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Commons Speaker refuses bid to debate government diktats – but it may IMPROVE democracy

Speaking up: Lindsay Hoyle wasn’t quite this active in his speech, but his words were strong.

What was the point of Lindsay Hoyle’s intervention about Boris Johnson treating Parliament with contempt?

He spoke up to say the way the government has used secondary legislation – statutory instruments – to exercise power in the Covid-19 crisis has been “totally unsatisfactory”.

But then he said he’s blocking an amendment of the temporary provisions in the Coronavirus Act 2020 – that allows Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock to use those powers!

See for yourself:

He did say that he’ll be extremely sympathetic to motions that call for the government to send ministers to the Commons to defend undemocratic moves to restrict citizens’ freedoms in the future.

And it seems likely that Tory backbenchers will take advantage of this; all is not well between Downing Street and the Tory backbenches.

It raises a crucial question:

Could Tory rebels bring Johnson down – in the middle of a national health crisis – in the name of democracy?

Amazingly, because of Keir Starmer’s assurances of support, it seems the government is more likely to be defeated by members of its own party than by Her Majesty’s Opposition – and that’s an unhealthy position for a Labour leader.

The public will see that Starmer is not doing the job for which he was elected and will turn further against him.

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Temporary staff caused increase in social care Covid-19 cases, survey shows

Temporary agency staff fuelled the spread of coronavirus in care homes, according to a survey.

Well, of course they did.

… alongside the Tory insistence on shipping Covid-19 sufferers from hospitals into homes that weren’t equipped to care for them, of course.

The question is: why did they put their residents in a situation where they could not avoid catching the disease?

There were more confirmed cases in care homes that hired temporary carers and other staff to cover for absences and in institutions that moved employees from one site to another. Care homes that did not offer staff sick pay had higher rates of infections.

Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in more than half of care homes, where an average of 20 per cent of residents and 7 per cent of staff were thought to have had the virus.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics, are likely to be an underestimate because they record only residents and staff who tested positive after displaying symptoms not those infected but asymptomatic.

Care homes that did not offer staff sick pay had more infections – because they could not afford to take time off to self-isolate?

Institutions that moved employees from one site to another and hired temporary carers to cover for absences also had more confirmed cases – because these staff members were carrying the virus from one site to another.

Who created such poor conditions of employment?

Who do you think?

Source: Temporary staff drove rise in social care cases | News | The Times

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Vote Tory for a tiny economy, terrible jobs and no welfare state

150211economic-downturn

No doubt some of you will scream that this post is overdramatizing, but the consequences of further fiscal consolidation (that’s austerity to most of us), as laid out in Professor Simon Wren-Lewis’s latest Mainly Macro article, seem undeniable.

He tells us the National Institute has used the model NIGEM to analyse the macroeconomic impact of the different political parties’ fiscal plans post-2015, which is published in the latest Review. (Chris Giles has a FT write-up.) The result: The more fiscal austerity you undertake, and if monetary policy fails to perfectly offset the impact on demand, the lower output will be.

You don’t need a crystal ball to see what this means, if we get another Conservative, or Tory-led, government. Lower output means a lower tax take, therefore less money to spend on the NHS and welfare benefits (areas like Defence and International Development will always have funds – we can’t let ourselves go defenceless and we must continue our programmes of cultural imperialism, after all).

So further Tory austerity instantly implies the imposition of even harsher standards of qualification for state benefits, pushing even more vulnerable, sick and disabled people off the books and into their graves. We’ve all known that voting Tory is an endorsement of state-sponsored suicide but it’s time we all owned up to it.

It means the sale of the National Health Service in England to private companies will be accelerated, with consequent impacts on the amount of grant funding for the health service in the other UK countries; the service will continue to worsen and even more deaths will be the result.

But the Tories will want to pretend to the media that all is well, which means an increased push to get people into part-time, temporary or zero-hours work, and an increased number of benefit claimants being funnelled into work activity programmes that, in fact, reduce the number of available jobs. The resulting low-pay economy is exactly what the Conservatives want; the workers will be kept down and the employers can pocket the profits.

Nobody in the government or even the Bank of England will tell you this because, it seems, they haven’t done any analysis and won’t make any such forecasts.

The Office for Budget Irresponsibility is not allowed to look at alternative fiscal policies in the short term and must therefore put the bravest possible face on what is offered to it – that is why every single forecast to come out of that organisation has been hopelessly optimistic.

We’re back to evidenceless policies again. The Tories are saying “everything will be okay”, because – for them – it will be. They and their rich friends will have loads of cash. Who cares that the entire infrastructure of the United Kingdom – and the British way of life – will be dismantled and disappearing from under them?

Think this is overexaggerating? Let’s go back to Prof Wren-Lewis and examine the Tories’ record. He writes: “If you go back to 2010, the OBR’s main forecast didn’t look too bad: the recovery was continuing, and interest rates were able to rise as a result.

“But good policy does not just look at central projections, but it also looks at risks. Then, the risks were asymmetric: if the recovery became too strong, interest rates could always rise further too cool things, but if the recovery did not happen, interest rates would be stuck at their lower bound and monetary policy would be unable to keep the recovery on track.

“In 2010 and beyond that downside risk came to pass [bolding mine], and the recovery was delayed. Fiscal policy put the economy in a position where it was particularly vulnerable to downside risks, which is why it was an entirely foreseeable mistake.

“Exactly this point applies to 2015 and beyond. The problem with further fiscal consolidation while interest rates remain at their lower bound is that it makes the economy much more vulnerable to downside risks.”

In other words, it seems Conservative policy, as set down by History graduate and towel-folder George Osborne, deliberately weakened this country’s ability to recover from the crash of 2008 and afterwards.

How secure is you job? How safe are your savings?

Do you really want to risk them on more Tory bungling?

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Rachel Reeves could single-handedly lose the election for Labour

Rachel Reeves: So stupid she'll cost Labour the election.

Rachel Reeves: This photo is a rare occasion in which she doesn’t have her foot in her mouth.

I’ll say it if nobody else will – Rachel Reeves is so stupid she could lose Labour the election.

Work and Pensions is a gaping policy open-goal for the Tories but Ms Reeves can’t see this and wants the world to know she’ll out-cut them on the Benefit Cap.

“Labour supports a cap on benefits. We will ask an independent commission to look at whether the cap should be lower in some areas,” are her actual words.

What stupidity. One can only imagine she is basing these comments on the fact that wages are lower in some areas than others. But prices are just as high!

Sure, it’s an important point that David Cameron’s government “has spent £25bn more than planned on welfare because of his failure to tackle the low pay that leaves millions dependent on benefits to make ends meet”. And her comments about apprenticeships may be accurate as well.

But what about all the deaths caused by Iain Duncan Smith’s homicidal benefits regime?

What about the huge numbers of people who have simply disappeared from the benefit system rather than face another round of humiliation and sanction on possibly fraudulent grounds?

What about workfare?

What about zero-hours contracts, part-time and temporary work, and all the dodges employers are using to get out of paying for holidays, sickness and the like?

What about the scandal of our low-wage economy, that keeps people on in-work benefits and denies the Treasury the Income Tax money it needs to pay off the deficit and debt?

What about the many other legitimate grounds for laying into the Coalition government?

This is utterly unacceptable – and in the run-up to an election.

What is Ed Miliband thinking, letting her keep the Work and Pensions brief?

He must get rid of her – not just for our sakes, but for his own party’s electoral chances.

Torygraph double-talk would drag us back to primeval politics

Good riddance: Tony Blair (pictured on his return from his final Prime Minister's Questions on June 27, 2007) tried to marry left-wing social policy with neoliberal economics. This 'Third Way' failed when the right-wing economies of the western world fell apart in 2007-8.

Good riddance: Tony Blair (pictured on his return from his final Prime Minister’s Questions on June 27, 2007) tried to marry left-wing social policy with neoliberal economics. This ‘Third Way’ failed when the right-wing economies of the western world fell apart in 2007-8 [Image: Telegraph].

Here’s a lunatic for you: Janet Daley, writing in the Telegraph.

Contrary to all the evidence, her article Labour has forgotten all the lessons it learnt under Blair would have us believe that Old Labour is back with a vengeance, having discarded all the right-wing tricks it picked up under Tony Blair.

By now, most of you are probably sighing wistfully and murmuring “If only” at your screens. We all know it isn’t true but there’s an ideological agenda at work here – this Daley woman (a former Philosophy lecturer, if you can countenance such a background for such a person) needs to undermine Labour’s credibility. “After all the progress we appeared to be making towards a mature national discourse, we find ourselves back in the pubescent stage of political debate that brought the country to a standstill a generation ago,” she writes. Not unless her own politics drags us back there!

Unfortunately for her, she makes a proper pig’s ear of it. “Once again, we have a centrist government,” she claims. No, no we don’t. We have the most right-wing government any of us can remember. If that is her starting premise, this article can only go downhill – like an avalanche.

“Once again, those who govern are trying to find sensible solutions to the most important problems of the day – now it is welfare dependency and the delivery of public services, back then it was trades union law.” Those are not the most important problems of the day. The most important problems are income inequality and the rebalancing of the economy away from reliance on the financial sector that has let us down.

Welfare dependency only became an issue because the right-wing (Tory) government of Margaret Thatcher demanded it. As has by now been well-documented here and elsewhere, she was desperate to end the security afforded to the working class by full employment – it meant employees could demand higher wages from bosses who were greedily desperate to keep their profits for themselves. So she deliberately maimed British industry, creating a huge surge in unemployment (such that she had to hide the full extent of unemployment by putting many claimants on Incapacity Benefit instead). Her anti-union laws then made it increasingly difficult for workers’ representatives to negotiate meaningful wage settlements. Put together, these moves allowed executives to depress wages – but meant full employment could never happen again under a Conservative government.

(The current Tories are paying lip-service to it at the moment, but if you think zero-hours contracts, part-time and temporary work, and a surge in the self-employed sector that claims tax credits is full employment, you’re deluded.)

The Tory concern with delivering public services is easily addressed: They want to privatise everything and make the public pay through the nose, as individuals, for services they could previously receive for an equitable price by paying collectively.

You see, it’s all about greed with the Tories. They want more – you pay for it.

It seems Ms Daley has guessed that she might receive criticism for her suggestions, so she states, without a hint of humour: “Their efforts to talk sense – even to argue sensibly – are being bombarded by a cacophony of hysterical inanities from the ideological Left, some of it purely self-serving and the rest of it grotesquely naïve.”

How droll. We move on.

She tells us about “Tony Blair’s forcible remodelling of the Labour message to acknowledge the popular longing for aspiration and self-determination” as if she meant it. Tony Blair was a Third Way politician – he believed in left-wing social policies and right-wing, neoliberal economics. But right-wing economics failed spectacularly in 2007-8 when the banks – deregulated by Margaret Thatcher – proved they could not act responsibly on their own.

She suggests “the vindictive way it has been stamped out by the present-day Labour leadership” but can anybody see what she means by this?

Aspiration and self-determination have been brutally stamped out by the current Coalition government, with its homicidal policies to drive people away from its new social insecurity system and the previously-mentioned zero-hours, part-time, and temporary employment contracts that ensure employees have no chance of progression in their (short-term) jobs. There is more opportunity for aspiration and self-determination in remodelling businesses away from the corporate structure and into the form of worker-owned co-operatives, a long-cherished left-wing model of employment. But try getting that past a neoliberal executive!

Ms Daley’s article makes passing derogatory reference to the fall of Communism but in fact right-wing, neoliberal politics most closely resembles tribal Communism of the kind that was practised in the former Soviet Union, with the workers slaving for a pittance while the benefits are shared among the ruling class – who use state resources to support their corrupt regime. Does that seem familiar to you?

Ms Daley puts forward the belief that Bill Clinton was right to limit the amount of time anyone in the USA could claim state benefits, clearly indicating that this should be the next step for the Tories, here in the UK. “This precipitated an economic boom by pushing those forced off welfare into employment,” she gushes. Perhaps she hasn’t noticed the big question of the last week: A huge number of people have been forced off UK state benefits, and nobody knows where they are. They don’t have jobs because the jobs weren’t there for them. If there had been jobs for them, they would not have been forced off-benefit in the first place.

Then she gets her claws into Ed Miliband and Ed Balls: “Any rational discussion of the future of health care has become out of the question,” she says. Indeed – because the Conservative Party is hell-bent on selling it off, no matter how irrational this has been proved to be.

“Taxation is not necessary simply to raise funds to cover essential government functions, but to punish the undeserving whose social crime is to be more successful (or to have lived too long in a house that has rocketed in value) than many others,” she crows. No, it isn’t. Under Labour, taxation would cover government functions – it’s simply that those with the ability to pay would have to do so, rather than relying on the poor to do it for them.

The Mansion Tax should be seen in the context of the times: If the neoliberal right had been less keen on corruptly lining their own pockets and more keen on actually improving prosperity for all, there would be no need to find such ways of restoring the balance.

She moves on to poverty, claiming: “Scarcely anyone believes now that absolute poverty – the hunger and squalor that a significant proportion of Britons suffered within living memory – is a national problem. Food banks may have sprung into existence, but they are used largely as stop-gaps when benefit payments are delayed. Poverty is understood (even by its activists) to be relative. There is a more sophisticated understanding of the multiple social problems that produce real disadvantage: drug and alcohol dependency, broken families and, of course, welfare dependency.” By whom?

A significant proportion of Brits are suffering hunger and squalor now. That is why a significant proportion of Brits are being forced to suicide now – and why the DWP is doing all it can to cover up that fact now. Otherwise, why hide the number of ESA claimant deaths? Why shroud in secrecy the findings of investigations into claimant suicides?

Her discussion of food banks is astonishing – but should be best left to food bank organisers like the Trussell Trust to combat.

Finally, she moves to her claim that people are trapped by the benefits system. This whole article, it seems, is about defending Iain Duncan Smith! “So long as government was paying people to be poor, and penalising them for working through the tax system, the problem of relative poverty would never be cured.”

But that is a practice created by the Thatcher government and continued now – in fact, Duncan Smith’s DWP pushes benefit claimants right into the dirt with its punitive (and, some are now claiming, fraudulent) demands. Benefit claimants are now more helpless than ever. Their only real escape from the torment forced on them by a greedy government under the command of grasping industrialists is to drop out of the system altogether.

This article – together with its author – is a travesty; it is the incoherent, defending the inexcusable.

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Risible PMQs performance is no win for Cameron

The face is red but the heart is black: Cameron's strategy is to say one thing and do something entirely different.

The face is red but the heart is black: Cameron’s strategy is now one of false arguments and ignoring the questions put to him.

Was anybody else dismayed to see media commentator after media commentator blithely commenting that this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions was, for example, an “easy win” for David Cameron (George Eaton, New Statesman), with Guardian political correspondent Andrew Sparrow tweeting, “Verdict from the Twitter commentariat – Unanimous for Cameron”?

It offends this writer’s sense of Britishness and fair play. If Cameron won, he did so by evasion, false argument, and perverting the facts.

Let’s go through the leaders’ exchange together, using the BBC live blog and Hansard for reference.

The first thing mentioned by Ed Miliband was the Iraq Inquiry – he called for its findings to be published as soon as possible. Then he changed subject, pointing out that the Coalition government will be the first to leave office with living standards lower than when they came into power.

David Cameron did not answer the question but went back to Mr Miliband’s comment about the inquiry instead. He said he too wants to see the Iraq Inquiry published as soon as possible – but it would have been ready years ago if the previous Labour government had set the inquiry up sooner, as the Conservatives and others had wanted.

This not true. Labour’s position on it is that the inquiry was set up at the appropriate time – after hostilities in Iraq had ended. In any case, we are now in the sixth year since the inquiry was established (in November 2009); most of the delays have taken place under the Coalition Government led by David Cameron. The reason currently being given for the delay, by inquiry chairman Sir John Chilcot, is that witnesses need an opportunity to respond to any criticisms of them that have been made.

This blog wishes to point out that Mr Cameron himself is also partly responsible for delays in this matter. The Guardian reported in November 2013: “The Cabinet Office is resisting requests from the Iraq inquiry… for ‘more than 130 records of conversations’ between Tony Blair, his successor, Gordon Brown, and then-US President George W Bush to be made public. In a letter to David Cameron, published on the inquiry’s website, the committee’s chairman, Sir John Chilcot, disclosed that ’25 notes from Mr Blair to President Bush’ and ‘some 200 cabinet-level discussions’ were also being withheld.

“The standoff between the inquiry and Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, has been going on for five months and has meant that the [process] in which politicians and officials are warned that they will be criticised in the report, is on hold. As a result, a date for the final publication of the report has yet to be agreed, more than four years after the inquiry started. ”

That’s a delay directly attributable to David Cameron and his government. It would have been more accurate if he had said the inquiry’s report would have been ready years ago if Mr Cameron himself had not done everything he could to hinder it.

Back to today: Ed Miliband noted that Mr Cameron made no mention of the economy in his reply, and pointed out that people are £1,600 a year worse off since 2010. According to the BBC blog: “David Cameron says Labour has no apology for not launching the Iraq Inquiry earlier – before launching into a defence of the coalition’s economic record. He says Mr Miliband is wrong about everything.”

In fact he raised the alleged drop in unemployment and rise in wages recorded by the ONS (and debunked on this blog earlier today). His mention of tax reductions as a defence against the “£1,600 a year worse off” claim is ridiculous as it shows how lightly his government has taken its self-described reason for being – reducing the deficit. This is not going to happen under a government that doesn’t want to take taxes.

Cameron’s claim that there is no cost of living crisis because inflation is at 0.5 per cent is a silly ‘excluded middle’ false argument; just because the headline level of inflation is low, that does not mean people are not struggling to make ends meet – especially when they have to deal with measures brought in by Cameron’s government like the Bedroom Tax, that have nothing to do with inflation and everything to do with Tory neoliberal ideology.

Mr Miliband stood his ground: Cameron has raised taxes on ordinary families, raised VAT, cut tax credits. Wages are down; taxes are up – and a report by the Joseph Rowntree foundation has shown that half of all families where one person is in full-time work cannot make ends meet at the end of the month.

“You can work hard and play by the rules, but in Cameron’s Britain you still cannot pay the bills—that is the reality,” he said – and it’s strong stuff.

Cameron’s response was feeble. He claimed that more than 30 million people are now in work – but we know that this is partly due to the rise in the population, and most of the jobs are zero-hours, part-time or temporary, meaning that Mr Miliband is right; families are struggling to pay the bills. His repeated reference to the ONS statistics – which were discredited within minutes of having been published, is risible. Cameron was making an ‘argument by selective observation’ – what he was saying was factually accurate, but he was deliberately failing to put all the facts before us.

The claim that people in work are seeing their pay rise by four per cent seems to be an outright lie. Even the ONS could only support a rise of 1.8 per cent.

“If we had listened to [Mr Miliband], none of these things would have happened,” blustered Cameron. “If we had listened to Labour, it would be more borrowing, more spending, more debt: all the things that got us into a mess in the first place.” How does he know that? He doesn’t. It’s another false argument – an ad hominem (attacking Mr Miliband, rather than his argument), also an ‘appeal to widespread belief’, as many people still seem to believe that Labour will borrow more and create more debt (despite repeated evidence that Labour will do nothing of the sort) and that the economy is safer with the Conservatives (even though their own rampant borrowing has nearly doubled the National Debt), and a non sequitur – it doesn’t follow that, if the Tories had listened to Labour, none of the favourable outcomes he listed would have happened.

Mention of borrowing prompted Mr Miliband to point out that the Coalition Government has failed on the deficit – accurately. According to his original preductions, Chancellor George Osborne should have reduced the deficit to around £37 billion per year by now – instead it stands between £90 billion and £100 billion.

Mr Miliband’s claim that executive pay has increased by 21 per cent in the last year alone, meaning the recovery is only for a few at the top, is also accurate. Spread among the workforce as a whole and coupled with the small pay rises they have received, the average may be 1.8 per cent – but most people aren’t enjoying any sudden increase in prosperity. Are you?

Cameron’s response: “The right honourable Gentleman criticises me on the deficit—he is the man who could not even remember the deficit.” Another ad hominem, and another non sequitur. What does Mr Miliband’s lapse of memory in a speech from last year have to do with today’s statistics?

Mr Miliband’s last question was about David Cameron’s decision not to take part in televised election debates if the Green Party is excluded. If he is so confident about the economy, why is he “chickening out”?

Again, Cameron did not even answer the question. Instead he quoted Christine LaGarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, in support of his claim that the UK economy is improving. That discussion was over. Why did he have nothing to say about the TV debates? It’s a simple change of subject but, again, it’s no argument against what Mr Milband was saying.

So let’s tot up the Prime Minister’s score – did he win or lose? Let’s see: Iraq inquiry – lose; economy – lose; employment – lose; wages – lose; deficit – lose; TV debates – lose.

The moral of the story: You don’t have to win any argument if enough people are willing to say you did.

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What’s the point of a ‘Cameron’ job that can’t make work pay?

[Image: Eoin Clarke.]

[Image: Eoin Clarke.]

There are several reasons we should be sceptical about David Cameron’s pledge to make the UK a nation of ‘full employment’.

Firstly, his campaign poster has lied about his record so far. Why should anyone believe his claims about what he’ll do in the future?

Secondly, everybody knows that the Tories’ rubbish neoliberal ideology demands a large number of people have to be unemployed, in order to keep wages down – and Cameron very much wants the UK to remain a low-wage economy.

Thirdly, look at the jobs he has managed to create: zero hours contracts, part-time work, under-employment rife. If that’s his idea of what we need in order to create full employment, then he should be looking forward to his own P45 in May.

[Image: Eoin Clarke 9again).]

[Image: Eoin Clarke 9again).]

Or, as David Schneider put it on Twitter: “Cameron’s promise of full employment to guarantee everyone in the country a job that doesn’t pay enough for them to live off.”

The social media were quick to dismiss this latest nonsense from the PR genius behind “compassionate Conservatism”, “hug a hoodie” and “Green Tories” – remember those flops?

MagsNews on Twitter reported: “Cameron says everything’s wonderful in the jobs market! [Nine out of 10] new jobs are [full-time] jobs. ITV news asks why, if so, tax receipts are so low?!!”

And the Labour Press Team pointed out: “Tory record on jobs: more than 1.3 million people work part-time because they can’t get a full-time job. Tory record on jobs: 3.5 million people in work say they want extra hours. Tory record on jobs: 1.4 million zero-hours contracts in the economy.”

He doesn’t seem to realise what a diabolical mess he has made of the British jobs market – but don’t worry! Here’s a way to clarify matters for him:

Are you stuck in part-time work when you want to be earning full-time wages?

Have you been forced to accept a zero-hours contract, so you don’t know when you’ll be working but can’t claim benefits when you’re not?

Are you on a temporary contract, rather than in permanent work?

Are you earning less than the minimum wage – on a government work programme, for example – or are you earning less than a living wage in a full-time, part-time or zero-hours job?

If so, it’s time to stop calling it a job.

Call it a ‘Cameron’ instead.

“Hello, Bob – how’s it going?”

“Not bad. How about you? Did you get a job yet?”

“Meh. There’s nothing worthwhile to be had. All I got was a ‘Cameron’.”

Even then, he might not get the message.

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Benefit cap: Maximum deprivation, minimum result?

Source: OBR, Economic and Fiscal Outlook, December 2014 *  Incapacity Benefit includes Employment and Support Allowance, severe disablement allowance, income support and incapacity benefit.

Source: OBR, Economic and Fiscal Outlook, December 2014
* Incapacity Benefit includes Employment and Support Allowance, severe disablement allowance, income support and incapacity benefit.

The benefit cap has so far saved around £100m a year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies – just 0.1 per cent of the total £215 billion benefits bill if we don’t count the budget for pensioners, the Daily Mirror tells us.

The cap affects 27,000 families – 1% of working age households, a figure revealed yesterday in a report published by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Those who have been hit have lost at least £46 per week, but only half the total lost that minimum amount; the rest lost much more than this. Overall the mean loss was £70 per week or £3,640 per year – around one-eighth of their total income prior to the cap. That means the DWP has bitten a huge chunk out of many household incomes.

However, this claimed saving does not take into account the many costs that could be associated with the cap. Vox Political stated last year that the cap was expected to save just £110m a year, meaning that it has not saved as much as the government hoped, “barely a rounding error in the £201bn benefits bill” – and you’ll notice that the bill has increased by £14 billion in the meantime.

VP continued: “But even these savings could be wiped out due to the cost to local authorities of homelessness and housing families in temporary accommodation. As a leaked letter from Eric Pickles’s office to David Cameron stated, the measure “does not take account of the additional costs to local authorities (through homelessness and temporary accommodation). In fact we think it is likely that the policy as it stands will generate a net cost. In addition Local Authorities will have to calculate and administer reduced Housing Benefit to keep within the cap and this will mean both demands on resource and difficult handling locally”.

So, taking these other costs into account, how much has the benefit cap saved now?

130715benefitcap

The Mirror article then gets into a more difficult area: The number of people who have moved into work as a result of the cap.

It reports: “’About 2,000 families who were claiming benefits in May 2013 had someone [who] moved into paid work twelve months later in response to the cap’, the IFS said.

“This can be accounted for by improvements in the labour market, as the FT also notes, but statisticians at the Department for Work and Pensions also found evidence that the cap itself had an impact.

“In particular, 20 per cent of families whose benefits were capped in May 2013 found work within a year.”

But 20 per cent of 27,000 is 5,400 – not 2,000. The IFS figure suggests 7.4 per cent.

What about the bold claims made by the DWP in July last year, that at first 8,000 and then 12,000 people had moved into work after being warned about the cap? As those figures clearly conflict with the new data, are we now to conclude that they were a blatant lie? If so, who committed it – civil servants or Iain Duncan Smith, the secretary of state?

Either way, the Mirror‘s verdict – that “there have been very limited fiscal benefits” – can only be taken as an extremely mild response to the figures.

If the Tories win the General Election next May, they have promised to cap benefits still further – from the current £26,000-per-year-per-family to £23,000.

Perhaps their slogan should be: “More austerity – less prosperity”.

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Dire day for Tories – so why were the pundits hammering Labour?

[Image: BBC]

[Image: BBC]

Own up: How many of you stayed up into the wee hours to watch TV coverage of the local council elections?

If you did, you would have witnessed a curious phenomenon. As the Conservative Party lost seat after seat (at the time of writing they have lost 113 seats altogether) and Labour won seat after seat (currently 125 seats better-off), the pundits sitting around David Dimbleby on BBC1 started telling us this put Labour in the poor position!

This, we were told, was because UKIP’s performance heralded the arrival of “four-party politics” – but does anybody believe that? UKIP won protest votes against the UK Coalition government’s policies at a time when elections to the European Parliament were also taking place. Anti-immigration feelings have been stirred up and people have been led to believe – wrongly – that a vote for UKIP will cut off the flow.

In fact, UKIP did damage Labour in areas like Swindon, where they took working-class votes and enabled the Conservatives to hold that council with a slightly increased majority.

But the ‘Purple Peril’ did far more damage to the Conservatives, with Essex Man and Woman voting very strongly for it.

What does this mean, translated to the Westminster Parliament?

The answer is, it’s difficult to judge. Turnout was only around 36 per cent – half the number who take part in a general election – because faith in democracy is so low. This means any predictions are more likely to be wrong than right.

But if the results are replicated, then the Conservative Party will lose seats to UKIP and it is possible that Labour will become the majority party in a Hung Parliament, and then…

… UKIP will do a coalition deal with the Conservatives because Nigel Farage wants a taste of power, and we’ll end up with five more years of David Cameron.

We know they’re already talking about it because Michael Gove has denied it.

To avoid this, Labour will have to consolidate its gains and show that it can make a real difference where it wins.

A good start would be to cut the harmful social policies in Hammersmith and Fulham, which Labour took from the Tories last night. H&F was once dubbed David Cameron’s favourite council. Why? Well, a recent Guardian article showed that the council was selling off its housing stock at an increasingly accelerated rate, while forcing homeless people into temporary accommodation outside the borough. Ending this wrong-headed nonsense would be a good start.

The new Labour administration could re-examine the planned closure of Sulivan Primary School in Fulham, which won an award from London Mayor Boris Johnson at the end of last year after it “succeeded against the odds in improving pupils’ aspirations and achievements”. According to The Guardian (again), campaigners fighting to save Sulivan say it has been targeted because there are plans to turn the site into a new Free School, part of Michael Gove’s silly pet project that has been haemorrhaging money.

And Labour could halt the Earls Court Project redevelopment scheme, which will knock down elderly residents homes – buildings which are perfectly sound – in order to replace them with “impossibly expensive” flats.

The Guardian (yet again) states: “To the Tories of H&F, though, such things are of no value if there’s more money to be made from tearing them up, clearing them out, knocking them down… The council and its friends do not see what they are doing as wrecking. They see themselves as grand creators. They see those they would push aside not as citizens to be considered but non-believers, blockages, impediments; as inefficiencies that have to be squeezed out.”

Labour would score hugely if it took a stand against this merciless money-driven destruction of a neighbourhood that belongs to ordinary people. Elderly people, in fact. Not only are they vulnerable; they are also voters.

So let Hammersmith & Fulham become the example Labour holds up to the nation: “This is what we can do across the country, if you only give us the chance!”

One thing’s for sure – whatever Labour does there, The Guardian will be watching!

Results are still incoming from the council elections, so undoubtedly the ‘expert’ opinions will change before the end – and then we have the European election results to come on Sunday.

A quick anecdote about that: Yesterday evening Yr Obdt Srvt was at a meeting on a completely different subject (a local festival here in Mid Wales – I’m the organising committee’s secretary). Afterwards I was chatting with a friend about the election when a young man approached us in search of the nearest polling station.

My friend passed on the directions and the man thanked us and started on his way. “Don’t vote UKIP!” shouted my friend.

“I won’t!” was the response.

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How can a company that has discriminated against the disabled be ‘DisabilityConfident’?

140425disabilityconfident

Here’s a mixed message:

The Conservative-led Coalition government wants us all to believe that the number of disabled people getting support to get or keep a job is rocketing.

But the businessman it is using to front its PR campaign founded a company that has been convicted of discrimination against the disabled in the recent past.

According to the government’s press release, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of Easyjet, said: “Already over 100,000 disabled entrepreneurs employ an equivalent number of people in their business start-ups.

“I encourage disabled people out there who have a germ of an idea for a business, but are unsure of how to go about it, to take advantage of the support the government has on offer to help you make your business fly.”

But in 2011, EasyJet told a boy with muscular dystrophy that he could not fly – because his electric wheelchair was too heavy for baggage handlers.

And in 2012, Paralympics presenter Sophie Morgan received similar treatment.

It seems, if you are disabled, EasyJet’s business has been to keep you on the ground.

The government reckons the number of people using its Access to Work scheme has risen by more than 10 per cent, to 31,230 – and has claimed that disabled people are moving into jobs, training or work placements at a rate of more than 100 every working day.

But the press release does not elaborate on how many of these jobs are permanent, how many are merely temporary placements, how many are self-employment start-ups that will receive funding for a short period and will fold when the grants run out, and so on.

Apparently it is all part of a campaign launched by David Cameron last year, called DisabilityConfident.

From what’s on show here, it seems disabled people have precious little reason to be confident.

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