Ken Livingstone on the BBC’s Sunday Politics, December 11, 2016 [Image: BBC].
Suspended Labour grandee Ken Livingstone appeared on the BBC’s Sunday Politics today (December 11, 2016), to defend the party’s recent by-election losses under crossfire from host Andrew Neil and Chris Leslie, representing the party’s right wing.
Of course, Twitter’s collective knee was jerking spasmodically throughout, and afterwards.
First up with the stupid was Ian Austin, another Labour MP, who earned notoriety when he tried to shout down Jeremy Corbyn while the Labour leader was criticising Tony Blair in response to the Chilcot Inquiry report:
What are the odds on Ken Livingstone getting through an interview on @daily_politics without mentioning Hitler? Shall I open a book?
Mr Austin’s political leanings mean he helpfully voted with the Conservatives on George Osborne’s silly fiscal rules (remember them?) – a Labour MP who voted for austerity. Meanwhile, his expenses claims have been astronomical.
And Mr Livingstone, of course, didn’t mention Hitler once.
Instead he pointed out, reasonably, that Richmond and Sleaford were not Tory-Labour marginals, and where by-elections have been held in such places, the results indicate a Labour victory.
Chris Leslie was quick to support the candidates, even though both have been criticised as right-wingers who do not support Jeremy Corbyn. Could that have been a reason for their unpopularity?
Moving on to Labour’s economic credibility, Mr Livingstone said the UK economy would “limp along” for the next few years, which is pretty much the opinion of any reputable economist.
Yes indeed, Narinder Singh – and underemployment is at a record high as well. People have jobs, but they don’t pay well enough, and the UK’s productivity is no better for the extra members of the workforce. So the economy is limping, and Brexit will only make that worse.
On that subject, Mr Livingstone said he doubted the UK would be able to get a good deal from the European Union. Andrew Neil countered by pointing out that Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour is committed to getting the best possible deal. The two positions are not mutually exclusive; it’s simply that the best possible deal isn’t likely to be good. But Mr Livingstone allowed himself to be distracted by the line of questioning and said he did not believe that was possible – a confusing statement that may be used against him.
Mr Livingstone supported Labour’s plan for huge investment in the economy, saying it could be funded: “If we cracked down on what some believe to be £150 billion of tax avoidance… We can say to Starbucks… we’ll tax every cup of coffee you sell.”
This produced a cracking response from Zorba Eisenhower:
Ken Livingstone on Starbucks: we'll tax every cup of coffee they sell! Me: we already do, it's called VAT! #bbcsp
On Labour’s current standing in public opinion – as defined by the polls which, as everybody reading This Blog knows, are not a reliable indicator – Mr Livingstone said: “If in a year’s time it was still as bad as this, we’d all be worried. I don’t think it will be.”
This was welcomed by the Twitter critics. It was as if their previous negativity towards him had never existed:
Ken Livingstone puts Jeremy Corbyn on 12 months' notice: "If in a year's time it's still as bad, we'd all be worried."
Andrew Neil, in a last-gasp bid to breach Mr Livingstone’s self-confidence, pointed out that Labour has lost Scotland, and its support in the North of England seemed to be wavering.
But he replied: “It’s in the north, in the areas that have been neglected, that Jeremy’s strategy has the most relevance.” He went on to discuss the rebuilding of British industry that is part of Labour’s current economic strategy.
In contrast, Chris Leslie hardly got a look-in. He had a few moments but they were mostly flops, despite the interest they generated on Twitter. For example:
Well said @ChrisLeslieMP, pointing out that Ken Livingstone is no longer a commentator but part of the leadership "so it's over to you"
See? Tom Newton Dunn (who?) agrees. And it’s true that Mr Livingstone is a divisive figure. But he spoke coherently in this interview and Mr Neil was unable to dent his logic, even if he (and, clearly, many members of the public) didn’t agree with it.
Mr Leslie, on the other hand, was dismissed with a sideswipe when Mr Neil poured ridicule on his claim that his side of Labour would hold the leadership to account. Labour’s right wing had lost and was deeply unpopular with the party membership, Mr Neil reckoned, and I reckon he’s right.
Oh, and here’s just one more (intelligent) comment about the main focus of discussion on Twitter:
You do realise Ken Livingstone was correct about Hitler and Zionism right?
Today’s Sunday Politics interview was an almost reasonable attempt at getting facts from the slippery Iain Duncan Smith.
Most of the information provided by the Work and Pensions Secretary wasn’t factually accurate, but at least Andrew Neil had the guts to ask some of the questions this blog did not expect from him.
Let’s be honest, though – he bottled the Big One. The Elephant in the Studio was the number of people who have died due to the Incapacity Benefit/ESA sanctions regime imposed by Iain Duncan Smith (never mind Labour’s early involvement; it’s a Tory baby now) and policed by Atos (although the firm has realised this is commercial suicide and is trying to get out of the contract).
Oh, you thought the reference to elephants was aimed at Messrs Neil and Duncan Smith themselves? No – they might be large, lumbering monsters but the largest pachyderms in the room were metaphorical.
The question is topical as it is still only a matter of days since we all learned that Mark Wood died of starvation after the DWP found him fit for work – despite mental problems including an eating disorder. The DWP has maintained, in the face of all the evidence, that there is no reason to relate claimant deaths to loss of benefits, but this fantasy is likely to be ruined by the verdict of Mr Wood’s inquest.
The relevant questions are: Why has he decided to cover up the number of suicides? And does he have a figure relating to the number of deaths before he accepts a policy might not be working?
Why were they not put? Did Mr… Smith impose a moratorium on them before he entered the studio?
But let’s be fair to Mr Neil. Questions from the POLITICS’ Facebook page WERE directed to the Secretary-in-a-State, starting with one from Lesley Roberts, asking why so much Universal Credit funding has been written off. The response was a rehash of the excuse given to the Work and Pensions Committee; that the money has been written DOWN (meaning, I think, that the value of the investment has been downgraded in the same way your computer is worth less now than the amount you paid for it – “the amortisation of cost over a period of time”). That’s not an acceptable answer as the money has still been spent.
“You’ve written off £140 million,” said Mr Neil.
“No no no, we haven’t,” insisted Iain Duncan Smith, starting a pattern that would continue throughout the interview.
As Vox Political commenter Shaun Gardner remarked: “It’s more than a little frightening that every set of statistics, be it ONS or Institute of Fiscal Studies, is wrong and IDS is correct. He’s a bloody madman.”
“But even your Conservative cabinet colleague Francis Maude says the implementation of Universal Credit has been, quote, ‘pretty lamentable’!” This was laughed off as a reference to a time before … Smith made changes to the project. Emergency changes, these were, that he didn’t mention to anyone until many months later, maintaining that everything was hunky-dory in the meantime.
Challenged over the fact that he was predicting a million people would be on UC by April, and only 3,000 are currently in receipt, the man we call RTU (Returned To Unit) said: “I’m not going to bandy figures around,” then immediately went back on this with, “It’s over 6,000 and rising.” He said he wanted to roll it out carefully, having made changes two years ago. That won’t wash, because he ALWAYS said he was going to go slow with this disastrous white elephant of a scheme.
One aspect of what he said that disturbed this writer was when the Secretary of State claimed Universal Credit would make it easier for people to take short-term work while they look for long-term jobs. He said the current system penalises people for doing this, and we can see from people’s recent experiences http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2014/03/08/sanctioned-for-working-and-being-honest-about-it/ that there is truth in it. But the nature of Universal Credit means that benefits are adjusted according to the amount people have earned; if someone does a day’s work and is paid even minimum wage for it, then the UC computers (if they ever work) will dock that amount from that person’s benefit – they will be no better-off. In fact, they may be worse-off, as there may be knock-on effects on other aspects of that person’s income. How is this making work pay?
“Universal Credit IS supposed to make work pay – that is your mantra,” said Mr Neil. “Under Universal Credit, the marginal tax rate can still be 76 per cent!
“Er, no, actually,” said the interviewee, going on to say it would be 76 per cent for lone parents “in the tax bracket”. What tax bracket? Was he really saying this only counted for lone parents who found a job paying enough for them to cross the ever-higher Income Tax threshold, and he doesn’t expect these people (who would also have to pay for child care, of course) to ever cross that threshold? What does that say about the kind of work he expects people to be taking under a Tory government – the kind of pay they will receive? What does that say about his expectations for lone parents ever to find work that pays? What does it say about the Conservative Party’s expectations regarding Income Tax, if most people are only ever expected to find work that doesn’t mean they will ever earn enough to pay it?
Mr Neil’s response: “You’re going to tax poor people at the same rate that the French socialist government taxes billionaires!”
Moving on to the Work Programme, Mr Neil quoted the Commons Public Accounts Committee, who said it was “worse than doing nothing”.
Response: “No, they’re wrong, it’s actually way better than doing nothing.” Backed up with some statistics about 280,000 people getting into sustained work for more than six months. He added that a company had been sacked in the past week for poor performance as there is competition in every area and WP provider companies don’t get paid if they don’t hit targets. The last point is extremely debateable, considering the woeful lack of effort to help people, as witnessed by many people who have been through the process and then commented about it on this blog.
Mr Neil’s riposte: “‘The best-performing provider only moved five per cent of people off-benefit and into work; the worst managed just two per cent. The programme is failing young people and the hardest to help.'” Mr… Smith said this was from a National Audit Office report that referred only to the first few months of the programme. In fact (see Vox Political articles of the past) the Work Programme has been a failure for both of its first two years; it is still in its third.
Neil: “Why is long-term unemployment rising?”
Duncan Smith: “Long-term unemployment is falling.”
Neil: “Not in figures that have been announced by the ONS.”
Duncan Smith harped back to the competition among WP providers, saying it was what drives up performance. In fact, we’ve seen that this competition drives performance DOWN, as these for-profit companies scrabble to make the most money by providing the worst service.
Courageously, Mr Neil moved on to Mr… Smith’s religious beliefs. He pointed out that the Secretary of State is a practising Catholic, but the most senior Catholic in the land, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, has attacked his “reforms”, saying they are becoming “more and more punitive”.
Response: “I don’t agree… Most of the facts they put in were incorrect. Disposable income… is at its highest level that it has been for a long time.” He said the poorest 10 per cent are now spending a lower proportion of their income on food “because their disposable income has improved”.
What an interesting insight into Planet Duncan Smith THAT was! Who thinks the more likely reason is that they have less money to spend on food because they are having to spend a larger proportion of their DWINDLING income on the rent (thanks to the Bedroom Tax) and on utility bills (because the Tory-led government has allowed private electricity, gas and water firms to charge whatever they wanted, unchecked, for too long)?
Housing benefit: Mr Neil pointed out that David Cameron announced people with disabled children would be exempt from the Bedroom Tax – but only after the DWP fought a High Court battle in support of the opposite position. Iain Duncan Smith fudged the issue. He said it was usual to go to appeal, but that he had said it was reasonable to exempt this group. The fact is that he fought tooth and nail to ensure disabled children would be victimised, failed, and cut his losses.
“The courts have upheld all of our positions on this, against much complaints,” he insisted. Let’s see… The Supreme Court has ruled that regulations governing “back to work” schemes were illegal. The Court of Appeal has rejected the government’s appeal against a ruling by the Upper Tribunal that the work capability assessment discriminates against people with mental health problems. The DWP itself admitted that Bedroom Tax regulations had ignored legislation exempting people who had occupied social housing and been in receipt of Housing Benefit since before January 1996 – but not before one such person, faced with a bill she could no longer afford to pay, walked onto a motorway where she was hit by a lorry and killed. The rules have since been amended to ensure that this group can be victimised along with everyone else.
The Work and Pensions Secretary went on to say that he hadn’t cut the rise in Housing Benefit; he had lowered it. If anyone wants to explain that distinction, please do.
He also said councils needed to use their accommodation more carefully, to improve the lot of people living in desperate overcrowding. Perhaps he is unaware that his government has been allowing (if not encouraging) councils to continue selling off their housing stock, making this increasingly less achievable – but this is doubtful. It’s his business to know.
Jobseekers’ Allowance: “A centre-right thinktank [Policy Exchange] that you’ve been associated with says 70,000 jobseekers’ benefits have been withdrawn unfairly.”
He said this was “a very small subset”, that “there is an immediate review within seven days”, and that people are “immediately able to get a hardship fund”.
Let’s ask Vox Political commenter Shaun Gardner (again) about this. He says: “Err no you can’t. It’s a never ending stream of BS and denial. IDS is bad for your mental health. He should come with a government health warning.”
Thanks for that, Shaun!
“This is not a nasty, vicious system,” claimed Iain Duncan Smith, straight-faced.
Back to Mr Neil: “Is child poverty rising?” (We know it is – Vox Political has carried figures from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and those quoted on this show came from the Institute of Fiscal Studies, a right-wing thinktank that once boasted Margaret Thatcher as one of its members.)
“No. Child poverty is actually falling.” A flat-out lie.
Final observation from Mr Neil: “More people in poverty are now in working families… For them, work is NOT paying.”
Final gambit from Mr Duncan Smith – and it’s an oldie: “Those figures refer to the last government’s time in government.” What a shame it isn’t true. The figures we have, from the JRF (again) include the first three years of Iain Duncan Smith’s time in office (up to and including 2012). In other words, this was another bare-faced lie.
And that was it. Apparently 20 minutes was not long enough to get all of Iain Duncan Smith’s lies broadcast, so he has agreed to come back and do some more lying at a later date.
Let’s leave this with one question that was definitely not going to get anywhere near RTU. It came from Sophie Hawthorne and runs as follows: “I was wondering if the Obersturmführer might be asked whether or not he understands what will happen to quisling lackeys like himself, with a solid track record of ideological, dogmatic hatred and pathological dishonesty, when his privileged masters need a scapegoat to sacrifice in order to assuage the anger at the chaos he has created at their behest?
“I suggest he reads up on the fate of another thuggish bully-boy just like himself, during a previous regime which had a fondness for social, racial and ethnic cleansing… Nacht der langen Messer [Night of the Long Knives], Herr Duncan Schmitt, and remember the fate of Ernst Rohm?”
For those who aren’t aware, Rohm was a lieutenant of Adolf Hitler who founded the SA (forerunner of the SS). He was executed as a potential rival of Hitler’s as part of the Night of the Long Knives in 1934.
After this performance, there will be plenty of people across the UK sharpening their knives for Iain Duncan Smith.
Like it or not, politics in the UK is far more nuanced today than it has been at any time in the last 100 years. How can it be anything else? All the main political parties are trying to occupy the same, narrow, centre-right ground.
Even so, one man has emerged as the pantomime villain of British politics: Iain Duncan Smith.
ConservativeHome readers regularly vote him into the top slot as the most popular cabinet minister – but it seems that anyone who has ever had dealings with his Department for Work and Pensions has the exact opposite opinion of him. He has been nicknamed IDS, but this blog calls him RTU instead – it stands for ‘Returned To Unit’, a military term for serving soldiers who have failed in officer training and have been returned in disgrace to their original unit (the implication being that his claim of a glittering military career is about as accurate as his claims to have been educated at the University of Perugia and Dunchurch College of Management).
Here at Vox Political, we believe that this man’s tenure at the DWP will go down in history as one of the greatest disasters of British political history – not just recent history, but for all time. It is our opinion that his benefit-cutting policies have done more to accelerate the impoverishment of hard-working British people than the worst recession in the last century could ever have done by itself.
We believe the assessment regime for sickness and disability benefits, over which he has presided, has resulted in so many deaths that it could be considered the worst genocide this country has faced since the Harrowing of the North, almost 1,000 years ago.
That will be his legacy.
On Sunday, he will appear on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show to answer your questions about his work. The show’s Facebook page has invited readers to submit their own questions and this seems an appropriate moment to highlight some of those that have been submitted – but are never likely to be aired; RTU is far too vain to allow hyper-critical questioning to burst his bubble.
Here is our choice of just some questions he won’t be answering:
“Why [has he] decided to cover up the number of suicides due to [his] benefit cuts?” “Why is he killing the elderly and the disabled?” “Does he have a figure (number of deaths) before he accepts a policy might not be working?”
“Universal Jobmatch, Universal Credit, WCA reforms, PIP; are there any policies and projects he has tried to implement that haven’t been a massive shambolic waste of money, causing distress and sanctions to so many people?”
“Would he like to comment on the huge amount of people wrongly sanctioned, and would he like to explain why whistleblowers from the JCP have admitted there are sanction targets?”
“Ask him if he believes a comparison can be drawn between the government’s persecution of the sick, disabled and mentally ill and the ‘Action T4’ instigated by the Nazis in 1939. I am sure the tow-the-line BBC will give him sight of the questions before he gets on the show so he will have time to look it up.”
“People are now waiting months for their appeals to be heard and the meantime their benefits are stopped. What does he expect them to live on? Why [are] he and his Department pursuing this deliberate war against some of our most poor and vulnerable people?”
“Could he comment on the massive amount of money written off due to failures with the Universal Credit?”
“Why are we paying private companies to test disabled and sick people when one phone call to their consultant or GP would provide all relevant details they need?”
“[Does] he have any intention of putting his money where his mouth is, [living] on £53/week, and how does he square that with the £39 on expenses he claimed for breakfast? Half a million people signed the call for him to do so.”
“Why are full time carers who look after loved ones only paid £59.75 a week? Less than JSA, indeed less than any other benefit! they save the tax payers millions, and yet have still been hammered by the changes in housing benefit, council tax benefit and of course the hated bedroom tax.”
“Ask him about the Universal Jobsearch website and the fake jobs on the site. As a jobseeker, this site need[s] better monitoring.”
“Ask him if the bedroom tax was really just a deceitful way to remove all social housing and force people into private rentals for the rich to claim housing benefits paid to claimants.”
“Does he think that paying subsidies to supermarkets and other private companies via welfare benefits because they do not pay well enough is what government should be doing?”
Some of the questioners address Mr… Smith directly:
“Why do you keep testing people with incurable progressive illnesses? Once found unfit to work, [they] never will get any better so to retest is stressful, cruel, and not needed.”
“Why are you telling Jobcentre Plus staff to get ESA claimants and JSA claimants to declare themselves self-employed, then reeling them in with the promise of an extra £20 per week? Is this why the unemployment rate fell last quarter?”
“You say you want the sick off what you call the scrap heap but with few jobs out there, do you mean off the scrap heap into the destitute gutter?”
“Do you feel remotely guilty for the lives you’ve ruined? the lies you’ve told? The dead people on your hands? Do you feel any shame at all that you’ve done all this and more? Do you sleep well at night knowing there are people who can’t feed their children because of you?”
“As a committed Roman Catholic, how does your conscience deal with you supporting and advantaging privileged millionaires while you personally and systematically further impoverish the poor and disadvantaged?”
“Does he feel ashamed to have caused so much suffering, because he flipping well should!”
There were many more questions that were not appropriate for repetition.
To see what he does have to say for himself, tune in to Sunday Politics on BBC1, starting at 11am on March 9 (which is, as you might have guessed, Sunday).
What are you supposed to think when a man who reportedly engaged in extra-marital toe-sucking antics, among other activities allegedly involving a Chelsea football kit, calls a child sexual abuse victim a “weirdo” on live TV?
What we’re seeing is utterly vile.
It’s the Establishment (such as it is) scrambling to salvage its reputation by smearing everyone around it.
We all know that the BBC’s Newsnight programme ran a report on Steve Messham’s allegations that he was abused as a child, by a person who was not named on television.
Speculation began on Twitter about the identity of that person (we all now know that he was wrongly identified as Lord McAlpine, the former Conservative Party Treasurer).
When David Cameron appeared on ITV’s This Morning show, presenter Philip Schofield handed him a list of names mentioned in the online speculation – members of the Conservative Party – and asked if the Prime Minister was going to discuss the matter with them.
The very next day, Mr Messham apologised to Lord McAlpine, saying that he had now been shown a photograph of that gentleman and he was not the man whose picture he had been shown by a police officer in the 1990s. It had been the police officer’s claim that that photograph was of Lord McAlpine that had led him to make his accusation.
To me, that seemed a conspicuous coincidence. The PM gets a list – and remember, this had been going on for some time up until then – and the very next day, any possibility of an allegation against the man who had – until then- been the most popular suspect is retracted. We can only hope that there was no foul play and this development is exactly what it seems to be.
It is strange that nobody at Newsnight had done that – showed Mr Messham a picture of Lord McAlpine. It should be admitted that the Newsnight report named nobody, but better safe than sorry (as the saying goes).
What’s stranger is that Mr Messham was shown a picture of his abuser and given the wrong name. I questioned this in an earlier article, and also asked why nobody in the mass news media had done likewise.
Well, now we know. An all-out attack on Mr Messham appeared in today’s Mail, stating that he was branded an unreliable witness, assaulted a lawyer at an inquiry, triggered a £400,000 libel payout after making a previous false sex abuse allegation, and was tried for fraud. “Even his lawyer says he may have invented stories”, the report trumpeted.
It was co-written by somebody calling him- (or her-) self ‘David Rose’. Now, here’s where it gets interesting. It seems David Rose was once a pseudonym for the journalist Johann Hari, who used the name to make “malicious edits of several of his critics’ Wikipedia pages” (according to Wikipedia itself) an allegation he later admitted in an Independent article.
“In a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk,” he wrote.
Now, I’m not saying the ‘David Rose’ in the Mail is Johann Hari using his pseudonym, but I am saying it is interesting that the writer has chosen a name that is associated with fabricated smear pieces. It leads inquiring minds to question the authenticity of what we’re seeing.
Finally – the crowning travesty, if you will – we were presented with David Mellor (a man whose own questionable – in a different way – sexual history is well-documented) on today’s Sunday Politics, using the Mail smear piece to justify calling Mr Messham a “weirdo”.
He said: “They rely on a man who, you know, the Mail on Sunday reveals over two pages, that this man is a weirdo.”
Mr Mellor himself has a chequered history with the popular press. Besides the toe-sucking, Chelsea kit-wearing dodginess, he had called for curbs on press freedom in 1992, claiming that the popular press “is drinking in the last-chance saloon”. He must be delighted to be involved in this.
Job done. Messham discredited. Newsnight discredited. No need to investigate the possibility of paedophiles in the Conservative Party.
And what will be the long-term result? Paedophile victims will be even more afraid to come forward than they were before. Therefore abuses will continue. They may even become worse.
There are several online ‘memes’ that mock the Conservative Party by calling them “SelfServatives”. In what has happened over the last week, the Conservative Party has proved its critics correct. In covering its own collective rear – no matter what it took – it has ensured a victory for paedophiles across the UK and a crushing defeat for victims of this hideous sex crime.
All those involved in this little damage control exercise, from Mr Cameron, to ‘David Rose’, to David Mellor, and whoever else was enlisted to help out, should be ashamed of themselves – both for what they have done and the cack-handed way in which they have done it.
They have proved yet again that they are, in the words of Aneurin Bevan, “lower than vermin”.
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