Tag Archives: tourette’s syndrome

Welfare? Rebels are right to fight these well-UNfair changes

It looks as though (as I write this, early on January 23) the UK Coalition government is about to lose yet another vote on changes to welfare benefits, in the House of Lords. Quelle surprise.

The changes (I refuse to call them reforms), dreamed up by Iain Duncan Smith, have been pilloried by the public as attacks on the poor, and it’s easy to see why. The Guardian, for example, compares two families.

“One is an Islington couple who have never worked. The other is an Oldham family with four children, where the working parent has just lost his or her job,” writes Tim Leunig. “The Islington couple currently receive £250 a week in housing benefit, while the Oldham family gets only £150.

“Times are tough, and the government wants to save money. Which family should have its housing benefit cut? George Osborne has chosen the Oldham family. He is cutting its housing benefit to £96 a week, while allowing the Islington couple to continue to claim £250 a week for as long as they like.

“That is the reality of the £26,000 benefit cap. It takes no account of your employment history or family size. So a central London couple who have never worked are unaffected, because they currently receive less than £26,000 in benefits. But a large family – even in a cheap house – will be hit. That is not sensible.”

But that is the problem with the Tories – no eye for detail. They like to simplify (I believe that’s their euphemism) the benefits system – the classic example being the new Universal Credit, with which they intend to replace a whole bundle of dedicated payments. The problem is that this creates far more problems than it solves and will end up costing far more money. Count on it.

There is grim humour in the fact that this failure to understand the nuances, the details, of the system has become the defining characteristic of Tory leader David Cameron, who was described by Peter Snowdon, in his book Back From The Brink – The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection, as having “an eye for detail”!

(Snowdon also states that Cameron has a “flair for words”. Considering the trouble his turn of phrase created for him after he described sitting opposite Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls as being similar to facing a man with Tourette’s syndrome, this also seems an unfortunate description)

David Cameron is a loser. His first attempt to get into Parliament was in 1997, when he contested the Stafford seat. He lost. Nobody should ever forget the fact that, with Labour at its lowest point in 13 years, Cameron totally failed to win a Parliamentary majority that was his for the taking in 2010.

And late last year, he managed to use the UK’s EU veto to sideline this nation from the main action in restructuring the Eurozone, effectively isolating us from decisions that directly affect British trade with its largest partner. This is the man who once declared (about Tony Blair): “The socialist Prime Ministers of Europe… want a federalist pussycat and not a British lion. It is up to us in this party… to make sure that lion roars, because when it does no-one can beat us.” In the event, it turned out that the roar was more of a mewl, and no-one outside the UK really noticed. Who’s the pussycat now, David?

People like Lord Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, have already stated they will oppose the welfare changes. They have realised that the Coalition is an alliance of losers and want to distance themselves.

However, both Cameron and his Tories are faring well in the opinion polls at the moment. Why?

It could be because Labour, under Ed Miliband and the aforementioned Mr Balls, has not created a well-defined image of itself as the opposing political force. The Labour leadership recently stated it would not reverse any of the Coalition’s cuts if it came into power – creating a stink among the trade unions and collapsing support from party members. If the Labour Party won’t change anything, why support it?

To me, it seems that the two Eds are trying to engineer a repeat of history. In the mid-1990s, according to George Bridges (the Tories’ former campaigns director), Tony Blair was “picking up Tory principles that he felt were appealing to middle England and playing them for all they were worth”. He also promised not to raise Income Tax and committed Labour to Tory spending targets for two years after being elected.

But the political landscape was very different in 1997. Inflation had been curbed and the economy was fairly secure, and the UK headed – under Labour – into the most sustained period of growth it had ever known (or certainly the most sustained in decades).

Now, that bubble has burst and we are, as a nation, having to pay. The Coalition, headed by the Tories, has dictated that the poorest of us must pay the most, and that is a weakness that Labour should exploit.

Labour should be attacking the belief that the economy is safe with the Tories. It isn’t. They took a national economy that was showing the beginnings of strong recovery and choked it off with their austerity programme; also, a programme that benefits those who are already rich while forcing the poor, the disabled, and the rising numbers of jobless into increasing penury is not good stewardship. How can it be? With more people out of work, whether they are receiving benefits or not, fewer are contributing taxes to the Treasury to help pay off the national deficit. The recovery cannot happen.

Labour should be attacking the culture of greed and arrogance that Mr Cameron tried to shake off whilst in Opposition, but has reared its ugly head again, now that the Tories are in office.

Labour should be attacking the divisions in the Tory Party – Europe is an example of this. Conservatives are held together, not by any strong, unifying ideals, but by the thirst for power and money, and members of the Party have widely varying views on almost any issue you care to put before them. It’s just a matter of finding the right pressure-point and applying enough leverage, and they’ll splinter.

And then there’s Tory sleaze. This is never far away. Who can forget the extramarital affairs enjoyed by multiple Tory ministers in the administrations of 1979-97, or ‘Cash for Questions’, to quote just two famous examples?

All Labour has to say about its own policies, in government, is that the Party will do what works. The Tories have proved themselves to be wedded to ideological programmes – stripping back the welfare state, creating tax havens so the rich can keep their money and not contribute to public services, and so on. These are harming the nation. In contrast, Labour need only state it will level up the playing field, re-balance the nation’s finances, and set us up to get back on our feet, and the votes should come rolling in.

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It’s not what you say – it’s how you say it

“This is a politically correct item from The Guardian…: ‘I was angered that [a reporter] found it necessary to mention that an assailant was black. The mention of colour in connection with crime is something I have come to expect from tabloids, not quality newspapers.”

“The Guardian replies: ”Black cab driver’ referred to the fact that the colour of the cab was black.'”

The above is a quote from The News Quiz, the humorous BBC Radio 4 panel show, c.1992. While The Guardian was correct in its use of language, on that occasion, it did give rise to misinterpretation and therefore the article could have been written in a clearer way.

I mention it because in the last few days we have been blessed – if that’s the word – with outbursts from two more public bodies that were similarly unwise.

The first public body I’d like to mention belongs to Diane Abbott MP who, as is fairly well-documented by now, had to apologise for any offence caused by comments she made on Twitter, after claims were made that they were racist.

In response to journalist Bim Adewunmi, who complained about the use of the terms “the black community” and “black community leaders” in the media after the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, she tweeted: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’.”

Diane was making a valid point but in a clumsy way. There really is no reason to define any community by the ethnicity, or dominant religion, supermarket preference or whatever, of the people who live in it. Generally speaking, these places already have names attached to them.

Years ago, when I was still working in Bristol, I was asked to attend a public meeting in St Paul’s. As I recall, it referred to a violent attack on a member of the community there by someone from elsewhere, who had not yet been brought to justice.

I was very nervous about going because racial tensions were quite high as a result of this case – and my anxiety was heightened when I arrived, and found that the only other white face, in a room filled with more than 100 people, was on the clock.

I need not have concerned myself at all. I could not have been made more welcome; everybody there was delighted that I had come to give publicity to their concerns. I may even have stayed behind for a while after the meeting, for a cup of tea, a biscuit, and a bit more background information, I can’t remember for sure.

Did I say anything about being in a ‘black’ community in my article? Not at all. The question of the attack being racially motivated was an issue at the time, but there was no need to blow it out of proportion by saying anything that could suggest this was about an entire ‘black’ community setting itself against ‘white’ people. That would have been absurd.

So I sympathise with Diane Abbott’s intention in agreeing that there was no need for the colour of the community leaders to be mentioned. Unfortunately, she let her typing finger run away with her and negated the very point she was trying to make.

Contrast that with a certain Mr Cameron – who appears to be the Prime Minister – and his deliberate, disparaging reference to people with Tourettes Syndrome.

In an interview (published in the Telegraph, if I recall correctly), Mr Cameron was quoted as saying that facing Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, during Prime Minister’s Questions is “like having someone with Tourette’s sitting opposite you”.

What an insensitive thing for a man in his position to say!

And how typical of the government’s appalling attitude to people with disabilities of any kind – including Tourettes. I have already written several articles on this blog, referring to some of these casually dehumanising policies, and linking to others.

Mr Cameron has drawn much flack for his jibe – and rightly so – but, unlike Diane Abbott, he hasn’t been asked to resign as a result. But his crime is worse, in my opinion.

He was deliberately drawing a comparison between a leading Opposition Member of Parliament and people with a debilitating and humiliating condition that was intended to belittle that man.

I think we can all be certain that he wasn’t asking anyone to sympathise Mr Balls for living with a condition that means he has motor tics that seriously limit his mobility, or makes him punch himself in the head repeatedly, or that he “shouts ‘biscuit’ 16 times every waking minute of the day, as I do?” (according to Jess Thom’s recent Guardian comment).

No, he was drawing on the misconception that everyone with Tourette’s is incoherent and swears all the time, and he wanted people to look down on Mr Balls – and therefore on people with Tourette’s.

This is vile behaviour, especially from a man whose own son was disabled until his tragic death in 2009, at the age of six. Mr Cameron should have known better.

“I was speaking off the cuff, and if I offended anyone of course I am very sorry about that. That wasn’t my intention at all,” Cameron told BBC television on Sunday.

I’m sorry too. Because, as apologies go, that just isn’t good enough. We have a right to expect more from our national leaders.

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