Money, money, money: Boris Johnson’s government says it is spending billions to help children with special educational needs and disabilities weather the Covid crisis – but they aren’t seeing it. So where is it going?
It may be hard to accept, but Boris Johnson and his cronies have been weaponising Covid-19, using the crisis as an excuse to take support away from vulnerable children.
Parents of children with special educational needs and disabilities have been particularly hard-hit, as Metro‘s report shows:
An Ofsted report into the impact of the first lockdown published this week found that some children lost basic skills and learning as a result of school closures and restrictions on movement.
Turning to SEND children, it found the pandemic has presented ‘serious and far-reaching’ challenges for families, with some feeling ‘isolated’ from existing services.
One parent who spoke to Metro branded the situation a ‘national disgrace’ and said her three-year-old son had received no physio or occupational therapy for nine months.
Another told of a ‘pressure cooker’ environment and the ‘terror’ parents face with no end in sight, as they struggle without services they had previously relied upon in their day-to-day lives.
The response from the Tories’ Department for Education spokesperson gives great emphasis to the amounts of money that have been allocated to help parents and children in this situation.
It mentions “£37million this year to help thousands of low-income families raising disabled or seriously ill children with the challenge they face staying at home”, a “£1billion Covid catch-up fund”, and “increasing high needs funding for local authorities by £780 million this year and a further £730 million next year”.
But who actually receives the cash and what does it actually pay for?
This year we have seen the Tories waste no less than £12 billion on a Covid-19 test, track and trace system that not only doesn’t work but is actually a contamination risk.
So quoting amounts of money allocated to particular projects means nothing.
It is clear from the stories here that these parents and children are not receiving the support they need.
And I, for one, would like to know what the Tories are really doing with that cash.
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.
We have seen that a story broke yesterday (November 18), confirming a UN inspector’s claims about the Conservative government’s policies on benefits – and BBC anchorman Andrew Marr helped a Tory minister brush it under the carpet.
This is not acceptable behaviour for a member of our national news media. We expect them to hold power to account. It might be understandable, at least, if he showed similar leniency to people of all political persuasions – but events were to prove that this was not the case.
It lays both Mr Marr and the BBC open to serious questions about their competence, impartiality and fitness to continue as a news reporter of record.
Shortly after the incident with Kwasi Kwarteng, Mr Marr interviewed Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, discussing Theresa May’s 585-page Brexit deal.
Baroness Chakrabarti showed remarkable restraint when he – patronisingly – asked her if she had read all of the document she was there to discuss – especially as he had not.
Excellent moment from Shami Chakrabarti on #Marr explaining how @UKLabour will stay in line with worker's rights, consumer & environmental protections to be interrupted by Marr asking if she's read the document. She's read all of it & he's read some.
But what happened next went beyond the pale. Mr Marr tried to put his interviewee in an impossible – if fake – position, contrasting Labour’s manifesto commitment to honour the result of the 2016 EU referendum with her own preference for remaining in the European Union. When she responded that she was a democrat, he leaned in and warned her not to patronise him.
“Don’t patronise me!” Andrew #Marr snarls angrily at Shami Chakrabarti two minutes after asking her — the Shadow Attorney General — whether she’s read the document she came to talk about. Ok.https://t.co/p5IFTYbj1Z
It’s a completely false argument. Baroness Chakrabarti had said “I don’t know about you, Andrew, but I am a democrat.” His claim to be “as much a democrat as you are” strikes hollow, considering he was suggesting that she should have ignored the result of the referendum to follow her own preference. Is that what he would have done? Her excellent response was, in the circumstances, remarkably restrained.
Commenters on the social media were, understandably, less calm about the matter:
"Don't patronise me" says Andrew #Marr to Shami Chakrabarti, after patronising and interrupting her throughout the interview.
Nooruddean pointed out: “Andrew Marr doesn’t speak to Theresa May or Nigel Farage or Marine Le Pen like this. It’s really unprofessional.”
And Dr Lauren Gavaghan demonstrated that the attitude is evident elsewhere among BBC political anchormen: “Oh lord. Andrew Marr – really? Is this as good as you’ve got? A man with your years of experience?
“It’s as bad as Dimbleby telling me “don’t wag your finger at me young lady” once upon a time on Question Time.”
And James! drew attention to the tactic Mr Marr used to prevent Baroness Chakrabarti from upbraiding him about his own behaviour: “I can’t stop thinking about this from Andrew Marr. Totally unprofessional & uncalled for.
“Note the ‘anyway’ after his attack.
“He wants to draw it to a close and move on.
“Shameful behaviour & really quite sinister. When the mask slips…”
Many made the point that Mr Marr went on to give Dominic Raab – the former Brexit Secretary who did not understand the significance of the Dover-Calais crossing – exactly the same kind of easy ride he had provided to Kwasi Kwarteng earlier in the show:
Tory boy Andrew Marr – shouts interrupts and rants at Sturgeon and Chakrabarti now gently probes Dominic Raab who could so easily and fairly be eviscerated .
Ash Sarkar added: “It’s Andrew Marr’s job to put politicians through the wringer, no matter what their political stripe. I support that. But I just don’t understand why Dominic Raab is getting handled with kid gloves, while Shami Chakrabarti got treated like this?”
But it was MP Dan Carden who made the crucial connection – that Mr Marr supports Conservatives and undermines Labour politicians because that is the current culture at the BBC.
“We have a media that shows deference & respect to its establishment Tory chums, and derision to those who challenge the utterly broken status quo,” he tweeted.
“As Chomsky once brilliantly told Marr – ‘if you believed something different, you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting’.”
This corresponds perfectly with the words of UN special rapporteur on poverty, Professor Philip Alston, whose report on poverty in the UK had been dismissed with a query about whether it was “appropriate” by Mr Marr earlier in the programme.
So we see a situation in which Professor Alston’s assertion, that poverty is deliberately inflicted on people by the Conservatives, is proved with an example – that of Emily Lydon. His further claim that the Conservative government is in a “state of denial” is proved by the response of Mr Kwarteng. And the assertions by commenters – that the BBC (and others in the mainstream media) have disguised or hidden the reality, and that the mainstream media are complicit with the Tories – is demonstrated by Mr Marr’s behaviour.
However, in the name of the “balance” that the BBC tries to present in its reporting, I should point out that there were some who supported Mr Marr’s meltdown.
Mennie Maahes tweeted: “I have no problem with anyone telling this mouthy foreigner where to shove her views, Marr did it from the wrong standpoint but still applicable. Interesting Marr is getting annoyed because people will not accept Remain is right-perhaps he now knows what Leave folk feel like?”
However, in the name of accuracy I must add Rachael Swindon’s response: “Referring to The Right Honourable Baroness Shami Chakribarti as a “mouthy foreigner” is rather stupid, what with her being born in the London Borough of Harrow.”
It all contributes to a standard of reporting that falls well below what we should demand of our public service – and publicly-funded – broadcaster. We don’t fund the BBC in order to be force-fed Conservative Party propaganda, no matter what Andrew Marr might think.
Sadly, we are let down by those other members of the national press who we might reasonably expect to hold the BBC to account (for not, in its turn, holding Tory politicians to account). Consider Eoin Clarke’s summary of the way the exchange between Mr Marr and Baroness Chakrabarti was reported:
Media reporting of Marr’s behaviour this morning is a disgrace. It wasn’t a “testy” exchange. It wasn’t a “spat”. Shami wasn’t “stunned”. It wasn’t “a bruising encounter”. It was a pig headed misogynistic outburst that smacked of incumbency bias & disdain for an intelligent woman
Professor Philip Alston: He came to his conclusions by listening to people affected by Conservative policies on the poor, sick and disabled. Tories implemented those policies by ignoring the very same people – and now they have vowed to ignore Professor Alston.
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, has said he believes the UK’s Conservative government deliberately increased poverty in the country, for ideological reasons.
He said the harm done to the poorest and most vulnerable could be reversed with very little investment; all that is needed is the political will. Sadly, we all know that a change of government will be required to achieve this.
The Tories themselves confirmed this, by stating that they do not recognise the findings of Professor Alston’s report. Clearly they will not act upon those findings either.
In an interview with Channel 4 News, he said the following:
"Open your eyes – there is very real poverty out there."
UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston says there are people in the UK "living in destitution" and that "government people haven't been out in the field to see what the real circumstances are." pic.twitter.com/wb7oPhXG93
A wealth of material has appeared about this – mostly on the social media (and we’ll discuss the reasons for this below), so it is possible to put together a good summary of the report, the reaction to it, and wider issues from that. So here are the headlines:
Damning from the UN:
🔻14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. 🔻4 million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line 🔻1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.https://t.co/KOG3XwJa7g
And poverty is understood as being poor, as in being short of money. It does not say anything about the strain of not knowing how to pay your bills. It destroys your health, your relationship and it robs your children of their future.
Here’s the underlying implication – that the Tory government intended to create this problem for the people of the UK in order to achieve “radical social re-engineering”:
P Alston's report confirms what many campaigners have always known He says "In the area of poverty-related policy, the evidence points to the conclusion that the driving force has not been economic but rather a commitment to achieving radical social re-engineering." Intended.
With the tories, austerity was never never about balancing the books but always about destroying the Welfare State to enrich the 1% and the UN report on how #Theresamay's govt treats the poor proves that. #UniversalCredit
The UN’s rapporteur for extreme poverty & human rights: “That 1.5 million people in the UK live in destitution is grim. The government could solve this, the money is there, but they choose not to.” If you’re not outraged, you should be. #Austerity#ToryBritain
The Tories response: "We don't recognise" & on WATO some Tory chap informed us that the poverty in the UK was nothing compared to countries UK supplies with financial aid. The usual trick of not comparing like with like although our poverty is now 3rd world. Truly worthwhile read https://t.co/GWMyjhvSjR
It is well worth noting that Professor Alston used the words “hostile environment” to describe the Conservative government’s policies brings to mind the Windrush Scandal – and the Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for so many of the policies which have caused the harm, is now being run by the woman who took the rap for Windrush – Amber Rudd.
Alston has made findings which many of us are already aware of – his description of social re-engineering and the alienation of the rich from the poor in a constructed 'hostile environment' (where've we heard that before?) frankly contains all the ingredients for revolution.
“If you got a group of misogynists in a room & said how can we make this system work for men & not for women they would not have come up with too many ideas that are not already in place” – Philip G. Alston: UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty & human rights #UNVisit2018pic.twitter.com/ToZm7EY7aX
This Site suggested yesterday that Esther McVey resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary, not because of Brexit but because she did not want to face the criticism she would receive from Professor Alston. In his report, he revealed that he had met Ms McVey – and her comments were alarming:
One can see why she may not have wanted to stick around for the fallout from that. Instead, as Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell points out, they “manipulate statistics” and “refuse to accept responsibility”.
How much more evidence do the Tories need before they recognise the poverty and human suffering they have inflicted on our people? They manipulate statistics to mask this harsh brutality and refuse to accept their responsibility for hurting the poorest. https://t.co/BXNqv29c3S
Excellent points. And if you think the BBC isn’t hiding important facts from you, were you aware of the following?
The Conservatives decided to cut the Allowance for disabled children in low income families by half. Conservatives decided to make poor disabled children poorer. That was their choice. #ChildrenInNeedRocks2018#BBCChildreninNeed2018
A long-standing special advisor of DUP leader Arlene Foster said he thought “we could fill our boots” with money from Westminster, via the scandalous Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI), it has been claimed.
Ms Foster set up the RHI when she was Northern Ireland’s Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment. She failed to introduce proper cost controls.
As the scheme worked by paying applicants to use renewable energy, and the rate paid was more than the cost of the fuel, applicants were making profits simply by heating their properties and costs went out of control.
On the final day of a public inquiry into what became known as the Cash For Ash scandal, senior civil servant Dr Andrew McCormick related a conversation he had with Andrew Crawford, Ms Foster’s special advisor.
Mr Crawford has always denied that he tried to delay efforts to rein in the schemes costs in mid-2015, when it became clear that they were out of control.
But Dr McCormick told the inquiry he said in late October 2016, around a month before RHI became a huge political scandal, “I thought this was AME [Treasury funding, rather than from Stormont’s budget] and we could fill our boots.”
The inquiry has already uncovered an email which shows that Dr Crawford felt it could be good to overspend on RHI because it was GB money.
The resulting scandal led to the dissolution of the Northern Irish government and the failure of efforts to form a new power-sharing deal means that part of the UK still has no government today.
The RHI scheme, overseen by the DUP, has potentially cost the public purse almost £500 million.
And these are the people Theresa May offered a further £1 billion to prop up her minority Conservative government in Westminster.
There’s an old saying – “If you want to know someone, just look at their friends.”
Perhaps we should remember this when Philip Hammond announces his latest budget.
It seems these Conservatives are allied with people who deliberately sprayed our money up the wall – for no other reason than that they could.
Trade unionists and workers from across the UK have converged on London in their thousands to demand a “new deal” for working people.
The TUC (Trade Union Congress) says real wages are still lower than before the crash in 2008; three million workers are stuck on zero hour contracts, in agency work and in low paid self-employment; hard-working public servants haven’t had a proper pay rise for eight years; our NHS is at breaking point; and years of cuts have led to poverty, homelessness and despair for too many.
This Writer agrees with every word.
And so, it seems, do the masses.
News coverage hasn’t been that wonderful, though. As I write this, the BBC News channel is broadcasting something called Royal Wedding Singalong so you can see what the priorities are there!
But there has been some coverage. Here’s Sky News:
Workers are still £14 a week worse off than a decade ago – while rich men sit on piles of cash. March with us tomorrow to demand a new deal for the working people of Britain. #TUCNewDeaLpic.twitter.com/LqgRMAWnES
The Conservative government is apparently trying to tell us we’ve never had it so good. Wages are up by £2,000 (a year?), according to people like Iain Duncan Smith. Unfortunately, experts are telling us real-terms wages won’t reach parity with 2008 levels until 2025.
The Tories are also telling us employment is at its highest in 40 years – a meaningless statistic if the amount those people are paid is negligible – and it is.
Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies appeared on BBC News to say that wages are stagnant because productivity is stagnant – we aren’t producing enough to be paid more. Until this changes, the situation is unlikely to improve.
That’s as may be, but executive pay has skyrocketed under corrupt Conservative rule while workers’ pay has stagnated.
Perhaps people might feel less inclined to take part in huge marches against austerity if of these greedy fatcats stopped taking all the cash.
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Oops: Theresa May probably looked as shell-shocked as this image after she took her call from Arlene Foster and realised her career is on the brink of disaster.
Is this the stupidest mistake ever made by a United Kingdom prime minister?
Theresa May seemed to be at the verge of signing an agreement with the EU27 on the vexed issue of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland – meaning she would have met the deadline for Brexit talks to have made enough progress to move onto trading conditions. Here’s an excited Donald Tusk:
Tell me why I like Mondays! Encouraged after my phone call with Taoiseach @campaignforleo on progress on #Brexit issue of Ireland. Getting closer to sufficient progress at December #EUCO.
But what exactly was the deal? Here’s Robert Rea to explain:
Fine. But the DUP, whse support Theresa May's government depends upon, are insistent that N Ireland remains an integral part of the UK, with no "special" status and no "Irish Sea" customs border between it and the rest of the UK
Wait. What? The deal means a different regulatory framework for Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK? But the DUP won’t agree, because it wants Northern Ireland to function on the same terms as the rest of the UK? Isn’t that a big problem?
In other words, in order to reach a border deal, and ensure the DUP are kept on board, the UK may end up with a status which is for all practical purposes pretty much equivalent to being in the customs union, and close to being in the single market
And we’d also need ECJ jurisdiction to make it work. In other words, we might as well remain in the EU, it seems – unless we’re really desperate for worse trading conditions with the EU27 than we currently enjoy.
Of course it didn’t come to that in the end. As Mrs May was settling down to her working lunch with Jean-Claude Juncker, DUP leader Arlene Foster convened a press conference in the UK.
She said: “We have been very clear. Northern Ireland must leave the EU on the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom. We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. The economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom will not be compromised in any way.
“Her Majesty’s Government understands the DUP position. The Prime Minister has told the House of Commons that there will be no border in the Irish Sea. The Prime Minister has been clear that the UK is leaving the European Union as a whole and the territorial and economic integrity of the United Kingdom will be protected.
“We want to see a sensible Brexit where the Common Travel Area is continued, we meet our financial obligations, have a strictly time-limited implementation period and where the contribution of EU migrants to our economy is recognised in a practical manner.”
We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom. pic.twitter.com/uCBVdfVQTJ
The Guardiantells us: “May was forced to pause discussions to take a call from Arlene Foster. The unionist leader, whose party currently provides the Tories with a working majority in the Commons, told the British prime minister that she could not support Downing Street’s planned commitment to keep Northern Ireland aligned with EU laws.”
Hearing it was the DUP call that sunk today's chances of a deal – Foster held her press conf, 20 mins later May leaves talks with Juncker to call her, goes back into the room and the deal is off
The Guardian added: “In London, Tory Brexiters, including Iain Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees-Mogg, told the Brexit minister Steve Baker, and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, that they were also rallying behind the DUP’s stance.”
Here’s the bombshell:
Things have become a lot clearer:
In her infinite wisdom, Theresa May and her Brexit negotiators didn't think it was necessary to keep the DUP in the loop on details of Irish border agreement
This is why DUP issued emergency statement which destroyed EU deal.
This appears to be correct. The Guardian again: “The DUP’s fury had prompted by a leak early on Monday of a draft 15-page joint statement from the European commission and the UK which suggested Britain had bowed to the Republic of Ireland’s demands by accepting that ‘in the absence of agreed solutions the UK will ensure that there continues to be continued regulatory alignment’ with the internal market and customs union.”
The irony is that Mrs May had to ally with the DUP after losing her Parliamentary majority in a general election she called in order to solidify support for her version of – you guessed it – Brexit. To retain her role as prime minister, she made it impossible to achieve the stated aim of the election.
So Jeremy Corbyn was right on the button when he tweeted the following:
The reason for today’s failure in the Brexit talks is the grubby deal the Tories did with the DUP after the election. Each passing day provides further evidence that @Theresa_May’s Government is completely ill-equipped to negotiate a successful deal for our country.
So the £1bn deal with the DUP didn't include supporting a carefully crafted fudge over NI to allow PM to do her Brexit deal by the deadline https://t.co/WBNEYvaakT the phrase 'no surrender' comes to mind!
Has any UK Prime Minister ever been so humiliated in international negotiations as May was this afternoon? A complex done deal between EU and UK scuppered by a phone call to the leader of a tiny party in Northern Ireland.
The Independent has speculated that her failure to reach an agreement over the Irish border could bring Mrs May’s premiership to a crashing end (and not a moment too soon, in This Writer’s opinion):
“In history, some British Prime Ministers have had their premierships wrecked by the “Irish Question”. Others, in more recent times, have been destroyed by Europe. Theresa May is unique in managing to combine both famously intractable and insoluble issues into one lethal cocktail. And so, it seems she is about to swallow the poison.
“The Government is perfectly happy to concede ‘special status’ for Northern Ireland/Ireland in the Brexit talks – anathema to the Ulster Unionists. This is because the Government desperately needs to get onto the second phase of the process – the trade talks for the whole UK – and MPs, without being too crude about it, are happy to sign whatever the EU sticks under their nose and worry about the consequences later.
“In the end, they will risk their support from the DUP to get moving on Brexit. Jobs (Tory MPs’ included) are at stake. After all, ministers such as David Davis always say that “nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed”, so having now ratted on the Democratic Unionists, they can, in due course, re-rat on the Irish and the EU, after a trade deal is sorted out.
“With a bit of luck, some creative ambiguity and some more bribes and false promises for the DUP, Theresa May might just pull it off. Perfidious Albion would have foxed the Unionists in the wider national (i.e. Tory) interest.
“For such an unlucky Prime Minister, it would be a bit of a turnaround – but, as in horse-racing and football, the form book does count for something; the litany of May’s calamities suggest she won’t, in fact, get away with it.
“The DUP could quite conceivably get so angry that they’d scrap their agreement with the Tory-minority Government and resolve to get rid of them. Then May would have to appeal to the Opposition parties, especially Labour, to rescue her in the Commons.
“Fat chance. If Corbyn wants, he could find any number of grounds for voting May out of office, but failure of Brexit is a pretty good one. He could then either cobble together a new Frankenstein coalition or, more realistically, follow the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliament Act to secure a fresh general election. With an eight-point poll lead over the Conservatives, wouldn’t you?
“Of course that would mean the DUP would let in the “Sinn Fein-loving Corbyn” (as they might see it), so they’d have a tough choice, but they might have sufficient fear about what their constituents in Ulster would do to them if they kept the treacherous Tories in power that they’d feel they have nothing to lose.
“In which case we’d have an election in, say, February.
“The incoming government would ask, if it was sensible, to put Brexit on pause while it changes policy, and the EU would happily oblige if there was a chance of reversing Brexit – via, say, a second referendum. Or Corbyn and Keir Starmer could just agree to stay in the single market and some version of the customs union. Arlene Foster might in fact be able to live with that.
“In which case, by spring, it would all be over for May, Boris, Gove and the old gang, and they could get on with their civil war in earnest.”
While we await that development, we’ve had this one. The Guardian, yet again: “The news was then seized upon by Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, who suggested that any promise for Northern Ireland could be replicated for Scotland. That call was followed by similar suggestions from the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.”
Apres nous, le deluge (“after us, the flood”, for those who don’t know their French, or the history of the French Revolution). Others leapt in to demand the same considerations, leading to the following (semi-)satirical comments:
Mock sympathy: This is the sort of treatment Ed Miliband can expect from David Cameron if he keeps following policies that are created by the Tory media rather than the needs of the British people.
Labour could be heading for defeat next year, after it set out new policies that have the same chance of success as England’s plan for the 2014 World Cup.
The party put its weight behind a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) that left the public cold. If Labour does not change direction, it seems likely the party will not win the votes it needs to get into office next year – unless its rivals make serious mistakes.
It is a situation almost exactly like that of the England football team.
All right, it’s not a perfect parallel. England got into this fix because it was outplayed by teams with ambitious and flamboyant star players – Balotelli for Italy and Suarez for Uruguay. Labour doesn’t have that problem as the closest equivalent in politics is Nigel Farage.
But, like England, Labour seems unable to defend itself against even rudimentary attacks – partly because leaders have painted themselves into a corner (marked ‘pro-austerity’) and partly because they simply refuse to use the logical arguments. Does anybody remember what a relief it was when, after years of silence in response to Tory claims that Labour caused the financial collapse, Peter Hain finally told Owen Paterson, on the BBC’s Any Questions, “It was the banks that destroyed the economy, not the Labour government – it was the international banking system!”
And where is Mr Hain now? He’s retiring at the next election. The only Labour player who was man enough to fend off this blatantly unreasonable Tory attack and he’s being taken off the field.
Meanwhile, Labour’s leaders continue to make schoolboy mistakes that create the opportunity for the other side to score. Ed Miliband’s publicity-seeking pose with The Sun was a spectacular example; yesterday’s IPPR report was a more subtle one.
The lack of ambition is staggering; it seems that, after four years, the Miliband camp still hasn’t understood that copying Tory austerity will scare voters away. Committing to Tory-imposed constraints that require any new idea to be covered by a cut or a tax increase will just increase the exodus – Labour needs to be ambitious.
Everybody knows now that austerity is nonsense. It’s an excuse to drive money into the hands of those who have too much of it already. After four years of it, we are told that this government is on course to put five million British children in poverty by 2020. Food bank use is at its highest ever. The number of people claiming in-work benefits is at its highest ever because employers refuse to pay a living wage and expect the taxpayer to subsidise them instead; by the time of the 2015 election, working families will be around £2,000 per year worse off than they were in 2010.
You are worse-off under the Tory Coalition. You are worse-off under austerity.
Meanwhile, business bosses and shareholders have been having a spectacularly good time, with incomes skyrocketing. There’s no austerity for the One Per Cent!
Indeed, income inequality has increased hugely to place the UK seventh on the international table, behind the USA (fourth) and Chile (first) – and we all know that Tory neoliberals are huge fans of the systems in those two countries.
What are the wealthy doing with all the money they have parasitised from the rest of us?
Well, they’re not using it to pay their taxes, that’s for sure!
One of the main plans put forward in Labour’s IPPR report was to save money by means-testing benefits for 100,000 young people – saving £65 million. That’s a pittance compared to the £600 million in taxes that is being withheld by Google, Amazon and Apple, according to an infographic that’s currently doing the rounds.
Labour is very quiet about that – copying the Tory attitude of diverting people with stories about welfare abuses because Miliband’s know-nothing advisors think being “hard on benefits” is popular with the public, who don’t like “scroungers”.
They’re not intelligent enough to understand that this attitude has been carefully nurtured in the public consciousness by a right-wing, Tory-controlled media. It has nothing to do with reality, in which only a tiny minority of people are in fact defrauding the taxpayer out of benefit money. Lord Fraud – sorry, Freud – was taken to task for this only days ago.
It seems that – like England’s football team – the Labour Party has been off chasing a fantasy. Austerity and the persecution of people on benefits (most of whom are entirely deserving of them, plus massive amounts of compensation for the despicable way they have been treated for the past few years) are Conservative-created blind alleys. In politics, you don’t oppose anybody by copying them.
If Labour concentrated on the real causes of Britain’s problems, the party might have a hope of success.
Otherwise, like the England team, Labour will have to be content with hoping that the Tories make a big mistake.
And, like the England team, they are most likely to learn that this is not good enough.
Struggling to make an impact: Ed Miliband must reject the Tory Party’s narrative about the need for austerity and bring forward a vision for the future that really does make us ‘One Nation’ again, rather than hanging on David Cameron’s neoliberal coat-tails, as many former Labour voters believe.
The political debate is all about the Labour Party again today – as it has been since the Budget.
The newspapers and websites are full of advice for the party, which is now clearly seen to be struggling to gain any kind of a foothold with electors who have become disillusioned at what might best be called the Party of Very Little Opposition.
Labour “must adopt new principles” according to an alliance of thinktanks and party intellectuals who have written to The Guardian; Ed Miliband has been told “don’t play safe” with the party’s manifesto according to an article on the same paper’s site.
We can probably discount the Telegraph article by Dan Hodges, claiming that Labour is “closed for business”. It plays to right-wing readers’ prejudices just a little too much.
Will Ed pay any attention to these pleas? Evidence suggests he will not.
I should clarify from the outset that, as a Labour member, I want the Party to win in 2015 (and also to gain the lion’s share of the vote in May’s European elections).
But Miliband seems to be living in a world of his own, insulated from the rest of the Labour Party – not to mention supporters of Labour ideals who are not members – by a small group of (not-so-special) advisers who, it’s claimed, intercept any decent ideas before they get to the party leader and spin them until they turn to drivel. Whether this is true or not seems immaterial as this is the perception of the general public.
And perception is everything.
As I write this article I have just received a comment stating that “Miliband’s strategy for the next election seems to be a) to accept the Tory frame of reference for any given argument and b) to then concede the field of battle on that issue, whatever it is, without a shot being fired.” This is a common complaint, and Labour has no answer to it.
Why do Miliband, Balls, Tristram Hunt (notably), Rachel Reeves (lamentably) and all the other Labour frontbenchers blithely accept the Coalition’s terms of reference on any issue, against the wishes of their own backbenchers, their party as a whole and the public at large?
Are they really just a gang of greedy moneygrubbers, determined to screw the country for whatever they can get? That in itself would be a betrayal of Labour Party ideals and their constituency parties should deselect them if members believed that to be the case for one moment.
Are they a gang of neoliberals, their political philosophy so close to that of the Conservatives that you can’t get a credit card between them? This rings threateningly true in the cases of Oxford PPE graduats Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, ex-Bank of England employee Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt. But Ed Miliband is (famously) the son of a Marxist. He, above all, should know better.
The trouble is, David Miliband is the son of the same Marxist and he was as much a part of the neoliberal New Labour Red Tory deception as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Oh look – another comment has just arrived. “More people don’t bother to vote because they feel that we as a people have moved on and all we really want is people who will represent us honestly, by majority and with no hidden agendas, backhanders or lobbyists pulling the strings. I don’t see any evidence that the present government or the Labour Party are capable or willing to do just that… They should have the courage to change and become the voice of the people.”
Become the voice of the people. The meaning is clear – Labour is not currently representing anybody at all.
Is this true? Let’s look at some of the other comments on my (left-leaning, let’s not forget) blog. These are from people who are generally sympathetic to Socialism and who should, therefore, see Labour as the natural home of their vote. What do they say?
“[Is it] any wonder [that] 1. People don’t vote because they are seen as “all the bloody same”? and 2. The perceived differences have become so minuscule?”
“Until Labour wakes up and realises it is the welfare cuts that are a major concern to most of us and to anyone who has a conscience, they will lose the next election due to apathy.”
“Labour have to do something different to what they have up to now but they don’t seem to want to. Are they scared of being in government over a country in the state it is?”
“Labour have had four years to do something – anything – to fight against the welfare cuts, and to help the people they are supposed to be the party for! They’ve really done nothing when all is said and done.”
If Ed Miliband was reading this, I would be asking if he was getting the message yet (are you, Ed?) and what he proposes to do about it. You think not? Let’s have some more comments from people who should be supporting Labour – I’ve got plenty of them!
“There has been absolutely no fight in this opposition and I am ashamed of them.”
“People need a reason to apply their votes to Labour and Miliband-Balls are not providing them with one. They are sleepwalking into another hung Parliament and a very real risk of the Tories teaming up with UKIP. Then we’ll really see Nazism grip this country.”
“The would-be voters demand change and need bold new policies to blunt the Tory cutters. If the Labour Party cannot come up with policies which are radical then they don’t deserve to be in power at the next election, or ever.”
“Ed Balls worries me because he seems intent on copycatting Osborne. For example Osborne says he will run a surplus by the end of the next Parliament and Balls promises the same. Osborne say he will be introducing a Benefit Cap on social security spending on working age benefits (which could have devastating effects and lead to real terms cuts in benefits for years on end) and Balls says that Labour will vote with the Coalition to introduce it.”
“Surely we need some clear red water between Labour and the Tories? Surely Labour needs to differentiate itself more from the policies of the Coalition?”
“I sent an email to the Labour Party asking for its policy on TTIP (the rightly-feared Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that will force employment standards down to third-world levels, or below), amongst other things. They were decidedly equivocal and I felt no reassurance at all. I think it’s about we faced facts, Labour aren’t being coy in a pre-election year to avoid frightening the horses, they really are just another pack of neoliberals.”
This is how left-wing voters (and the squeezed-middle waverers to whom Ed Miliband keeps trying to pander) see the modern Labour Party: Carbon-copy Tories with no fresh ideas who aren’t worth the effort of voting.
If any of Ed’s shadow cabinet is okay with that description, he needs to sack them and bring in someone with a clue. And he needed to do it last year.
If the Conservatives win in 2015, it seems clear that responsibility will lie as much with Labour’s failure to provide any clearly-visible alternative.
We have already seen carnage inflicted on the poor, the sick and disabled, and a Conservative-only government (or in collaboration withUKIP) would increase that bloodshed tenfold (senior citizens take note: the bribe you were given last week was a trick and if you vote Conservative, many of you will not live to rectify your error at another election).
Unless Ed Miliband sorts out his party – pronto – that blood will be on his hands as well, and the people will not forgive him.
Note that I did not say they won’t forgive Labour. I said they won’t forgive Ed Miliband.
Words cannot describe the way people feel at what has been done to them by the Coalition. If Labour reveals even the slightest element of complicity, I wouldn’t give a farthing for Miliband’s safety.
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Patsy n A person regarded as open to victimisation or manipulation; a person upon whom the blame for something falls.
Burstow n A patsy.
It seems a familiar story: The Tories plan legislation that is clearly no good at all – in this case, a legal clause to allow the closure of successful hospitals to prop up failing NHS trusts (Clause 119 of the Care Bill). The Liberal Democrats object and threaten to rebel. The Tories then offer concessions to make it seem less likely that this will happen and the Lib Dems withdraw their objections.
All seems well until the new rules are put to the test. Coalition MPs voiced disquiet at the powers being granted to allow a trust special administrator (TSA) to force through changes at a neighbouring hospital if they consider it necessary to save one that is failing. This power is considered likely to be used to save hospitals run under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI), which are therefore saddled with huge unnecessary interest bills on the money invested by private companies.
We are told there will be some form of public consultation. Great. Here in Mid Wales, Powys County Council consulted constituents on its plans to cut £20 million from its budget for 2014-15. After the answers came back, the council’s cabinet ignored every single word of the responses and pressed on with its plan. Changes were only brought in after the rest of the council made it clear that they weren’t putting up with those shenanigans.
So much for consultation.
The minute a hospital is closed to prop up the PFI place next door, the Tories will blame Patsy – sorry, Paul – Burstow. They’ll say he had a chance to do something about it but didn’t.
What makes it worse for him is that Labour weren’t going to put up with his shenanigans and forced a vote on his amendment – which would have completely neutered the offending clause. Burstow voted against it – that’s right, against his own amendment, helping the government to a narrow 47-vote victory.
So much for him.
One politician who does seem to have the good of our hospitals at heart is Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham. What did he have to say about all this, during the debate yesterday (March 11)?
“What we have seen … from the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who positioned himself as though he was going to make a stand for local involvement in the NHS, is the worst kind of collusion and sell-out of our national health service.
“Just as the Liberal Democrats voted for the Health and Social Care Act, again they have backed … the break-up of the NHS.”
Taking no notice: Councillors appear to be breaking the law in order to enforce Bedroom Tax evictions. [Picture: The Guardian}
It seems the ruling group of Powys County Council, here in Mid Wales, has challenged the law in its attempts to block a ‘no-eviction’ motion on the Bedroom Tax.
The Labour motion was put forward at a meeting of the full council on October 24. It called on councillors to note the comments of Raquel Rolnik, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Housing, who said that the Bedroom Tax policy could constitute a violation of the human right to adequate housing, and asked them to pledge that Powys will not evict tenants who fail to pay their rent because of it.
Councillors who are also private landlords were forbidden from speaking or voting on the motion. They have a financial (or pecuniary) interest in the matter as they stand to benefit if social housing tenants are forced to seek accommodation with them as a result of the policy. This meant around 30 councillors had to leave the chamber.
It seems that members of the ruling Shires Independent Group, realising that there was a real possibility that the motion would be carried, then called for any members who are themselves social housing tenants – or have friends or family who are social housing tenants – should also be barred from taking part.
This made it impossible to continue the debate. The matter has been passed to the council’s Standards Committee, whose members have been asked to judge whether landlord councillors should receive special dispensation in order to debate the motion.
It seems that this decision is wrong in law.
According to Essential Local Government, a journalistic textbook from the Vox Political vaults, “In some cases, the Secretary of State for the Environment or Secretary of State for Wales can issue either a general or particular dispensation entitling members with declared interests to take part in debates and to vote. An example of this is that councillors who are council tenants may take part in debates on, and vote on, matters relating to council housing.”
That book was published in 1993 but there is no reason to expect such a general dispensation to have been removed and therefore it seems that any call for councillors who are tenants – or who know tenants – not to be able to take part in a debate can have no basis in law.
The motion should have been debated by councillor-tenants and members with no interest, and a decision made on the day, nearly a month ago. The delay means social housing tenants in Powys (and VP knows of 686 affected households in the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency alone) may have been subjected to an unnecessary month of evictions or threats of eviction.
It has been suggested that the decision to block the motion may have been prompted by figures from the House of Commons library which suggest that as a result of the Bedroom Tax the amount of Housing Benefit paid to private landlords (remember, HB is a landlord subsidy and does not enrich tenants at all) will rise from £7.9 billion to £9.4 billion.
If the Standards Committee decides to allow them to debate the motion, it is likely that the decision will therefore be corrupt.
The matter went unreported by the local press because none of the newspapers had sent any reporters to cover the meeting.
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