watch a news report showing Tory statistics on the number of Covid-19 tests published out per day, bear in mind that the numbers are deliberately wrong – and that comes from the highest authority in the United Kingdom.

The Tories are hiding the facts about Covid-19 testing by blurring their definition of  test, in order to maximise the number of tests they can report. This comes from Sir David Norgrove, chair of the UK Statistics Authority.

This Writer has corresponded with the UKSA on several previous occasions and you can take it from me: if the UKSA is saying something, you can be sure it is right.

He’s saying the way the Tories present their results is deliberately obstructing the purpose for which they are supposed to be carried out.

“Statistics on testing perhaps serve two main purposes,” he writes.

“The first is to help us understand the epidemic, alongside the ONS survey, showing us how many people are infected, or not, and their relevant characteristics.

“The second purpose is to help manage the test programme, to ensure there are enough tests, that they are carried out or sent where they are needed and that they are being used as effectively as possible. The data should tell the public how effectively the testing programme is being managed.”

He continues: “The way the data are analysed and presented currently gives them limited value for the first purpose. The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding.

“It is also hard to believe the statistics work to support the testing programme itself.”

Of course the obvious problem gets an airing: “The headline total of tests adds together the tests carried out with tests posted out… There are no data on how many of the tests posted out are in fact then successfully completed.”

And this has also been brought to public attention: “The notes to the daily slides rightly say that some people may be tested more than once and it has been widely reported that swabs carried out simultaneously on a single patient are counted as multiple tests. But it is not clear from the published data how often that is the case.”

Moving on to the way the tests are presented to the public, Sir David reveals that “this presentation gives an artificially-low impression of the proportion of tests returning a positive diagnosis” – because the number of tests carried out has been artificially inflated, you see.

“More generally the testing figures are presented in a way that is difficult to understand. Many of the key numbers make little sense without recourse to the technical notes which are themselves sometimes hard to follow… Supporting spreadsheets… make it difficult to extract even basic trends.”

Perhaps crucially, Sir David moves on to criticise information that is omitted from test reports: “How many people in what circumstances are infected? Where do they live?

“Test results should include for example key types of employment (e.g. medical staff, care staff), age, sex and location (by geography and place, such as care homes).”

The implication is clear: figures derived from the testing programme are no good at all.

And Sir David lays down a serious warning about the new “Test and Trace” scheme: “Statistics will need to be capable of being related to the wider testing data and readily understood by the public, through for example population-adjusted maps of hotspots.

“The testing statistics still fall well short of… expectations. It is not surprising that, given their inadequacy, data on testing are so widely criticised and often mistrusted.

Here’s Sir David’s letter:

The letter has prompted a strong response – including from some former Conservatives:

Will the Tories pay attention?

I think they probably will.

This is criticism from an incorruptible authority on statistics and, should an inquiry take place into government handling of Covid-19 (and I think one will), the Tories will need the UK Statistics Authority on their side.

If they don’t get that support, then they’ll be in serious trouble.

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Tories pilloried for politicising London Bridge murders – that they enabled

Boris Johnson with Michael Gove: As Justice Secretary, Gove ignored recommendations that could have prevented the London Bridge murders; now Boris Johnson is trying to make electoral profit from his colleague’s incompetence.

The Conservatives ignored recommendations from one of their own justice ministers to create the conditions that allowed Usman Khan to be released – and have been attacked by the father of one of his victims for using the attack to spread their “vile propaganda”.

In an article in The Times, prison safety expert Ian Acheson – a committed Conservative who led the independent review of Islamist extremism in prisons and probation ordered by then-Justice Secretary Michael Gove in 2016. That’s four years after Usman Khan successfully appealed against his original, indefinite sentence and had a new sentence imposed under Conservative laws.

Mr Acheson stated that he made 68 findings and recommendations. These were reduced to 11 by the Tories, of which only eight became law.

In the article, he said: “Many of the recommendations I made related to what I saw as serious gaps in the management of terrorist offenders into custody and ‘through the gate’. There was a lack of expertise and appropriateness in the arrangements for probation supervision of these most potentially lethal offenders.”

He added in a Radio 4 interview that “a lethal combination of arrogance, ineptitude and defensiveness in Whitehall”, with “fearful” staff struggling because “training simply didn’t exist” led to “the destruction of the prison and probation service through crazy, failed, ideological, austerity cuts.”

So the Tories knew about problems with their own handling of people convicted of terrorism, two years before Khan was released.

Not only did the Tories ignore fears over the handling of terror convicts, but David Merritt, whose son Jack was one of Khan’s victims in the London Bridge terror attack, has accused Tory leader Boris Johnson of actually exploiting what happened for electoral purposes:

He also retweeted a post by writer Liam Hogan, which said: “Hey @BorisJohnson , instead of making capital on “tougher sentences”/no early release, why don’t you take a look at what Jack Merritt believed? Because he believed in prisoner rehabilitation, even if you don’t. (Unless presumably it suits your electoral purposes…)”

It’s a damning indictment of Johnson’s attitude.

This is a wannabe prime minister who would spit on the memory of a man who died as a result of his party’s policies, by promising to do exactly what this bright young man opposed.

The only consolation is that, knowing Boris Johnson, he is probably lying.

This is the lowest and most disgusting stunt performed by the Conservatives in their election campaign so far.

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Scottish Parliament heckler provides more proof that Esther McVey really is a ‘stain’ on humanity

McVile: Esther McVey during her evidence session before the Scottish Parliament.

Congratulations to John Pring at Disability News Service for interviewing the man who heckled Esther McVey during her evidence session before the Scottish Parliament on Monday.

It turns out that ‘David’ had raised the case of Jodie Whiting, who took her own life after her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was sanctioned away from her. This Site covered the case here.

It is disappointing that the interruption was not reported fully by the mainstream media because it highlights the cruelty of both the Department for Work and Pensions and its current boss, and illustrates why they both have to go:

Ms Whiting lost her benefit because she missed a work capability assessment appointment because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst.

Let’s all stop for a moment and think about that.

It is entirely reasonable for a person on a long-term sickness benefit to require hospital treatment for their health condition.

While it may legitimately require people to prove their eligibility to receive ESA, it is entirely unreasonable for the government’s benefits agency to demand that sick people miss their treatment in order to tick a box on a bureaucrat’s paperwork.

Health comes first, or it is the system that is sick.

And the Tory-run system is terminal – for users like Ms Whiting. Instead of rearranging the assessment appointment, the DWP cut her off without a penny, triggering a chain of events that led to her untimely death.

When the case was raised, Ms McVey didn’t even have the decency to apologise. Instead, ‘David’ was removed from the meeting.

Could anything be a better demonstration of the arrogance and ignorance of our current rulers?

Rather than face up to their failings, they remove anybody who mentions them. And their complicit media mouthpieces gloss over the incident.

The mother of a woman who killed herself after her disability benefits were sanctioned has praised a disabled activist who confronted work and pensions secretary Esther McVey about her daughter’s death as she gave evidence to Scottish MSPs this week.

The activist, David*, had told Joy Dove of his plans to question McVey about her daughter’s suicide as the minister was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee on Monday.

Jodey Whiting, a seriously-ill mother-of-nine, from Stockton, took her own life last year after having her employment and support allowance (ESA) sanctioned.

She had her ESA stopped after missing a work capability assessment because she was in hospital being treated for a brain cyst, and never opened the letter telling her about the appointment.

David, from the campaign group Class War Scotland, who was sitting in public seats behind McVey, called out (listen from 52 minutes) as she was replying to a question from an MSP about her government’s policies on social security reform and whether she should apologise to the people of Scotland.

David called out: “What about Jodey Whiting, mother of nine, who committed suicide after her ESA was stopped?

“It was stopped because she missed an appointment.”

The committee meeting was suspended and David left the hearing.

Source: Mother of ESA suicide mum-of-nine praises activist for confronting McVey


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Silly Brexiter MP is outraged that company he privatised doesn’t care what he wants

How stupid can he be? Did nobody tell daft David Jones that the whole point of privatisation is to make sure a former government utility doesn’t have to do what MPs say?

What a silly Rupert!*

Tory MP Dave Jones consistently voted for the privatisation of the Royal Mail – and now he’s angry because the government doesn’t have any say in what the now-private company does.

That’s stupid, and then some!

One has to ask what was going through the minds of the Tory-voting people of Clwyd West when they put this Londoner into the Parliamentary seat for their constituency in 2005 (and at every election since). Fortunately his majority is only around 3,000, so he’ll be out on his ear next time.

Mr Jones told that great bastion of good sense, The Express (ha ha): “It is outrageous. This is a new and important chapter in the history of this country – and they have got a positive duty to mark it.

“If they can mark our accession to it then they should mark the country’s liberation.”

Well, Dave, back in 1973, Royal Mail was owned by the government and MPs like you had a say in what it did.

But – thanks to MPs like you! – Royal Mail is now a private company and its bosses couldn’t care less what you want.

They’re probably grateful that you sold it to them at a rock-bottom, knock-down, massive-loss-to-the-taxpayer – but not enough to actually change any of their business decisions.

Under the Tories (1979-1997 and 2010-present), and under a right wing Tony Blair-led Blue-Labour party (1997-2010), Britain has now endured a depressing 38 years of our essential public assets being sold off.

Now, with absolutely essential public assets like the NHS, the Police service and Schools coming under stealth privatisation by the Tories, a huge surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn’s platform of renationalisation showed that a huge proportion of the general public refuse to be fooled by a completely discredited, economically bankrupt neoliberal dogma any longer.

However, one cherished public service the Tories managed to just about get away with flogging off a few years ago was Royal Mail – a privatisation that Tory MP Dave Jones seemed to have completely forgotten about today.

Yes, Mr Jones is apoplectic that Royal Mail won’t print a Brexit stamp. He told the Express that it was ‘outrageous’ Royal Mail wouldn’t print one by attempting to point out their supposed hypocrisy because they printed a commemorative stamp when we joined the EEC in 1973.

Source: Tory MP ‘outraged’ that utility the Tories privatised won’t do what he tells them to anymore | Evolve Politics

*I know his name isn’t Rupert really – and apologies to all Ruperts who aren’t idiotic Tories. The name was attached to an idiotic Tory – not by me – years ago and it stuck.


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Lammy Review lifts the lid on institutionalised racism in the justice system

David Lammy [Image: PA].

Is anybody surprised?

While the justice system remains dominated by white, middle-class people, young people from ethnic minorities will face an uphill struggle for fairness.

The Lammy Review took 18 months to reach its conclusions, and showed that the number of young offenders from black and minority ethnic groups rose from 25 per cent to 41 per cent between 2006 and 2016, despite the overall number of young offenders falling to record lows. Isn’t this an indication of bias?

Meanwhile, evidence shows the rate of black defendants pleading not guilty in Crown Courts in England and Wales between 2006 and 2014 was 41 per cent, compared to 31 per cent of white defendants. This means they lose the possibility of reduced sentences if found guilty, and it raises questions about trust in the system.

The review found that BAME defendants often pleaded “not guilty” and opted for trial in the Crown Court because they had more confidence in the fairness of juries than in the fairness of magistrates’ courts.

Mr Lammy, commenting, said: “The best way to ensure fair, equal treatment is to subject decision-making to scrutiny – helping identify and eliminate bias at source.”

That’s as may be, but even the government’s press release on the review seems disproportionately slanted towards treatment of people who are found guilty of crimes. Isn’t the issue whether guilty verdicts are returned unfairly?

Look at this: “The proportion of BAME young people offending for the first time rose from 11 per cent in 2006 to 19 per cent a decade later. There was an identical increase in the proportion of BAME young people reoffending over the same period.” Because they actually committed crimes, or because of unfairness in the system?

Or try this: “One finding was that for every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at Crown Courts for drug offences, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, this figure is 141 for every 100 white men.”

Disproportionality in the criminal justice system was said to cost the taxpayer at least £309 million each year.

The review contains 35 recommendations, including introducing assessments of a young offenders’ maturity, exploring how criminal records could be ‘sealed’, and allowing some prosecutions to be ‘deferred’. David Lammy also urges the justice system to take major steps to increase diversity and transparency.

Those are probably good ideas – as long as they reduce what seems an institutionalised belief that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to have committed crimes. Our justice system is supposed to believe people are innocent until proven guilty, after all.

Mr Lammy himself said: “My review clearly shows BAME individuals still face bias – including overt discrimination – in parts of the justice system.

“It is only through delivering fairness, rebuilding trust, and sharing responsibility that we will build the equal and just society so often spoken about.”

It is – but will this review deliver that fairness?


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Tories’ ‘tails’ are ‘tweaked’ over non-response to benefit sanctions review

Tail in the telling: Speaker John Bercow said Labour's Owen Smith was trying to "tweak the government's tail" over its "shoddy" response to a report on benefit sanctions.

Tail in the telling: Speaker John Bercow said Labour’s Owen Smith was trying to “tweak the government’s tail” over its “shoddy” response to a report on benefit sanctions.

The Conservative Government released its response to a major review of its policy on benefit sanctions today – so quietly it almost qualifies as silence.

Fortunately for those affected, there is a vocal Opposition Party sitting in the House of Commons once more, and even Speaker John Bercow agreed that the way the matter had been handled offered a “prime-time opportunity to tweak the Government’s tail”.

The government was responding to the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s report, Benefit sanctions beyond the Oakley Review, which set out more than two dozen recommendations for changes to benefit sanctions and the policies behind them. None have been implemented.

This Writer has joined with campaigner Maggie Zolobajluk and Gill Thompson – whose brother died after his benefits were sanctioned – to petition the government to implement just two of these recommendations – to offer hardship payments from the first day of a benefit sanction, and to launch a broad, independent review of the sanctions regime. You can sign the petition here.

In a written response, DWP minister of state Lord Freud managed to avoid addressing any of the recommendations made in the report.

Instead, he took the opportunity to announce that the government intends to test a system of warning before any sanction is imposed.

“At present people are notified of a sanction and it is imposed immediately afterwards. In some cases, claimants go on to challenge the decision and the sanction may be overturned. We will trial arrangements whereby claimants are given a warning of our intention to sanction and a 14 day period to provide evidence of good reason before the decision to sanction is made. During this time, claimants will have another opportunity to provide further evidence to explain their non-compliance. We will then review this information before deciding whether a sanction remains appropriate,” he stated.

He added that the government would consider – mark that word; only consider – extending the definition of “at risk” groups used for hardship purposes to include those with mental health conditions and those who are homeless. This would mean that they could seek access to hardship from day one of a sanction being applied – but only if the government goes beyond consideration and actually implements the change.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Owen Smith raised the issue in the House of Commons today (October 22). He said to the Speaker, John Bercow [boldings mine]: “May I ask for your guidance on how we might secure an opportunity for the House to question the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions about the desperately inadequate response to the Work and Pensions Select Committee report on the extraordinarily important issue of benefit sanctions?

“The response has been snuck out this morning in a written statement; it is four months late; and it does not appear to address any of the principal recommendations.

“In particular, it does not address the recommendation on an independent review into the matter of those people who have died while subject to benefit sanctions. That is an extraordinarily shoddy way for the Government to behave.

“May I also ask for guidance on whether the Select Committee might, under the new Back-Bench business procedures, seek time to debate the issue and question the Secretary of State on why he has snuck out this response and why it is so poor?”

Mr Bercow’s response was that he believed Mr Smith knew exactly how to go about obtaining a debate: “I have a hunch that he simply wanted a prime-time opportunity to tweak the Government’s tail.”

Mission accomplished, then!

One does wonder how much inconvenience the government would suffer by having its tail tweaked. Considering the release, yesterday, of a DWP advert featuring a bizarre horned creature representing the government, talk of it having a tail would suggest that the Conservative Party is trying to depict itself as the devil incarnate – a pointless exercise, as we already know this to be true.

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