NOTE: Shortly after I published this story, Parliament’s bars announced that they will stop selling alcohol after 10pm. The reason?
MPs said the rules risked making Parliament look “ridiculous” to the public.
That was very much my intention when I wrote the following:
I think it’s great that Parliament has put up its own bars as testing-grounds for the effectiveness of the 10pm pub drinking curfew.
It seems the bars on the Parliamentary estate – the Members’ Dining Room, Adjournment, Smoking Room, Terrace Pavilion, Pugin Room and Members’ Tea Room are exempt as they provide a food and bar service:
A spokesperson for the House of Commons confirmed that the new restrictions on hospitality do not apply to the venues on the parliamentary estate, saying: “As catering outlets providing a workplace service for over 3,100 people working on the Estate, the current regulations on hospitality venues do not apply to Commons facilities.”
Some have said this is another example of Boris Johnson’s cronies setting one law for us and then breaking it themselves. Many of them made reference to Orwell’s Animal Farm (which may soon be banned under Gavin Williamson’s new education rules):
'You do not imagine, I hope, that we pigs are doing this in a spirit of selfishness and privilege… 'The whole management and organisation of this farm depend on us. Day and night we are watching over your welfare. It is for your sake that we drink the milk… ' — Animal Farm pic.twitter.com/FGM49cfGk9
“… Squealer, with very round cheeks, twinkling eyes, nimble movements, and a shrill voice. He was a brilliant talker, and when he was arguing some difficult point he had a way of skipping from side to side and whisking his tail which was somehow very persuasive.” Animal Farm pic.twitter.com/3AQuvhX1hY
A face mask: these are mandatory in enclosed spaces in England – but some people are exempt from the rule and anybody trying to bully those people needs to be shown the error of their ways.
Look at this: a woman has received abuse for not wearing a mask while out in England – even though she is exempt.
The problem isn’t just that the abusers don’t understand the rules.
It’s that they don’t care.
They’re using Covid-19 restrictions to bully people – especially disabled people and their carers.
That’s the result of 10 years of unremitting government anti-disablist propaganda.
So not only do they think it is okay to abuse Louise Sharp, of Whitley Bay, for not wearing a mask when she needs to have her face clear to communicate with her autistic daughter; they think they are encouraged to do so.
Ms Sharp ended up having a panic attack and now she simply doesn’t have the confidence to go out.
That’s because of these abusers.
They don’t have the right to question her; it’s none of their business.
Shop staff do, along with others in authority in enclosed spaces – as long as they do it in a polite way that doesn’t assume wrongdoing.
And everyone needs to be aware that some people are exempt from wearing masks, and who those exemptions cover. In England, they are:
Children under the age of 11.
Those unable to put on or wear a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or disability.
People for whom wearing or removing a face covering will cause severe distress.
Anyone assisting someone who relies on lip reading to communicate.
This Writer is unlikely to be accosted by such bullies; if I were to go to places where the mask rule is in effect, I would wear one.
But if I saw someone being – call it what it is – attacked in that way, rest assured I would not walk by and let it happen.
I hope Vox Political readers everywhere would do the same.
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.
“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” That was the mantra chanted by Theresa May and her followers as the Investigatory Powers Act (also known as the Snoopers’ Charter) made its way through Parliament.
The news article quoted below indicates that MPs clearly considered that they did have something to hide, as they clamoured to exempt themselves from scrutiny under the Act.
That indicates corrupt intentions, to This Writer at least.
I’ve been trying to find out whether this amendment was voted through, and which MPs supported it if it was.
Can anybody provide useful information?
The only amendment to the government’s sweeping new spying bill so far made by politicians is to stop them from being spied on.
The Investigatory Powers Bill – sometimes referred to as Snoopers’ Charter 2 – has been criticised by experts and tech companies, as well as by the government’s own watchdogs. But politicians have so far submitted only one amendment as it makes its way through parliament on its way into law, The Next Web reports.
As the law is currently written, it requires that the Prime Minister must be consulted if a warrant is to be issued allowing for the monitoring of an MP’s communications.
But the new amendment proposes that those requests must also go to the Speaker of the House of Commons, The Next Web points out. That is the only change so far submitted by politicians.
Labour’s promise to expand the reach of freedom of information (FoI) requests to cover private companies, such as G4S or Capita, in relation to their public service work will be meaningless as long as those companies, along with government departments, can use clever excuses to duck out of their responsibilities.
Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan, interviewed by The Guardian, said more and more public services, funded by taxpayers, are being run by private companies who are outside the scope of freedom of information.
That is why Labour will expand the reach of FoI requests, opening up up private contractors that run prisons, courtroom and health services to public scrutiny.
There’s only one problem: Government departments already have a range of excuses available, with which to bat away any inconvenient requests.
Just take a look at this article on the politics.co.uk website, detailing a few of these tricks. Vox Political‘s own FoI request for up-to-date statistics on the number of people who have died while going through the ESA claim or appeal process is currently stalled, having run into a ‘section 22’ exemption on the grounds that the information will be published at a future date.
It has not been made clear how far in the future this date may be, but, considering some of the requested information is now more than three years old, it seems likely that the Department for Work and Pensions is waiting for Hell to freeze over.
Here’s another article, from the Huffington Post, showing how even the simplest, easiest-to-answer requests are being rejected.
Why should we believe private companies will be any more open to examination than government departments?
The Guardianis reporting that regulations proposed by the Labour Party and approved by the Coalition Government mean fracking will be banned from two-fifths of the land in England.
[Image: The Guardian.]
Labour faced harsh criticism last week, particularly from the Green Party of England and Wales, after it failed to support that party’s call for a moratorium on fracking that would have banned it altogether. Green supporters suggested that Labour had done a deal with the Coalition to abstain on the moratorium in return for support over the 13-point regulation scheme.
In fact, according to the newspaper, “Ministers were forced to accept Labour’s new environmental rules last week to avoid a rebellion by Conservative and LibDem backbench MPs, many of whom are facing opposition to fracking from constituents.”
So there was no dirty backroom deal and 40 per cent of England is free of fracking whereas, if Labour had supported the Green moratorium, none of England would be protected.
The article continues: “Neither the government nor Labour have stated how much of the land available for future shale gas drilling – 60 per cent of England – would be affected by the new bans. But a Guardian data analysis has revealed it is 39.7 per cent, with large swaths of the south and south east off-limits, as well as the Yorkshire Dales and Peak district.
“An independent analysis by Greenpeace also found that 45 per cent of the 931 blocks being licensed for fracking in England were at least 50 per cent covered by protected areas, which it said was likely to make them unattractive to fracking companies.
“Just three per cent of of the blocks have no protected areas at all, Greenpeace found.”
Well played, Labour! That was a good afternoon’s work.
What a bunch of… bankers: As mentioned in the article, the government is happy to spend your money defending bankers’ bonuses in the European Union – but when it comes to defending your publicly-funded health service, they haven’t squeaked.
Remember the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Also known as TTIP? The proposed agreement between the EU and USA that – in its current form – would lock future UK governments into a legal framework that protects the privatisation of health services in this country?
A part of the agreement called the Investor-State Dispute Settlement would allow any commercial organisation the ability to sue governments that acted in an anti-commercial way such as – for example – re-nationalising health services that the Conservative-led Coalition has sold off to firms in which many government MPs have shady personal financial interests.
David Cameron used to have a cabinet minister responsible for handling negotiations on the TTIP – Kenneth Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio (aha! Now we know what he was supposed to be doing for a living).
But of course Clarke left the government in the July reshuffle. He gave every indication that he was delighted to be going, which suggests that work on the TTIP was not agreeing with him.
Perhaps it was the weight of all those people campaigning against the locked-in commercialisation of the NHS, in which treatment for particular conditions will depend on whether it is profitable where you live, coupled with the weight of Cameron’s determination to do nothing to prevent it – all obscured by the veil of secrecy that all involved have tried to draw across the negotiations.
Unite’s Len McCluskey told the Huffington Post: “First David Cameron claims there are no exemptions [so the NHS will be included in the deal – we should always remember that is Cameron’s default position], then EU Trade Commission[er] Karel De Gucht suggests that the NHS may have been exempted.
“Now civil servants are sending out statements claiming that the NHS was never in TTIP to begin with. It seems the government simply does not know what the world’s largest bilateral trade deal actually covers.”
Confusion! That’s an excellent way to slip in unwelcome changes – but it would mean the government was admitting its own incompetence.
McCluskey added: “David Cameron can choose to exempt the NHS if he’s prepared to fight for it. He was prepared to go to Europe to defend bankers’ bonuses.”
Good point. Despite the fact that bankers caused the financial crisis and many banks are still in debt, Cameron went to Europe to defend the ridiculously high bonuses they continue to award themselves. Then again, Cameron and his ministers have spent the last five years pretending that the crisis was entirely the fault of the previous Labour government. They must think we are stupid if they think we’ll swallow that – and we must bear that in mind when considering Coalition policy towards the TTIP.
Under the TTIP, a few other British standards will also suffer, according to the HuffPost:
We will be forced to accept other countries’ rules. UKIP voters take note that your party supports the TTIP.
Bosses will be allowed to reduce wages and hammer labour rights.
Food regulations will be weakened to allow banned products – like chlorine-bleached chicken and growth hormones in beef – into the country.
The UK could be forced to reverse its ban on asbestos in order to match US standards, leading to an increase in lung cancer and mesothelioma.
Victim of government persecution: A coroner has agreed that government pressure drove Stephanie Bottrill to suicide.
It’s official – stress and pressure caused by the Bedroom Tax pushed grandmother Stephanie Bottrill into taking her own life.
Zafar Siddique, coroner for Birmingham and Solihull, said he was “satisfied she intended to take her own life” after hearing evidence that Mrs Bottrill had blamed the government’s Bedroom Tax policy for pushing her to suicide in a note she left at her Meriden Drive, Kingshurst, home before walking across the M6 motorway into a collision with a lorry early on May 4, 2013.
The coroner also heard evidence from Dr Bindu Nair, who saw the former postal worker the day before her death after Mrs Bottrill’s daughter-in-law, concerned for her safety, made an appointment.
Dr Nair said Mrs Bottrill had “expressed unhappiness at being pushed by the housing department to make a decision, in half an hour, in reference to being made to move into a smaller property”.
He added that Ms Bottrill was “happy to move but it was the way in which she was forced to make a decision” which had caused her “considerable anxiety and stress”.
Unmentioned in the report is the fact that Mrs Bottrill was found to be exempt from the Bedroom Tax (also called the State Under-Occupation Charge) under the Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit (Consequential Provisions) Regulations 2006, because she had been living at her address since before January 1996.
The implications for the government are enormous.
A British court has accepted that a government policy pushed a UK citizen into ending her life.
Organisations including government departments are guilty of corporate manslaughter if the way in which their activities are managed or organised causes a person’s death, and amounts to a gross breach of a relevant duty of care owed by the organisation to the deceased.
An organisation is guilty of an offence if the way in which its activities are managed or organised by its senior management is a substantial element in the breach.
The pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill, according to the evidence of her own doctor, caused “considerable anxiety and stress” that contributed to her decision to commit suicide.
It seems clear that the Department for Work and Pensions – as the organisation responsible for both the Bedroom Tax and the pressure placed on Mrs Bottrill by housing officers – must now face criminal charges under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007.
As far as this blog is concerned, responsibility for this woman’s death lies firmly with Iain Duncan Smith.
Standing in the shadow of a giant: Vox Political’s Mike Sivier (front) at ‘Cooper Corner’, with Caerphilly Castle in the background.
Vox Political was relatively quiet yesterday; although I reblogged plenty of articles from other sources, there was no new piece from the site itself because I was in Caerphilly, delivering a speech at a Bedroom Tax protest there.
Caerphilly is the birthplace of the late, great comic Tommy Cooper, and it was in the shadow of his statue that the demonstration took place. I instantly (and privately) named the location ‘Cooper Corner’.
I took the opportunity to lighten proceedings at the start by suggesting that Mr Cooper (albeit in petrified effigy) would be providing the jokes. I held the microphone up towards the statue. “Anything? No? No. I didn’t think so.” Turning back to the crowd I added: “The Bedroom Tax is no laughing matter.” Then I got into the body of the speech:
“I write a small blog called Vox Political. I started it a couple of years ago as an attempt to put in writing what a reasonable, thinking person might have to say about government policies in these years of forced austerity, and politics in general.
“As you can probably imagine, this means I knew about the Bedroom Tax, several months before it was actually imposed on us all. I was writing articles warning people against it from October 2012. The trouble was, Vox Political is a small blog that even now has only a few thousand readers a day – and the mainstream media has been almost entirely bought by a political machine with far more funding than I have.
“It is a tax, by the way. You may have heard a lot of nonsense that it isn’t, but consider it this way: a tax is defined as a compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government against a citizen’s person, property or activity, to support government policies.
“It is not a ‘spare-room subsidy’. If anyone in authority tries to tell you you’re having your ‘spare-room subsidy’ removed (or more likely, imposed, they’re so confused about this), just tell them to go and find the Act of Parliament that introduced the ‘spare room subsidy’, using those words. Tell them if they can find it, you’ll pay it – but if they can’t, they must not take any money away from you. They won’t be able to find it because it doesn’t exist.
“It is more accurately described as the ‘State Underoccupation Charge’ – SUC! And it really does suck.
“It sucks money that social housing tenants need for food, heat, water and other necessities out of their pockets and forces them to send it to their landlord instead – either the local council or a social landlord like a housing association. The reasoning behind it has always been that this would encourage people to move, but in fact we know that there is no social accommodation for them to move into. When the Bedroom Tax became law, there was only enough smaller housing to accommodate around 15 per cent of the affected households. It is clearly a trap, designed to make poor people poorer.
“This is why the first advice I put on my blog was for anyone affected by the Bedroom Tax to appeal against it – and I was criticised quite harshly for it, because some people decided such action would mark tenants out as troublemakers and create more problems for them. At the time, I thought it was right to give some of the aggravation back to the people who were foisting this additional burden onto lower-income families; make them work for it, if they want it so badly. As it turns out, I was right to do so, because there are so many loopholes in the legislation that it seems almost anybody could avoid paying!
“Do you think Stephanie Bottrill would have died if she had known that she could successfully appeal against her Bedroom Tax, on the grounds that she had been a social housing tenant since before January 1996 and was therefore exempt? The government spitefully closed that particular loophole earlier this month, but that lady is already dead, due to a lie. Had she been properly informed, she could have successfully fought it off and then taken advice on how to cope with it after the government amendment was brought in.
“There is a case for corporate manslaughter against the Department for Work and Pensions, right there. If tested in court, it seems likely that the way its activities have been managed and organised by senior management – the fact that it foisted the Bedroom Tax, wrongly, on this lady – will be found to have led to her death, in gross breach of its duty of care to those who claim state benefits (in this case, Housing Benefit).
“David Cameron has wasted a great deal of oxygen telling us all that disabled people are not affected by the tax. Perhaps he could explain why a disabled gentleman in my home town was forced to move out of his specially-adapted home, incurring not only the cost of moving but an extra £5,000 for removing the adaptations and installing them into new accommodation? He appealed against Bedroom Tax decision but the result came back after the date when he had to be out of his home. Can you guess what it was? That’s right – he won. I have been trying to get him to take legal action against the council and the government about this as it would be an important test case.
“It includes a study, a utility room, a play room, even an Iain Duncan Smith voodoo doll-making room, if that takes your fancy!
“I was particularly happy to hear that you can have a study as I’ve been writing my blog from the broom cupboard – oh! That’s another room you can have!
“Check the DWP’s online forms. They ask about bedrooms, and then they ask about other rooms. The distinction is clear.”
Then I closed the speech. In retrospect, I should have finished with a few words about the fact that this was the first bit of public speaking I had ever done. I could have given them something along these lines: “I am aware that speech-making is a lucrative sideline for many people, including comedians (although I’m not aware that Mr Cooper ever made any) and also politicians. Perhaps I should use this platform to suggest that, if you know anybody who is considering booking a speaker for a special occasion – society dinner, rugby club social, wedding or party, why not ask them to get in touch with me – instead of Iain Duncan Smith!”
Vox Political stands up in public to make its point
… and we need people to stand up for us.
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Vox Political just had this Bedroom Tax story from a commenter on Facebook who has asked not to be named. I don’t think it needs any commentary from me:
“A neighbour of mine couldnt bear to give up the family home so she struggled and paid £24 a week for two spare rooms.
“She was missing all her other payments and not eating for days.
“She then had to start selling things from her house…
“Then started asking us if we had any old clothes because she had found a place where they weigh old clothes and give you money for them…
“Then because we had given her all we had, another so-called friend told her how she does without food… She then started taking speed as you don’t feel hungry and what money was left she could at least use to feed her daughter.
“She came to mine and broke down because she was ill with it.
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