Ex-party leaders Tim Farron and David Cameron campaigning for a Remain vote [Image: PA Images].
Sauce for the goose…
We already know that Arron Banks, millionaire supporter of the Leave.EU campaign, has been under investigation over millions of pounds in donation to Leave-supporting organisations that may be in breach of electoral rules.
Britain Stronger in Europe has now been fined, along with the Liberal Democrats.
And now Vote Leave is under investigation as well.
It seems most of the major players in the referendum campaign played fast and loose with the spending rules. How disappointing.
It seems nobody believed they could sway the public with the strength of a good argument alone.
And how many of the arguments were good?
Most, if not all, of the Leave campaign claims have been proved false. Perhaps that is why campaigners for that cause overspent.
And the remainers? They included David Cameron (and Tim Farron) among their number.
Perhaps they thought they needed to overspend in order to overcome the handicap that this represented.
Election watchdogs have fined the official Remain campaign and the Liberal Democrats thousands of pounds for breaching election spending rules in the EU referendum.
The Lib Dems were slapped with an £18,000 penalty for failing to submit correct spending returns for some £80,000 of funds it spent urging voters not to support Leave.
Official Remain campaign Britain Stronger in Europe – since re-named Open Britain – was also hit with a £1,250 fine for incorrect spending returns.
It comes after the Electoral Commission launched a fresh probe into whether the official Leave campaign broke spending limits in the referendum.
Questions have been raised over hundreds of thousands of pounds Vote Leave gave to a fashion student who then handed the cash over to a data analytics firm.
It’s astonishing. Right-wing politicians, journalists and members of the public are still – still – pushing the myth that the financial crisis and recession of 2008 onwards was caused by the last Labour government overspending, being “profligate”, “not fixing the roof while the sun was shining”.
This Writer heard it twice on Thursday evening alone – from the Tory candidate at a local hustings event (although, bearing in mind that Brecon and Radnorshire’s Conservative candidate Chris Davies has all the intelligence of a farm animal, this is not surprising) and on the BBC’s Question Time, from William Hague (who was probably one of the Tories who invented this particular tall story in the first place).
Professor Simon Wren-Lewis wrote illuminatingly on the subject in his Mainly Macroblog, saying that the Coalition government wanted people to believe a myth that it rescued the economy from an impending financial crisis, but this could not be squared with the fact that the very large government budget deficit in 2010 was largely the result of the recession.
Therefore, he stated, it was important for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats “to push another explanation for the large deficit: that it reflected the profligacy of the previous government.
“Economic journalists know full well this is a myth. Yet it is a myth repeated on countless occasions by the coalition parties, and by journalists working for the partisan press. On one occasion one of these journalists tried to rubbish a post where I wrote it was a myth, and I hope learnt to regret the experience.”
As ever, with a big lie (and here on Vox Political we have seen this very often in regard to the SNP’s claims) there is a nugget of truth. Here, it is the criticism that Gordon Brown was not as prudent as he might have been in his pre-recession budgets. Professor Wren-Lewis writes: “That memory is both correct (both the IFS and NIESR made that criticism) and the criticism is valid… This is the half-truth that sustains the myth.
“But mild imprudence is not profligacy. We can see that by looking at another chart, for the debt to GDP ratio. Profligacy would imply a rapidly rising ratio, but this ratio before the recession (37% in 2008) was below the level Labour inherited (42% in 1997), and below its fiscal rule figure of 40%. No profligacy there.”
More prudence would not have helped because, “as Vicky Pryce, Andy Ross and Peter Unwin state in their book ‘Its the Economy Stupid: Economics for Voters’ (which I happily recommend, and which in its initial chapters covers much of the ground of this series): ‘The elimination of the UK’s structural deficit [under Labour before the recession] would not have been even a sticking plaster in the face of the haemorrhaging of the finance sector’s jugular’.”
The professor also adds that the Tories argued for less financial regulation before the collapse, and opposed Labour’s measures to moderate the recession in 2009.
In addition, this blog can add a recent response to a commenter, which ran thus: Labour didn’t ‘recklessly spend money we don’t have’ [as the commenter had claimed]. Labour ran the economy very well – as reports from such leftie strongholds as Oxford University have shown.
The global economic crisis that started in the US subprime housing market affected the UK deeply, and the Labour government of the time was forced to take action to prevent a run on the banks that would have deprived most people in the UK of their bank account savings – including people criticising Labour now.
The narrative about Labour profligacy is a fairy tale made up by the Conservative Party … in order to fool voters into supporting that party so it could win the 2010 election. Even then, it didn’t work and the Tories had to go into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. They anticipated this, and hedged their bets by making a deal with the Lib Dems in March 2010, two months BEFORE the election (this information is from Five Days To Power, a book on the subject by Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East).”
The issue is not Labour profligacy; it is Conservative (and Liberal Democrat) dishonesty.
At long last, Labour has launched an attack on Coalition – particularly Conservative – ‘welfare’ policies. And it’s a strong one.
Perhaps the sustained criticism of shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves has done some good because her speech today (November 26) attacks the policies of her hopeless Conservative counterpart Iain Duncan Smith in many ways and on several levels – and on all those levels, it works.
The catchline is ‘Tory Welfare Waste’, which attacks not only Duncan Smith’s profligacy in wasting no less than £25 billion on his useless schemes, but also the waste of talent – especially that of young people ‘parked’ on benefits by his system – and of their time.
As Conor Pope writes in his LabourList article about the speech, “For a Government hell-bent on an austerity agenda with such a focus on making “benefit scroungers” pay, the amount of unnecessary money they’ve splashed out on their welfare policies is startling.
“Take the now infamous Universal Credit… the DWP had aimed to have a million people on the scheme by this point, yet are currently 982,150 behind that figure. The cost so far? A cool half a billion pounds.
“Bedroom Tax, too. Another policy that strikes society’s most disadvantaged hardest and does not prove cost effective: by pushing people out of the council houses they can no longer afford and into private housing, the housing benefit bill has exploded in many places.”
And new independent research shows that the Coalition has spent £5 billion more than it planned on tax credits over the course of this Parliament.
So the Conservative-led Coalition has overspent massively, both on failed policies and the state having to pick up the tab for companies who don’t pay their workers enough to get by. The failure to tackle low pay will cost another £1 billion in the current parliament.
While all this happens, of course, the Tories plan billions in tax cuts for people earning over £40,000 a year.
As Mr Pope concludes: “Whatever happened to the balanced budgets of tomorrow? The Tories… aren’t just wasting lives; they’re screwing the economy to do it.”
Fraud: This man wants you to believe DWP austerity measures are succeeding, in order to win votes at next year’s general election. They aren’t. He is a liar.
The Department for Work and Pensions is merrily claiming that more than £13 million allocated to help people who have been hit be the government’s unfair ‘welfare reforms’ via Discretionary Housing Payments has gone unclaimed. Lord Freud wants you to think “recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated”.
He was – of course – lying through his teeth.
A quick look at the facts reveals that Discretionary Housing Payment was overspent by £3,505,582 during the 2013-14 financial year. That’s two per cent more than the government allocated.
The £13,285,430 underspend quoted in the press release refers to just 240 out of the 380 councils that distribute DHPs. It completely ignores the £16,791,012 overspent by 127 other councils, in order to provide a false figure. The remaining 13 councils spent all of their allocated amounts.
Focus on the regions and the picture gets worse: In Scotland, DHP was overspent by 76 per cent of the amount allocated – £28,700,215 against an allocation of £16,269,675 from the DWP. Scottish councils had to foot the bill for the extra amounts.
Wales spent an extra six per cent – £7,724,176 against an allocation of £7,274,829. Here in Powys, 1,200 of the county’s 8,300 social dwellings were affected by the bedroom tax, with a total annual loss of housing benefit of £800,000. The total DHP funding available was £154,975.
Looking at those figures, it’s amazing the overspend was so small.
It is only in England that a net underspend is recorded – of around £9 million.
So let’s have a look at Lord Fraud’s – sorry, Freud’s – statement that “today’s figures also show that recent scare stories about councils running out of money were grossly exaggerated.”
Grossly exaggerated? The fact is that 127 councils did run out of money – that’s more than one-third of the total.
It would be fairer to say that the scare stories came true.
The press release also states that “around three-quarters of councils also did not apply for a £20 million government top-up fund to help claimants adjust to welfare changes, leaving a further £7.1 million unspent”.
No figures are provided to support this statement.
People will be angry about this – and rightly so.
The BBC has just brought massed complaints down on itself after it chose to ignore a 50,000-strong demonstration against the government’s austerity measures that started outside the Corporation’s front door. Many incensed callers and emailers said they feared the BBC was participating in a conspiracy of silence about the harm being caused to ordinary people.
Now we see the DWP is lying to us about the harm its bedroom tax is doing to ordinary people – including hardworking employees, who make up more than 90 per cent of new housing benefit claimants.
Tory leader David Cameron has been banging the drum for Britishness recently – good for him. It gives us an opportunity to point out that, if there’s one British value that stands out above all the rest, it’s this:
We hate people in authority who try to mislead us.
Here’s a good anti-Coalition soundbite: It’s based on a well-known saying and it tackles the falsehoods put out by Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith.
Sitting in the cafe yesterday, I was discussing the situation in Egypt with a couple of friends. One was getting quite heated because he considered the problem to have been created by the “fundamentalist Islamic government they elected”.
He said something like, “These fundamentalists promised everyone the world. They said they would make everything better, did whatever they could to secure the vote – and then once they were in power they forgot all those promises and did whatever they wanted instead. They got what they wanted from the people and then the people could go hang.”
I couldn’t resist. “So you’re saying they’re exactly like the Conservative Party over here, then,” I replied.
Laughter all around. We laugh because it’s funny and we laugh because it’s true. And because the only alternative is tears.
Let’s not dwell on the Egyptian situation beyond what I said afterwards – that the ‘Arab Spring’ countries seem to need help in establishing the basics of real democracy but there is nobody around who can provide it. They would (rightly) distrust any foreign power that claimed to offer help, but there’s no independent organisation that offers such a service either.
The UK would be one of the last places I would advise Egypt to look. Consider the last general election here. People with a lot of money to spend on it funded a hugely expensive election campaign to get the Conservative Party into power, in order to serve their interests which are to accumulate an even larger share of the available wealth, along with the power that goes with it, while removing and restricting the freedoms of the people from whom that wealth was to be drained.
Those people got involved in politics and worked very hard to make sure they got a government that genuinely serves their interests – selfish and cruel as those interests are. They ended up having to put up with a Conservative-led government, rather than a fully Conservative one, but are now working very hard to finish the job with a propaganda campaign – based on lies – that appears to be swaying public opinion.
So they say (and here I’m quoting Owen Jones in his recent analysis): “We’re clearing up Labour’s mess. Labour overspent and now we’re balancing the books. A national deficit is like a household budget. Welfare is out of control and lining the pockets of the skivers. The unemployed person or immigrant down the road is living off your hard-earned taxes. Labour is in the pocket of union barons.”
All of these are falsehoods. They’re lies. But they’re also very effective soundbites that stay in people’s minds and colour their perceptions of the way things are.
And those responsible get away with it, I’m sorry to say, because the people who stand to lose the most are lazy. They can’t be bothered to get involved and make sure the government they get is one that genuinely serves their interests.
Why do you think Her Majesty’s Opposition is filled with neoliberals who agree with the government that our public services should be carved up and handed to private companies, to run them for profit and not in the interests of the people? Why do you think the Labour Party has agreed to stick to Coalition spending plans for the first year of the next Parliament, if it gets elected? Why do you think Labour has stopped opposing social security policies that have been killing an average of 73 people a week (according to figures that are now well out of date, so the average today is probably much higher)?
Labour doesn’t stand up for you any more. That’s why it has had no effective answer to the Tory lies. The masses can’t be bothered to find out the truth – and certainly won’t lift a finger to get involved and stop the corruption that is eating our institutions away. But that is the only way it can be stopped. You stay away and they get what they want.
At this rate, we’ll all be slaves by 2020.
It doesn’t have to be so hard, though. We could all turn the corner, just by devising a few soundbites of our own.
I was thinking this last night, while I was writing a response to Margaret Johnson. Ms Johnson was commenting on a previous article as follows (apologies to anyone who’s offended; they’re her words, not mine): “It was Labour who signed up Atos, engineered so many civil service jobs that were not needed, opened the borders for the rest of the world’s trash to enter our country, brought in more taxes, actively encouraged the demise of manufacturing and the rise of the banks, signed up to allow Europe to rule us, doubled the rate for income tax for the lowest paid, gave GP’s 100K a year to work 9-5 Monday to Friday, got the most revenue in and still left this country in the worse mess ever.”
So we could say something like (and feel free to include ‘Liberal Democrats’ wherever I have mentioned Conservatives):
“It is the Conservatives who employed a private firm, paying £1 billion to ‘A-toss’ disabled people off the benefits they need to survive.” If Labour was doing its job properly it would add: “A Labour government would save that money by throwing Atos out”.
“No wonder the government can’t make anything work properly – they have been sacking all the professionals. More than 600,000 government employees will have lost their jobs by 2015, replaced by amateurs working for the Conservatives.”
“It’s strange that the Conservatives complain so much about immigration from Europe – they signed the treaties that allow it! The Conservative governments of Edward Heath and John Major allowed the free movement of European immigrants into the UK. Now they see it is unpopular, they want to shift the blame.”
“Simplified tax under the Tories mean the rich pay less and the poor pay more.”
“Conservatives destroyed Britain’s manufacturing base in the 1980s – at the same time they created the conditions that led to the banking crisis.”
“Conservatives want to blame Europe for your problems. Who will they blame when Britain is out of the EU and your problems have multiplied?”
Going back to Owen’s examples:
“Conservatives: The only people who think they can clear up a mess by making a bigger one.”
“Conservatives say Labour overspent – but they have always spent more than Labour. You can’t trust them to balance the books.”
“If the Tories handled their household budgets like they’re handling the deficit, they would all have been evicted by now.”
“Privatisation is out of control; the Tories are using taxpayers’ money to line the pockets of greedy bosses.”
“You paid for Iain Duncan Smith’s £39 breakfast. How much do you spend on your own?”
“The Conservative Party is in the pocket of big business and the bankers.”
Of course, the above are just essays in the craft of soundbiting; I’m just a beginner.
So let’s have a competition to see who can invent the best soundbite, challenging the government’s lies with facts!
Please send your ideas in to this blog – but also put them out to the national media as well, any way you can. Try to get anyone opposing the government to use them, because this may lead to them being picked up by the newspapers and TV news reporters as well.
Above all, please try to make this fun. A soundbite is many times more effective if it makes people laugh, and the Tories and Liberal Democrats are silly, silly people. Let’s bring that out.
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