Rebecca Pow: After her shocking claim that working people have more spending power under the Tories, her fellow backbenchers had the front to shout “Never had it so good”.
What stunning ignorance from Taunton Deane Conservative MP Rebecca Pow.
In today’s (November 23) debate following the Budget speech, she had the front to tell the Commons that people in her constituency were better-off now than under the Labour government that ended in 2010.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell is to be commended for the restraint he showed in his response:
Tories are desperate to convince us we’re all better-off under their misrule.
If they don’t, we might actually notice that they haven’t achieved any of the economic targets they set themselves: Wages are 10 per cent lower than in 2010; productivity is down, meaning nobody on the production line is getting a pay rise any time soon; and austerity is here to stay because the Tories have set back their deficit elimination date until 2025 – 10 YEARS after they originally claimed they would achieve a budget surplus. Other commentators say they won’t manage it until 2031; This Writer says they will never achieve it.
Why the distraction? Mark Steel put it very well in the following Question Time clip, which has resurfaced on Facebook following the Budget:
In the past seven years, the richest people in the UK have tripledtheir personal wealth. Check the Sunday Times rich list if you don’t believe that.
And Rebecca Pow is telling us we should all be grateful for a few extra farthings in our pocket that won’t go anywhere because the cost of living has far outstripped the paltry pay rises her party deigns to grant us.
If This Writer had been in Mr McDonnell’s position, I would have given her a tongue-lashing she would never forget.
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It looks like a rat and acts like one, but it is in fact Transport Secretary Chris Grayling [Image: Getty].
You can’t say Chris Grayling is out of touch because the bruises on the cyclist may tell a different story!
Nevertheless, the Tory Transport Secretary has managed to plant his foot firmly in his mouth – yet again! – with the astonishing claim that cyclists are not “road users”, only weeks after he knocked one down while getting out of his expensive ministerial car.
Mr Grayling had given an interview in the Evening Standard in which he had said “cycle lanes cause problems for road users”, so in Transport Questions in the House of Commons, Labour MP Daniel Zeichner tackled him on it, asking: “I was wondering if he could clarify for the house exactly who he thinks road users are?”
Here’s the response: “Where you have cycle lanes, cyclists are the users of cycle lanes and the road users are the users of the road. It’s very simple.”
Not really, Mr Grayling! Cycle lanes are part of the roads, and cyclists are just as much road users as motorists or – for that matter – people on horseback or in horse-drawn coaches!
But never fear! Here’s Olympic cycling legend Chris Boardman, who took Gold in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, to explain.
Mr Boardman, a policy advisor for British cycling, said he was “embarrassed” by Mr Grayling’s claim.
“The Transport Secretary’s comments demonstrate an astonishing lack of knowledge about how seven million people regularly use the roads in this country,” he explained.
“I feel embarrassed for him. If he truly thinks the roads are not for cyclists then what am I paying my taxes for?”
Mr Boardman added that cycling was at “crisis point” and segregated lanes were “incredible rare”, and it was going to be “impossible to meet government targets on a diminishing budget of less than £1 per head.
“This is in stark contrast to the Netherlands and Denmark where more than £20 per head is spent.
“If there was ever anyone who needed to actually get on a bike and hear about the true state of cycling infrastructure, it is Chris Grayling and I’d be delighted to go on a ride with him.”
Underpinning all of this is the frankly staggering fact that Mr Grayling is the UK’s Secretary of State for Transport. He should know all this!
He should understand that cycling is in crisis because his policies are causing the crisis!
But then, when Mr Grayling knocked over cyclist Jaiqi Liu, he didn’t even know enough to realise he had been in a road accident and needed to hand over his contact details to the injured party.
Transport Minister Andrew Jones said neither party asked for the other’s details and the matter had been settled amicably since – but that’s not the point.
As Transport Secretary, Mr Grayling should have known what to do. How long must the UK put up with the ignorance of the Tories?
Why do people still believe the Conservatives are more likely to raise their living standards than Labour, even though they understand that they have become worse off over the last five years?
Why do political commentators brand Ed Miliband a “useless” leader, when even former Torygraph stalwart Peter Oborne has admitted he has been responsible for extraordinary successes and has challenged the underlying structures which govern Westminster conduct?
Let’s look at the first claim, courtesy of the latest Mainly Macro article by Professor Simon Wren-Lewis. He makes it clear from the start that people are being denied the facts; otherwise the economy would be the Conservative Party’s weakest point in the election campaign.
Look at the evidence: Since 2010 we have endured the weakest economic recovery for at least 200 years, with a steady fall in real wages (masked in average figures by the huge pay rises awarded by fatcat bosses to themselves). “The government’s actions are partly responsible for that, and the only debate is how much,” writes the Prof. “Living standards have taken a big hit.”
He continues: “There is no factual basis for the view that the Conservatives are better at managing the economy, and plenty to suggest the opposite. However this belief is not too hard to explain. The Labour government ended with the Great Recession which in turn produced a huge increase in the government’s budget deficit. With the help of mediamacro, that has become ‘a mess’ that Labour are responsible for and which the Conservatives have had to clean up.
“The beauty of this story is that it pins the blame for the weak recovery on the previous government, in a way that every individual can understand. Spend too much, and you will have a hard time paying back the debt.”
It’s a myth; the facts disprove it easily – so the Tories avoid the facts at all costs.
But why be concerned, if Ed Miliband is such an awful excuse for a Labour Party leader. Didn’t David Cameron describe him as “weak” and “spineless” to Scottish Conservatives only a fortnight ago?
Not according to Peter Oborne. Writing in The Spectator, he has praised Miliband because he “has been his own person, forged his own course and actually been consistent”.
Oborne praises Miliband for “four brave interventions, each one taking on powerful establishment interests: the Murdoch newspaper empire, the corporate elite, the foreign policy establishment and pro-Israel lobby… There is no doubting Mr Miliband’s integrity or his courage.
“Opposition is an essential part of British public life. Oppositions have a duty to challenge government and to give the electorate a clear choice. Ed Miliband has done precisely this and yet he has been written off. Does this mean that no opposition dare offend the big vested interests that govern Britain? Is this really the politics we want?”
It’s the politics the Conservative Party wants.
Professor Wren-Lewis notes that Miliband’s opinion poll ratings are low “because most people just see unglamorous pictures of him and note that he does not have that Blair appeal.
“That could be changed if they saw him in a one on one debate with Cameron, so there was never any chance that the Conservatives would let this happen. The debates last time had huge audiences, so no one can dispute that democracy has been dealt a huge blow as a result of what the FT rightly calls Cameron’s cowardice.”
He goes on to say that Cameron’s refusal to debate one-on-one with Miliband is “a key test” for the media, with Cameron counting on them letting his spin doctors dictate what people are allowed to see.
If that is true, then it seems Cameron has miscalculated.
Broadcasters have said the three TV general election debates planned for April will go ahead, despite Cameron saying he will take part in only one.
“It means Mr Cameron – who has rejected a head-to-head debate with Ed Miliband – could be ’empty-chaired’,” according to the BBC. Perhaps they really will put a blue chicken on the podium, as was suggested on this blog yesterday!
John Prescott has suggested that if David Cameron does not turn up for the TV debates, this should be placed on the empty podium.
Perhaps the broadcasters were provoked by Cameron’s claim that they were the ones responsible for what he called the “chaos” surrounding the TV debates, when it is clear that he has been responsible for delays and indecision.
The end result is the same. Cameron has denied himself the chance to stand up and defend his record against an Opposition leader who is increasingly starting to come through as The Better Man.
Will the debates be enough to change the mind of the general public and mitigate against the mass ignorance nurtured by the Tory Press?
That will be up to Mr Miliband. If his performances in recent Prime Minister’s Questions are any indication, it should be a walkover for him.
A veteran’s view: Click on the image to read Harry Leslie Smith’s Guardian article.
I was disturbed, this morning, to read that parts of the media were trying to silence people who had created images and sites linking D-Day and its 70th anniversary with the National Health Service – its creation and current problems.
The comment was made by an organisation calling itself The Labour Forum and ran: “D-Day and the NHS have nothing to do with each other. Whatsoever. Any photos trying to link today’s political issues with D-Day are offensive and will be deleted immediately.”
This seems extremely strange to me because, from what I have read, the creation of the NHS and a ‘welfare state’ (the term did not actually enter the Oxford English Dictionary until 1955) were exactly what the soldiers at Normandy were fighting so steadfastly to ensure.
When Britain went to war in September 1939, it was woefully ill-prepared for the task. Our professional army was not a match for Germany’s well-nourished, well-trained and well-equipped war machine (Germany’s welfare state had been ushered in by Otto von Bismarck during the 19th century). Not only that, but the crop of recruits brought in by conscription was a step in the wrong direction, being untrained, in poor health and malnourished after 20 years of Conservative rule.
Yet these were the men who were going to win the war, supported by equally poorly-served women, youngsters, and pensioners on the Home Front.
We know the first few years of the war went badly for Britain. We were forced out of Europe and attempts to create a front in Africa found themselves on uneven ground.
Then came the Beveridge report, Social Insurance and Allied Services. It was written by the Liberal Sir William Beveridge, who had been tasked with carrying out the widest social survey yet undertaken – covering schemes of social insurance and – as stated – allied services.
He went far beyond this remit, instead calling for an end to poverty, disease and unemployment by fighting what he called the five giants on the road to reconstruction – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness – and claiming to supply the means to do so.
His plan dealt mainly with Want and Disease, proposing a system of social insurance against the interruption and destruction of earning power and a National Health Service for the prevention and cure of disease and disability, and for rehabilitation.
Winston Churchill (who was of course Prime Minister at the time) privately made clear his concern at the “dangerous optimism” created by the report’s proposals. In public, although he could not attend a debate on a Labour motion that – significantly – called for the early implementation of the plan as a test of Parliament’s sincerity, he sent a message saying it was “an essential part of any post-war scheme of national betterment”. But he refused to “tie the hands of future Parliaments” by starting any legislation to bring the plan into effect.
I quote now from The Welfare State, by Pauline Gregg (George S Harrap & Co, 1967): “To refuse its immediate acceptance, to refuse to make public any plan for its immediate post-War implementation, even if not for its implementation then and there, was to the people betrayal… You cannot refuse to welcome a saviour without being suspected of not wishing to be saved – or, at best, of being so blind that you do not know salvation when you see it!”
The social and economic questions that most troubled the electorate in 1944 were housing and jobs – as they should be today. But the wartime coalition broke over arguments about housing, and Churchill’s Conservatives refused to commit to full employment, as demanded by Beveridge. Instead it proposed that “a high and stable level of employment” should be one of its primary responsibilities, with no legislation planned on the grounds that employment could not be created by government alone.
This is why Labour won the 1945 election with such a landslide. The people expected the Tories to betray them when peace was restored, and they could not back Beveridge’s Liberals because they were afraid of half-measures.
And the people – both those who fought as soldiers and those who supported them at home – were determined that their war would mean something; that it would create a better future. They wanted Beveridge’s plan for social security and they absolutely demanded a national health service.
That is why they were prepared to fight so hard, and even die for their cause. Not the continuation of a British government that couldn’t care less about them until it needed cannon fodder – but the creation of a new system, in which every citizen had value and could rely on the support of their fellows.
It was a system that enjoyed success – albeit to varying degrees – right up to the early 1970s when Edward Health tried to replace it with neoliberalism. He failed but he paved the way for Margaret Thatcher, Nicholas Ridley and Keith Joseph to turn Britain into the mess it is today.
And here we sit, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, facing exactly the same issues as our parents and grandparents did back then.
Do we want a National health service? Or are we content to allow a gang of money-worshipping bandits to turn it into a profit machine for their own enrichment while our health returns to pre-1939 conditions? Rickets and tuberculosis have already returned. What next?
Do we want a housing boom for the rich, while the workers and the poor lose the benefits that allowed them to keep a roof over their heads (pay having dropped below the level at which people can cover all their bills without help from the state)?
Do we want a job market that deliberately ensures a large amount of unemployment, in order to keep wages down and ensure that the lower echelons don’t forget that their place is to serve aristocrats like Jacob Rees-Mogg?
Or shall we remember the sacrifices made by our forefathers on D-Day and throughout the war, and demand better?
The choice is yours – and no ‘Labour Forum’ has the right to stop you discussing it.
(The latest Vox Political book collection – Health Warning: Government! – is now available. It is a cracking read and fantastic value for money. Only available via the Internet, it may be purchased here in print and eBook form, along with the previous VP release, Strong Words and Hard Times.)
This week I heard about two cases in my Mid Wales town. You may think that isn’t many, but this is a town with a population of less than 5,000 – and I haven’t heard about every case.
The first involves a family that has been living in the same council house for more than 30 years. Sadly the head of the household recently had a stroke and has been forced to move into a care home. In the past, the tenancy would have been handed down to the next generation of the family – two sons, one of whom has a family of his own. The other is a friend of mine, of excellent character. By day he works very hard at his job; after hours, he is a member of a popular local band (along with his brother, as it happens). They are what this government would call “strivers”.
But they are being penalised because they have been told to vacate the only home they have had. Not only that, they are being asked to stump up a small fortune in backdated rent (as their father has been paying for his care, not the house) and another small fortune to dispose of carpets they cannot take with them, which the council does not want.
When I spoke to my friend yesterday, he told me that the council simply does not want him or his brother as tenants because “it is easier to process a large family who are on benefits”. I queried this, and it seems likely that this is to do with the forthcoming Universal Credit system, and with the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (also known as the Pickles Poll Tax); it is easier to handle Universal Credit and council tax claims if the authorities have foreknowledge of a household’s income.
We both agreed that there is a serious drawback to this thinking.
Large families do not want to move into vacant social accommodation because they fear what the government – national and local – will do to them if their circumstances change. Children grow up; adults move out – and that will make them vulnerable to the Bedroom Tax. Suddenly their benefits won’t be enough to pay the rent and they, in turn, will be turfed out onto the streets. They know it is a trap; they will try to avoid it.
My friend agreed. “That house is going to stay empty for a very long time,” he said.
This is madness. Here are two people who are perfectly willing and able to pay the council’s rent, on time, for as long as they need the property but, because of the Welfare Reform Act and the Localism Act, the council is treating them abominably and the house will end up providing no income at all.
If you think that’s bad, though, just wait until you learn about my other friend!
He is an older gentleman who has been disabled for many years. He had been living in a small, two-bedroomed house that had been adapted to accommodate his needs. We know precisely how much these adaptations cost to install at current rates: £5,000.
I believe he needed the extra bedroom to accommodate carer needs but I could be mistaken.
Along came the Bedroom Tax and suddenly he did not have enough income to cover the cost of living there. The council (or social landlord, I have to admit I’m not sure) sent him an eviction notice. He appealed.
Guess what? His appeal was set to be decided after the date he was ordered to be out of his home.
So he had to go. He was lucky enough to find another place to live, and all the equipment he needs to accommodate his disability moved along with him – at a cost of £5,000.
Then he received the judgement on his appeal: He was exempt from paying the Bedroom Tax; he should never have been forced to move.
Is this British justice?
This country was once the envy of the world because we were far more enlightened than any other nation in our policies of social justice and inclusion. Not any more! Now we are regressing into a new dark age in which the squalid Shylocks infesting Westminster manipulate local authorities into performing grubby property grabs for them.
Is the ‘Bulldog Spirit’ that made us famous for standing our ground during the Blitz now being turned to hounding the poor out of their homes?
Are you willing to put up with this?
In Iceland, they marched to their Parliament and set up camp outside until the government gave up and agreed to the demands of the people. Here, an unmandated government rides roughshod over democracy while you sit at home watching The X Factor, Coronation Street and the Winter Olympics.
Nothing will change until you change it – but you know this already. The simple fact is that, if you are reading this article, you probably sympathise with the sentiments it is expressing and are already active in opposing the heinous crimes being committed against our people.
There are not enough of you. People who need to read these words are being allowed to live in ignorance, lulled into inactivity by the right-wing mass media.
It’s time to put an end to that. There can be no excuse for ignorance and inaction while people are being made homeless. Think of someone you know who needs to be shown the truth and make them read this article. Ask them what they think of it and explain the facts of what is happening around them.
Then tell them to pass it on to someone they know.
Spread the word – don’t keep it to yourself. And don’t sit on your thumbs and expect somebody else to do your bit for you. If you don’t act, why should anybody else? What’s the point of me writing these articles if you can’t be bothered to do anything about it? Are you going to wait until someone tells you they want your home?
Then it will be too late.
I’ll know if you succeed because it will be reflected in the number of times this article is viewed. I’ll report the results of this experiment next week.
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