Tag Archives: Tony Benn

Mhairi Black rips off Vox Political? Where do I send the bill!

Mhairi Black, ripping off Vox Political in the House of Commons today (Tuesday).

Mhairi Black, ripping off Vox Political in the House of Commons today (Tuesday).

We’re told that Mhairi Black, the youngest new MP in Parliament at the age of 20, was still in college when she beat Labour’s Douglas Alexander in the General Election. Was she studying plagiarism?

Take a look at the following part of her maiden speech, made earlier today (Tuesday) and quoted in The Independent:

“After hearing the Labour leader’s intentions to support the changes to tax credits that the Chancellor has put forward, I must make this plea through the words of one of your own, and of a personal hero of mine.

“Tony Benn once said that in politics there are weathercocks and signposts. Weathercocks will spin in whatever direction the wind of public opinion may blow them, no matter what principle they have to compromise.

“Then, there are signposts – signposts that stand true, and tall, and principles. They point in a direction and they say ‘this is the way to a better society and it is my job to convince you why’.

“Tony Benn was right when he said the only people worth remembering in politics are signposts.”

Now read this Vox Political article from yesterday, Labour is a ‘headless chicken’ over tax credits.

This Blog’s piece relies heavily on Tony Benn’s ‘weathercocks and signposts’ analogy to make its point about the interim Labour leader’s attitude to the proposed cut in tax credits. While Mhairi Black’s words weren’t exactly the same, it wouldn’t take a genius to read this piece and – if you’re an admirer of the great man, put together something similar using his words.

Is it really feasible that she could have come to this choice of material, in this context, independently? Nobody else has.

Such similarity – in subject matter, tone, and the material quoted – suggests a rip-off. If this is the case, Mhairi Black should be lucky to get off with a stern warning.

Instead she’s the toast of Twitter!

How disappointing.

Of course, we’ll never know if she didn’t write her speech independently. If this is the case, she’s hardly going to admit it – and This Writer isn’t going to take any further action because it wouldn’t be worth it.

But This Blog is part of my livelihood and if it seems to me that someone is harming that livelihood, then I’ll call “foul” on it.

As for you Mhairi Black – if you did rip off This Blog, shame on you.

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Labour is a ‘headless chicken’ over tax credits

Open mouth, insert foot: Harriet Harman made her Tax Credits mistake on yesterday's (July 12) Sunday Politics TV show.

Open mouth, insert foot: Harriet Harman made her Tax Credits mistake on yesterday’s (July 12) Sunday Politics TV show.

Harriet Harman has softened her position on George Osborne’s ’emergency’ budget; while she still supports his tax credit cuts, she says she is “happy to be overruled” after a backlash from rank-and-file party members (including This Writer).

The statement follows another backlash against a local party official who wrote to others in an attempt to stop Constituency Labour Parties from giving their support to leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn, who currently has the second-highest number of CLP nominations.

The person responsible for the latest attempt to rig the Labour leadership election (the first being the ridiculous ‘Tories for Corbyn’ campaign) – Luke Akehurst – was taken to task by fellow Labour members (including, again, This Writer) on Twitter. Pressed to explain his attitude, he referred us to a blog piece he wrote before the general election which appears to explain much that is wrong about the current attitude of some of Labour’s leading lights.

It’s all about ‘triangulation’, rather than ‘dividing lines’, Mr Akehurst reckons.

He writes: “It involves adopting for oneself some of the ideas of one’s political opponent (or apparent opponent). The logic behind it is that it both takes credit for the opponent’s ideas, and insulates the triangulator from attacks on that particular issue.”

In the words of the late – great – Tony Benn, Mr Akehurst is calling for Labour and its leaders to be ‘weathercocks’ (triangulators) rather than ‘signposts’ (adopting dividing lines against their main opposition). Mr Benn said some politicians are like signposts. They point in the direction they want to travel and say, “This is the way we must go!” And they are constant. Others are like weathercocks; they lick their fingers, find out which direction the political winds are blowing and follow.

Mr Benn would have been witheringly opposed to a weathercock like Luke Akehurst.

Triangulation leaves Labour without any principles of its own – the party ends up wasting time, chasing other people’s policies like (to stretch Mr Benn’s “weathercock” analogy) a headless chicken.

This brings us back to Harriet Harman. Instead of defending tax credits as a way of ensuring a certain standard of living and encouraging people to be good parents – the position of the Labour Party when it introduced tax credits a little over 10 years ago – she thought the wind was blowing in George Osborne’s direction and decided to let it blow her along with it. Big mistake.

Osborne’s tax credit raid will make working people and parents significantly poorer than they are now – and this is even after five years of being hammered by cut after Tory cut.

Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has said the rise in the minimum wage heralded by Osborne in his budget to offset his benefit cuts would raise £4 billion for families, while they would lose £12 billion in government help.

The freeze in working-age benefits, tax credits and local housing allowance will deprive 13 million households of £260 a year, on average.

And Harriet Harman supported it. That position does not correspond with Labour Party principles. It’s the position of a headless chicken.

Look at what has happened now: Harman has been forced to backtrack, with a spokesperson saying she had been “setting out an attitude that we are not going to oppose everything”. Headless chicken.

Sadly, Labour’s leadership candidates offered a mixed response. Liz Kendall fully supported Harriet Harman’s position – most probably because she is a closet Tory.

Andy Burnham’s spokesperson (!) said he did not support the tax credit cuts but added that he “will not offer blanket opposition and, where we agree with a government policy, we won’t oppose for the sake of it”. Headless chicken.

Yvette Cooper said she opposed the cuts because they would “hit working families, reduce work incentives and push more children into poverty”. On the fact of it, that’s good. However, she would be another extension of the New Labour disaster, which was all about ‘triangulation’, as Mr Akehurst’s article illustrates. Headless chicken.

The only ‘signpost’ among the lot of them – the only one with solid Labour principles – is Jeremy Corbyn. He said he was “not willing to vote for policies that will push more children into poverty” – and when he said it, he didn’t mean he might change his mind tomorrow, or whenever it becomes expedient. He means he is not willing to push more children into poverty – ever. Signpost.

We need more people like Jeremy Corbyn leading Labour – and fewer like Harriet Harman.

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Tory chameleons try to imitate UKIP – and Tony Benn!

zchameleons

Conservatives will do anything to hold onto power.

Most commonly, they try to pretend they aren’t the Nasty Party at all, attempting to emulate whatever’s popular at the moment.

So we have Michael Fallon with his UKIP impression yesterday (October 26), saying an “emergency brake” should be applied to immigration between EU countries.

He went on to say: “”That is still being worked on at the moment to see what we can do to prevent whole towns and communities being swamped by huge numbers of migrant workers.”

His words echoed those of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who said in February: “In scores of our cities and market towns, this country in a short space of time has frankly become unrecognisable… Having whole areas taken over is difficult… it’s happened on a scale that nobody could ever have imagined.”

Oh, but don’t worry – it turns out that Fallon didn’t mean to say “swamped” at all! He meant “under pressure”. That makes it perfectly acceptable! Right?

It’s another UKIP tactic, of course – the swift apology. How many Kippers have been caught making much more abusive comments than Fallon’s, only to have to retract them later? (We’ll leave that question open in the hope that UKIP supporters will read this and try to pretend this never happens. It’ll be funny.)

Eoin Clarke had it right when he tweeted: “Tories’ ‘swamped’ comment & then retraction follow the UKIP pattern. Minimise the damage, maximise the appeal. Racism is a vote winner, sadly.”

Meanwhile, The Guardian has reported an even more bizarre transformation – Tories who claim to be followers of Labour icon Tony Benn!

“The right-wing Bennites do not look to their leadership for guidance. Like Benn used to do, they follow other lines of democratic accountability. Due to a matter of deeply held principle, the leader can never count on their support, even when he seeks to appease them,” writes Steve Richards.

How ridiculous. A Tory could no more be Bennite than Yr Obdt Srvt could be Thatcherite. They don’t understand the meaning of the word but use surface similarities to claim that they have adopted him. The result: Tony Benn’s memory will be discredited.

benndemocracy

For crying out loud – one of the pillars of Tony Benn’s philosophy was that the people should be able to get rid of bad politicians – and here they are trying to usurp his memory in order to cling on to power!

It’s a filthy, underhanded trick from a filthy, underhanded organisation and you shouldn’t believe it.

Mr Richards acknowledges the differences, although he doesn’t give them the emphasis they need: “He [Tony Benn] was a socialist and they most emphatically are not. Benn regarded the state as a benevolent force, and sought wider state ownership, while a lot of the Tory Bennites want government to play a much smaller role.” That’s a huge, irreconcilable difference. If the ideologies are opposed, any similarity of method is just window-dressing.

With UKIP, it’s different; the ideologies are not opposed. UKIP and the Tories might as well be the same political party and politicians like Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless have already indicated that they view the two as interchangeable.

They are – and the voting public needs to be aware of this.

But Tony Benn and the Conservative Party most certainly are not.

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Cameron’s candidate list is like his cabinet: full of empty suits

David Cameron and Tory election candidate Chris Davies: A suit full of hot air next to a suit full of nothing at all.

David Cameron and Tory election candidate Chris Davies: A suit full of hot air next to a suit full of nothing at all.

Here’s one to file under “missed opportunities”: David Cameron passed within seven miles of Vox Political central and we didn’t know about it.

He made a surprise visit to the Royal Welsh Show in Llanelwedd, Radnorshire, to talk about some agricultural scheme – but we don’t need to discuss that. Nor do we need to discuss the fact that the bronze bull statue in nearby Builth Wells town centre was found to have had its tail ripped off shortly after the visit; it would be wrong to suggest that the comedy Prime Minister was responsible but if he starts sporting a uniquely-shaped swagger stick, well, you read it here first.

We don’t even need to discuss the fact that Cameron arrived by helicopter, which is an exorbitantly expensive form of travel. Yr Obdt Srvt was watching a documentary about a Doctor Who serial made in 1969 and featuring a helicopter – just starting the rotors cost £70, which was a lot more money then than it is now! Next time you hear that there isn’t enough money around, bear in mind that this government always has the cash to hire out a pricey chopper!

No, Dear Reader – what was really shocking was the fact that Cameron allowed himself to be photographed with Chris Davies, the Tory Potential Parliamentary Candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire – a man who this blog has outed as having no ideas of his own, who parrots the party line from Conservative Central Headquarters and who cannot respond to a reasoned argument against the drivel that he reels off. Not only that but the new Secretary of State for Wales was also at the Showground – his name is Stephen Crabb and he is on record as saying that the role is “emptied and somewhat meaningless”.

Bearing this in mind, those who didn’t attend the event, but would like to recreate the spectacle of David Cameron flanked by Messrs Davies and Crabb, can simply fill a few children’s party balloons with hot air, arrange them in a roughly human shape, and put a suit on them – that’s Cameron – then add two more, empty, suits on either side.

Discussion of empty suits brings us inexorably to the dramatic cabinet reshuffle Cameron carried out last week, in which he replaced his team of tired but recognisable old fools with a gaggle of new fools nobody’s ever heard of. The whole situation is reminiscent of a routine that Ben Elton did back in 1990, when he was still a Leftie comedian.

Still topical: Ben Elton's 'cabinet reshuffle' routine from 1990.

Still topical: Ben Elton’s ‘cabinet reshuffle’ routine from 1990.

The parallel with today is so close that the routine may be paraphrased to fit the moment:

These days the cabinet minister is a seriously endangered species, constantly culled by the boss… How stands the team today? All the personalities have been de-teamed, and Mr Cameron was rather left with a rack full of empty suits. So he reshuffled Philip Hammond, a suit full of bugger-all from Defence across to the Foreign Office. Then he reshuffled Nicky Morgan, a skirt-suit full of bugger-all who had been at the Treasury for 13 whole weeks. She was reshuffled to Education and is also now Minister for Women and Equalities. A suit full of bugger-all called Wright, who nobody had heard of that morning, became Attorney General. This is the British cabinet we are dealing with; not the local tea club.

Now Nicky Morgan, come on, be honest, six months ago, who’d heard of her? Hardly anyone. Since then she’s been Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Education Secretary; nobody can say the girl hasn’t done well because she has. She reminds me of Jedward – everyone’s saying, ‘She may be rubbish but at least she’s trying!’

Who the hell is Jeremy Wright? He’s the Attorney General, that’s who. When he leaves home for work in the morning, even his wife doesn’t recognise him! ‘Bye bye darling – who the hell are you?’ … I confidently expect to see Keith Lemon elevated to cabinet status, with Gary Lineker becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer due to his amazing powers of prediction (“The Germans really fancy their chances, but I don’t see that”). He’ll be joined at the Treasury by financial wizard Jimmy Carr. Katie Hopkins takes over as Iain Duncan Smith so no change there.

140724cabinet3

This isn’t a party political thing. There have been lots of towering figures in cabinet before. Tebbit! Heseltine! … Lawson! You may not have liked them but at least you’d heard of them! These days, what have you got? The only reason a ‘dramatic’ reshuffle is ‘dramatic’ is because it takes so long to prise all their faces off the team leader’s backside, that’s why! They’re all stuck down there like limpets; they’re clinging on to the mother ship! If they all breathed in at once, they’d turn him inside-out.

That’s why they all speak so strangely – their tongues are all bruised and knotted from the team leader trying to untangle the top Tory tagliatelli flapping about behind.

Cabinet government is one of the safeguards of our precious democracy. It involves discussion, consensus, and it has produced great cabinets on both sides of the House. Churchill – the largest, perhaps the greatest political figure in the last century – a Tory, he was a constant thorn in the side of his boss, Baldwin. Wilson included Tony Benn, even though they were never friends, let’s face it. Heath employed Mrs Thatcher. They all understood that cabinet is a microcosm of democracy – but these days, it’s different. Nobody must dissent in cabinet. And nobodies are exactly what we’ve got.

There was more talent and personality in JLS – and at least they knew when to quit.

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Dennis Skinner’s tribute to Tony Benn

http://youtu.be/uuh8vk3-x60

Many people have remarked on Dennis Skinner’s speech during the tributes to Tony Benn in the House of Commons yesterday – the strength of feeling, respect and simple pleasure at having known the great left-wing politician, diarist and thinker, who passed away last week.

I managed to get a small tribute broadcast on Radio Bristol’s breakfast show that morning, but that effort pales into insignificance beside this.

For all I know, neither Skinner nor Tony Benn may be your cup of tea, but I would still urge you to watch the clip, as it demonstrates that even in modern politics there are still people of integrity.

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Never mind Margaret Thatcher – let’s demand Tony Benn Day!

 

Immortalised: The late Tony Benn with a statue of himself that stands at Bristol City Council's headquarters. He represented Bristol South East in Parliament for 30 years.

Immortalised: The late Tony Benn with a statue of himself that stands at Bristol City Council’s headquarters. He represented Bristol South East in Parliament for 30 years.

 

Would you support a plan to rename the August Bank Holiday ‘Tony Benn Day’, in honour of the great socialist who passed away last week?

It’s probably the last thing he would have wanted, but Mr Benn is far more deserving of the honour than some – Conservatives wanted a ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’ after the death of their iconic former Prime Minister but the idea was dropped after only 13 per cent of the public said they would support it.

Supporters of ‘Thatcher Day’ said she had been a great force for the UK.

Against that, let’s set these words of Michael Meacher MP, on Mr Benn: “Through his passion for democracy, transparency and accountability, he wanted to build up the people’s confidence, not crush them.

“Above all he was the architect of the Grand Design, the big picture politics that should inspire every generation to renew and refresh, and his example and his leadership will continue to inspire this and future generations to do just that.”

Do you agree? If you do, just share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or wherever you fancy. If the numbers suggest it’s a good idea, then a government e-petition might be warranted.

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Tony Benn is at rest; he was an example to those of us who remain

benndemocracy

[Image: Gabriele Kreichgauer]

This morning we awoke to learn that one of our best has passed on – Tony Benn.

According to his family, the 88-year-old Labour Party legend died peacefully early this morning (March 14) at his west London home, surrounded by his family. He had been ill for more than a month.

I do not propose to eulogise over him. I have already written about the effect Mr Benn had on my own development in a previous article and see no reason to rehash that.

I will say this: The loss of this inspirational man – who was truly a “signpost” for us all and never a “weathercock” (to adapt a comparison he used to make) – means that left-wing politics has lost one of its strongest voices.

He showed us a way forward – with clarity, humour and optimism.

Nobody can replace him.

The greatest tribute to Tony Benn will be if many of us rise to bear his standard – follow the example that he set.

Modern politics has painted his way as “the path less taken”.

Let us take it now.

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Tony Benn seriously ill in hospital

Tony Benn [Image: Daily Mirror]

Tony Benn [Image: Daily Mirror]

Vox Political offers its sincerest best wishes to Tony Benn, who has spent a fourth night in hospital where he is understood to be seriously unwell.

Mr Benn was my constituency MP in Bristol during my formative years, and I used to hear a great deal about his beliefs and principles from politically-active members of my family who used to attend meetings with him.

This information greatly influenced my understanding of what politicians should be – especially during the time of Conservative ascendancy during the 1980s and 90s.

It is from him that I took the metaphor, often used on this blog, of politicians as either ‘signposts’ or ‘weathercocks’. A ‘signpost’ points clearly in the direction that person believes the nation should travel, while a ‘weathercock’ goes any way the prevailing (political) wind blows. Use that to examine your own MPs and see how they measure up!

I was lucky enough to meet him only two years ago, when he spoke at Theatr Brycheiniog in Brecon. The event was attended, not only by members of the general public, but by politicians of every hue, including prominent Conservatives. Clearly, Mr Benn enjoys cross-party respect.

He spoke clearly and wittily, and it was a privilege to enjoy the illumination of his insights. I hope that he will recover soon, so we can all continue to enjoy the benefits of his wisdom.

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Labour’s latest welfare betrayal means the party could change name to ‘Red Conservatives’

Red Tory betrayal: He might as well have said, "We're going to grip the poor by the throat and push them down so far and so hard that they'll never be able to get on their feet again."

Red Tory betrayal: He might as well have said, “We’re going to grip the poor by the throat and push them down so far and so hard that they’ll never be able to get on their feet again.”

The Red Conservative Party has announced a new policy attack on people receiving benefits, in its latest bid to out-Tory the Blue Conservatives.

Ed Cameron announced that he would impose a three-year cap on any welfare spending not linked to the economic cycle, stealing an idea put forward by George Osborne of the original Conservative Party during the March budget.

He also vowed to make people work for two years before they qualify for a new, higher rate of Jobseekers’ Allowance.*

Shadow work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Byrne said the cap would force a Labour government to engage in long-term reforms necessary to bring the welfare bill down.

Neither man actually spelled out which benefits would be affected by the cap.

But Ed Cameron tried to salvage his party’s reputation in the eyes of left-wing supporters by promising to drive down rents and improve pay.

And in a contradictory move, he said he would not abandon the long-standing goal of abolishing child poverty by 2020, even though his new policies mean that, inevitably, more children will suffer poverty through no fault of their own.

Cut through the spin and the above is, pretty much, what has been announced. The Labour Party is becoming even more right-wing, rather than less, as the Tory tabloids claimed when Ed Miliband became the leader.

It seems that failing to reverse the abolition of universal child benefit was just the tip of the iceberg, Ed Miliband’s father, Ralph Miliband, must be spinning in his grave… In fact, he’s probably drilling his way through the Earth’s crust towards countries unknown, in the same way I said William Beveridge must be, after Liam Byrne’s Guardian article on the welfare state in 2012.

What we’re seeing isn’t really a conversion to Conservatism – although the retention of critically dangerous neoliberal elements at the top of the party structure means this will continue to be a threat. It’s actually worse than that.

This is a Labour Party that goes any way the wind blows.

Does anybody remember the great Tony Benn’s comments about politicians being either signposts or weathercocks? It has been mentioned previously, in this blog. He said some politicians are like signposts. They point in the direction they want to travel and say, “This is the way we must go!” And they are constant. Others are like weathercocks; they lick their fingers, find out which direction the political winds are blowing and follow.

The Guardian illustrates that Miliband has become a cock in its article, stating that the new announcement “is seen as critical to Labour being able to claw back its poll deficit on welfare and show its ability to take tough decisions”.

It will do neither.

If Labour wanted to “claw back its poll deficit on welfare” it would be announcing new policies to tackle the causes of unemployment, sickness and disability, in order to ensure that unemployment was never again likely to rise as high as it has. This means helping industry; it means restoring the National Health Service; it means making sure employers – especially the really large ones who think they can get away with anything – conform strictly to health and safety laws and can’t blame employees’ work-based sicknesses on anything other than their own negligence.

It means setting the terms of a new debate on this issue – not meekly accepting the Conservatives’ warped frame of reference.

Because, you see, that doesn’t indicate an “ability to take tough decisions”. Nor does copying an idea already mentioned by a Conservative. Tough decisions are those that the public might find hard to accept at first – about policies that might need to be explained before they are accepted. Labour isn’t making any tough decisions. It is following the Conservative/Coalition example and that simply is not good enough.

The Guardian article says Labour hopes the electorate “will focus on the party’s decision to take a credible and specific stance on the deficit, after three years of low growth, rather than punish Labour for its apparent volte face [about turn] by ending three years of criticism of welfare cuts”.

There is no chance of that happening. The electorate is not stupid and I predict that those parts of it that have supported Labour as a force for working people, those who want to work but are unemployed through no fault of their own, and those who have been invalided out of work, again through no fault of their own, will desert the party en masse. Miliband and Byrne might pick up a few right-wing votes – but not enough to make a difference. They will lose far more than they will gain.

Note particularly that line about “ending three years of criticism of welfare cuts”. They’ve stopped criticising the Conservatives/Coalition about cuts that are literally ending UK citizens’ lives at an alarming rate. That is not – and will never be – justifiable on any level at all.

Let’s not forget that an average of 73 people a week are dying as a result of Conservative/Coalition policies on benefits – possibly many more, as this figure is nearly a year old. A Labour government that would allow this to continue is not an electable Labour government.

This announcement marks the beginning of the Conservative victory in 2015.

Thanks for nothing, Ed Miliband. Thanks for nothing, Liam Byrne.

Shame on you, you sell-outs.

*Interestingly, the Blue Conservative mouthpiece BBC misleadingly reported that Labour believed “only people who pay into the system for more than two years should get Jobseekers’ Allowance” at all! This seems to be an inaccuracy but it is damaging and more people will read it.

When big business dabbles with welfare; a cautionary tale

unum“Jack Gilligan, who was the Democratic governor of Ohio… said ‘You know there will never be democracy in America when big business can buy both parties and expect a pay-off, whichever one wins. And you know, a touch of that may possibly have spread in this direction.” Tony Benn.

I have been researching the relationship between US insurance giant (and lawbreaker) Unum and successive UK governments – Conservative, New Labour and Coalition – and the minimal research I have managed so far tells me that, if there’s one thing the Labour Party needs to do to ensure its electability in 2015, that thing is the expulsion of Unum and all private insurance firms, their subsidiaries, partner companies, and people who have worked with or for them, from any position of influence. Kick them right out!

Any government that fraternises with these vampires puts corporate profits above the well-being of its citizens. That is clear from what I have read. I want to go into certain aspects in detail, but before that, you deserve to know the details, so I’ve written a little story for you:

Once upon a time, a big insurance company had a little problem. It had been making money hand-over-fist by investing people’s premiums in high-interest portfolios, but interest rates were falling and new kinds of ‘subjective illness’ had arisen, for which medical science was not prepared – ‘chronic pain’, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease.

The solution devised by the bosses was to reduce the number of successful claims it paid out, by aggressively disputing whether the claimant was ill. So the company skewed its medical examinations to its own favour by questioning illnesses that were “self-reported”, labelling some disabling conditions as “psychological”, and playing up the “subjective” nature of “mental” and “nervous” claims.

“Sickness is temporary,” they said. “Illness is a behaviour – all the things that people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell. The degree of this behaviour is dependent on the attitudes and beliefs of the individual, as well as the social context and culture. Illness is a personal choice.” In other words: “It’s all in the mind; these people are fit to work”.

Around the same time, a small country had a big problem with people claiming out-of-work benefit because they were ill. This was not a problem because they were lying about being ill – fraud amounted to less than one per cent of claims. Nor was it a problem because too many people were claiming – benefit levels were among the lowest of any countries nearby, and claims were on a par with those other countries.

No, the problem was that the man running the system, whose name was Peter**, wanted to make money out of it.

So he hired the boss of the big insurance company, whose name was John***, and asked him to help out. John said, “We have a great test that you can use! Instead of asking whether someone can do their job, you assess their general capacity to work, with a series of – we call them – descriptors. One could say the person ‘Is unable to cope with changes in the daily routine’, ‘Is frightened to go out alone’. Then the results get passed on to different people – adjudication officers – who judge whether they deserve your benefit. But the clever bit is that these officers aren’t doctors – the customer might be saying they’re sick but medical evidence has nothing to do with what the test is about! We’ll train your adjudicators – for a price. We’ve even got a sexy name for the test: It’s bollocks!”*

Off went Peter to try it and, lo and behold! The rise in claimants came to a halt, as if by magic. But it wasn’t magic. It was bollocks.

Meanwhile, the insurance company was making out like a bandit. Not only was it now at the heart of the small country’s government, it was able to make money from the claimants as well. Before the new rules came into effect, it advertised for customers, saying the new system meant “if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble!”

Before long, the big insurance company found it was even bigger, with a quarter of all its post-tax income being paid by people in the small country.

Meanwhile, back at home, people had started to complain about the big company. It was a big, NASTY company, they said, because it had forced them to accept less when they claimed than their policies offered. The government there found that the big company had relied too much on in-house professionals; had constructed doctors’ or examination reports unfairly, for its own benefit; had failed to evaluate claimants’ conditions in their totality; and had placed an inordinate burden on claimants to justify why they should receive the benefits for which they had paid. Many claims were found to need re-examination.

That did not make a scrap of difference to the people running the sickness benefit system in the small country that had asked for the big nasty insurance company’s help. An election had happened and Peter had been asked to leave, but the new people in charge, Frank**** and Tony*****, were keen to capitalise on what had gone before and transform their welfare system into a new marketplace – a source of revenue, profitability and economic growth.

With help from the big nasty insurance company, they decided that the solution was not to cure the sick – or even to prevent their sickness in the first place – but to convince them that work is therapeutic, aids recovery and is the best form of rehabilitation. In other words, bollocks*. This way, with the help of the big nasty company’s bollocks* tests and adjudicators who based their decisions on bollocks*, they could say the problem was with the person who had the illness. Their behaviour and beliefs became the focus of the government’s moral judgement and action. If they did not change their ways, then sanctions would be used as a “motivational tool” – and people would be starved back into work.

And that, dear child, has continued to this very day! People claiming sickness or disability benefits in the small country, which is called the United Kingdom, have to take a test in which medical evidence plays a tiny role, run by people who are not doctors and judged by people who are not doctors. Many of these decisions have been found to be unfair, and have often been found to have failed to evaluate claimants’ conditions in their totality – which is why people with terminal cancer have been found fit for work. Many claims have been found to need re-examination.

You can see the hand of the big nasty insurance company at work, can’t you!

That is because the big nasty insurance company, which is called Unum, has been at the heart of the small country’s government ever since it was first invited in. And they intend to live happily ever after, at the public’s expense.

“A lot of people think that disabled people don’t have sex, but this is not true, because the government are screwing us hard.” Francesca Martinez, The News Quiz, BBC Radio 4, January 11, 2013.

*I should apologise for the fault in my computer. Every time I try to type – I’ll just cut and paste it in here – “the biopsychosocial model” or any combination of those words, it comes out “bollocks”. Sorry!

**Peter Lilley

***John LoCascio

****Frank Field

*****Tony Blair