Tag Archives: twist

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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A few words about respect

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Blogger kittysjones put out a very interesting article yesterday (Tuesday) entitled Greens: the myth of the “new left” debunked in which the position claimed by the Green Party – that of being the ‘true party of the Left’ – is disputed. The article states:

“The Green Party do not have an underpinning ideology that can be described as left-wing at all. Some of the links with far-right and fascist ideology are very worrying.The fact that the Greens have themselves chosen to regard the Labour Party as their enemy means that they don’t see a potential ally, yet they manage very well in coalition councils, working amicably side-by-side and cooperatively with Tory and Liberal Democrats.

“Don’t let them fail the people of Britain by voting Green next year and allowing the Tories to remain in government another five years. People are suffering and dying as a consequence of Tory austerity; we need to ensure that ends. Vote Labour. That is the genuinely socialist thing to do.”

What is even more interesting than the article (which provides evidence to support its claims) is the reaction to it by some supporters of the party it criticises.

Here’s one: “You really must be running scared to write what you know to be utter rubbish. Thank you for invoking Godwin’s law because it just makes Liebour look all the more desperate and ridiculous.” The author of this comment was unwilling to put their own name to it, being described merely as ‘A Green Nazi’ – interestingly, because Godwin’s Law is, of course, the application of an inappropriate comparison with the Nazis.

The article does indeed compare Green ideology with that of the Nazis, but it does so on the basis of clearly-referenced evidence; therefore it would be wrong to suggest that the comparison is inappropriate. On the other hand, the commenter’s inability or unwillingness to provide any evidential argument against the assertions, relying on disparagement (“utter rubbish”) and insults (“Liebour”) suggest that in fact they are “running scared”, “desperate” and “ridiculous”.

The author’s response was one to which Yr Obdt Srvt has had to resort many times: “If it’s ‘utter rubbish’ then why don’t you explain how, in what way you disagree, rather than being a fascist and proving my point, by simply stooping to insulting the author?” This reply generally provokes one of only two possible responses: Silence, or invective.

Another comment (this one by ‘Nuggy’ – again, not likely to be their real name) attempted to twist the article into a gross generalisation: “Equating all greens with Malthus is like equating all socialists with Pol Pot or Kim Il Sung.”

It was easily put down by a reference to accuracy: “I equated the cited green policies with the ideas of Malthus.” [italics mine]

There was an (unintentially?) hilarious suggestion that the article was libellous; it isn’t, as anyone with knowledge of the laws of defamation will confirm.

And then there were the insults, first mentioned in a reply to Tim Barnden (at last, someone with a real name!) who asked: “Why are you moderating out most replies Ms Jones? Are you in fact not up for a debate?”

This was a continuing theme on the comment column, and the replies indicate the kind of pressure that was being brought to bear by people claiming to represent the Green Party: “I’m up for debate, just not up for allowing personal abuse and bullying on my site… I have had hundreds of comments from largely abusive green supporters… I am getting some pretty terrible personal abuse from Green supporters. But not much criticism of the content and details in the article, unfortunately.”

The Green Party isn’t the only political organisation whose supporters behave in this way.

Vox Political has received exactly the same responses (in different contexts, obviously) from supporters of the Conservative Party (although admittedly this has tailed off considerably since VP was launched in 2011), Scottish nationalism (including the SNP), and most particularly UKIP.

Many, many examples are available if anyone wants to question the truth of this claim.

It’s simply not good enough.

Perhaps those of you who consider this behaviour to be acceptable (it isn’t) may be persuaded against it if sites like VP and kittysjones parcelled up all your abuse and sent it to the head offices of these political parties as examples of how their supporters represent them?

You see, there are rules to this kind of debate and it seems too many people are breaking them. That’s just damned disrespectful and there’s no reason anyone should put up with it.

So, if you are one of those who types out streams of profanity and hits the ‘send’ button before engaging your brain, it’s time to change your ways.

This site values informed debate. We appreciate it; sometimes it can even be persuasive (in VP‘s case this has occurred several times).

But from now on, anything else will receive an appropriate response.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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“Hello, my name is The Daily Mail, and I twist your words”

Inforrm’s Blog provides this informative insight into how the Daily Mail reports stories about the NHS:

Read the excesses of parts of the British Press for long enough and one gets quite hardened to distortions, misreporting and twisting of the truth.

But every now and again something so horribly ugly and mean comes along that it stops you in your tracks.

So it is with one case involving Dr Kate Granger. She is the heroic woman medical registrar battling an incurable cancer who started the “Hello my name is…” campaign.

At the last count her campaign to improve patient experiences in the NHS had recorded 26 million Twitter impressions.

Dr Granger has become an international phenomenon. She decided to stop her own treatment when, as she put it “the costs started to outweigh the benefits” and went back to work in Wakefield looking after elderly patients while continuing to campaign for more person-centred care.

Her husband, Chris Pointon, has just extracted a sort of apology from The Daily Mail through a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) for an appalling distortion of her speech to the NHS Confederation conference in June.

Under the headline “How NHS dehumanises patients, by doctor 32, who is dying of a rare form of cancer,” The Daily Mail ran a 750-word hatchet job that vilifies the NHS and grossly misrepresents what she said. It strings accurate but out-of-context snippets of the speech and uses them as ammunition to bash the health service.

The really odd thing about the report is that it completely misses out any mention of her campaign or that she is completely dedicated to the NHS.

To twist what somebody has to say that much is bad enough under any circumstances; but to do so when she has only weeks left to live and has dedicated her life to improving the NHS is almost unspeakable.

There’s more – so visit the article on Inforrm’s Blog to read it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Health Warning: Government! is now available
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