Citizens of the United Kingdom have hit the streets in cities, towns and villages across the country to express their outrage at the actions of Boris Johnson – and the Queen.
There was even a demonstration in This Writer’s Mid Wales home town against the decision to shut down Parliament so that our unelected prime minister – who has not proved he can command a majority in Parliament – can enact a flagship policy that has been rejected by our democratically-elected legislature many times.
Here’s a smattering of videos and images from across the country, courtesy of Twitter. They speak for themselves:
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
Demo: SNP MP Alison Thewliss has stood up against the ‘rape clause’ before.
Scots have organised a swift response to Esther McVey’s defence of the ‘rape clause’ at Holyrood earlier this week.
If you don’t know what she said and why it was so despicable, you need to read this article.
The quick version is: Esther McVey provoked outrage by claiming that forcing rape survivors to recount their ordeal in order to access benefits will give them an ‘opportunity to talk’.
Here’s the response from the people of Scotland – and This Site approves most strongly:
Activists are stepping up the pressure on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to scrap the rape clause.
A demonstration will be held on Thursday 19 April at 5.30pm, on The Mound, Edinburgh, one year on since its implementation.
It comes as work and pensions secretary Esther McVey told the Scottish parliament’s social security committee that the rape clause “provided an opportunity” for sexual assault victims and described victims talking about their rape to DWP staff as offering “potentially double support.”
An organiser responsible the protest said: “Esther McVey’s appearance in front of the Scottish Parliament’s Social Security Committee, illustrated the alarming lack of understanding about the complexities and reality of sexual violence. No woman should be forced to choose between disclosing rape possibly for the first time ever and poverty. It is a disgrace.”
Alison Thewliss MP, who has campaigned against the clause from the beginning, said that charities and other agencies have warned that these measures will push thousands into poverty, and be hugely damaging to women.
The People’s Assembly Against Austerity will be holding a mass demonstration against the government’s austerity measures on Wednesday (July 8) – which is when George Osborne is set to deliver his benefits-bashing ’emergency’ budget.
They have invited Maggie Zolobajluk, who organised the petition in support of my bid to find out how many people have died while claiming sickness/disability benefits, to speak – but not me.
Maggie kindly asked me if I would be able to make it to London and speak instead of her – and I’d love to – but I don’t think it’s possible. The distance is too great, and I can’t justify being away from Mrs Mike – and also the blog, on a day that will affect the way the UK develops for the foreseeable future.
I started drafting out a few words for her to deliver on my behalf – but they turned into a full-blown speech instead. I ended up writing far too much – so, rather than ask her to say it, I’m publishing it here instead.
A previous demonstration, staged by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity in 2014.
I am neither sick, nor disabled – but I choose to side with the sick and disabled against oppression.
It isn’t an entirely altruistic choice. Mrs Mike – as she is known on my blog, Vox Political – has been ill for many years, and we have fought battle after battle with the Department for Work and Pensions over the benefits to which she is entitled.
You’re probably sick of hearing the famous verse by Pastor Martin Niemoller, but he was right. Who’s going to stand up for me, if I don’t stand up for other people first?
Mrs Mike and I are used to winning those battles, and I wonder how much of that success is due to the fact that I am able-bodied. Think about it – if you are battling constant pain, or are a victim of depression, or your condition fluctuates so you simply don’t know if you’ll be able to get out of bed in the morning, or you have any number of the other maladies that may affect the sick or disabled – then the last thing you’ll want to do is argue over tiny details with a gang of suited pedants in Whitehall.
Additionally, these pedants have employed private contractors to make sure they judge the severity of a person’s sickness using information that is wrong.
If you’re sick, or disabled, the pressure can be too much to bear. And not every sick or disabled person has an able-bodied partner like me to take up the slack.
So, inevitably, the worst happens.
Only last weekend I learned about Graham Shawcross, of Manchester. Mr Shawcross had lived – and worked – with Addison’s Disease for 40 years before having to claim sickness benefit. It is a potentially fatal condition whose symptoms include exhaustion, muscle weakness, dizziness, fainting and cramps that can lead to adrenal crisis, which can be fatal. But that isn’t what killed him!
No – Mr Shawcross died of a heart attack in February, after being ruled “fit for work” by the DWP in November last year. He had been preparing to present an appeal against the decision – writing out the details several times a day, and talking about it constantly.
His widow said the stress of having to do this – stress that was created by, and only by, the DWP’s “fit for work” decision – was what killed him.
You should be aware that the DWP says it is “irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, and “mortality rates among people with serious health conditions are likely to be higher than those among the general population”. We’ve seen that comment in the newspapers very often over the last few weeks.
It’s a statement that falls flat when the DWP’s own position is that the individual was “fit for work” at the time of his death.
Months after Mr Shawcross passed away – and despite being told this had happened by his widow – the DWP initially invited him to an appeal hearing, and then admitted he was seriously ill and deserved Employment and Support Allowance.
It’s a bit late for that now!
How many other benefit denials have been reversed after the claimant has died?
We don’t know – but it’s the subject of my next Freedom of Information request!
The man responsible for this regime, Iain Duncan Smith, is said to be religious so he should understand me when I say people claiming benefit must feel as though they have been crucified by their physical or mental ill-health. Instead of offering relief, Mr Duncan Smith and his department complete the job with a ‘crown of forms’ that push them into an early grave.
One has to question the morality of a supposed Christian who approves of crucifixion!
But then, it seems even leading members of the Catholic Church to which he belongs have tried pleading with him to alter the fatal direction of his policies – there was an article to that effect in the most recent edition of Catholic newspaper The Tablet.
But government ministers say it is “irresponsible” to claim that the benefit assessment system had anything to do with the death.
I wonder if they’ll say that to Mrs Shawcross, who is adamant that the system is what killed her husband. That would be a conversation worth hearing!
I first became concerned about the number of people who were dying while claiming benefits when the DWP itself revealed that 10,600 deaths had occurred between January and November 2011. Note that the official figures did not include December, which is considered to be a season of increased suicides.
This concern became alarm after I learned that Freedom of Information requests by other individuals, calling for updated figures, had been refused for no reason other than that the 2011 statistics had been part of an ‘ad-hoc’, one-off, release.
So I sent off a request, and asked readers of the blog to support it with requests of their own – to show that it was a matter of wider public concern. Only 23 did, but that was enough for the DWP to refuse me on the grounds that I was being “vexatious” – trying to flood the Department with work.
I’m still not sure how that claim can be justified. It’s the same information – all they had to do was put it together and send it off to the people who wanted it. It seems that creating a mailing list of email addresses is too much for a government department with more than 100,000 employees.
The tribunal that turned down my appeal did express considerable sympathy for my position, and suggested that another FoI request should result in publication of the statistics. So I wrote another one.
I won’t go into the details – it’s enough for you to know that, after several months of fighting with the DWP, I won.
The DWP then chose to take the matter to a tribunal, employing an expensive Treasury barrister to make out the case. It seems that, while Freedom of Information requests cannot cost more than £600 – that’s the legal limit – the government can spend as much of your money as it likes, if it wants to withhold the facts.
That’s when Maggie Zolobajluk started her petition, calling on the tribunal to refuse the appeal.
Now, instead of 23 supporters, my request has 230,000.
So David Cameron told Parliament that the figures will be published. What he didn’t tell Parliament was that they would be homogenised, amortised, Age-Standardised Mortality Rates, that show the deaths as a ratio compared with the death rate amongst the wider population – and he certainly won’t tell anyone how many people have died while claiming sickness and disability benefits since November 2011.
And now the Justice Secretary is trying to make it harder for Freedom of Information requests to succeed. It seems the embarrassment they cause is just too much for the administration that once said it intended to be the most open government ever.
Michael Gove wants to include “thinking time” in the cost of handling FoI requests.
What does that even mean?
Parliament’s Justice Select Committee has already stated that including “thinking time” in FoI costs would introduce an unwelcome variable into the system, which relies on everyone having equal access to the facts. The cost of “thinking time” would depend on the abilities of the civil servant dealing with the request.
Not only that, but we should ask what “thinking” has to do with it in any case. When a request is made under the Freedom of Information Act, the only questions a public authority may ask are whether it has the information and can publish it within the £600 cost limit. Questions about – for example – the motives behind the request are immaterial.
What are we to conclude?
That we have a government that intentionally complicates benefit claims for the sick and disabled.
That people who might live decent and, in many ways, productive lives are having those lives cut short because of goverment policy.
That the government does not want the wider population of the UK to know the true number of deaths.
That the government wants to shut down the Freedom of Information system so inconvenient questions like this can no longer be asked.
In short, that the government wants to smother any attempt to question it.
Too many sick and disabled people have been smothered already.
Many of you will be aware that a demonstration against the new Conservative government, here in the UK, took place in London yesterday.
Despite being an impromptu affair, organised extremely quickly after the outcome of the election became known on Friday morning, the protest attracted around 2,000 people at its height – along with the attention of the police.
According to eyewitnesses on Twitter, the cops kicked off and there were violent scenes at Downing Street – almost on the new Prime Minister’s doorstep.
Some commentators have been moved to ask, if this is the sort of scene we are seeing in the very first days of the new administration, what will our country be like after five years of it?
That is a very good question.
The large number of images arriving via Twitter prompted This Writer’s imagination to kick in and envision a video commemoration of this day – with musical accompaniment from Dodgie Jammers. This is the band that is unlucky enough to have Yr Obdt Srvt as keyboard player. Our song, This Is Not Democracy, seemed almost to have been written for the occasion, despite having been written five years ago.
The picture above was posted by Maria Pizzey on Facebook, along with text as follows:
“This is UKIP’s MEP candidate for the South East. She described herself as ‘Nigel’s number two’.
“She told us to f**k off because we stood peacefully holding placards accusing UKIP of racist policies.
“She offered no debate or arguments to defend her party and despite the chap in the picture asking us to pose for photos, this was her response when asked to return the favour.
“She made personal comments about my body size and when I told her I would quote her widely she said, ‘I don’t care where you f***ing post this, just f**k off!’
“Hilariously, I have just discovered she is UKIP’s press advisor. This is the most rude and aggressive individual I have had the misfortune to come across and she wants to represent this country in Europe. By the way her name is Janice Atkinson.”
The racism debate has been running for some time and many readers may wish to defend Ms Atkinson’s attitude towards people acting in as provocative a way as to display posters accusing her party of promoting such behaviour. In addition, it is impossible to provide empirical verification of the account; given the photographic evidence, there just seems to be little reason to accuse Ms Pizzey of falsehood.
Bearing in mind those caveats, we are told that Ms Atkinson did not even try to persuade the protesters that they were mistaken – she just went straight to the abuse.
UKIP is currently riding high in voting intention polls for the European Parliament election.
You can tell the priorities of any administration by its programme for government.
Look at the Coalition: Practically the first thing on its agenda is an attempt to ‘fix’ the next election by ensuring that anyone supporting opposing parties (or attacking the parties in power) is gagged.
The ‘Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’, if passed, would end free speech in the United Kingdom and usher in an era of propaganda-led “do as we say, not as we do” totalitarianism.
It will not stop corporate control of the political agenda – the threat to consultant lobbyists means Big Money will take them in-house, where they won’t have to be registered, and then it will be business as usual. This government works hand-in-glove with big business; that’s one reason it has been so easy to compare the Coalition’s UK with Nazi Germany.
(I make no apologies to Michael Gove for repeating this terrible accusation. If he wants to come and thump me, let him. Then we’ll find out how well he can work from a hospital bed.)
It will, as Owen Jones put it in his Independent column, “stifle the voices of charities, campaigners, trade unions and even blogs [yes, Vox Political would be under threat, despite the fact that it has no budget]; … shut down rallies and demonstrations; … prevent groups such as Hope Not Hate from taking on the poison of organised racism.
“Trustees of charities will fear anything that invites criminal investigation, shutting down scrutiny of government or campaigns for changes in policy. It will entangle organisations in a bureaucratic nightmare, forcing them to account for all of their spending… The TUC suggests that it could make organising its 2014 annual congress a criminal offence, as well as prevent it from holding a national demonstration in election year.
“Political blogs… could be included too, since they are campaigning entities that attempt to impact the outcome of an election.”
He went on to quote the TUC’s assessment that this is “an outrageous attack on freedom of speech worthy of an authoritarian dictatorship”, which this writer has taken as implying that an “authoritarian dictatorship” is exactly what we have now.
The campaigning organisation 38Degrees is also threatened by this proposed legislation. The government would consider its loss to be an enormous victory, as it has been a thorn in the sides of Cameron and his cronies (both in government and big business) ever since the Coalition came into office by the back door in 2010.
An email to members states: “From May 2014, draconian new rules would prevent non-politicians from speaking up on the big issues of the day. A huge range of campaign groups and charities – everyone from The Royal British Legion, to Oxfam, to the RSPB – are warning about the threat this poses.
“It’s telling that so many groups who wouldn’t normally agree with each other have united to oppose the gagging law. Groups that speak out in favour of hunting, windfarms, HS2 or building more houses are joining together with groups who say exactly the opposite.
“That’s because there’s one thing we should all be able to agree on: in a healthy democracy, everyone should able to express their views. And everyone should be allowed to get organised to highlight what politicians are saying and doing on the issues that matter to them.”
The email contains a link to a form letter that you can send to your MP, to make sure your feelings are known before they go into the debate. Then they won’t have an excuse to support the government and, if they do, you’ll have a reason (probably another reason, in the case of Tory MPs) to vote them out, come May 2015.
The Met police are once again printing a leaflet to distribute at anti-cuts protests. (Don’t click that link yet!) Advice seen this morning suggests that it would be a bad idea for protesters to take and read one of these leaflets because it will…
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