Tag Archives: observer

Guardian/CST anti-Semitism smear job prompts backlash movement: #EngineOfHope

If there really is an “Engine of Hate” operating in the UK, then it seems The Guardian/Observer and the Community Security Trust (CST) are prominent among those stoking its flames.

Today, the Observer has published a smear piece attacking 36 Twitter accounts – although the reason is not entirely clear.

According to the headline, they are “at heart of Labour antisemitism battle”. Which doesn’t seem too bad. Does it?

The sub-heading suggests they are “pushing pro-Corbyn messages”. Still not too bad.

It’s only when you get to the intro that you realise they have been “used to dismiss claims of antisemitism levelled against the party”. And what’s wrong with that? If an accusation is false, it should be dismissed.

The issue here seems to be that the Guardian/Observer and CST are assuming that all accusations of anti-Semitism against the Labour Party are true. The CST may be expected to have this attitude because it is a charity that claims to be dedicated to protecting Jewish people in the UK and as such, its default position may be to assume the truth of an allegation until the opposite is proved. But a newspaper that has been a pillar of the mainstream media for many decades may be expected to have the opposite view, as it is the responsibility of journalists to be fair and balanced, and to research the truth or falsehood of such claims, rather than make unsubstantiated allegations.

The attitude in this piece can be judged by the title of the CST report on which it is based – that the Twitter accounts mentioned are an “Engine of Hate”.

The Observer piece claims that “the accounts have tweeted content claiming that allegations of antisemitism in the party are ‘exaggerated, weaponised, invented or blown out of proportion, or that Labour and Corbyn are victims of a smear campaign relating to antisemitism'”.

It fails to mention whether or not those claims are accurate.

And of course the linking of no fewer than 36 accounts creates the problem of guilt by association – if even some of the accounts mentioned were actually anti-Semitic, then are the authors or the report trying to induce us into believing that all must be, in the face of evidence to the contrary?

We are told that 12 of the accounts had tweeted anti-Semitic content (but not allowed to judge that content ourselves), and that nine have been deleted between the start of research for the report and its publication (but not whether they were among the 12 we had already been told had tweeted anti-Semitic content).

“All were connected to Twitter networks that have used hashtag campaigns to attack MPs or public figures who have raised concerns about antisemitism and Labour,” we are told. These hashtags include #BoycottRachelRiley, about the Countdown co-presenter who has disgraced herself online with a series of tweets accusing innocent people of anti-Semitism (targets include Noam Chomsky as well as Jeremy Corbyn), and #SackTomWatson, about Labour’s deputy leader whose conduct should need no rehearsal here.

And what about the hashtag #GTTO, which stands for “Get The Tories Out”? What’s anti-Semitic about that?

People posting under these hashtags are described by the newspaper as Twitter “networks” – and this is misleading. Twitter networks are more accurately groups of accounts that post together about many subjects, not accounts posting under a particular hashtag. An example would be the “@GnasherJew” troll network; the account itself is anonymous and believed to be run by several different people, and it has several satellite accounts that consistently join it in its false claims that others are anti-Semitic.

The comment from Mr Watson is amusing in its irony. He suggests that the report be shown to “the dominant faction that control our party’s national executive” to explain “how a small group … can influence our internal discussions”. Can this not be levelled at those like himself, Margaret Hodge, Wes Streeting and others, who have influenced the national executive’s internal discussions with their incessant (and often false) anti-Semitism accusations?

Margaret Hodge, for example, submitted around 200 anti-Semitism complaints to the party’s disputes team, who found that more than 100 of them did not even refer to members of the Labour Party.

Accusations include describing Rachel Riley as “unhinged” and “deranged” for criticising Mr Corbyn. That’s an expression of opinion. And was it based on fact? We aren’t told.

But that did not stop representatives of the CST and the fake charity calling itself the Campaign Against Antisemitism from using these insubstantial claims as though they were proof of a co-ordinated network, rubbishing genuine accusations of anti-Semitism.

The CST’s rep claimed: “Our report reveals how they set the tone and drive the vitriol on social media, attacking anyone who criticises the party’s appalling failure to deal with its antisemitism problem.”

And the CAA’s rentaquote added: “Prominent Labour party figures and rank-and-file members and supporters have long been denying the antisemitism crisis in Labour by claiming that Labour and Jeremy Corbyn are victims of a smear campaign.”

For the record: Complaints of anti-Semitism have been made against 0.05 per cent of the Labour Party’s membership – that less than one per cent of the national average. Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party is negligible and the only reason the party is having trouble coping with it is the huge number of false and vexatious accusations submitted by individuals like Margaret Hodge.

The CAA commenter added: “Labour’s outriders on social media have been fuelling this and meting out appalling abuse to those who stand up against antisemitism.”

This is extraordinariily hypocritical from a man speaking in support of (for example) Rachel Riley, one of whose supporters tweeted this to me:

It’s mild in comparison with what some of their victims have received, I’m told.

But then, none of the owners of accounts accused by the CST have been given the right of reply. Not one.

Why not, Observer?

I’d like to know what the owners of the accused accounts have to say. They are:

@SocialistVoice (see tweet below)
@RAYHALL10
@Sargent_Sellers
@WarmongerHodges
@MyArrse
@Cornish_Damo
@YEqual
@otivar55 (see tweet below)
@georgegalloway
@corbynsgeordie
@damian_from
@Muqadaam
@BiztheBuz
@moodynotblue
@petergloss
@labour_party_supporter
@Rachael_Swindon
@helensclegel
@corbynator2
@asawinstanley
@mac123_m
@ScouseGirlMedia
@The_Awakened
@evolvepolitics
@LuckyHeronSay
@joan32173631
@chelleryn99
@davcon73
@zele_zeka
@JulietB270880
@James4Labour
@Allchanges
@MomentumCV
@55krissi55
@NeverSoPretty
@minxymartin

Without knowing their side of the story, this is not balanced reporting; it is a smear. From now on, my advice is: Treat the Observer as fake news and avoid anything said by the CST altogether.

The good news, though, is that the story has provoked a backlash on Twitter, under the hashtag #EngineOfHope. Here are some examples:

https://twitter.com/TrendsUK/status/1158028961277980675

Follow the hashtag #EngineOfHope for more, along with uplifting tweets about Mr Corbyn and Labour’s plans for the future.

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.

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/mike-sivier-libel-fight/


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Theresa May asked Labour supporters to look at her government afresh. They found a stain on their country

“We’ve had a so-called ‘Iron Lady’, but this one’s brass is tarnished beyond control.”

That was just one of the responses to Theresa May’s brazen (see what I did there?) bid to entice disenchanted Labour voters into the clutches of the Conservatives, with the complicity of the formerly left-wing Guardian/Observer. I’m guessing she thought people who believe those papers are still left-wing would be fooled.

That doesn’t seem to have worked out too well for her!

In her begging letter published by the paper, she wrote (reproduced from May’s Facebook page – if you aren’t boycotting the Guardian/Observer, you’re part of the problem):

“I believe that the principles that guide us – security for families and the country, freedom under the rule of law and opportunity for everyone – can unite our people and help build a better future for our country.”

She claimed this meant getting “the best Brexit deal for Britain, one that protects jobs and rights and makes the most of the opportunities that Brexit brings, to play a more global role, while also delivering on the domestic issues that matter to people here at home.

“We are investing in our NHS, to secure it for the future. We are driving up standards in our schools, so every child can get a good start in life. And, 10 years on from the financial crash, we are building an economy that works for everyone in our society.

“These are our Conservative solutions that will build a country that works for everyone: fixing markets, not destroying them; helping with the cost of living; ending austerity; building an economy of the future which benefits the whole country.”

And she couldn’t resist making a swipe at Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party – getting it into the second paragraph of her begging letter: “Millions of people who have supported Labour all their lives are appalled by what has happened to a once-great party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. Antisemitism has grown, the party’s response to threats to our country’s security has become equivocal, and moderate Labour MPs have become targets for deselection and harassment. These are all alien to Labour’s best traditions.”

Theresa May wouldn’t know any “best traditions” if they had been drilled into her by her priestly father, of course.

On Twitter, she wrote:

“I want” doesn’t get, of course – and the responses online have shown that her bid for acceptance by the people of the country has flopped badly.

The people of the UK told Mrs May in no uncertain terms that her NHS privatisation policies were a disaster for those who needed its help, with waiting times at Accident & Emergency departments now so long that people had died before being seen by a doctor.

They pointed out that NHS trials of drugs that could help the British people were being halted, and that nurses were quitting, because of Brexit.

They denied her claim to be investing in schools, pointing out that teachers have had to appeal to parents for the cost of the pens that pupils need to write down their work. It has also been revealed that a teachers’ pay rise cannot be fully funded by the cash Mrs May has provided, meaning schools must force some staff out of their jobs in order to pay others – or cut the number of hours their teachers work.

They mocked her party’s economic ineptitude, pointing at low growth, the weakness of the Pound, high inflation, low wages and the fact that millions of people now have less than £100 in savings.

They said they were not fooled by her plan for social housing as Conservative policies have forced thousands of families out of their homes – many of them with nowhere to go but the streets, and highlighted the fact that rents were so high that many people had been forced to move away from their communities.

They reminded her that her idea of help with the cost of living, for people who are out of work, sick or disabled, is to slash value of benefits to the point where people fall into debt and despair, with knock-on effects on their mental health that may lead to suicide attempts. Many thousands of people have died.

They pointed out that her idea of help with the cost of living, for women aged in their 60s who have been denied a pension for six years because of Conservative policies, was to become apprentices (if they could get any firm to take them on at that age).

And they said her idea of help with the cost of living, even for people in work, was to send them to a food bank.

They said her foreign policy in general – and Brexit in particular – had made her government an international laughing-stock.

And as for protecting jobs and rights – they pointed at her racist “hostile environment” policy and the effect it had on the Windrush generation. The obvious question is: Who’ll be next to feel the Tory pinch?

They pointed out that racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are rife in the Conservative Party.

And they raised the issue of burning injustices (remember Mrs May’s promise to end those) that she had not mentioned:

  • The fact that she had bribed the Democratic Unionist Power to help her stay in office after she threw away her Parliamentary majority in the 2017 general election.
  • The fact that she had cut police numbers by more than 20,000, leading to a catastrophic crimewave.
  • The fact that her government had managed to avoid prosecutions in scandal after scandal.
  • And the fact that she had lied – again – when she said austerity was over at this year’s Conservative Party Conference; more cuts are on the way and she has absolutely no intention to restore funding for essential services.

They summed it all up by saying they had taken her advice and looked at her government afresh…

And all that they found was a stain on the nation.

See for yourself. Here is just a sample of the responses she received:

https://twitter.com/Kimmari88214930/status/1048875339802402818

https://twitter.com/GRANNYMUGGER/status/1048876864876564481

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UPDATE: Guardian journalists to host lecture by Canary editor whether they like it or not

Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor in chief of The Canary.

Despite protests by journalists at the Guardian/Observer, the Claudia Jones memorial lecture will be hosted by that paper’s chapel (branch) of the National Union of Journalists, and the speaker will be Canary editor in chief Kerry-Anne Mendoza.

For further information, see my previous article.

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Journalists’ outrage at Canary editor’s speech invitation boosts ‘Boycott the Guardian’ campaign

Kerry-Anne Mendoza, editor in chief of The Canary. This shot is from a Newsnight appearance in 2016, in which she promoted other members of the New Left Media, including Vox Political.

This is a story about treacherous people getting their just desserts.

The editor-in-chief of The Canary – This Site’s friend Kerry-Anne Mendoza – has been honoured with an invitation to give the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture, as part of the series held in memory of the pioneering black female journalist.

The lecture is organised by the National Union of Journalists’ Black Members Council and the choice of speaker is nothing to do with the Guardian-Observer chapel (that’s their word for a branch) of the NUJ – but it seems these reporters complained bitterly at the choice of speaker:

https://twitter.com/MarkDiStef/status/1045023451390636034

The release of Mark Di Stefano’s tweet (above) prompted something of a backlash. The fact that white journalists at the Guardian were seeking to vote that one of UK media’s only black/minority ethnic editors-in-chief be stopped from giving the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture for Black History Month was considered by many to be a sign of The Guardian officially losing the plot.

Kerry-Anne herself said: “I’m a proud member of the National Union of Journalists and honoured to be invited to give the Claudia Jones Memorial Lecture this year.

“It’s a sign of the entitlement of our establishment journalists that they would behave so poorly in response.

“I think we’ve reached peak Guardian. A group of mostly white, middle class journalists trying to stop one of Britain’s only working class, BAME editors in chief from giving a speech for Black History Month.”

Followers of the social media agreed – and it just happened to be the case that a Twitterstorm in support of the hashtag #BoycottTheGuardian had been arranged, to take place between 7pm and 9pm on September 27. You can understand why Kerry-Anne called for us all to support it:

It trended at number one.

Kerry-Anne herself received a lot of support:

But The Guardian‘s change of editorial policy to one that undermines the Labour Party and its leader was also targeted:

In fact, this had been the intention behind the Twitterstorm – and it would have received much less attention if the Guardian-Observer NUJ chapel’s members had just kept their mouths shut (or their typing fingers away from whatever messaging system they have been using).

The result of all this activism is not yet known. The NUJ itself has said nothing on the subject.

It is possible that the Establishment will try to hush up the fact that there has been a huge protest against what can be seen as a clear example of racism by mostly white, middle-class university-graduate journalists.

If that happens, we’ll just have to run another campaign – bigger, louder, and impossible to ignore. Repression always incites rebellion.

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Last poll results: Public are too easily influenced by rich media moguls

The poll revealed that 44 per cent of the public had faith in Hammond and May to run the economy [Image: Pool/Reuters].

The poll revealed that 44 per cent of the public had faith in Hammond and May to run the economy [Image: Pool/Reuters].

I saw a tweet today (Saturday) that said if the public take their opinions from the mainstream media, then they will vote according to the wishes of the owners of those media, and not in their own interests.

That is what this opinion poll shows.

The British public would be mad to trust Theresa May, Philip Hammond and the Conservative Party with the nation’s finances – all the Tories ever do is ruin us and enrich themselves.

Over the last 70 years, the Conservatives, in government, have borrowed more money – and repaid less – than Labour ever have.

In fact, George Osborne, in his six years as Chancellor, personally created more debt for the UK than every Labour chancellor there has ever been.

Mr Osborne missed every single fiscal target he ever set himself and Philip Hammond is set to do the same.

Oh, and the Conservative Party managed to lose the UK’s treasured AAA+ credit rating.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell would do what Labour has always done – regenerate the economy and put a proportion of the GDP that generates back into the Treasury.

Theresa May and Philip Hammond will do what the Tories have always done – run down the economy, privatise what they can and let the new owners of our national assets park their profits in offshore tax havens – while they work on turning the UK into a tax haven in its own right.

Of those two choices, it is clear that Messrs Corbyn and McDonnell, and Labour, are the only rational option for the good of the United Kingdom.

So the assertion in the headline must be correct, mustn’t it? People have to get their opinions from somewhere and if big business is the only beneficiary from Tory policies, then big business must be putting nonsense in everybody’s heads – right?

What are the alternatives?

More than twice as many people trust Theresa May and Philip Hammond to run the economy than Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, according to a new poll on the eve of the autumn statement.

Just 18% of voters would trust the Labour leadership to manage the public finances, the findings of the Opinium/Observer poll show, compared with 44% who have faith in the prime minister and chancellor.

The Conservatives’ lead comes despite claims that May’s government has no clear plan for Brexit and as business leaders and politicians across the political spectrum put pressure on the government to define its strategy.

May’s positive approval rating is down just one point since last month, with 43% backing her performance as prime minister and 25% disapproving. By contrast, 17% of voters believe Corbyn would make the best prime minister, compared with 45% for May.

Labour’s overall poll rating is down three points from last month at 29%, while the Conservatives are up one point at 41%. Ukip are on 12%, the Liberal Democrats on 7%, the Scottish National party on 6% and the Greens on 4%.

Source: Tories trusted on economy by twice as many voters as Labour – poll | Politics | The Guardian

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Driven to fury by DWP’s attitude to the deaths it has caused

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

[Image: www.disabledgo.com]

A commenter on the blog sent me a link to Jack Monroe’s Facebook page today. I’m probably as familiar with Jack as you are, but no more so – perhaps mainstream success gives that person more validity in some way than mine in the social media. But Phil’s “Have you seen this?” intrigued me.

The link was to a post following up on an Observer article published over the weekend, and read as follows:

“I would like to publicly apologise to the Department of Work And Pensions for an inaccurate statistic in my Observer article yesterday on the grim reality of the welfare system in what was once ‘Great’ Britain.

“In my article I stated that 2,400 people had died shortly after their Employment Support Allowance had been severed, having been (clearly wrongly) judged as Fit To Work.

“The DWP informs me that the correct figure is in fact 2,380.

“As they are so keen on accuracy, and transparency, I thought I should provide the rest of the stats.

“Between December 2011 and February 2014, 50,850 people who were claiming ESA, died.

“Of these, 7,200 had been judged as ‘able to return to work in the future’ and placed in the ‘work group’ category of ESA to undergo regular gruelling testing in order to continue to claim the pithy pittances they needed in order to stay alive. (For avoidance of doubt, humans do generally need food and shelter to survive.) Spoiler alert- THEY DIED.

“On top of these, 2,380 people who had been stripped of financial support and judged fit to work, subsequently DIED.

“Seeing the DWP are so very keen on accuracy that they send bollocking letters to my editor, I expect they will be now opening the case files of the 9,580 people in a 2 year period who DIED having been judged as ‘fit to work’ or ‘fit to work in the future’. God forbid I make 20 mistakes in the face of your 9,580.”

You can read the Observer article here. The relevant passage states: “Comply or starve. Comply and die, such were the cases, over a two-year period, of 2,400 people who died after their claim for employment and support allowance ended because they were declared ‘fit to work’ by DWP. I wrote in 2013 that my three-year-old could pass an Atos assessment. It doesn’t mean I should have sent him to stack shelves in a supermarket.”

The mention of “2,400 people” is quite clearly a rounding-up because, if you click on the link that has been inserted on that very number, you can visit the original Guardian article quoting the DWP’s response to a Freedom of Information request for the exact number of deaths.

My Freedom of Information request. And one of the reason I am angry as I type these words.

You see, there are two reasons the DWP has no cause to – as Mx Monroe describes it – “send bollocking letters to my editor”. I have already described the first.

The second is the simple fact that the information the DWP sent out on August 27, 2015 was incomplete – and therefore inaccurate. The Department has no business accusing anybody else of inaccuracy when it can’t get its own figures right.

The story of how this information became public knowledge is long and complicated but it is relevant that I had to get a ruling from the Information Commissioner in May last year, ordering the DWP to release the figures. As my request had been made on May 28, 2014, those figures should have run up to that date – but didn’t, as Jack’s post indicates.

When I wrote to the DWP, pointing out that they were now under a legal obligation to provide all the information I had requested, I received an email saying I should submit another FoI request. Ha ha. It took 15 months and the threat of litigation to get a reply to the last one – and that had been a second attempt!

I reminded them that I could take them to court and they gave me what I wanted in the first week of November last year. With that information, I was able to demonstrate that few claimants died after the DWP suspended repeat work capability assessments on ESA claimants on January 20, 2014. Alas, it seems likely that the delay had allowed the public to grow bored with the issue of sickness and disability deaths, so this went largely unreported.

So, after the DWP told the world it had provided me with all the information I had requested, it took another two months and more before my demand was actually answered.

And ministers had the cheek to criticise Mx Monroe for a slight inaccuracy.

It may interest you to know that in the period that the DWP had originally left unreported, a further 120 people died shortly after their claim was terminated, on a claim that they were ‘fit for work’.

What really gets my goat is the petulance of it.

The words that triggered the DWP’s complaint were part of a very moving article about the effect of Tory austerity cuts on benefit claimants, using information that could have been lifted from This Blog – connected to the release of Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake. In the paragraphs immediately following, Mx Monroe wrote very powerfully about the film’s effect:

“I went to see the press screening of I, Daniel Blake in early September. I sat in a roomful of journalists as the two central characters lit tealights in a tray, under flowerpots, to take the chill off a room left freezing by shoddy windows and cut-off utilities, as I did and wrote about back in 2013.

“I sat and watched with a heavy heart as she stole sanitary products from the supermarket, remembering going without, or folding up a clean sock, or balling up toilet tissue on the heaviest days. I barely left the house anyway, so there was nobody to really notice.

“I sat and watched as she stole food. As she queued for the first time around the block at a food bank. As she gorged cold baked beans from a can with her fingers, having not eaten a thing for days. The young boy turning to his mother, asking her where her dinner was. She replies that she isn’t hungry, but she wasn’t hungry the night before, or the night before that, and soon he’ll realise that Mummy just isn’t hungry any more.

“The woman beside me, a stranger, squeezed my forearm as I choked on guttural, involuntary sobs. I’m sorry, I whispered, sloping out to punch a wall in the corridor and cry into the blinding, unaware streets of west London. I looked mad. I am mad.

“How can anyone sleep at night, knowing what we know? How does the world turn, and children going hungry to bed is a guilt alleviated by a sympathetic nod towards the cardboard food collection box in the supermarket? If you’re not angry, as Loach said, what kind of person are you?”

Apparently the only part of it making the officials at the DWP angry was a slight statistical inaccuracy. What kind of people are they?

I gave up chasing the DWP for a while after I finally won my FoI battle. I was fatigued; I needed a break. The figures were making increasingly less sense.

And now, nearly a year later, nothing has changed. The DWP is still treating people like stock to be culled, and protesting that it is being treated unfairly whenever anybody points that out. In its doublespeak world, I, Daniel Blake is nothing but a work of fiction, whereas those of us with any experience of the DWP at all know that its facts are accurate. I have been away too long.

I am not Daniel Blake. But it’s time I stood up for everybody like him – again.

Will you?

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By their own standards, Coalition ministers should be in prison

131125criminality

Everyone should agree that the Tory fuss over former Co-op Bank chief Paul Flowers is an attempt to distract us all from a more serious transgression that they themselves have committed.

Flowers, who is also a former Labour councillor, was arrested last week after being filmed allegedly handing over money to pay for cocaine.

The Conservatives have spent the last few days working very hard to establish a link, in the public consciousness, between the criminal allegations against Flowers, the Co-op Bank’s current financial embarrassment – believed to have been caused because Flowers knew nothing about banking, and the Labour Party, which has benefited from loans and a £50,000 donation to the office of Ed Balls.

This is unwise, considering a current Tory peer, Viscount Matt Ridley, was chairman of Northern Rock at the time it experienced the first run on a British bank in 150 years. He was as well-qualified to chair that bank as Paul Flowers was to chair the Co-op. A writer and journalist, his only claim on the role was that his father was the previous chairman (apparently the chairmanship of Northern Rock was a hereditary position).

Ridley was accepted as a Tory peer after the disaster took place (a fact which, itself, casts light on Conservative claims that they were going to be tough on bankers after the banker-engineered collapse of the western economies that started on his watch). The Conservatives are currently obsessing about what happened between Flowers and the Labour Party before the allegations of criminality were made.

Ridley is listed as having failed in his duty of care, which is not very far away from the kind of responsibility for the Co-op Bank’s collapse that is alleged of Paul Flowers. (Source: BBC Any Questions, November 22, 2013)

In addition, the Co-op Bank is not the Co-operative Party or the Co-operative Movement, and those two organisations – one of which is affiliated with the Labour Party – must not be tarred with the same brush.

The Tories are hoping that the public will accept what they are told, rather than digging a little deeper for the facts.

There’s no real basis for their venom; they ennobled a man who presided over much worse damage to the UK’s financial institutions, and attracting attention to criminal behaviour by members or supporters of political parties would be a huge own-goal.

Therefore this is a distraction. From what?

Cast about a little and we discover that Jeremy Hunt is threatening to create a new criminal offence for doctors, nurses and NHS managers if they are found to have wilfully neglected or mistreated patients – carrying a penalty of up to five years in jail.

The law was recommended in the summer by Professor Don Berwick, a former adviser to Barack Obama, who recommended criminal penalties for “leaders who have acted wilfully, recklessly, or with a ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude and whose behaviour causes avoidable death or serious harm”.

Some of you may be delighted by this move, in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal – even though questions have been raised over the accuracy of the evidence in that case.

But let’s look at another controversial area of government – that of social security benefits for the seriously ill.

It appears the Department for Work and Pensions, under Iain Duncan Smith, is planning to remove financial support for more than half a million people who – by its own standards – are too ill to seek, or hold, employment.

Apparently Smith wants to disband the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants, because they aren’t coming off-benefit fast enough to meet his targets.

The Observer‘s report makes it clear that the arguments are all about money, rather than patient care. Smith is concerned that “only half of WRAG claimants are coming off-benefit within three years, and hundreds of millions of pounds are being tied up in administration of the benefit, including work capability assessments and the appeals process”.

No mention is made of the fact, revealed more than a year ago, that many of those in the WRAG in fact belong in the Support Group for ESA (the group for people recognised to have long-term conditions that are not likely to go away within the year afforded to WRAG members). They have been put in the WRAG because targets set by Smith mean only around one-eighth of claimants are put into the Support Group.

The knock-on effect is that many claimants appeal against DWP decisions. This has not only caused deep embarrassment for Smith and his officials, but added millions of pounds to their outgoings – in benefit payments and tribunal costs.

Not only that, but – and this is the big “but” – it is known that many thousands of ESA claimants have suffered increased health problems as a result of the anxiety and stress placed on them by the oppressive process forced upon them by Iain Duncan Smith.

This means that between January and November 2011, we know 3,500 people in the WRAG died prematurely. This cannot be disputed by the DWP because its claim is that everyone in the WRAG is expected to become well enough to work within a year.

These are not the only ESA claimants to have died during that period; a further 7,100 in the Support Group also lost their lives but are not used in these figures because they had serious conditions which were acknowledged by the government and were getting the maximum benefit allowed by the law.

What about the people who were refused benefit? What about the 70 per cent of claimants who are marked “fit for work” (according to, again, the unacknowledged targets revealed more than a year ago by TV documentary crews)?

We don’t have any figures for them because the DWP does not keep them. But we do know that many of these people have died – some while awaiting appeal, others from destitution because their benefits have been stopped, and more from the added stress and insecurity of seeking work while they were too ill to do it.

Now Iain Duncan Smith (we call him ‘RTU’ or ‘Returned To Unit’, in reference to his failed Army career) wants more than half a million people – who are known to be too ill to work – to be cut off from the benefit that supports them.

Let’s draw a line between this and Jeremy Hunt’s plan to criminalise medical professionals whose wilful, reckless or ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude to patients’ needs causes avoidable death or serious harm.

Clearly, such an attitude to people with serious long-term conditions should be carried over to all government departments, and yet nobody is suggesting that the DWP (and everybody who works for it) should face the same penalties.

Why not?

By its own admission, choices by DWP decision-makers – acting on the orders of Iain Duncan Smith – have led to deaths. We no longer have accurate information on the number of these deaths because Smith himself has blocked their release and branded demands for them to be revealed as “vexatious”. No matter. We know they have led to deaths.

If doctors are to face up to five years in prison for such harm, then government ministers and those carrying out their orders should be subject to the same rules.

By his own government’s standards, Iain Duncan Smith should be in prison serving many thousands of sentences.

Consecutively.

Iain Duncan Smith owes us all an apology – but do we owe one to Rachel Reeves?

Iain Duncan Smith: He opens his mouth - and the world screams. [Image: Steve Bell]

Iain Duncan Smith: He opens his mouth – and the world screams. [Image: Steve Bell]

It seems redundant to start an article by saying Iain Duncan Smith is a filthy liar, because it is a fact that we all know too well already.

The latest offence – and the word is used very deliberately – took place during Work and Pensions Questions in Parliament yesterday (October 14) and means that he has lied to Parliament – not for the first time, either!

It is interesting that he phrased his words in a particular way. Responding to Andy Sawford’s call for clarity on whether, under the new claimant commitment, benefits officers will sanction jobseekers for refusing zero-hours work, he said this referred to “people’s obligations under the existing terms… Once they are offered a job they must take it… Right now, zero-hours contracts are legal.”

You will note, Dear Reader, that he did not simply say, “Under the claimant commitment, they must take zero-hours work or be sanctioned,” even though that is clearly the meaning of his words. It seems likely he was looking for leeway if questioned about it afterwards.

Well, he shouldn’t get any. A reasonable person, looking at the statement, will draw the obvious – intended – conclusion.

It is a conclusion – and a statement – that runs against current DWP policy.

The DWP responded to a Freedom of Information request in July this year, which also called for clarity on zero-hours contracts. The response contains the very clear statement: “Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants are not required to apply for zero hours contract vacancies and they will not face sanctions for turning down the offer of a zero hours contract.”

So Iain Duncan Smith was lying to Parliament yesterday – a very grave offence for a Secretary of State to commit.

Smith said, responding to Mr Sawford: “People will lose benefits for three months for a first offence, six months for a second offence and three years for a third offence.” When it comes to Parliamentary lies, he has committed multiple offences, and yet he gets away with it every time.

Why?

Another person who seems to have had trouble saying what they mean is Rachel Reeves. This blog – and many other people – took her to task last weekend, after The Observer published an interview in which she reportedly made many ill-advised comments, giving the impression that Labour policy on social security was lurching to the right yet again.

Yesterday a statement appeared on the Labour Party website in which the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary put forward a much more reasonable plan for social security reform under a Labour government. Particularly attractive are the parts where she says Labour will work with the disabled to design services and benefits that will help them play their part, and where she promises to repeal the Bedroom Tax, which has penalised vulnerable people, many of them disabled.

It is a much better statement of intent and indicates that Ms Reeves has been from one end to the other of a very steep learning curve with extreme rapidity.

Does it mean she was misquoted in the Observer article, and should she receive an apology from those of us who leapt down her throat? No.

There has been no suggestion that the article was inaccurate or unfair. The logical conclusion is that she said those words, and it is also logical to deduce that, had we not reacted so strongly, she might not have released the new statement.

It is unfortunate that, for many, the damage has been done. The Observer article was the first chance we had to see what the new Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary was thinking – and first impressions last. Her new statement seems like to go largely unreported. It should be noted that Tristram Hunt also made a fool of himself by supporting Michael Gove’s wasteful and elitist ‘Free Schools’ scheme. Hopefully Ed Miliband has accepted the need to make sure all of his Shadow Cabinet stay on-message from now until the next election. Reeves and Hunt should count themselves lucky to still have their new jobs.

But let’s not dwell on that. The new statement by Rachel Reeves has much to commend it, and is reproduced in full below. Your responses are invited.

Leading the debate on employment, poverty and social security.

Families facing a cost of living crisis want to know we have a social security system that is fair and sustainable, with costs kept under control but there for them when they need it.

The Tories seek to use every opportunity to divide this country and set one group of people against another. But their approach is failing – with the result that people are left out of work for year after year and costs to the country continue to rise. The Work Programme isn’t working, the roll-out of Universal Credit is in disarray, the Youth Contract has been a flop and there is mounting anger at the degrading and disgraceful treatment of disabled people by ATOS.

The complacent Tories are congratulating themselves about a long-delayed recovery. But almost a million young people are out of work. For those in work, increasing numbers of them aren’t being paid a living wage, are stuck on zero hours contracts or working part time when they want to work full time, and are being hit by soaring rents because levels of house building are so low – all of which drive up the benefits bill.

Labour will control the costs of social security by getting more people into work, rewarding work and tackling low pay, investing in the future, and recognising contribution. We’ll strive to make the right to work a reality for people with disabilities, working with them to design services and benefits that enable them to play their part.

A One Nation social security system will be one with responsibility at its heart – people receiving benefits who can work have a responsibility to look for work, prepare for work and take jobs that are available to them, but government has a responsibility to treat benefit recipients fairly and decently, help and support them and work with employers to ensure there are real job opportunities available.

Our compulsory jobs guarantees for young people and the long term unemployed, funded by repeating the tax on bank bonuses and limiting pensions tax relief for those on more than £150,000, would ensure there is work for under 25s out of work for more than a year and adults out of work for more than two years. These would be proper paid jobs – and people would be expected to take them or face losing benefits.

And unlike the Tories, we’ll put an effective cap on structural social security spending by getting tough on the causes of unemployment and rising benefit bills: low pay, lack of economic opportunity, shortage of affordable housing.

We would repeal cruel and counterproductive measures like David Cameron’s Bedroom Tax. I see constituents week in and week out with heart-breaking stories about how this policy is hitting them and their families. Around the country hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, many of them disabled, are being penalised by this perverse policy which could end up costing more than it saves because of the distress and disruption it’s causing.

And we’ll keep up the campaign for the living wage, and for the economic reforms we need to ensure that prosperity is fairly shared and welfare is not a substitute for good employment and decent jobs.

The Tory share of the vote is dwindling – why is Labour chasing it?

"Who's been sitting in MY chair?" Nick Clegg would be right to feel supplanted as Labour moves further rightwards, groping for Tory votes - that aren't even there.

“Who’s been sitting in MY chair?” Nick Clegg would be right to feel supplanted as Labour moves further rightwards, groping for Tory votes – that aren’t even there. [Picture: Reuters]

One of the things that really rankled about Rachel Reeves’ attempt at Tory talk in yesterday’s Observer was the (observable) fact that she didn’t need to.

Why try to out-Tory the Conservatives when their share of the vote has been going down at every election – among a proportion of active voters that is – itself – reducing?

So in 1955, they managed to snag 49.6 per cent of the votes. In 2010 this had dropped to 36.1 per cent. Turnout was 76.8 per cent in the first instance and 65.1 in the second. They got 38 per cent of all available votes in 1955 and 23.5 per cent in 2010.

Some could point out that Labour’s share in 2010 was only 29 per cent – around 18.8 per cent of all available votes – but this just proves the point. Neoliberal New Labour were very close to the Conservatives in outlook and policy and most people in the UK don’t want that.

But Rachel Reeves indicated that these policies would continue on her watch, and that’s why people reacted so strongly against the Observer interview.

Perhaps Labour should have done some research on this. Yes, the party has its ‘Your Britain’ website, for members to bring forward ideas – but I’ve been there and didn’t like it. It seemed needlessly complicated, with efforts made to get people discussing particular policy areas at particular times when it would have been better to let people just say what they want – when they want – and sort it out at the receiving end.

Besides – that’s just for members. How much research has Labour done on the doorstep? What do people who aren’t aligned to either main political party want? That is where Labour will get its votes.

Even pointing to research by the polling organisations doesn’t help here. Ipsos-MORI famously polled more than 2,500 people about the benefit cap earlier this year, and Iain Duncan Smith was delighted to announce that a significant majority of respondents were in favour.

It was left to this very blog to break the news that only 21 per cent of those respondents knew enough about the cap to give an educated opinion. It would be informative to know how many – of all the respondents, not just the 21 per cent – were actually affected by it.

All of this is a great shame that may worsen into a missed opportunity. There are some terrific ideas around at the moment and all Rachel Reeves – and Labour as a whole – has to do is look around for them.

The Fabian Society website carried an article entitled Welcome to DWP the other day, in which most current proposals for reform of the system were rejected – which is a telling indictment of the state of the nation in itself. The stated reasons were that they would reduce the incomes of poor families (no thank you, Labour! You’re not going to out-Tory the Tories!) or fatally undermine universalism.

But among the ideas that were there, it was suggested Labour needs to reform individual benefits before setting its planned upper ceiling on the benefits budget. To that, I would add that the ceiling needs to be described as a proportion of a Labour government’s overall budget – not limited to a particular sum of money. This is the only way to keep it fair as inflation increases costs and devalues the pounds in our pockets, year on year.

Reducing unemployment, involuntary part time work and low pay by getting people into full-time jobs on a living wage could cut billions off the benefit bill (and boost the tax take at the same time).

For right now, the article stated, La Reeves needs to work on Labour’s perception problem – the false image created for it by an unsympathetic mass media, that it is ‘soft’ on benefits. This is based on misconceptions; only a quarter of social security goes on working-age people without jobs, and benefit fraud is – as has been explained ad absurdum on this site – miniscule.

Before the recession, Labour had cut the number of people out of work and really made work pay (with tax credits – not necessarily a great way forward, but a start – and these could be eased out of service as pressure was exerted on employers to adopt living wages). The social security budget was falling, not increasing. That’s what Rachel Reeves needs to be saying. Labour’s policies were working. The public has been misinformed. A new Labour government could create a winning formula again.

It could happen – if Labour stops being the Party of Plastic Tories and starts being the Party of the Worker once again.