Beleaguered: At last, Fiona Woolf has done the decent thing, after acknowledging that she could never hold the trust of child sex abuse victims due to her relationship with Leon Brittan, who might have to give evidence to the inquiry she had been appointed to chair.
The second chair of the so-called independent inquiry into historic child sex abuse cases has resigned, according to the BBC.
Fiona Woolf said she wanted to “get out of the way” after it became clear that victims did not have any confidence in her.
To the Tories, you see, image is everything – and it had been made abundantly clear to Mrs Woolf that hers was tarnished by her freely-admitted association with Leon Brittan, a man who, as Home Secretary during the 1980s, managed to lose a dossier containing the names of more than 100 alleged child sex offenders, including some prominent Conservative Party members (if rumours are to be believed).
The association made her as suspicious to victims’ groups as her forerunner, Baroness Butler-Sloss, whose own name was unavoidably linked with that of the late Sir Michael Havers, attorney-general during the 1980s, whose behaviour has also been called into question by allegations that he tried to hush up child sex abuse allegations against prominent members of the Establishment.
And these were all Establishment figures in their own right. Mrs Woolf had tried to distance herself from these claims by making assurances that she herself was not a member of the Establishment – but her case was lost before she even made it. She is, you see, the Lord Mayor of London.
This second resignation from an inquiry that is supposed to be independent, by a chairperson who had clear ties to people she would have been investigating, has raised renewed claims that the current Home Secretary, Theresa May, has not carried out ‘due diligence’ when considering who to appoint.
And the longer this drags on, the more suspicious the entire situation will seem. People will start asking more deeply disturbing questions. Logically, the first will be whether Mrs May has encountered so much difficulty in appointing a chairperson because the Conservatives want to influence the inquiry’s outcome, to ensure that nobody connected with them is ever implicated.
You see, image is everything to the Tories, especially with a general election taking place in the not-too-distant future.
David Cameron had given his backing to the choice of Mrs Woolf – as, if memory serves, he did to the choice of Baroness Butler-Sloss – so the resignation calls his judgement into question.
Then again, it seems that almost everything said about Cameron these days calls his judgement into question, whether it is his cavalier attitude to the NHS privatisation started by his former boss Andrew Lansley (that he didn’t understand), his keenness to award NHS contracts to Tory donors, his (alleged) failure to take an interest in the European Union’s re-evaluation of membership fees until he was presented with a bill for £1.7 billion this week, or any of the many other bombshells that seem to be bursting around him every day.
A report in Thursday’s Guardian has accused him of misleading the public over the total amount of his government’s planned austerity cuts that have been implemented during the current Parliament. Cameron said four-fifths of the process was complete, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies said more than half were still to come into force.
Never mind Fiona Woolf’s resignation – isn’t it time we demanded Cameron’s?
Would anybody argue with the suggestion that the social media – including blogs like Vox Political – played the largest part in the removal of Baroness Butler-Sloss from the government’s inquiry into historical child sex abuse investigations?
Until yesterday, Lady Butler-Sloss was adamant that there was no reason she could not head up the inquiry, even though her past associations with people she might have to investigate included her own brother, the late Sir Michael Havers, who was attorney general in the 1980s.
It was the social media that found this information and revealed it to the general public – who then complained bitterly to the government.
Do we believe Lady Butler-Sloss where she tells us she “did not sufficiently consider” whether her family links would throw the inquiry into question? It seems extremely out-of-character for a former judge, who would never – for example – have allowed a trial jury to include a relative of the defendant, to claim that she could be impartial about matters involving her own family. It was a clear conflict of interest.
One point that has been glossed-over is the fact that this woman is nearly 81 years of age and from the same privileged background as many of the people she would be asked to investigate. Did she even have the necessary sensibilities – or even the ability to open her mind to current thinking – required to head up an investigation such as this?
Of course, Lady Butler-Sloss was appointed by the Home Secretary, Theresa May. She has been accused of failure to carry out “due diligence” – the necessary checks to discover if a candidate can be relied upon to be impartial – but has defiantly claimed that her choice was good.
“I do not regret the decision I made. I continue to believe that Elizabeth Butler-Sloss would have done an excellent job as chair of this inquiry,” she told the Home Affairs select committee. Really? Excellent by whose standards?
We know from Lord Tebbit that there was a ‘hush-hush’ culture in the Thatcher government of the 1980s. He said people thought the establishment “had to be protected”.
And of course the attitude she held is likely to pervade government even now, 30 years later. Perhaps Theresa May wanted this inquiry – which she had resisted for a long time – to be headed by a person who could be trusted not to rock the boat. Perhaps she had been told to select such a person.
Now we must wait for an announcement on a new chairperson. This also plays into the hands of those with skeletons (or worse) in their closets as it creates a delay.
Not only that, but we must all remain vigilant against the possibility that May will appoint another dud. The BBC’s report makes it clear that the requirement for a candidate to have a legal background and the security clearance necessary to be able to read confidential papers means it is hard to find anyone who is suitably qualified and is not part of the establishment.
We still do not know where this will lead and who will be implicated. People like Theresa May and David Cameron will want to protect members of their own Old Guard from retrospective vilification (if Lord Tebbit’s words are to be trusted), and it seems likely they will do everything in their considerable power to fob us off.
“This particular Secretary of State, along with his Department, is pushing people through [the] cracks and hoping that the rest of the country will not notice that they have disappeared.” – Glenda Jackson MP, June 30, 2014.
If the man this blog likes to call RTU (Returned To Unit) thought he would be able to show that his behaviour had improved, he was sorely mistaken – as the comment above illustrates.
It is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
But we were discussing the debate as a trial. Let us first look at the evidence in favour of the government.
There. That was illuminating, wasn’t it?
Seriously, the government benches were unable to put up a single supportable point against the mountain of evidence put forward by Labour.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Secretary-in-a-State, resorted yet again to his favourite tactic – and one for which he should have been sacked as an MP long ago – lying to Parliament. He accused Labour of leaving behind a “shambles” – in fact the economy had begun to improve under intelligent guidance from Alistair Darling. “The economy was at breaking point,” he said – in fact the British economy cannot break; it simply doesn’t work that way. His claim that “We were burdened with the largest deficit in peacetime history” is only supportable in money terms, and then only because inflation means the pound is worth so much less than it was in, say, the 1940s – or for the entire century between 1750 and 1850. He called yesterday’s debate “a cynical nugget of short-term policy to put to the unions,” but the evidence below renders that completely irrelevant.
He said complaints about long delivery times for benefits were “out of date” – a common excuse. He’ll do the same in a few months, when the same complaint is raised again.
“Universal Credit is rolling out to the timescale I set last year,” he insisted – but we all know that it has been ‘reset’ (whatever that means) by the government’s Major Projects Authority.
He said there had been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, with more than 50 recommendations by Sir Malcolm Harrington accepted by the government. This was a lie. We know that almost two-thirds of the 25 recommendations he made in his first review were not fully or successfully implemented.
He said appeals against ESA decisions “are down by just under 90 per cent” – but we know that this is because of the government’s unfair and prejudicial mandatory reconsideration scheme – and that the DWP was bringing in a new provider to carry out work capability assessments. Then he had to admit that this provider has not yet been chosen! And the backlog of claims mounts up.
He tried to justify his hugely expensive botched IT schemes by pointing at a Labour scheme for the Child Support Agency that wasted hundreds of millions less than his Universal Credit, without acknowledging the obvious flaw in his argument: If he knew about this mistake, why is he repeating it?
Conservative Mark Harper said Labour opposed the Tories’ most popular scheme – the benefit cap. That was a lie. Labour supported the cap, but would have set it at a higher level. We know that the Coalition government could not do this because it would not, then, have made the huge savings they predicted.
Now, the evidence against.
First up is Rachel Reeves, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions: “After £612 million being spent, including £131 million written off or ‘written down’, the introduction of Universal Credit is now years behind schedule with no clear plan for how, when, or whether full implementation will be achievable or represent value for money.
“Over 700,000 people are still waiting for a Work Capability Assessment, and… projected spending on Employment and Support Allowance has risen by £800 million since December… The Government [is] still not able to tell us which provider will replace Atos.
“Personal Independence Payment delays have created uncertainty, stress and financial costs for disabled people and additional budgetary pressures for Government… Desperate people, many of whom have been working and paying into the system for years or decades and are now struck by disability or illness, waiting six months or more for help from the Department for Work and Pensions.
“The Work Programme has failed to meet its targets, the unfair bedroom tax risks costing more than it saves, and other DWP programmes are performing poorly or in disarray.
“Spending on housing benefit for people who are in work has gone up by more than 60 per cent, reflecting the fact that more people are in low-paid or insecure work and are unable to make ends meet, even though they may be working all the hours God sends.
“More than five million people — 20 per cent of the workforce — are paid less than the living wage. Furthermore, 1.5 million people are on zero-hours contracts and 1.4 million people are working part time who want to work full time.
“This… is about the young woman diagnosed with a life-limiting illness who has waited six months for any help with her living costs. It is about the disabled man whose payments have been stopped because he did not attend an interview to which he was never invited.
“The Government are wasting more and more taxpayers’ money on poorly planned and disastrously managed projects, and are allowing in-work benefits to spiral because of their failure to tackle the low pay and insecurity that are adding billions of pounds to the benefits bill.
“The Government are careless with the contributions that people make to the system, callous about the consequences of their incompetence for the most vulnerable, and too arrogant to admit mistakes and engage seriously with the task of sorting out their own mess.
“What this Government have now totally failed to do is to remember the human impact, often on people in vulnerable circumstances, of this catalogue of chaos. Behind the bureaucratic language and spreadsheets showing backlogs and overspends are people in need who are being let down and mistreated, and taxpayers who can ill afford the mismanagement and waste of their money.
“To fail to deliver on one policy might be considered unfortunate; to miss one’s targets on two has to be judged careless; but to make such a complete mess of every single initiative the Secretary of State has attempted requires a special gift. It is something like a Midas touch: everything he touches turns into a total shambles.
“Meanwhile, the Secretary of State will spew out dodgy statistics, rant and rave about Labour’s record, say “on time and on budget” until he is blue in the face and, in typical Tory style, blame the staff for everything that goes wrong.”
Julie Hilling (Labour) provides this: “The Government do not know what they are talking about… They talk about the number of jobs being created, but they do not know how many of them are on zero-hours contracts or how many are on Government schemes or how many have been transferred from the public sector.”
Stephen Doughty (Labour/Co-op): “another stark indictment of their policies is the massive increase in food banks across this country.”
Helen Jones (Labour): “When I asked how many people in my constituency had been waiting more than six months or three months for medical assessments for personal independence payment, the Government told me that the figures were not available. In other words, they are not only incompetent; they do not know how incompetent they are!”
Sheila Gilmore (Labour): “Although the problems with Atos were known about—and it is now being suggested that they had been known about for some time—a contract was given to that organisation for PIP. Was due diligence carried out before the new contract was issued?”
Gordon Marsden (Labour): “Many of my constituents have been caught by the double whammy of delays involving, first, the disability living allowance and now PIP. They have waited long periods for a resolution, but because a decision is being reconsidered, their Motability — the lifeline that has enabled them to get out of their homes — has been taken away before that decision has been made. Is that not a horrendous indictment of the Government?”
Emily Thornberry (Labour): “I have been making freedom of information requests.. in relation to mandatory reconsiderations. When people get their work capability assessment, and it has failed, before they can appeal there has to be a mandatory reconsideration. The Department does not know how many cases have been overturned, how many claimants have been left without any money and how long the longest period is for reconsideration. It cannot answer a single one of those questions under a freedom of information request.”
Natascha Engel (Labour): “The welfare state is designed as a safety net to catch people who absolutely cannot help themselves… That safety net is being withdrawn under this government, which is certainly pushing some of my constituents into destitution.”
There was much more, including the devastating speech by Glenda Jackson, partly in response to Natascha Engels’ comments, that is reproduced in the video clip above.
The vote – for the House of Commons to recognise that the DWP was in chaos and disarray – was lost (of course). A government with a majority will never lose such a vote.
But once again, the debate was won by the opposition. They had all the facts; all the government had were lies and fantasies.
By now, one suspects we all know somebody who has died as a result of Coalition government polices on welfare (or, preferably, social security). Two such deaths have been reported in the Comment columns of Vox Political since the weekend, and it is only Tuesday.
That is why it is vital that this information reaches the general public despite the apparent news blackout, in the mainstream media, of any disparaging information about Duncan Smith or his DWP.
Share it with your friends, use parts of it in letters to your local papers or radio stations, even mentioning it in conversation will help if the other person isn’t aware of the facts.
Don’t let it be suppressed.
You don’t want to do Iain Duncan Smith’s work for him, do you?
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