Can these campaign groups match the intensity and mass feeling of the anti-Poll Tax campaign of 1990?
This Writer can’t answer that.
But Universal Credit has to go.
It has been nothing but a hugely expensive white elephant.
It doesn’t help people back into work.
It certainly doesn’t keep them out of poverty.
It’s full of loopholes that cost claimants money left, right and centre.
And the Tories would rather fight those claimants in court than admit fault.
So if there’s to be a campaign… I’m in.
Disabled activists have called for opponents of universal credit (UC) across the country to help mirror the campaign that led to the poll tax being abandoned in the early 1990s, by joining a new national alliance that is demanding UC is scrapped.
Mark Harrison, from Norfolk Against Universal Credit (NAUC) and the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, said UC was “the 21st century workhouse” and was leaving people imprisoned in their own homes, in debt and reliant on food banks.
He said it was “urgent that we step up the campaign” to stop and scrap UC.
He said that was why DPAC, NAUC and others had set up SUCA, which will act as an umbrella campaign for all local campaigns around the country that are dedicated to scrapping UC.
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.
Foot in mouth moment: David Cameron asks Scotland if it is “fed up with the effing Tories”. Of course it is.
It’s a miracle the number of people ready to vote ‘Yes’ for Scottish independence doesn’t multiply exponentially every time David Cameron opens his mouth.
Today he probably thought he was being daring when he said, “People can feel it’s a bit like a general election, that you make a decision and, five years later, you can make another decision, if you’re fed up with the effing Tories, give them a kick and maybe we’ll think again.”
His aim was to belittle the idea that kicking the “effing Tories” is a good idea in this context. The trouble is, he was saying it to Scotland – a country that the “effing Tories” have been kicking since at least Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, if not before.
These good people have been victimised time and time again – used as the testing-ground for heartless policies like the Poll Tax, or forgotten when investment opportunities came around.
They aren’t to blame for this – they didn’t bring it on themselves as Scotland has habitually rejected Conservatism for decades. A Conservative government in Westminster is completely unrepresentative of the Scottish people.
That is why Cameron’s next words were so disastrous. He said: “This is a decision about not the next five years, it’s a decision about the next century.”
If ever there was an incentive for Scots to vote ‘Yes’, that was it.
Vox Political does not want Scotland to vote ‘Yes’.
Not because the rest of the UK will be stuck with the Tories for decades to come – the Telegraphmight want to spout this claim as fact but Tony Blair proved it was false three times in a row.
Not because the financial implications are complicated, either – although it would be interesting to know how much of the UK’s national debt would go across to a newly-independent Scotland.
Vox Political wants Scotland to remain in the Union because the Union is stronger with Scotland than without. The United Kingdom, including Scotland, has spent years clawing its way out of a financial tragedy that was the fault of only a few overprivileged nitwits but affected millions, and we’ve been doing it despite the worst efforts of the Conservative-led government in Westminster.
How much longer will we all have to struggle – in both a newly-independent Scotland and a ‘rump’ UK – if we are separated and diminished?
The arguments for separation don’t make sense. We should stay together, kick the Conservatives out – forever – next year and move forward from there. Any other choice could ruin both countries.
‘For the privileged few’: Anything George Osborne offers to the poor in next year’s Budget statement will be removed after a Conservative government is returned to office.
It is hard to understand why the Liberal Democrats seem to think bringing forward the 2015 Budget from March to February would stop George Osborne from using it to try to bribe gullible or selfish voters with tax giveaways.
The Conservatives habitually try to buy votes with measures that appear generous at the time, only to put the squeeze on the electorate in some new way after securing an election victory.
Look at Nigel Lawson’s announcement that the base rate of Income Tax would drop from 29 per cent to 27 per cent in 1987. The Tories won a landslide and then imposed the Poll Tax on us all. It was a disaster for the UK’s lowest-paid.
According to the BBC, the Tories are saying a “flashy pre-election Budget” would “weaken the credibility of their central message of economic revival and fiscal rectitude”.
Vox Political readers will probably agree that talk about “fiscal rectitude” is more likely to come from the rectUM, where Tories are concerned.
The Liberal Democrats don’t believe a word of it – and after more than four years in coalition with the Conservatives, they should know!
The BBC report claims that Tory backbenchers want to increase the level of income a person earns before they start paying the 40 per cent rate of income tax, or raise the threshold for employees’ national insurance by more than inflation, to lure lower-paid people into thinking the Conservatives have had a change of heart and the brutality inflicted on the poor since May 2010 is over. That would be a foolish notion!
The Lib Dems know they would not be able to stop the Tories doing this. But a February budget would allow around six weeks between the Budget statement and the start of the general election campaign, in which they would be able to separate themselves from the Tories and expose the motivation behind any faux generosity in the Chancellor’s speech.
Of course, some Lib Dems have been discussing the collapse of the Coalition before the Budget is announced. This would make the Conservatives a minority government and it seems unlikely that they would be able to pass their Budget if the Liberal Democrats did not support it.
Let’s hope that happens. The Affordable Housing Bill would be a good opportunity to ram in the wedge.
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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Why Cameron is on a hiding to nothing: Many Scottish people have not forgotten how British governments have mistreated them. [Image: Ceasefire Magazine]
David Cameron gave a speech today in which he made an impassioned plea for Scottish people to vote for staying in the United Kingdom – and if any of them needed an excuse to do the exact opposite, there it is.
He made his comments from the Olympic Park in London – which says everything you need to know about his relationship with Scotland. Was he afraid of the jeers if he travelled up to Edinburgh?
“I passionately believe it is in their interests to stay in the UK – that way Scotland has the space to take decisions while still having the security that comes with being part of something bigger,” Cameron wittered. But he has been shrinking the state. The UK as a whole is much smaller – economically and philosophically – than it was four years ago and that’s his fault.
“In the UK, Scotland is part of a major global player,” he burbled. But the rest of the world now looks down on the UK because of his unstatesmanlike behaviour when dealing with foreign powers. He has diminished the UK in the international community and the Scottish people are well able to see that.
Appealing for those of us in the other UK countries – England, Wales and NI – to apply emotional blackmail on our friends in Scotland, he gibbered: “From us to the people of Scotland, let the message be this: We want you to stay.”
Cameron must think we all have memories so short we could qualify as brain-damaged. Conservatives have historically used Scotland as the testing ground for every rotten little policy they wanted to try out – remember the Poll Tax? – because of no special quality other than the fact that there are no Conservative MPs there.
I don’t want Scotland to vote for independence because I think Scottish people have contributed hugely towards the culture shared by everybody living on the British Isles – it is possible they have added more to our society than the English who dominate our political lives.
In return, they have been treated abominably – most particularly by English Conservatives – and that is why I can’t see Scotland staying in the Union while an English Conservative is in charge in Westminster.
If Scotland does go, you should all know what will happen next: Wales will become the testing ground for rubbish Tory policies. They won’t try it on Northern Ireland because that province’s history tells them exactly what they’d get in return – and if that isn’t a good enough reason for the Welsh people to go feral and start causing havoc, I don’t know what is!
So well done, David – you have considerably worsened our chances of remaining united.
My only hope is that, if Scotland does secede from the union, its leaders keep the door open, so that there always remains the possibility of some form of reunification on terms that strengthen both countries – when (or if) a reasonable government is returned to office in the UK.
Vox Political wants the best for Scotland, no matter how the vote turns out! People in an independent Scotland will still be able to read this blog. And it’s just as well because the site needs YOUR help to continue. You can make a one-off donation here:
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Demonstrating for justice: Campaigners against the Bedroom Tax gathered outside Parliament while MPs debated it inside.
“I’m amazed Labour have chosen to spend their allotted day in Parliament arguing for more unfunded spending on housing benefit.” That’s what Matt Hancock, Conservative MP for West Sussex, had to say about the Opposition Day debate on the Bedroom Tax in the House of Commons on November 12.
Hancock is, it seems, author of a book entitled Masters of Nothing, which sums up his understanding of the situation rather well. He clearly has not mastered the fact that the State Under-Occupation Charge will not save money. He has not mastered the fact that emptying dwellings of their current owners will not make them available to new familes as these people are afraid they will themselves be tipped onto the street when their circumstances change – instead the premises will be left empty, at huge cost to social landlords; and he has not mastered the fact that anyone evicted because of the tax will become a burden on local authorities, who have a duty to rehouse them in bed and breakfast accommodation, even though the money provided to them for this purpose by the government is ludicrously inadequate to the task.
Hancock is not alone in having misconceptions about the Bedroom Tax. Most, if not all, of the Conservatives who spoke during the debate uttered howlers – and the purpose of this article is to name them and explain why they should be ashamed of their words.
Please take the opportunity, Dear Reader, to look for your own MP in the catalogue of calamity that follows, then use it to attack them in their own consituency. Let’s make them realise that actions have consequences.
If you don’t have a Tory MP, feel free to use what follows in order to make sure you never have to put up with one.
We begin with Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth East) who asked of Rachel Reeves: “What does she say to the almost 400,000 families who are living in overcrowded situations when they look over their shoulders at the almost one million spare bedrooms in Britain?”
The Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary responded without hesitation: “I say that instead of presiding over the lowest rate of house building since the 1920s, this Government should get on and build some houses.”
The Minister of State, Steve Webb, came back to this point later, saying: “Who was doing the house building for 13 years?” Well, we all know who hasn’t been doing it for the last three.
Mr Ellwood said the Tax was brought in because the cost of housing benefit was rising alarmingly: “After 13 years of Labour the cost of housing benefit doubled to £21 billion. That is unacceptable. The cost to taxpayers was £900 per household. The system was getting out of control.” His failure is that he refused to accept the explanation offered by Labour’s Katy Clark – that this was due to the rising cost of rent in the private sector (private rents have indeed been rising massively and the government refuses to take action because this would interfere with the market. Bizarrely, the Conservative-led Coalition seems to believe it is acceptable to pay huge gobs of housing benefit to private landlords – who make unreasonable demands – and then blame social renting tenants for it). He also, by inference, rejected the evidence that the Bedroom Tax will not save any money.
Mr Ellwood also referred to the deficit run by the Labour government of 1997-2010. He said: “Labour lived beyond its means. In 2002-03, it spent £26 billion beyond its means. Four years later that rose to £33 billion. In its final year of office, the deficit rose to £156 billion. That always accumulates.”
This is disingenuous. As he must know, not only did Labour run a lower deficit than the Conservative governments of both Thatcher and Major (average 41 per cent of gross domestic product) from 1997 to 2007, it also made a surplus in the 2000-2001 financial year – something that the previous Conservative governments never did. This means Labour actually paid off some of the debts that had been accumulating. With that pedigree, even the 43 per cent deficit of 2008 looks respectable. The higher deficits of 2009 and 2010 were entirely caused by the bankster-instigated financial crisis, when the actions taken by Labour were entirely supported by the Conservative Party.
He went on to condemn Labour for voting against £83 billion of welfare savings; if the reasoning for them was as shaky as that for the Bedroom Tax (and it was; see previous VP articles) then Labour was quite right to do so!
It should be noted that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, was not present at the debate. RTU (as we like to call him) was woofing it up in Paris, rather than accounting for his misbehaviour to the taxpayer.
Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) echoed a comment by Mr Webb, but did it in such an inept way that we’ll look at her words rather than his. Following Labour’s Stephen Twigg, she referred to the too-low allocation of Discretionary Housing Payment to families having to cope with the Bedroom Tax: “Perhaps he would like to speak to his Labour-run Liverpool council and ask why, when it received £892,000 in discretionary housing payments last year, it actually sent back £337,000.”
Mr Twigg put her straight: “Does she accept that the figures that she has given are from before the bedroom tax was introduced? This year, Liverpool city council will certainly spend the entire discretionary housing pot.”
His words echoed fellow Labour MP Lucy Powell, who had previously berated Mr Webb: “The Minister incorrectly gave figures for last year—the bedroom tax was introduced only in April. I was talking about money that will come back this year. I can guarantee that the Minister will not be getting any money back from Manchester this year — the year of the bedroom tax.”
Referring to the 400,000 disabled people affected by the Bedroom Tax, Mrs Reeves said 100,000 disabled people live in properties specially adapted for their disability, but the average grant issued by local authorities for adaptations to homes [when they are forced to move out by the Bedroom Tax] stands at £6,000. The total cost of doing the adaptations all over again could run into tens of millions of pounds.
At this moment, Heather Wheeler (South Derbyshire), said while seated: “They’re exempt.”
The response: “The hon. Lady said from a sedentary position that disabled people are exempt, but she would not say it when she was on her feet because she knows it is not true.” In Vox Political‘s home constituency, at least one disabled person has already been evicted because of the Bedroom Tax.
Philip Davies (also known as ‘Stupid of Shipley’) weighed in with a shocking error, in an attempt to attack his local housing association and its director, a Labour MP: “Does the Minister agree that the spare room subsidy is one reason why we do not have the right mix of housing? Social housing providers could build houses as big as they wanted, knowing that the Government would cover the full bill irrespectively. In that respect, does he deplore the social housing provider in my area, of which a Labour MP is a director? It complains on the one hand that it has too many three-bedroom houses—”
That’s as far as he got, and just as well. Let’s go through this one more time: The ‘spare room subsidy’ is a fiction. It never existed and therefore could never have been abolished by the Conservative-led Coalition government. Being entirely make-believe, it could never have affected the decisions of social housing providers. This is just one of the many reasons why Mr Davies is rightly considered to be one of the biggest twits in the Tory Party (among hefty competition). Another might be his claim that disabled people should work for less than the minimum wage.
David TC Davies (Monmouth) complained: “Opposition Members… do not want to talk about the fact that they introduced a measure like this for the private sector.”
He was among many Tories who complained about this apparent double-standard. Labour members reminded them that the Bedroom Tax is retrospective (affecting people currently in social housing) while the private-sector measure was for new tenants only. One may also ask why, if these Conservatives were so disturbed by the apparent discrepancy, they were not calling for this earlier measure to be scrapped as well.
George Hollingbery (Meon Valley) said: “We need to pose ourselves a question: what is dealing with the spare room subsidy about? Is it about reducing the housing benefit bill? Yes, of course it is. The Government propose a £500 million saving, which is important.”
It is important, because Conservatives seemed confused throughout the debate about whether they were trying to sort out overcrowding by putting people into appropriate accommodation, or trying to save money. The two are mutually exclusive. The only way to make money on the policy is for people to remain locked in housing that, thanks to the Bedroom Tax, is now too expensive for them – but this cannot last because they will soon be evicted for non-payment of rent. Moving people around, so that nobody is under-occupying, will result in a higher housing benefit bill because more people will be claiming – the original tenants in their new properties (which, if they are run by private landlords, will be more expensive) and the new tenants who will be occupying to the limit of a property’s capability and therefore may claim the full amount of housing benefit. Either way, Mr Hollingberry’s claim of a £500 million saving is pie-in-the-sky.
Margot James (Stourbridge) made a proper fool of herself. She said: “The Opposition… want to position the end of the subsidy and the creation of a level playing field between all recipients of social housing support as a modern day poll tax.” This is the least of her mistakes as some Labour members may have suggested such a thing; in fact it is Eric Pickles’ Council Tax Reduction Scheme that is the modern-day Poll Tax, because every household must now towards it.
Margot James went on to deny that the Bedroom Tax is a tax, saying: “A tax is a government levy on somebody’s income, whereas we are clearly talking about reducing a subsidy.” This is wrong on two counts. Firstly, there has been no subsidy to reduce – unless she was referring to housing benefit in its entirety. The spare room subsidy is, as already mentioned, as mythical as the “unicorns and fairies” to which Anne Main referred when she tried to dismiss the existence of the under-occupation charge as a tax on bedrooms. Both ladies are wrong, because a tax may also be defined as a government levy on property owned or used by a citizen (such as, say, a bedroom). So – not quite as mythical as unicorns and fairies. One has to wonder why Mrs Main mentioned these, as she has clearly been away with the fairies herself.
Kwasi Kwarteng (Spelthorne) breezed in from another committee to provide the benefit of his own ignorance. He asked: “Is it fair that someone on a low income who is in privately rented accommodation should pay taxes in order to subsidise someone else’s spare room? Is it fair to raise taxation from low-paid workers to subsidise other people’s accommodation?”
The answer, of course, is yes. It is fair. In fact, it is a principle of our system of taxation. Everybody pays into the national treasury, in order to allow the state to provide services – such as housing – for those in need. This may be a detail that current Tories have missed, considering the government’s vigorous attempts to write the highest earners out of taxation altogether. If he wanted to help low-waged people in private rented housing, the answer to that is also simple: cap their rents.
And doesn’t he know that the very low-paid have been lifted out of taxation by his own government, as the Coalition has been raising the threshold for payment of income tax every year, aiming to reach a target of £10,000 income per annum by 2015.
At the end of the day, the motion to scrap the Bedroom Tax was lost by 26 votes. Some have already said that Labour could have won it if all members had been present, but that was never really on the cards; the government has the numbers, even if some Liberal Democrats (like VP‘s own MP, Roger Williams) abstained.
So what are we to make of it all? Simply this: The Conservatives do not have a credible narrative to describe what the Bedroom Tax is about. It doesn’t save money; it won’t put people into appropriate accommodation; and it certainly won’t cut homelessness!
Work out what it’s really about, and you will understand why they are so desperate to keep it.
Martin Rowson’s Guardian cartoon of April 13 satirises the spectacle of Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, calling it as he sees it: A primitive tribal ritual.
“This is Hell, nor am I out of it.” – Mephistopheles, Doctor Faustus.
As I write these words, the funeral of Margaret Thatcher is taking place at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Unemployment stands at 2.56 million (7.9 per cent of the workforce).
The banks are not lending money.
More small firms are going out of business every day.
The economy is stagnant and the outlook for growth is bleak, according to the International Monetary Fund.
The rich elite prey on the poor – Britain’s highest-earners are billions better-off than in 2010, while wages for the lowest-earners are increased by so little that most of them are on benefit and sliding into debt (0.8 per cent rise in the year to February).
The cost of living has risen by around three per cent.
900,000 people have been out of work for more than a year.
The number of unemployed people aged 16-24 is up to 979,000 (21.6 per cent of all those in that age group).
Politicians lie to us, in order to win our support by deceit.
Assessment for disability benefits is on a model devised by an insurance company to avoid paying money to those who need it most.
Health services are being privatised, to make money for corporate shareholders rather than heal the sick.
Government policies have reinstated the ‘Poll Tax’ principle that everybody must pay taxation, no matter how poor they are.
Government policies mean child poverty will rise by 100,000 this year. It will not achieve the target of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020.
Government policies are ensuring that many thousands of people will soon be homeless, while social housing is being sold into the private sector.
And Legal Aid is being cut back, to ensure that the only people with access to justice are those who can pay for it.
The Iron Lady: This is probably the most iconic image of Margaret Thatcher from her tenure as Prime Minister of the UK. “The lady’s not for turning,” she warned. Unfortunately for Britain, she kept her word.
It isn’t every day that a former Prime Minister dies – and even rarer that we witness the death of one who affected the UK in such a fundamental way as Baroness Thatcher.
As I write this, the outpouring of tributes and discussion of her achievements in the mass media are in full swing – mostly concentrating on what their editors would define as the ‘good’ she did for our country. Most of the TV channels and papers are run by right-wingers, of course – so you can expect them to be dripping with adulation.
However, as I commented on Facebook yesterday evening, street parties broke out in Brixton and Glasgow, celebrating her demise (I understand celebrations took place in Leeds and Liverpool, and possibly many other cities, towns and villages across the UK). They had bands, they have people handing out milk (remember, she was the ‘Milk Snatcher’ before she was PM), they were chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – dead, dead, dead” and popping champagne.
There was a humour – a sense of wit – about it, not only in what was going on (the milk, for example) but also the locations (there were riots in Brixton during her tenure, and Scotland was where the hated Poll Tax was piloted).
But I said it is also tragic “that a person should do so much harm in her life, and be so hated by the people she was elected to represent – more than 20 years after she left office – that her death is marked by spontaneous celebration and, literally, dancing in the streets”.
That comment thread has now been read by more than 15,000 people (usually I get one or two thousand through my Facebook door). A question I posted has received more than four times as many votes saying she harmed the country as say she improved it (47 – 11).
What DID she achieve?
According to Paul Krugman’s blog, it’s debatable whether she achieved anything, in terms of the economy.
“Thatcher came to power in 1979, and imposed a radical change in policy almost immediately,” he wrote. “But the big improvement in British performance doesn’t really show in the data until the mid-1990s. Does she get credit for a reward so long delayed?”
Good question. In fact, her two-and-a-half terms in office constituted an extremely rocky road for those of us who had to live through them (and I was one)! My opinion is that this is because she was not interested in improving Britain’s NATIONAL prosperity.
No – the Thatcher crusade was ideological. She wanted to thrust her form of Conservatism so far down everybody’s throat that it would take decades for any other way to be accepted – and she succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.
Let’s look at the policies that most clearly demonstrate this ideology.
She sold off Britain’s council houses. The cheap, rented social housing that accommodated those of us who earned the least were sold wholesale during her premiership – and not replaced. Mrs Thatcher is said to have had a dream to create a Britain full of homeowners. Sadly, this is not what happened. Instead, the majority of council houses were sold off to private landlords who then rented them out again – at higher cost. The lack of replacement council houses meant that the country’s poor had no alternative but to rent at the higher level, meaning they had less disposable income than before the sell-off. The rise of housing associations to fill the social housing gap has meant an extra layer of bureaucracy between the tenant and their elected representatives, who can now claim that any abuse of power by landlords is nothing to do with them.
She broke the unions. Some say this was vitally important, as the unions had become too powerful and were able to bring the country to its knees whenever they felt like it, calling strikes on a whim – and there is mileage in this. But it’s also possible to say that business bosses and members of the Thatcher government provoked confrontation in order to justify the erosion of union power – this is certainly true in the case of the mineworkers’ strike of 1984-5. There is an argument that National Coal Board chairman Ian MacGregor was paid millions of pounds to engineer the confrontation. The result was that the unions were stripped of many of their rights, meaning working people had nobody left to stand up for them in wage negotiations. It is a direct result of this that workers’ wages have risen by just 27 per cent over the last 30 years, while bosses’ salaries have multiplied by 800 per cent, and the gap between the country’s richest and poorest has grown, massively.
She stripped the UK of its manufacturing industries. What can be said about this? Thatcher saw much of Britain’s private industry as uneconomical, unprofitable. She oversaw a switch to service industries and finance – boosting this with bank deregulation. It is this move, which took place in the USA at around the same time, that led to the financial crisis of 2008 and the austerity measures which the current Coalition government is using to hammer the poorest in the modern UK.
She privatised national utilities. The share sell-offs were, on the face of it, intended to make it possible for every British citizen to buy shares in the companies that provided power, telecommunications, water and so on. In practice, the poorest couldn’t afford it, and those on middle incomes saw the shares as a short-term investment, believing they would be able to sell their shares on for many times the amount they paid, a few months later. This has led to the vast majority of shares in the privatised utilities falling into the hands of – you guessed it – the very, very rich. Another publicised intention of the sell-off was that, as private companies, these organisations would deliver a better service at a lower price. This was a fantasy; it never materialised. Look at British Rail (which I admit was privatised after Mrs Thatcher left office, but is a great example of the trend): Not only do users pay much more for their tickets now than when it was publicly-owned, but the subsidy paid to the private rail companies by the government has multiplied massively as well. Result: Rich shareholders become very much richer. Poor users struggle to cope with rising prices.
Can you spot the trend here?
She changed taxation to make the poor pay more. I refer, of course, to the infamous Poll Tax. Mrs Thatcher claimed in 1989 that a flat-rate tax for local services – with everybody, rich or poor, paying the same amount – was fairer. The public – who had already been fooled by the council housing sell-off, the public utility sell-off and the breaking of the unions, and were therefore sick of being hoodwinked – claimed otherwise and refused to pay. The public won and Mrs Thatcher was consigned to the waste basket of politics soon after. The current Coalition government is working hard to ensure that this policy is carried out, with the so-called ‘Pickles Poll Tax’ – the council tax support scheme that ensures everybody pays council tax. Meanwhile, efforts to ensure the rich pay less are going ahead, with Corporation Tax cut by a quarter during the lifetime of this Parliament, and the ‘Millionaires’ Tax Break’ cutting the top rate of Income Tax from 50p in the pound to 45p.
She kept Britain out of the Euro (or more accurately, European Monetary Union). This was her one sensible policy, history has proved. There is much to be said in favour of a free-trading zone where countries can trade amongst themselves at favourable rates – but monetary union cannot be a workable part of that, when the countries involved are at hugely varying stages of development. Mrs Thatcher was right to oppose it and the fact that the UK is not mired in the current Eurozone crisis, except as a member of the EU with trading interests to protect, is to her credit.
By now, dear reader, you are probably wondering how Mrs Thatcher lasted so long, if her policies were all so divisive, and so clearly trained on impoverishing the lower classes. The answer is simple: She was excellent at public relations. The fact that she was the UK’s first-ever female Prime Minister was a huge publicity boost for her, and she built on it by nurturing an image of herself as ‘The Iron Lady’ – a Prime Minister of firm convictions who knew that what she was doing was absolutely right for Britain (“Right for the goolies of Britain,” as Graeme Garden joked on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue at the time). The PR-reliance was clear from the start – the Conservative Party hired the Saatchi & Saatchi agency to run its 1979, 1983 and 1987 election campaigns. It is notable that this partnership dissolved during the 87 campaign and Thatcher’s premiership ran out of steam shortly afterwards.
To sum up, I’ll leave you with the comment I placed on the New York Times website, in response to that paper’s piece about Mrs Thatcher’s death:
“Having lived through the Thatcher years and the changes her government perpetrated on British society, allow me to assure you that there is little reason to heap praise upon her.
“The entire thrust of her thinking was to ensure that the rich and powerful became richer and more powerful, and the poor – especially those with intelligence and/or ability – would be denied any chance of prosperity or success.
“What’s the American Dream all about? Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness? Everybody created equal, with opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth? The Thatcher government is a rejection of all those aspirations, as is the current Cameron government, which is its natural successor.
“The Thatcher government deprived people of their liberty by creating a large underclass of unemployed people and using the threat of unemployment to depress workers’ wages.
“As a result, they did not have the disposable funds to take advantage of the sell-offs of national utilities such as British Gas and British Telecom.
“She sold social housing but did not build any to replace it.
“She used the police as a tool of political repression, rather than as guardians of the law.
“She used taxation in a similar manner, crippling the poor with punitive measures such as the hated Poll Tax – a flat-rate charge, effectively a tax cut for the rich, but a huge tax hike for the poor.
“That was her fatal error, of course.”
Goodbye, Baroness Thatcher. Hopefully your passing will trigger a reassessment of your career, so that we can all move on from the political nightmare your policies created for the vast majority of middle- and working-class people whose only political mistake lay in entrusting their future to you.
MPs Andy McDonald and Grahame Morris spoke against the bedroom tax at the Middlesbrough demonstration.
According to the Daily Mirror, 26,000 people across the country took part in the 50-odd protests against the Bedroom Tax, all staged earlier today (March 30) – so we can reasonably assume the real figure is much larger than that.
According to Charlie Kimber on Twitter, at least 10,000 were in Glasgow, and the photographic evidence seems likely to bear that out, so my guess is that, for once, the Mirror had taken a conservative (small ‘c’) stance.
The Mirror article had crowds gathering in Trafalgar Square, waving banners and posters with the message ‘Stop bedroom tax’, wearing T-shirts carrying “angry” messages for David Cameron, Gideon George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith. The nature of these messages was not revealed but I think we can make educated guesses of our own.
Whitehall was closed to traffic as, chanting “Can’t pay, won’t pay, axe the bedroom tax,” the protesters made their way to Downing Street.
In Liverpool, the paper said, demonstrators declared an “uprising” during their march.
The Glasgow anti-bedroom tax demonstration. How many people do YOU think attended?
A BBC Scotland report reckoned the Glasgow demo attracted two and a half thousand people, including Bill Scott from disability campaign group Inclusion Scotland (in fact he was in Edinburgh), who was quoted as saying two-thirds of UK households affected include a disabled person – rising to four-fifths in Scotland.
And “disability rights activist” Susan Archibald headed up the Edinburgh demonstration. On Twitter, afterwards, she said, “I was so proud to lead the bedroom tax protest in Edinburgh today. I stood up for all people who were either too poor or ill to attend.”
I particularly enjoyed the IBS – did I say IBS? I meant IDS – quote the BBC Scotland article used:
“Mr Duncan Smith defended the reforms during a visit to Edinburgh on Wednesday.
“He said: ‘It is unfair on taxpayers, it is unfair on those in over-crowded accommodation and it is unfair that one group of housing benefit tenants cannot have spare bedrooms and another group are subsidised.'”
From that last sentence alone, we can only guess what goes on in a mind that seems, clearly, deranged. But let’s just juxtapose his comments in unfairness with another state subsidy, discussed in this blog yesterday:
“The government thinks it is more fair to deprive people of the money to pay landlords for their homes than it is to cap rents.
“The government thinks it is fair to take money from people who cannot move into smaller accommodation, more appropriate to their needs, because it simply hasn’t been built.
“But then, the government thinks it is fair for MPs like James Clappison (Conservative, Hertsmere) to have 24 homes and yet still claim £100,000 in second-home expenses between 2001 and 2009. That’s £12,500 per year. People on Housing Benefit get less than £100 per week, meaning less than £5,200 per year.”
Together we can smash the tax: People in Swindon show their support for the protest.
The protests constituted a nationwide display of disgust at the Coalition government’s attempt to find yet another way for the poor to pay for the mistakes of the rich.
But what happens now?
Historically, governments don’t pay much attention to rallies and protests. The only real way to hit this lot is in the wallet. Look at recent history for a good example: the Poll Tax.
Mass rallies were held, with attendances far greater than those today. The government didn’t bat an eyelid. But when people refused to pay up, and were prepared to face court action, fines and even imprisonment for their principles… I think we all know how it ended. The tax was replaced and the then-Prime Minister was removed.
The trouble is, as you’re probably thinking, this time the government isn’t expecting the people to pay; it’s simply deciding not to pay the people. So how can you fight that?
Okay, try this:
If you’re in a council house, you probably got it after being on a housing list. Your council put you there. It is reasonable, therefore, to argue that your presence is due to a decision by your council and not your own choice – therefore it is the council that should be paying for any ‘extra’ bedrooms as defined on the government’s hastily fudged-together list. Take your council to small-claims court over it, the instant you get a letter of denial.
If you’re in a house belonging to a social landlord, why not tell them you’re perfectly prepared to move, but for reasons of your own choice – maybe you’ve got a local job, for example – it must be to a place near your current location. What do they have? My guess is, not a lot. Be difficult about the kind of accommodation you’re willing to move into. When you decide they can’t give you what you need, take the government to small-claims court. Clearly, you are occupying this property because there is no appropriate social housing within a reasonable distance, and that is because the government has not allowed enough such accommodation to be built. You are not at fault; the government is.
If you are disabled, inquire of your landlord about the cost of removing any living aids you have from your current residence and installing them elsewhere. Do they have spare buildings with disabled access? What if you are a person who must rely on particular routines – moving house will disrupt those, and therefore seriously impact on your standard of living. Appeal against any change that could affect your lifestyle adversely.
Whoever you are, if you have made any improvements to your home, seek legal redress for the cost of those improvements, should you have to move. You might not actually be moving now, but you want the money because you don’t know when you might have a chance to move, and it will be harder to prove what you’ve done if someone else is in there, making their own changes.
None of these – and they’re just off the top of my head – are likely to win any court battles, but that’s not the point. The aim is to tie up the government, local government, social landlords and anybody else involved in this nightmarish policy, in ever-more-convoluted legal shenanigans. These things will cost them money. If enough of you get involved, they’ll cost a considerable amount, in fact. Then there’s the question of manpower that will have to be diverted from other work to deal with it. That will cost – as will employing more staff to take on the extra burden.
Government departments are already straining under the burden of appeals against other so-called benefit reforms. Ministers won’t have much tolerance for dealing with these matters because they think they have better things to do.
But you don’t.
What could be more important than fighting for your home?
Isn’t it amazing, the amount of joy the right-wing press and its adherents can project over the death of a man who improved conditions in his country beyond all expectations?
That is what we are seeing after the death of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
But we should not be surprised – after all, these are the same newspapers (and their bosses) who support the nation-wrecking policies of David Cameron and the Coalition – an unelected dictator and a cadre of manipulators whose only linked interest is their own enrichment at the expense of anybody else.
Chavez was not perfect. There are some aspects of his personality that would give any reasonable person cause for second thoughts. His support for foreign dictators is one. Any man who can draw tributes from Ahmadinijad and Assad is questionable. The rise of violent crime in his country is another – and extremely worrying. Violent crime is linked with poverty, and yet…
And yet any criticism of his presidency on economic grounds is absurd. His nation’s wealth tripled during the first 12 years he was in office. Tripled!
As for his association with unelected dictators – this seems beyond strange as he was not one himself. In fact, his share of the popular vote at his last election was enough to turn every British Prime Minister since Winston Churchill pale with envy.
That last election was won under one of the fairest and most robust voting systems in the world – that was implemented by his own party. Former US President Jimmy Carter thinks its system is superior to that of the US. Turnout was more than 80 per cent, with 55.1 per cent of voters casting for Chavez. It’s notable that the 44.3 per cent of votes cast for rival Henrique Capriles would shame every single UK Prime Minister since Harold Wilson in 1966.
In other words, Venezuela’s former president was elected by one of the most democratically-sound systems in the world, and gained more support from his people than any British PM since Churchill.
Not a despot, then.
He has cut extreme poverty by two-thirds, and general poverty by almost half.
He has cut infant mortality and improved equality; and he has cut unemployment by almost half, to 8.2 per cent (strikingly close to the UK level).
He has improved his nations infrastructure and public services.
And he has proved that left-wing policies can improve prosperity and increase economic growth.
That’s why the right-wing press hate him. He shows there is a better alternative to the nightmare we are living through.
So let’s look at David Cameron, shall we?
Only 23.47 per cent of eligible voters supported David Cameron in the UK general election of 2010 (compared with 44.32 per cent for Chavez in January this year).
That election was marred by the fact that many voters were prevented from casting their vote at polling stations that closed at exactly 10pm. This was incorrect – all voters who had arrived and were queueing by 10pm should have been admitted to the building and allowed to cast their vote. So the UK election of 2010 was carried out in an improper way.
The result was a hung Parliament, with no single political party gaining power. The Con/Dem Coalition was formed in a backroom deal between Cameron and Nick Clegg, and had nothing to do with the will of the electorate. Therefore Cameron can be said to be unelected. Less than a quarter of the eligible voters wanted him and he did not win enough Parliamentary seats to justify taking office.
Then we come to dictatorship. How many unwanted policies have we had since this rabble slithered into government, determined to restrict our freedoms just as much as possible?
Policies like, for example, the cuts to Legal Aid?
The Internet snooping Bill?
The plan to gerrymander the number of Parliamentary seats and the boundaries of constituencies, in order to deliver an unfair advantage to the Conservative Party in the next election (which, thankfully, failed)?
How many policies have been imposed on us with the intention of impoverishing the poorest in society?
The Welfare Reform Act?
The Localism Act, with its reintroduction of the hated Poll Tax (that’s the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, for those of you in England who have to deal with it)?
The Bedroom Tax?
And then there’s the Health and Social Care Act, an attempt to ‘fix’ the National Health Service when it wasn’t broken, in order to let private operators get their hands on the huge cash opportunities it offers. Has anyone noticed that the nation’s health has worsened, according to many indicators, since the ConDems took over?
And there has been no mention yet of all the policies to put money in the pockets of the very rich, donors to the Conservative Party, bankers, people who park their money in offshore tax havens (thereby keeping it away from the taxman) and the many other corrupt ways this government’s members have been filling their own pockets with cash (and those of their friends and donors) when they should have been looking after the national interest.
Yet the right-wing press supports Mr Cameron and his cronies, despite the fact that they have been a worse disaster for the UK than the financial crisis that preceded their arrival.
Can we ever hope to have a champion like Chavez in this country?
Or is the British system now so badly corroded that it can only ever attract the worst that society has to offer?
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