Empty: Keir Starmer’s slogans are as empty as the promises in the 10 pledges he made when he was trying to be elected Labour leader (he has broken nine of them already).
Keir Starmer isn’t fooling anyone with his new empty slogan.
On the eve of Labour Connected – the party’s virtual conference, he’s replacing the previous empty slogan, “Under New Management” with one making the unlikely claim that he and his party are “A New Leadership”.
The problem is, neither Keir Starmer nor Labour under him have provided any leadership at all.
What are his achievements to date? Hmm…
Approving Boris Johnson’s disastrous Covid-19 strategy.
Agreeing with Boris Johnson that schools should open in September.
Paying off a gang of media-savvy ex-Labour apparatchiks before they could take the party into a court case that Labour was expected to win.
If that is leadership then Boris Johnson is the world’s greatest statesman (ha ha)!
Iain Watson of the BBC reckons the slogan has a lot of work to do:
First, it is designed to contrast favourably with Boris Johnson’s leadership – and build on Sir Keir’s sustained attempt to portray the current government as lacking competence.
Second, it dovetails with Labour’s plan to “introduce” Sir Keir to the country.
Third, it will be deployed to try to eliminate a negative.
While he may not have been fully introduced to the electorate, the good news for Sir Keir Starmer is that his personal ratings are positive.
The bad news for Starmer is that while he has made a relatively positive impression since becoming Labour leader in March, the party has been lagging behind the Conservatives in most polls.
The aim now is to bring the party’s standing closer to Starmer’s.
That’s a lot of work for a three-word falsehood to do.
If you visit the BBC story, you’ll see that among the illustrations is one of Tony Blair unveiling his slogan, “New Labour, New Britain” back in 1994.
They were empty words. New Labour, we soon discovered, was just a continuation of old Tory neoliberalism. Margaret Thatcher later described it as her greatest achievement.
I mention this because there seems to be a clear progression in Starmer’s slogans.
Could it be that he is marching with ponderous predictability, from “Under New Management”, through “A New Leadership”…
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.
Truer words were never told: I don’t know the context of Lana Lane’s original post but it applies very well to constituents of Brecon and Radnorshire who might actually be considering placing their vote with the Liberal Democrat candidate – or indeed the Conservative, Brexit and UKIP candidates, for that matter.
I don’t know about you but I am sick to death of Jane Dodds, the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.
We constituents are being bombarded by her. Leaflet after leaflet comes thudding through our doors.
Campaigner after campaigner has come tramping up to finger our doorbells.
Yesterday (July 13), no less than four different election communications landed on my doorstep.
Two were about Brexit. The first – a letter – said, “As your new MP, I’ll fight to stop Brexit. I’ll work hard every day to stand up for local jobs, our NHS and for the local community services we all depend on.”
How? How, exactly, is she going to do that?
She doesn’t say. She scares local farmers with a warning that the “no-deal” Brexit plans of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage will saddle them with 40 per cent tariffs on lamb exports – but doesn’t say a single word about how she would stop it, because she can’t. One MP won’t make any difference at all.
In fact, she wouldn’t have to do anything in any case. Current Parliamentary arithmetic makes a “no-deal” Brexit of this kind unlikely to win any support at all, and if any future prime minister tries it, it would probably break their government.
What does she mean by saying she’ll “stand up” for local jobs and community services? That doesn’t imply that she’ll actually do anything – and you’d be a fool to think that she will.
And of course the NHS is a devolved responsibility; the Welsh Assembly has responsibility for it, not Parliament, so Ms Dodds won’t have any influence over it at all.
The second – a leaflet intended to gather voter information (that’s what the coupon at the bottom is for) – is even more misleading. “This by-election is a unique and urgent opportunity to change the direction of our country,” it states.
How is Jane Dodds, a member of a minority party who has lost three elections in Montgomeryshire, going to manage that where so many hundreds of experienced Parliamentarians have failed? She won’t.
If she wins on the basis of this information, then I invite Liberal Democrat voters to come back after October 31 and demonstrate how she stopped Brexit.
The third election communication – another letter – is so full of flannel I thought she was trying to wash me. Or brainwash me, at least.
“I want to do more to tackle injustice, help people to get the best chance in life, and end years and years of being let down by Westminster politicians.” Flannel!
“Living here in Powys, just outside Welshpool, I understand all too well just how important it is that we have an MP who understands the unique challenges we all face.” Flannel – and falsehood. Welshpool isn’t in Brecon and Radnorshire and conditions there are different.
“I love living in Powys but that does not mean I don’t think it can be even better.” Flannel!
“At home and in Westminster, I will fight to fix our broken politics. I will fight to help protect our Welsh health services. And I will fight to stand up for Welsh farmers and businesses.” Flannel!
Worse still is the claim that she has been “overwhelmed by the number of Labour, Plaid and Green supporters who’ve told me that they will be backing me in this election”. I know that Plaid Cymru and the Green Party stood aside to allow Ms Dodds to be the single candidate who unequivocally supports the undemocratic position of cancelling Brexit without referring the decision back to the people of the UK – but Labour hasn’t. For the good of the whole of the UK, Labour won’t.
And while it is entirely likely that some habitual Labour voters have been hoodwinked by the usual Liberal Democrat flannel that a tactical vote for them is the only way to keep out the Tories or the other right-wingers, I think her claim that “many” have done so is stretching credibility to breaking-point.
Finally, the fourth election communication was another leaflet, containing her “positive plan” for Brecon and Radnorshire. Here are the bullet-points:
“Back our health services and improve social care” – this is a devolved responsibility that is nothing to do with Westminster MPs.
“Protect vital rural services” – an impossibility for a single MP in a party that is not in government.
“Oppose Conservative cuts” – a meaningless promise, especially from a member of the party that, in Coalition with the Conservatives, helped impose many of those cuts between 2010 and 2015. That’s the reason I used the image at the top of this piece, warning about people voting for the removal of free health care, free education, affordable housing and social security. As a Liberal Democrat, Ms Dodds belongs to a party that helped push us towards the dismantling of those vital services – and a vote for her now may well help finish the job.
“Fix our broken politics” – another meaningless promise, and she doesn’t even try to say what this means.
“Stand up for Welsh farmers and local businesses” – also meaningless, because she does not say what she will do.
The end result is a big pile of waste paper, covered in soundbites. Ms Dodds doesn’t even talk a good fight.
She just fills our homes with meaningless gibberish.
And how will she be if she wins? My bet is, we’ll never hear from her again – at least until the next election.
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.
Empty seats: Apparently the auditorium is smaller than some local theatres yet fewer than half the places were filled on the first day of the conference. Conservatism is a dying movement.
Remember the general election campaign last year, when every appearance by Theresa May was carefully stage-managed to make it seem she was surrounded by admirers – right up to the moment someone took a wide-angle photograph showing only about 20 people turned up?
As you can see from the image above, matters have only worsened in the year-and-several-months since then and the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham has practically nobody attending.
One reason for this may be the fact that the Tories’ conference app was found to be giving away attendees’ personal details to anybody who asked (as described yesterday).
A few others are listed in the tweet below including, most perceptively: “No ideas. No inspiration. No clue.”
There is plenty of money in the UK but the Tories have decided to starve public services like the NHS to give tax breaks to the very rich.
This has led to chronic underfunding for services across the board, including health – which has also had to cope with the introduction of profit-making private companies into the system which drain out even more money.
They talk about funding increases but the amount they provide each year is barely a quarter of the average since the NHS was formed in 1948.
There can be only one conclusion: Whatever the Tories are planning for the NHS, it isn’t good for your health.
Hospitals are mothballing scores of wards, closing them to patients despite the NHS’s ongoing beds crisis, new figures reveal.
At the last count in September 82 “ghost wards” were recorded containing 1,429 empty beds, the equivalent of two entire hospitals, according to data provided by hospital trusts across England. It represents a sharp increase on the 32 wards and 502 beds that were unused four years earlier, statistics obtained under freedom of information laws show.
The closures, often a result of hospitals not having enough staff or the money to keep wards open, have occurred at a time when the health service is under unprecedented pressure and struggling to cope with demand for beds.
Cor – what a big… carrot: The painting of George Osborne symbolising his empty promises by Kaya Mar [Image: www.kayamarart.com].
He was not amused.
It seems this was not what George Osborne had in mind when he hosted a boozy awayday in the Cotswolds to boost Tory spirits ahead of the Rochester by-election and the general election.
The Guardianhas reported that he was “straight-faced” when former Tory minister Sir Alan Duncan whipped out a naked portrait of him, representing Osborne’s empty policies and failed promises, during a speech at a dinner in a four-star hotel near Chipping Norton.
Apparently this is Osborne’s ‘just desserts’ for offering unfunded tax cuts to the electorate in advance of the election next year.
It seems the event – ostensibly held to strategise against the threat of UKIP – subsequently deteriorated into the usual chaos of any event attended by the Bullingdon hooligans.
The painting is by Kaya Mar, whose images of politicians in the raw can be viewed on his website.
The artist’s website had this to say: “It was reported that a stone-faced George Osborne was furious about being humiliated by Duncan, who went on to make comparisons between Kaya’s typically fat-bottomed naked politicians in his satirical paintings and the Chancellor’s own increasing waistline – a consequence, perhaps, of all those lavish breakfasts, luncheons and dinners paid for by grateful, un-prosecuted bankers and lobbyists working for corporate privateers and plunderers since he wafted into 11 Downing Street all those hundreds of billions of borrowed pounds ago.
“There is, of course, a glaringly obvious subtext to that weekend’s bad-tempered exchanges and barbs; namely the bitter acrimony felt towards David Cameron and George Osborne by a significantly large cadre of back-bench MPs, who have always disliked Cameron’s slick PR style of policy-lite governance which many feel has done the party a great deal of reputational damage.
“The internal blood-letting and back-stabbing … signifies that fiercely partiisan rival camps for the inevitable forthcoming leadership challenge are finally emerging from the shadows, and have now spilled out into the public view.”
The site went on to suggest that the greatest threats to Cameron do not come from Osborne, but from the “polar opposites” represented by London Mayor Boris Johnson and former Education Secretary (recently demoted to Chief Whip) Michael Gove.
“Johnson is hugely popular for his well-honed theatrical ‘bumbling’, which he uses as an effective smokescreen to disguise his enormous ambition to be Prime Minister,” the site claims. “Michael Gove, with his patently ‘British Empire’ beliefs around education, crime and punishment, is well-liked by the reactionary wing of the party, for whom he represents the best chance of putting the UK’s cultural clock back 90 years.”
It may be too much to hope that this resentment will bubble up beyond symbolic gestures like this – at least, before the election – but it seems that the writing, or at least the painting, is on the wall for both George Osborne and David Cameron.
The real cost of the Bedroom Tax: How many people are going to be thrown out of their homes after losing the arbitrary ‘spare-room subsidy’, that was invented by people like Lord David Freud, who lives in an eight-bedroomed mansion?
A report by the Fabian Society has revealed that the majority of the public wants the government to tackle unemployment, low wages and rising rents, rather than make further spending cuts in housing benefit – just as the National Housing Federation said the consequences of April’s bedroom tax (and other measures) have been worse than feared.
Rent arrears have soared, while larger houses are being left empty because people are refusing to move in and pay the arbitrary “spare room subsidy” that the Coalition government dreamed up last year as an excuse to steal housing benefit money from poor families.
Public feeling on the subject has been manipulated by the right-wing media such as the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, according to the Fabian Society report. It showed that people were initially more convinced by arguments against spending on housing benefit, which costs £23 billion per year.
But this changed when astonished poll participants learned that 93 per cent of the increase in housing benefit claims between 2010-11 came from working people.
The survey found that 63 per cent of people felt poverty was “caused by forces beyond the control of the individual”.
Meanwhile David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, told the BBC the impact of the tax had been “at least as bad as we had anticipated, in many cases even worse”.
The government’s stated plan – that withdrawing benefit if people are living in a house with a “spare” bedroom, as defined by the Department for Work and Pensions, would encourage them to move to smaller properties – was never going to work as there are 582,000 more families who would need to move than there are suitable properties for them to move into. This is because successive governments have failed to build social accommodation – including the current Coalition.
But Mr Orr said larger homes, vacated by families that had found alternative accommodation, were now going empty because nobody else could afford to move into them.
Of course, this is a disaster for housing associations – the main operators in the social rented sector since Margaret Thatcher started selling council houses in the 1980s; as their homes go empty, they lose money.
“The numbers of empty homes we’ve got to let are increasing significantly,” said Iain Sim, chief executive of Coast and Country Housing, in the BBC website article. “People are now telling us that because of bedroom tax, they can no longer afford to move into the bigger family homes, and as a consequence of that we’re getting fewer lettings and more empty houses.”
You might feel unsympathetic about this – perhaps you think housing associations are part of the problem because they haven’t built smaller accommodation either. But then, they tend to expect to provide homes for families, so this strategy is understandable.
For those who are trapped in larger houses and forced to pay the bedroom tax, rent arrears are on the increase – East Ayrshire Council says its arrears are up by 340 per cent after the tax was introduced.
And those living near newly-empty houses say they expect an increase in crime as a result.
The BBC report also mentions the case of people like Alison Huggan, whose case was mentioned by Ed Miliband in Prime Minister’s Questions in February. The government told her that parents of children in the military who are deployed on operations would be exempt from the bedroom tax – but her local council has imposed it on her because her military sons’ main residences are deemed to be their barracks in Germany and Cyprus.
She said in the report that she felt “cheated, and lied to”.
Considering the situation, the reason for this is clear: She was.
The Department for Work and Pensions is unrepentant but, compared with what is actually happening, the spiel it trotted out for the BBC piece is incredibly ill-advised. A spokesman said the measure was returning fairness to housing: “In England alone there are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list and over a quarter of a million tenants are living in overcrowded homes”.
… and the bedroom tax means that large homes that could be used to accommodate them are going empty and housing associations are feeling the pinch. How long will it be before they start to collapse?
“This is causing real misery,” Mr Orr told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Well, it would. It seems that was always the intention.
The National Housing Federation ran a campaign against the ‘bedroom tax’ while the legislation was going through Parliament – but the government was blind to the concerns of this expert organisation.
By now you should know that you’ll be in financial trouble from April next year, if you receive housing benefit and the government decides you’ve got one or two too many bedrooms.
This applies to people who are working but on low pay, who must therefore claim housing benefit in order to keep a roof over their heads. This means it applies to 93 per cent of people who have claimed housing benefit since the Coalition government came to power (only seven per cent of claimants were unemployed).
It applies to separated parents who share the care of their children and who may have been allocated an extra bedroom to reflect this. Benefit rules mean that there must be a designated ‘main carer’ for children (who receives the extra benefit).
It applies to couples who use their ‘spare’ bedroom when recovering from an illness or operation.
It applies to foster carers, because foster children are not counted as part of the household for benefit purposes (this is particularly evil, in my view).
It applies to parents whose children visit but are not part of the household -although housholds where there is a room kept for a student studying away from home will not be deemed to be under-occupying if the student is away for less than 52 weeks (under housing benefit) or six months (under Universal Credit). Students are exempt from non-dependant deductions, but full-time students will not be exempt from the Housing Cost Contribution (HCC) which replaces non-dependent deductions under Universal Credit (more on this elsewhere in the article). Students over 21 will face a contribution in the region of £15 per week.
It applies to families with disabled children; and
It applies to disabled people, including those living in adapted or specially designed properties (again, this is evil, as it could mean these people will be required to leave that home for another one, with the added expense of having to re-install all the special adaptations).
Pensioners will not be affected – unless they are part of a couple and the partner is below pension age, after Universal Credit is introduced.
The size criteria that will be applied means housing benefit wil be restricted to allow for one bedroom for each person or couple living as part of the household. However:
Children under 16, who are either both boys or both girls, will be expected to share. This will undoubtedly create many family feuds as puberty is not known for its calming effect on young people.
Children under 10 will be expected to share, regardless of gender. Again, this will create problems for families. It is not a normal situation and it seems bizarre for the government to suggest that it should be.
On the ‘plus’ side, a disabled tenant or partner who needs a non-resident overnight carer will be allowed an extra bedroom for that carer. If you have a ‘spare’ bedroom under the new rules, you will lose 14 per cent of your housing benefit; for two or more extra bedrooms, you’ll lose a quarter of your benefit. According to the government’s impact assessment, this means 660,000 people will lose an average of £14 per week (£16 for housing association tenants).
Now for the complications.
After Universal Credit is brought in, if only one member of a couple is over pension age, the bedroom tax will apply to the household. If one is receiving Pension Credit, they will be unaffected.
There are currently six different rates of ‘non-dependent deductions’ – amounts removed from housing benefit according to the earnings of people aged over 18 who live in a household but are not dependent on the tenant for financial support. This will become one flat-rate ‘housing cost contribution’ that will be deducted from housing benefit. It will not apply to anyone aged under 21.
Under UC, each adult non-dependent will get their own room, but each must pay the full, flat-rate housing cost contribution – unless aged under 21 and therefore exempt.
Under UC, lodgers will not get a room allowance but any income is disregarded. They will not count as occupying a room under size criteria rules. Currently any income is taken into account and deducted pound for pound from benefit, apart from the first £20. As this income is completely disregarded under UC, my best guess is that the government expects this amount to cover any loss in both housing benefit and Universal Credit. I have a doubt about that. Taking in a lodger will also affect home contents insurance policies, potentially invalidating them or raising the premiums.
Bedroom tax will not apply in joint tenancy cases.
Until UC comes in, benefits will be protected for up to 52 weeks after death; afterwards the run-on will be three months.
And until UC comes in, tenants will receive 13 weeks’ protection where they could previously afford the rent and housing benefit has not been claimed in the previous year; afterwards, the size criteria will apply immediately. Pre-1989 tenancies are not exempt from the bedroom tax.
Those are the facts relating to this particular benefit change. There are others which will also affect your ability to keep your home, but – concentrating on this for a moment – you’re probably already screaming “What does it MEAN?” in frustration at your screen.
If you’re on a low income, aged over 40 with children who have left home, or disabled, you could be not only slightly but severely and unfairly affected. It seems likely you will have to choose to either pay the extra amount, or move. It seems likely that I will be in this category, so be assured that I sympathise completely with everyone else in the same situation.
And there will be many, many people who are. Surveys say around a third of tenants will try to move, mainly to one-bedroom properties. This is far more than the government has anticipated in its planning.
Here’s where things get suspicious: There is a national shortage of one bedroom council and housing association homes, meaning many tenants will have no choice but to move into the more expensive private sector or stay put – even though they will not be able to afford the extra costs.
The majority will stay put, but nearly eight-tenths (80 per cent) of those are worried about going into debt, with two-fifths (40 per cent) fearing they will accumulate rent arrears.
The evidence shows that, whether you move or stay put, landlords will lose income, which in turn means evictions and homelessness will increase. This is my belief. We will see a lot of people going homeless at the same time as a lot of houses go empty.
In fact, homelessness is already on the rise – as it always is under a Conservative government. According to the National Housing Federation – the umbrella organisation for housing associations in England – there has been a leap of nearly 50 per cent in the number of families forced into B&Bs. Between January and March this year, they totalled 3,960, compared with 2,750 during the same period in 2011. That number will escalate under the new legislation.
Any fool can see that this is madness. The logical choice has to be that people, who would otherwise go homeless, should be housed in buildings that would otherwise go empty.
But we are under the heel of a government that has little to do with sanity. The sane choice – in order to keep housing benefit payments down – is to cap rents at a particular, affordable, level. This way, landlords receive a steady amount of money, tenants keep their homes, and housing benefit remains manageable. But the government cannot tolerate this as it is deemed to be unwarranted interference in the market. Never mind the fact that the market could collapse if enough homes go empty! The idea is that the steady drive to increase rents will attract people rich enough to afford them. Again, one wonders where these people are and how they will be able to pay. Also, every price bubble eventually pops, so sooner or later – again – we’ll have a lot of homeless people on the streets while buildings go empty and (eventually) derelict.
Am I painting a depressing picture? Let’s add to the misery by reminding you that housing benefit is being withdrawn for everybody aged under 25. The assumption is that they will return to the family home if they can’t afford their rent – but that is a big assumption. There may be reasons they cannot do so (I’m sure you can imagine some for yourself). what do they do then? Housing benefit itself is being capped. And then there is the Localism Act and its effect on Council Tax payments. From responses to my previous article about the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’, you will be able to see that some councils will add as much as 30 per cent of the council tax bill to the costs of those tenants who currently receive full council tax benefit, regardless of whether they can afford to pay. And has anybody said anything recently about the plan to cap all benefits at £500-per-week-per-household?
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