Addendum II: Compass Points: Social Security for All: the renewal of the welfare state
The Recusant wishes to draw readers' attention to a new document produced by centre-left thinktank Compass, which succinctly puts the case for a new universal Social Security system or renewal of the welfare state along more compassionate and supportive grounds, as opposed to the punishing and ultimately destructive Tory 'reforms' currently underway. Although TR remains highly sceptical about the case for universalism across the board in terms of benefits -and is still not persuaded by this document-we do recommend the overarching case put forward here, one which we have put forward ourselves at length through the anthologies Emergency Verse and The Robin Hood Book.
In particular, we agree wholeheartedly with Compass that the universal 'narrative' of the "deserving and undeserving" poor (revivified, shamefully, by New Labour, and now hyperbolised to monstrous proportions by the unreconstructed Tories) and unemployed has to be rigorously fought and replaced by a more mature, insightful, compassionate and, indeed, accurate narrative as to such anti-narratives being nothing more than vindictive and divisive propaganda spun by government and the right-wing papers.
However, there are two points in this Compass document which TR is inclined to amicably but emphatically dispute:
The first is on information drawn from a broadly excellent 'Mythbuster' feature in a recent issue of Red Pepper (which is provided a link as are many similarly important journalistic interventions) which, while rightly busting various myths about welfare and unemployment -particularly that of mythic "intergenerational welfare-dependency", the miniscule amount of benefit fraud (only 0.7% of the entire welfare budget, inclusive of administrative errors!), and that only 3% of benefits are paid out to those who out of work- TR does take issue with what appears to be a wholly accidental construction of a new myth that couples living together are not penalised through the welfare system, when couples who are both unemployed are and always have been penalised by the benefits system. The trouble here is the lack of elucidation in the Red Pepper piece as to what circumstance this claim is referring: do they mean in work or out of work couples? This isn't explained:
Couples on benefits are better off if they split up
Reality: This one has recently been comprehensively disproved by research from the Joseph Rowntree
Foundation, who concluded: ‘The simplest question that can be asked in testing the couple penalty is: does the benefits system provide a different proportion of a family’s daily living needs if they live together and if they live apart? The clear answer from the calculations in this paper is no. The benefits system provides very similar living standards to families living together and apart.’
This is extremely vague, there's no detail or substantiation for this claim of a 'myth' in this context, which is imperative if one is attempting to disprove a so-called 'myth'. We would need to see the details of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation study on this to be able to decide if it is a myth or not -the article does not elucidate why it believes it to be a myth!
Research in 2009 for the Department for Work and Pensions looked at whether different benefit systems had any impact on people’s decisions about whether to stay together or not. They concluded that ‘on balance, the reviewed literature shows that there is no consistent and robust evidence to support claims that the welfare system has a significant impact upon family structure’.
It seems rather bizarre, even counter-productive, to use as evidence the highly elliptical auspices of the DWP, who are hardly likely to admit that there are disincentives in the benefits system towards unemployed couples cohabiting. This is also disingenuous: the fact that a survey of claimants suggests few of them see benefit rules as a determinent as to whether they live together or not means pretty much nothing at all in backing in this alleged 'mythbusting': most people will, in spite of subsequent material hardships, choose, if in relationships, to live together, whether unemployed or not, simply due to primal human priorities and the preference for companionship than because it has no effect on their benefit entitlements.
But in any case, just because benefits system doesn't broadly decide for couples or families whether or not to live in one household is not the same as saying: the benefits system doesn't affect them negatively if they do so. Here is one sense in which such noble-minded surveys and counter-narratives can sometimes fall down: in terms of their sources, which, if not fully empirical and authentic, but in part based on information-gathering from other bodies, can inadvertantly end up categorising facts as myths, thereby even creating their own myths which are counter-productive to their polemical purposes. (However, on practically every other count the Red Pepper feature does indeed accurately 'bust' the most pernicious myths relating to welfare).
The fact remains, that if a couple are both out of work then the benefits system does penalise them considerably, in fact, almost to a crippling degree: each partner's benefit entitlements are offset against the other partner's, which effectively means a 'couple' is treated almost as one individual. There are of course some exceptions to this general rule depending on exact circumstances, but those are indeed exceptions to the overall rule that someone who is unemployed does receive considerably more in benefits if they live alone rather than with an unemployed partner, particularly in terms of housing benefits, plus there is no one else for their other benefits to be 'offset' against, so those are relatively untouched too. Of course, with the new "bedroom tax" this will all change for those single unemployed persons unlucky enough to be currently renting flats with a so-called "spare room". Couples with one person in work are penalised equally badly by the benefits system: for instance, the unemployed partner's entitlements for state assistance are negated almost entirely by being offset against their partner's working income - so effectively two individuals are expected by government to live on the "joint" income of one of them. So, unfortunately, this particular "myth" is actually not a myth at all, or at least hasn't been up until now.
TR's second dispute is a more theoretical one but based on the narrative trajectory of politicians towards the welfare state over the past three decades: welfare universalism is a redistributive ideal but one which only makes real sense applying in societies that are already broadly levelled materially, ones which are far more equal than the UK is today (for instance, in advanced Scandinavian social democracies such as Sweden and Norway, it makes much more sense).
For instance, in the UK of the late Seventies, which was among the most socially equal in Europe at that time, universalism made much more sense; but since the Thatcherite revolution and its severe erosion of income equality, which has now resulted in one of those most (if not the most) socially unequal country in Europe with the widest gap between rich and poor, any comprehensive universalism in terms of redistributive benefits makes little sense, since it can only, inevitably, lift all of society upwards, but NOT actually begin to level society more so that there is greater social and material equality.
In other words, using universalism in a deeply unequal society, while vitally ensuring there is a safety net of assistance beneath which the poorest cannot -as they can increasingly today- fall, it also ensures that everyone in society is kept at the same material level, so class distinctions and property monopolies remain intact, if slightly readjusted. Universalism seems to take as its core assumption that everyone in society is broadly speaking already on the same or similar level materially. It's a utopian principle for an almost-utopian society.
The long-standing argument of the centre-left is that universalism prevents symbolic ghettoisation of the poorest in society, and thus reduces stigma and resentments felt by the better off (those who can support themselves without state help). But we can see that even this noble aim has catastrophically failed in any case: today's rampant "scroungerthology" is glaring evidence of this, and the common misconception that "welfare" is only for the "workshy" and "idle". So just how has the fact that the benefits system is universal resulted in such marked stigmatisation of benefits claimants? Through political and tabloid rhetoric and misinformation in the main, yes, but nevertheless, if universalism really did generate a social security culture of collective solidarity through a unifying sense of togetherness, of mutual benefit, and perceived with the same national affection as the NHS is (which TR is much more inclined to believe should remain universal for various reasons too involved to go into here), then how is it in 2013, seventy-odd years after its creation, the universal welfare state is now snagged in almost-universal stigma? It can't be entirely down to anti-statist right-wing propaganda (though it does account for a lot of the reason); indeed, much of the anti-benefits spin began under New Labour, which was, albeit in a neoliberal, pro-privatisation and de-regulatory sense, very much muscular in its deployment of 'the state'.
TR would argue that the insistence on welfare universalism, particularly since the rise of Thatcherism, has ended up inadvertantly achieving the very opposite to its intention by inevitably inflating the benefits budget in order to retain its universal remit -not to say in terms of housing benefits, in order to keep up with escalating private rents since the Tory abolition of private rent controls- while catering for an ever increasing section of society living in poverty; so when the moment comes, as it has done, to cut the budget back, politicians prioritise not those most in need, i.e. the actual unemployed, but those in much lesser need, i.e. those who are in employment, on the basis that working claimants are perceived as 'paying in' to the system through taxes whereas most of the unemployed are not perceived in that way (i.e. are depicted as 'non-contributory') -and so with universalism comes far greater "conditionality", which inevitably impacts much more on the poorest claimants than the better-heeled.
Such a stance then in turn speciously 'justifies' a new "contributory principle" in the form of unpaid labour through work placements. While the unemployed youth are tipped into unpaid apprenticeships. Then we end up with the absurd, almost surreal spectacle of hundreds of thousands of the poorest households (including the 'working poor') being mass evicted due to housing benefit caps and bedroom taxes, while the better off constituencies of the universal welfare/credit system are handed almost frivolous windfalls as in the childcare support now being offered to families earning up to £300,000!
Given all the historical and contemporary evidence which overwhelmingly demonstrates that welfare universalism has NOT prevented stigma against benefit claimants but actually -in combination with right-wing tabloid rhetoric- ended up underpinning an equally universal stigmatisation of the welfare state, TR finds it extremely difficult to agree with the Compass assertion that 'universalism is essential to the renewal of the welfare state; it reduces stigma' -simply because, demonstrably, it doesn't reduce stigma at all! Arguably "scroungerthology" (or what in the 70s was called "scroungerphobia") is at its all time peak in twenty-teens, and that's after over 60 years of incremental universalism! The Compass standpoint does seem more like wish-fulfilment than evidence-based reality.
However, TR does endorse -with aforementioned caveats- this latest Compass intervention and certainly agrees that we need not a dismantlement but a renewal and reinvigorating of the welfare state at this time. So we do recommend it to all readers; though we feel the recent 'The Lies We Tell Ourselves' document by the Methodist, Baptist and Unitarian Churches is a more in-depth and polemically charged document, which makes a real and thorough point of dispelling "scroungerthology", crucially, from a Christian -as opposed party political- point of view. The Compass document can be accessed here or downloaded via our front page. What is vital at this time is that the narrative is changed on the issue of the welfare state, and it is primarily the responsibility of the Labour Opposition -if indeed it IS still a true Opposition- to augment this new narrative. Unfortunately, however, with Liam Byrne still in charge of the Shadow welfare brief, and Labour's recent capitulation to the government's "retrospective legislation" in order to get out of compensating 250,000 claimants it unlawfully sanctioned under its work programme, this isn't looking at all likely any time soon. Perhaps Compass can put some real pressure on them now?
Addendum: Abstention Labour
The Recusant expresses its disgust at the Labour leadership for having instructed the party to 'abstain' from the vote on "retrospective legislation" drawn up by IDS and the DWP to prevent the Government being rightly liable to pay out over £130 million in compensation to 250,000 unemployed claimants who were wrongly docked of their benefits for justifiably refusing to take part in the Tories' Workfare Programme.
That the claimant-bashing Tories should move so athletically to attempt to stop what would be relatively tiny reimbursements of around £500 per claimant is hardly surprising to any of us, but for Labour to help speed this disgracefully discriminatory -and quite probably illegal- piece of legislation through Parliament by abstaining is simply beyond belief.
The Recusant is aware that uber-Blairite Shadow WP Secretary Liam 'benefits-basher' Byrne is quietly supportive of such anti-claimant discriminations, but for the party's Whip and leader Ed Miliband to have apparently said at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party that -according to Guardian coverage- any members who did not toe the party line by breaking the collective abstention and voting against the government motion would face "the sack" (!), is unforgivable, and will, we predict possibly presage a haemorrhaging of the Labour vote in 2015 as a consequence, since no left-of-centre voters with an ounce of social conscience on such an issue could vote for a party that has supported such legislative discrimination against the unemployed.
That Iain Duncan Smith's latest piece of fascistic policy is, according to many lawyers, in breach of Human Rights, should also sound alarm bells for Miliband and Labour -but most fundamentally, Miliband, Byrne and the Labour front bench have catastrophically failed, once again, to stand up for the unemployed against vicious Tory attacks, and have now placed themselves on the wrong side of the moral argument.
What this "retrospective legislation" attempts to do is basically re-write the law -an easy abuse with Chris 'Gripper' Grayling as Justice Minister- which is clearly an abuse of parliamentary powers and unconstitutional. What it also threatens to do is codify in parliamentary statute that the basic 'rule of law' and even human rights are not considered applicable by parliament to the unemployed -in other words, to be unemployed and in receipt of state assistance today effectively means signing on to sign away one's rights to equal treatment under the law as "working taxpayers". This is yet further consolidation of the cross-party parliamentary erosion of rights for the unemployed.
The Recusant commends the courageous 44 Labour MPs -including left-wing stalwart John McDonnell- who broke the Labour whip and vote against this disgraceful offence to democracy and the rights of the unemployed. We also highly commends Ian Mearns MP for resigning from his post as parliamentary private secretary to the shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis, in order that he could vote with his conscience. At least we know there are 44 True Labour MPs left in the party.
The Recusant's message to Ed Miliband is this: Sack uber-Blairite/Shadow IDS, Liam Byrne, from the welfare brief (and preferably from the Labour Shadow front bench entirely), or be prepared for a wholly avoidable atrophy in the Labour vote in 2015.
Unfortunately, however, the damage is already done, since this exceptionally speedy piece of legislation has been whipped through the Commons already (on Tuesday apparently - where was the coverage?), and although the Lords looks likely to rebel against it and send it back to the Commons, we all know from their previous form that the Government is likely to simply claim "financial privilege" again in order to overrule the Second Chamber. This is already aumbrated in IDS's very deliberate argument that avoiding paying the modest compensation to the exploited claimants is in order to 'protect national finances', or something similar. So now we know: the Westminster political class no longer believes the unemployed are entitled to compensation for being exploited and unlawfully punished through impoverishment. That Labour has spinelessly eased the passage of this despicable policy through collective abstention is truly shameful.
Equally inexcusable -though hardly anything new- is the complete absence of any proper coverage of this cross-party parliamentary conspiracy against the unemployed (and against constitutional lawfulness!) by the media, specifically the BBC and its highly elliptical channel BBC Parliament (which claims it is 'Live and Uncut', but which frequently decides NOT to broadcast any heated Lords debates around any Bills to do with welfare). Where has the coverage been? One would think such anti-democratic procedures as "retrospective legislation" against some of the poorest citizens in the country would have gained a modicum of coverage!? But no, the media, the BBC in particular, seem complicit in this anti-democratic parliamentary parlour game. Whither 'transparency' and 'accountability'? Whither, for that matter, representative democracy? The only papers to have put this issue in the public domain so far seem to be The Guardian and the ever-reliable Morning Star (that singularly independent, cooperatively owned, socialist newspaper, which alone is unrepresented in the BBC News' nightly newspaper round-ups -in spite of its title being clearly visible on the montage of newspaper names in the backdrop!- and was also alone excluded completely from government-newspaper discussions on a new post-Leveson regulatory body).
The Recusant is however pleased to see that at least one corner of the legal world is currently challenging this parliamentary conspiracy against the democratic rights of the unemployed, as quoted from Hugh Muir and Shiv Malik's article of 21 March:
Lawyers acting for Reilly and Wilson said on Thursday they had lodged submissions to the supreme court, which could declare the government's emergency legislation a breach of human rights. In the submissions, Public Interest Lawyers argues that the bill is a flagrant violation of its clients' access to justice.
It says the bill, which is expected to be passed into law early next week, will mean "persons who, like Mr Wilson, refused to participate on schemes, will have their extensive (and in Mr Wilson's case ongoing) benefits sanctions retrospectively validated, even though they were lawfully entitled to refuse to participate on the schemes at the time".
The firm argues that "the actions of the secretary of state … represent a clear violation of article 6 [of the European convention on human rights] and the rule of law, as an interference in the judicial process by the legislature".
Isn't it just yet another symbol of how morally perverse and ethically twisted the Tories are that their only other move which matches the mad rush to defend bankers' bonuses against European caps is that to prevent 250,000 of the poorest people in this country having a meagre £500 each reimbursed for being unfairly sanctioned for non-compliance with workfare exploitation?
March Hare Budget: The “Gentrification” of the Welfare State
So it’s finally happening: the Gentrification of the Welfare State, a Tory crypto-plot this writer warned would be this government’s inevitable long-term aim as far back as 2010, in his polemical Foreword to Emergency Verse – Poetry in Defence of the Welfare State. Few listened then, but one suspects more are listening now, three years into what has to be the most intransigently right-wing government of modern times.
Whereas New Labour tended to ‘think the unthinkable’ with regards to the welfare state, the Tories simply get on and ‘do the unthinkable’: that is, they have wasted no time at all in dismantling the welfare state to its barest bones by a remorseless public campaign of anti-entitlement rhetoric and stigmatisation of poverty and “worklessness”, breaking the link between benefits and need, and hyperbolising the “sacrifices” of the “taxpayer” in subsidising it. That only a tiny percentage of the “bloated” welfare budget actually goes to those out of work, while the main expenditure from it goes to pensioners and those in work, is conveniently never mentioned by the Tories.
In spite of there being –for the first time since 2010– no further announcements of specific welfare cuts in Baronet Osborne’s March ‘Hare’ Budget, the wax-faced tsar of hereditary entitlement did leave his traditional sting-in-the-tail with a mention that if his bunch of ravenous wolves get back into power in 2015, they will embark on yet further attacks on the welfare state by capping its overall budget for the first time since its inception.
Here we see in stark daylight the truly detrimental long-term plan of the Tories: to permanently stunt the welfare budget so that in future it cannot rise above a set level of expenditure. This would be, in effect, a cap on poverty itself –not a cap on its inevitable incremental rise through fiscal measures to combat it, but simply a cap on the state’s remit to relieve it. The result of this, especially with the prospect of a “lost decade” ahead of us with escalating unemployment, poverty and homelessness, is that either benefits will be capped so low across the board that practically anyone in receipt of them simply won’t be able to survive, or once the benefits budget has reached its ‘limits’, anyone who is made unemployed thereafter will be unable to claim any state assistance except perhaps some form of rudimentary and short-term discretionary help. Those are at least the implications of such an announcement.
As if it’s not enough that all benefits across the spectrum are being vindictively capped and cut to below inflation indefinitely, the Tories simply cannot keep their grubby trotters out of what they clearly see as the ‘welfare raiding pot’. It isn’t enough for the Tories that up to a 600,000 more children (up to a million during the course of this parliament) will be plunged into chronic poverty in 2013/14 due to the scabrous housing benefit caps, nor that tens of thousands of families with disabled members will be forced to “downsize” their accommodation under the imminent “bedroom tax”; no, they have to go even further still in their (im-)‘moral’ crusade to crush the poorest of this nation and effectively render them fiscally extinct – or as good as – through a mass social cleansing which they prettify with the effete epithet “gentrification”. All in the name of making non-existent “work” “pay”! What they actually mean, of course, is MAKE WORKERS PAY (re the extension of public sector pay caps) and MAKE CLAIMANTS WORK FOR FREE for their meagre benefits. Such is the mission of Iain Malthus Smith’s DWPoundland. MAKE WORK PAY or WORK MAKES FREE – there’s very little semantic or attitudinal difference between the two mantras.
But the sourest pill of the March 2013 Budget is the almost incomprehensible and glaringly unfair, even downright profligate, announcement that working parents earning together anything up to as much as £300,000 between them – a princely sum which most of us could only ever dream of earning – will now be entitled to extra childcare state-funded vouchers to the tune of £1,200 per child per year!
As if a couple bringing in £150,000 each need any financial assistance whatever to pay for childcare! Talk about perverse priorities! Meanwhile, of course, families where only the father goes to work while the mother stays at home to bring up her children WILL NOT be eligible for this assistance. So not only are such families mostly on lower incomes because they only have one breadwinner, but they will also now be effectively penalised simply because the mother cares for their children on a full time basis. This is, relatively speaking, a tax on “stay-at-home mums”, basically. This frankly barmy proposal is so abjectly unfair and discriminatory that even the uber-right-wing Daily Mail was up in arms about it on its front page today –for perhaps the first time ever in its history, the paper actually criticised Osborne for trying to financially bribe stay-at-home mothers to “go into work” rather than look after their children during the week. Noticing such a headline on the front of the Mail was an extremely surreal experience for this writer, and he had to pause to still his dizziness before stooping to pick up his copy of the Morning Star.
Such absurd bending over backwards to push more state assistance – or, as those on the Right would see it, reimbursement of taxpayer-funded monies back to middle-class taxpayers – at those “who want to get on” and indeed are "getting on" since they already have secure -and in many cases exemplary- salaries, is simply beyond belief at a time when the Tories are still banging on about the bloated welfare budget and capping and cutting entitlements left, right and centre for its poorest beneficiaries.
This is, then, the Gentrification of the Welfare State gone into full throttle: the first truly monumental stamping of the Tories’ belief that a welfare state of any kind should prioritise paying money back to the “hard working taxpayer” who contributes to its coffers –turning it into a kind of state-shareholder bank for the employed rather than a state “safety net” for the unemployed. If we lived in anything like an equal and meritocratic society with a living wage, rent controls and full employment, then such an idea might seem to ostensibly make some sense.
But we don’t: we live in one of the most unequal countries in Europe, with the widest gap between rich and poor. In such a circumstance then, to make such a quixotic and bizarre gesture to families earning anything up to the same salaries as the top government ministers, is more of a Satanicisation of the fundamental redistributive welfare principle: to redistribute state monies from the welfare system to those LEAST IN NEED, and at a time when the very poorest are being evicted en masse from their tenancies due to the benefit caps, is beyond any recognisable concept of basic “fairness” and human morality; not to mention Christian morality –and it is hugely significant that at a time in which our government is championing the very worst Thatcherite traits and so athletically stigmatising and trampling the poorest in society, our new Archbishop of Canterbury is openly opposing the welfare ‘reforms’, while the new Pope, Francis I, is declaring that his pontificate will be about “putting the poor first”. Of course, David Janus-faced Cameron was quick to trot out to his podium and express how much he “profoundly disagrees” with such basic Christian sentiments –but the horns are beginning to poke through his slick backcomb and the sulphur issuing from Numbers 10 and 11 promises to grow to peasouper proportions in the months ahead.
The Tories’ Gentrification of the Welfare State goes way beyond even the most eccentric – and, indirectly, anti-egalitarian – excesses of universalism ever espoused by Labour hegemonies. Labourite universalism was about believing that a) the welfare state must provide state benefits to all, not simply the poorest and most in need, in order to sustain middle-class support for its existence and purpose and b) in order not to end up as an effective fiscal ghetto purely for the poorest, which might result in their stigmatisation due to resentment from wider society. The fact that both of these objectives behind universalism have completely failed, due to an ageold conspiracy of right-wing red-top tabloids and successive centre-right governments of both the Tories and New Labour continually undermining the moral imperative of welfare by rhetorically stigmatising its claimants for the past three decades -to the extent that the very term “welfare” is now practically a verbal taboo- does rather beg the question, at a time of dire austerity and economic paralysis, does it really still make sense to have so many universal benefits?
One would think, obviously not: whatever is left in the Tory-raided welfare budget should quite obviously, fairly and morally go to those who are most in need at this moment, those about to lose their homes for instance. Universalism should be capped at a reasonable income level, say around £60,000 per household. As a Dispatches documentary showed only this week, many -though by no means all, as there are many old age people living in poverty- pensioners are relatively better off than those of working age (those who are either unemployed or in working poverty) and many are simply using their winter fuel allowances to pay for non-necessities, even foreign holidays. Surely it is only fair to cap entitlements to ALL benefits above a certain level of income and capital? What’s the point of piling on the cash for those who simply don’t need it? Even for those who don’t know what to do with it, while there are tens of thousands of families now reliant on tins from food banks to avoid starving!? Of course, we know why the Tories are doing this, because they think it’s all about rewarding “hard work” and thrift, and disincentivising the mythical construct of the “culture of idleness” (i.e. the involuntarily unemployed). The result: an encroaching national crisis in absolute poverty and homelessness.
Osborne talks of a budget for an “aspiration nation” –well The Recusant would like to tell him this: under his Chancellorship, hundreds of thousands of families across the country at this time have only one “aspiration” and that is to be able to get a meal on the table each day, to get through the week, to be able to pay the rent at the end of the month and the escalating energy bills. But Osborne’s response is more likely to induce an “Exasperation Nation” for those at the bottom of the heap. If the Tories want to know about true “hard work” they might try a spell of unemployment in today’s punishing climate: this would give them a real taste of the very primal fight for survival, of the hunter-and-gatherer grind of each day, every bit as exhausting and often unfruitful as the simultaneous hunt for non-existent jobs at a time of stagflation and terminal economic downturn.
To punish the poor for being poor and the unemployed for being unemployed is not only despicable at every moral level, not to say supremely cowardly, but it is also precisely the opposite to what any remotely decent, ethical and responsible government should be doing at a time of recession and mass unemployment: it should instead be creating growth to provide more jobs for people to go into, introducing a living wage (to ‘make work pay’ properly), building more social and council houses (rather than simply “churning” up what little stock there is, forcing tens of thousands of families out from their homes – and to where? – in order to move more families off waiting-lists) and reintroducing the basic sanity and fairness of private rent controls.
Unemployment is a government’s responsibility –no one else’s. But unfortunately for us Tory governments don’t believe in ‘governing’, only in rolling back the state to give their capitalist class more elbow room to exploit the rest of us, and muddying the social and economic pool with carrots and sticks. Tory governments traditionally stigmatise the unemployed and yet as all macroeconomists and social theorists well know, unemployment is the Tories’ most cherished economic tool: it provides them with perpetual leverage with which to keep wages down and thereby increase the profits of the employer capitalist class to which they themselves belong. Of course, the Tories euphemise this as “competitiveness”. The Recusant would call it simply plutocracy or oligopoly: monopoly of national wealth by a top 1% and wage-slavery for the 99%.
So much for the desperate need to get the welfare budget “under control”: Osborne has shown in his March 2013 Budget that there’s still plenty to go around, because he’s now going to give handouts to tens of thousands of households who DON’T NEED THEM. Including most of their own, of course: another little windfall for the political classes as the tax break for millionaires was for practically every single minister in the Cabinet! A similar ethical anomaly has also been highlighted only the ‘day after the Right before’ with Labour pointing out that there are insufficient safeguards in Osborne’s Budget announcement that the government is to financially assist first time mortgage-buyers towards “getting their first foot on the housing ladder” to forestall any opportunistic property-grab by millionaires who might splash their tax-breaks in April to scoop up second homes through this scheme; which would be despicable enough, but could also presage yet another sub-prime mortgage buy-to-let bonanza among the general populace of the very type which caused the 2008 banking collapse in the first place!
The latest European nation to be getting the brunt of the seemingly chronic economic meltdown and the boot-end of the fiscal fascism being imposed by the Troika on any overly indebted states, is Cyprus. Following a Troika ultimatum, the island has apparently until Monday to agree to its citizens literally being thieved of 10% of their savings to contribute to another bail out by the EU or face having the plug pulled on their entire banking system. Fiscal Fascism should come as no surprise to us bearing in mind that the natural default mechanism of failing capitalism is and always has been fascism. This was what happened very literally throughout Europe in the 1930s – in Germany, Spain, Italy et al; it is now what’s happening, through, so far, almost-entirely fiscal means, throughout Europe in 2013. Apparently Cyprus is considered dispassionately by the Troika as being “too small to bail” – latest trope to chime with the perennial “too big to fail” (it’s a curious logic that believes that a bank is too important to allow to go under, but not an entire nation state, even if it is relatively small, and an island; but then so is the UK!). Whoever said that capitalism was completely poetry-illiterate?
The capitalist system, particularly through its advertising spiel and ideological propaganda, certainly has a taste for rhyme –we might call it Corporate Poetry! Eliot started out as a bank manager after all. The Recusant is deeply fearful for the likely repercussions of a small Mediterranean island having its entire bank “liquidity” literally stopped for an entire week, meaning citizens still can’t access their bank accounts: perfectly understandable civil restiveness is now overspilling into growingly hostile public protest and we are unfortunately beginning to see now in Cyprus similar scenes – though on a smaller scale – to the ongoing clashes of placards with police batons and tear gas which has typified the mass discontent in Greece over the past year or so. But in Cyprus’s case, the Troika’s expansion of fiscally fascistic measures, such as out-and-out kleptocracy (that is, official theft of citizens by their government), is almost unprecedented in the defragmentation of the EU to date. Cyprus is on the truly draconic receiving end of this second-tier treatment by the Troika. This is the kind of blatant state kleptocracy which makes the constant complaints of Britain’s Taxpayers’ Alliance look so anally-retentive and infantile by comparison. Whereas tax is the citizens’ membership card to access a democracy which in turn protects their rights and provides them with services (in theory, that is), kleptocracy is simply theft of assets by the state which, in Cyprus’s case, is simply to combat the fiscal blackmail of the increasingly totalitarian Troika. It’s basically like a nation having to pay back a loan shark on a mass scale. While the Greek Orthodox Church is offering to put up its own church property as security against Cyprus’s debts, one wonders if the Russian oligarchs who have stashed huge sums of “dodgy” money in the island’s banks might consider taken out a mortgage on Cyprus itself!?
Oh, and of course, contrapuntal to the most viciously Thatcherite Budget of recent times, and a further promise to complete the full-scale dismantlement of the welfare state after 2015, the Libor-fixers at banks such as Barclays have just awarded themselves tens of millions of pounds in “shares” and bonuses, even after massive losses. Compare such feral financial behaviours, and Osborne’s athletic jaunt to Brussels to defend bankers’ bonuses, to the cross-party parliamentary collusion to pass “retrospective legislation” to protect the government from having to pay out a few million pounds to those thousands of unemployed claimants ILLEGALLY penalised and docked benefits they were entitled to under the elliptically detailed rules of the DWP Work Programme! That Labour is apparently in effect enable the passing of this DWP in this despicably unfair, mean-spirited, unconstitutional and possibly illegal measure, by spinelessly “abstaining” from the vote, shows, depressingly, that it is not simply the Tories but pretty much 90% of our political class which really does perceive the unemployed as a sub-species undeserving of the same rights as the rest of us.
The Recusant condemns this spineless capitulation of Labour to the anti-claimant Tory whiphand, abstention normally being the behavioural characteristic more of the Fib Dems (cue their utterly gutless and infantile refusal to back Labour’s Mansion Tax motion, even though it was a Liberal policy proposal in the first place!) for which they are now rightly denigrated. Labour knows by abstaining in a vote on this governmental gerrymandering of Time itself, or “retrospective legislation”, will inevitably pass through Parliament, and fairly swiftly. This is the political class sending out a very clear message that the unemployed are not entitled to compensation like anyone else; nor indeed are entitled to anything at all, their benefits, such as they remain, being “handouts” in return for which they must surrender their individual dignity and rights and be effective slaves of the Tory Workfare State.
The Tories, the banks, the property speculators and the tabloid media barons are certainly ALL IN IT TOGETHER. Meanwhile, the unemployed, poor, sick, disabled and homeless are OUT OF IT ALTOGETHER.
This is the ‘Big Stick Society’ – or ‘Pig Society’ – of the Two Nations Tories; that bucolic oak tree motif of their ‘reconstructed’ party has now been completely burnt to a stump by that old flaming Torch of ruthless Thatcherite atomisation.
On a final note, The Recusant would like to express its sense of solidarity with young activist Bethan Tichborne who, according to a Guardian article this week, has been fined almost £800 for having climbed over a barrier at an event which David Cameron was attending in his Oxfordshire constituency in order to get nearer to the premiere to express her indignation at what he and his government are doing to the poorest of this nation, particularly the sick and disabled, who are being bullied through relentless, medically illegitimate Atos work capability assessments. Apparently Bethan Tichborne had shouted out to Cameron that he had “blood on his hands”, and was about to confront him with Calum’s List (around 30 names of those incapacitated claimants hounded by the Atos regimen, who have either died prematurely from stress-accelerated conditions or, in some cases, committed suicide for having been stripped of their benefits in spite of chronic mental and physical health conditions; reproduced at the front of The Robin Hood Book and accessible via the link on the front page of this website). Bethan believes the sentence was “political” – and from what The Recusant has read of the case, so do we. This writer mentions Bethan Tichborne since she was among the original 111 contributors to Emergency Verse back in 2010 and, as he recalls well, was one of the 28 who came to read their poems at the Southbank Centre in January 2011. The Recusant sincerely hopes that Bethan Tichborne’s appeal – back by a group of sympathetic campaigners – against this seemingly unreasonable, knee-jerk and exorbitant fine, proves to be successful.
22 March 2013
Addendum 2: Fox Off-Topic
A delusional oratorical intervention today (11 March 2013) by disgraced former Defence Secretary/Private Representative for Werritty Global Associates, Liam Fox, warrants brief and easy pickings for polemical dismemberment, serving as it does as another example of extreme right-wing, reality-denying Tory dogma, or what political psychologists might term Ideological Dogma Syndrome ('IDS') - in laymens' terms: ideological illiteracy.
The great socialist coup of the last decade was making wealth an embarrassment. It is not. It is the prize for aspiration and hard work, and its side effects are higher tax revenues, more jobs and more investment.
People will buy houses, invest for their future or just go shopping. Whichever is the case, it is creating a society that is sustainable for the future in a way that our current – welfare dependent and debt ridden – economy is not.
History will judge Gordon Brown and his disciples harshly. They spent with abandon, rolling out the socialist vision of a big state. But much worse; rather than diminishing the reliance that individuals have on the state, they purposely pushed the drug of welfare addiction to more and more people, ensnaring even the affluent middle classes.
So this was the 'great socialist coup' of uber-neoliberal, pro-free market, pro-privatisation, regulation-lite, Murdoch-courting New Labour? And where were you, Mr Fox, during those New Labour boom years, if you seriously believe that under Blair and Brown 'making wealth was an embarrassment'?! Were you in your insulated Atlantic Bridge bunker when Peter Mandelson famously said "we are extremely relaxed about people getting filthy rich"?
No Mr Fox, that was not socialism, that was neoliberalism. The mushrooming of the welfare budget was due to having to keep up with deregulation in the private rental sector (further inflated by the grab-all-you-can buy-to-let boom of the Noughties) and the absence of a living wage. If the last government had been socialist, we would by now have a living wage, private rent controls, an expansion in social and council housing, and renationalised public utilities and services. THAT would have been socialism!
If this nation is 'welfare-dependent' it is as a direct result of an increasingly impoverished majority having to be cushioned by the State in order to subsist while the top 1% continues to vastly increase its wealth - and mostly from serial tax avoidance and evasion and financial speculation, NOT 'hard work'! That isn't 'welfare addiction', it is necessity addiction, what Tories might refer to as fundamental survival instincts. New Labour's rising benefits expenditure was the perennial capitalist sop to the masses, those whom such a rapacious hyper-"competitive" (i.e. employment rights-and-wages emasculating) system tramples and sustains at a level of chronic relative poverty.
If you wish to shrink the welfare budget still further Mr Fox - beyond, that is, the mass impoverishment and displacement of hundreds of thousands of low-waged and unemployed households as is already under way - then it's simple: introduce a living wage, reintroduce private rent controls, put up tax on the top 1% to 60%, close all tax avoidance and evasion schemes and claw back the millions thieved from the nation by such feral behaviours, put a tax on homes worth over £1 million, end the buy-to-let property racket, build more council and social housing and renationalise public services and utilities so there are no more private energy rackets profiting out of mass winter deaths among the elderly... etc.
Oh, but we nearly forgot, that would be to fiscally suggest 'making wealth' is 'an embarrassment' and would, of course, significantly deflate your own private capital, property investments and tax avoidance schemes.
And another thing, to 'make wealth' is all very well Mr Fox, but it ain't much use to society if, once made, that wealth is then siphoned off to offshore tax havens, is it? Creating wealth is one thing, but without a transparent and reliable means by which to germinate it throughout society so it benefits all, not just an elite few who almost always 'make' it on the back of either idle speculation, opportunism, greed and/or through profiting off others' ever-diminishing remunerations for their labour (i.e. 'wages'), it's of little consequence, except to the private capitalist, since it does nothing to regenrate the national economy.
Mr Fox, it is you who is the addict: to capitalist excess. You are an advocate on behalf of the global culture of 'wealth-dependency' buoyed on ill-gotten gains. You simply have to kick the habit! Intellectually, psychically, dialectically, ethically and morally, it is simply unsustainable!
Addendum to Latest Editorial: The Mitre Strikes Back!
The Recusant applauds the moral stance of the Anglican Church against the Government's Malthusian welfare 'reforms' and despicable "bedroom tax" due to come into force in April. On Sunday 10 March 2013, an open letter condemning the Tory-led raid on welfare and capping of all benefits to below inflation for the next five years in order to make the system "fairer" (!?) (i.e. impoverishing tens of thousands of children in order to appease penny-pinching Scrooges at the Taxpayers Alliance ginger group) was signed by 40 Church of England bishops and backed publicly by new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who put his incontrovertible moral case thus:
As a civilised society, we have a duty to support those among us who are vulnerable and in need. When times are hard, that duty should be felt more than ever, not disappear or diminish. It is essential that we have a welfare system that responds to need and recognises the rising costs of food, fuel and housing. The current benefits system does that, by ensuring that the support struggling families receive rises with inflation. These changes will mean it is children and families who will pay the price for high inflation, rather than the government.
This is an intervention prime minister 'Raider' Cameron can't simply shrug off with another pompous retort of "I profoundly disagree", nor one which WP Secretary Antipas Duncan Smith can simply put down to 'a woolly, bookish and bearded left-wing liberal' a la the retired previous social conscience of the crosier, Rowan Williams: Welby is from Cameron's own almar mater, Eton, and an ex-oil executive, so not someone the PM can easily dismiss as, in Tory-ese, 'not being in touch with the real world', since one or two Tories themselves claimed, laughably, at the time of Welby's appointment, that it was good to have an archbishop with "experience of the real world", even if most of us would say being an oil executive is hardly that - more being in touch with the oily capitalist world.
However, experience isn't everything, it's what one learns from it that counts, and clearly, judging by his highly compassionate and empathetic stance against the savage welfare cuts, Archbishop Welby has learnt the right things from his former career: that too few individuals in the world have inordinate power and wealth while too many have nothing at all. Welby couldn't have got off to a better start in his new role as far as we are concerned: emphasizing much clear blue water between the social and moral priorities of the Church and the bowl-scraping, poor-bashing priorities of the millionaire Tories. Emphatically, the CofE is no longer "the Tory party at prayer".
And when even the historically rather hair-shirted, 'work ethic'-obsessed Methodist and Unitarian Churches - together with the Baptists (traditionally the most socialist-oriented of Christian denominations) - goes to the trouble of producing a comprehensive report attacking the Government's wholesale demonisation of the unemployed, then only politicians who are basically inherently right-wing - Tories and Orange Book Liberals included - could possibly still claim that their government is "in the centre ground"!
But The Recusant applauds in particular the Right Reverend John Richard Packer, Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, who rebuked government and red-top "scrounger" propaganda against the unemployed and poor on BBC News today with the kind of passion and fundamental compassionate outrage that is so woefully lacking from any Opposition Labour spokesperson today. Packer's intervention is the most important in all this since he is the first clergyman to specifically attack the seemingly 'acceptable' use of the term "scrounger" against those "who are simply trying to find work". Once again, along with the Unions, the established Church(es) demonstrate that they are the true public Opposition to this wretched den of thieves we have as our government at the moment. It says something about the parlous state of British politics that it takes men of the cloth to speak up against the war on the poor of this nation while Labour bleats on about "the squeezed middle" to the exclusion of all else, those forced to claim state assistance due to failures of capitalism in particular.
Contrapuntal to this were more weasel words from the ethically compromised Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg at the Lib Dem conference: "We won't let the Tories take this government to the Right" declares Clegg while elsewhere in the news of the very same day were the bishops warning of "tens of thousands" of children being plunged into chronic poverty by the oncoming welfare caps and "bedroom tax"! [The Recusant would be fascinated to know why it is that anti-tax commentators, red-tops and right-wing 'trolls' who go on Mongol-like sweeps through the Guardian comment blogs on a daily basis just to get into arguments with left-leaning readers, never seem to be remotely annoyed about the vast sums of "taxpayers' money" which goes year in, year out to the largest and richest family of benefit claimants in the country - namely the monarchy! We suspect that the new "bedroom tax" ISN'T going to affect the Royal Largesse of legion palaces and castles throughout the country, all of which are grossly 'under-occupied' to the tune of thousands of 'spare rooms'!? When will HM Government start withdrawing taxpayer subsidies for all those spare rooms in the royal palaces? If this nation can no longer afford all this welfare expenditure, then surely it can no longer afford the largest chunk of it, which goes to the Windsors?].
The reality of the latter issues does rather put Clegg's empty rhetoric out to graze: if the mass imposition of poverty, destitution and homelessness on an entire section of society by a deliberate capping of their benefits to levels way below subsistence or keeping roofs over their heads is not evidence of a government ALREADY FAR TO THE RIGHT, then one wonders what else is! The Fib Dems really do need to stop fibbing to us, but even more so, to themselves.
This writer recently had an email circular sent to him from his local MP, Tory Mike Weatherley, whom, amongst other political solecisms, was parliament's most vocal champion of the criminalisation of squatters clause to the recently passed Legal Aid and Sentences Bill - so much so that said clause was given the informal name of "Weatherley's Law", and the 'bailiff of empty properties' himself subsequently pelted with rotten vegetables and booed off Sussex University campus for championing this abomination of a clause; one which is, in effect, a criminalisation of the very street homelessness Weatherley's ravenous Tory wolves have directly created.
But apparently Mr Weatherly has another side to him: he loves animals, (quite rightly) opposes fox hunting (which puts him out on a limb in his own party of course) and declares himself a 'champion of animal rights'! That's all fine, this writer noted in an email in response to this MP, "but what about human rights?" He then took the opportunity to point out to Mr Weatherly the glaring moral contradiction/duplicity in standing up for animal rights while trampling those of vulnerable homeless human beings left to shiver out on the streets of Brighton & Hove in freezing temperatures in order to keep precious empty properties, well, empty, as is the inalienable right, evidently, of all absentee property speculators letting bricks and mortar go to waste just to accrue some profit for themselves. "To put property rights above human rights is simply unacceptable in a civilized society", said this writer in his email, while likening the anti-squatting law as tantamount to "an urban fox hunt of the homeless".
Once again, we come back to the terrible lies we tell ourselves, to which none of us are wholly immune, but which undoubtedly Tories and Fib Dems, more than anyone other tiers of the human species, are at this time habitually addicted. But what's worse is we have to listen to this nonsense every day of the week from them! It's one thing to lie to themselves, but it's another for them to expect the nation to swallow their lies as well. Unfortunately however, many do, though increasingly the tide of opinion does seem to be swinging away from storm-rocked 'safe port in a storm' of Chancellor Osborne's austerity programme. Even if, all of a sudden, the previously much-trumpeted 'Triple A' credit rating of the UK is now little more than a tripple brandy to Osborne and Cameron now that one of those 'A's has swiftly downed anchor.
The Recusant never ceases to be depressed by the prevalance in British society today of what seems to be the pathological condition of mass cultural 'wilful self-blindness'. Whether it be right-wing policy makers claiming they are "centrists" and "liberals"; serial tax-avoiders and evaders publicly condemning those on benefits as "mugging the taxpayer"; MPs championing the rights of animals while simultaneously trampling the rights of their fellow human beings just for being poor; or, on a more microscopic cultural level, supplemental hatchet-hacks penning little solipsistic 'literary' columns in which they 'objectively' evaluate and criticise the very type of ultra-subjective hatchet jobs they themselves dish out to all and sundry in practically every other column they write! This must have been 'leap week' for this particular back-page hatchet man in question, but such posturing hypocrisy betrays itself for what it really is: unconscious penance by Column via public Jungian shadow-projection.
One of the first elementary rules of philosophy is "Know Thyself": so it would seem in both the political and cultural spheres that those with the most high profile public platforms are as yet mere saplings in the art of basic philosophical principle. No wonder this nation is in such an appallingly corrupt state. But spring will soon be upon us - and, so someone once said, "sunlight is the most effective disinfectant"!
10 March 2013
April Is The Cruellest Month/ Frank 'Not In My Back' Field!
Although himself a conservative and arch-royalist, it seems appropriate to quote T.S. Eliot's first four lines from the opening of The Waste Land (1922), in this sour March's lead up to the impending "bedroom tax" to be imposed on the poorest households in this nation, both out-of-work and in-work ones:
APRIL is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
As I write this, the redivist Tory ministers are fighting tooth and nail for the imposition of this morally despicable tax on poverty and disability (tens of thousands of families with an extra room to accommodate one disabled child member are also to be forced to "downsize" their accommodation) against mounting parliamentary and public opposition. The speed at which porcine Chancellor Osborne trotted out to the Continent to robustly defend exorbitant bank bonuses against the collective wishes of the rest of the EU nation states, simultaneous to equal alacrity pushing through the vicious bedroom tax on those with the least means in society, conclusively shows to all of us just where this vile government's priorities lie: with the rich and strong, and against the poor and vulnerable. So the Tories finally consolidate their new "lurch to the right" (if that's even possible!) as the new party of Fiscal Fascism.
Cameron current phrase being bandied about, "no lurch to the right", on the back of contrapuntal policy proposals such as capping benefits and NHS access for the imminent mythical influx of "benefit tourists" from Bulgaria and Romania, is of course beyond satire, coming from a prime minister who heads indisputably the most extreme - in terms of social policy - right-wing government this nation has known arguably for generations.
Cameron speaks one minute of "no lurch to the right", then the next drubs opportunistic "centre ground" politics as simply a means to position a party equidistant between one's opponents (the old Blairite "Third Way", which Cameron formerly admired so much), while speaking of something vaguely termed "the common ground". This is the same "common ground" which, seemingly, represents a societal 'blue-rinse consensus' that the unemployed should have to work for their benefits, disabled children share rooms with their siblings, benefit-capped families move 200 miles from their communities (rather than just reintroducing rent controls!), squatters should be banged up, the poor should lose all legal aid, the Human Rights Act should be ripped up, and all immigrants who fall on bad times should be left to starve to death and receive no medical treatment! Many would rightly argue such policies appealing to the worst red-top prejudices of a portion of society whose hard right views might reasonably be referred to as a dormant 'mob mentality' as the ultimate in "lowest common denominator politics". A "common" or "centre ground" it certainly ain't: it's simply right wing, bordering on the protectionist, xenophobic and fascist. Any further "lurch to the right" would be off the spectrum, and somewhere between Atilla the Hunn and Adolf Hitler.
But what is particularly distressing and depressing at this time is that a Labour MP, and one who has formerly been - bizarrely - referred to as somehow "on the Left" of the party (!!!), the sleepy-eyed, dulcet-toned Frank Field, is criticising this Tory Government's pincer-movement on the unemployed, not because it goes too far, but because he thinks it doesn't go far enough! Mr Miliband, when are you going to purge this (self-confessed) 'social conservative' from your ranks? Is no one going to break it to Mr Field that he is quite simply a Tory?
If he is not, then why is he spouting the same simplistic, punishing and disingenuous anti-welfare rhetoric as Idiot Duncan Smith? That a so-called Labour MP is attacking this vile government from the Right rather than the Left, is truly a dark hour for the Opposition. Field is seriously tabling another Welfare Bill designed to shoe-horn in a return to universal contributory welfare (based on what he terms "contributions", without actually defining what he means by this except very vaguely with reference to "residency" etc.), which would curb already eviscerated 'entitlements' of unemployed claimants even more than the Welfare 'Reform' Bill has already done! And all simply to stem an imminent influx of Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants from being eligible to claim benefits!
But what Mr Field seems unaware of - qually unfathomable given his having once been a Welfare Minister - is that most benefits ARE CONTRIBUTORY ALREADY! All citizens, including the unemployed, have to pay National Insurance Contributions. Not only that, but ESA/Incapacity, since the benefit is what's known as a "non-passport benefit" and is thus treated not as a benefit but as "additional income" (though often 'in addition' to precious little else!!!), is TAXABLE! Mr Field should spend more time actually swatting up on the nature of benefit entitlements rather than lazily spinning Tory mythologies.
Field's latest bizarre, simplistic, contradictory and deeply ill-thought-out outpouring of repressed right-wing anti-welfarism has to be seen to be believed, so I reproduce excerpts below - suffice to say, the Tories' appointed 'poverty tsar' does IDS and the DWPoundland's propaganda job more athletically than even they manage to (I highlight in bold all Tory rhetoric-parroting):
Bringing an end to something-for-nothing welfare
03 March 2013
‘It is so unfair. Our welfare state is a soft touch for anyone who cares to claim benefit. Does it always have to be like this?” These are the cries of my constituents [TR: i.e. of those constituents who evidently go by the anti-welfare propaganda of the right-wing tabloids to form their 'opinions'] who value being respectable [?] and who feel our welfare rules make a laughing stock of them [TR: no, our welfare rules make a laughing stock of stigmatised and impoverished claimants, while the capitalist system and its red-top mouthpieces make a laughing stock of the electorate]. They see some local people making little or no effort to find work and for whom the authorities seem to fall over backwards to help. [TR: where is Field's evidence for this assertion? Simply listening to blue rinse gossip?].
How can it be, they demand, that people who have contributed nothing to the system are able to draw benefits and get housed to boot? [TR: How does Field KNOW these people have contributed nothing to the system? EVIDENCE!]
How come, indeed. On January 1, 2014, Romanian and Bulgarian citizens will be entitled to come to Britain under the European Union’s laws on free movement [TR: Because, Mr Field, there is something known as the free movement of labour within the EU]. David Cameron’s declaration that the government will take resolute action to prevent new arrivals immediately qualifying for help looks pretty forlorn. More than 150,000 Romanians and Bulgarians are estimated to have arrived in Britain since 2007 (they are entitled to work if self-employed). The impending expiration of temporary migration curbs, which were imposed on both countries back in 2005, has led to the prime minister declaring that foreign nationals’ access to services should be limited. But EU nationals are already entitled to support if they live in this country [TR: Shock, horror! The UK offers rudimentary necessities of civilisation to foreigners! Mr Field should join UKIP!].
A government possessing poise and a vision [?] of the society it wishes to create would seize the opportunity to become serious [TR: how much more 'serious' can a government get than capping all benefits and inducing a regime of mass social cleansing?] about welfare reform — something Tony Blair offered but never delivered. To the cry of my constituents “Does it always have to be like this?”, the prime minister would be able to say no — and spell out the alternative.
What the political class is unwilling to face is that without any public discussion, let alone voter approval, the welfare state that Clement Attlee and William Beveridge established has been transformed out of all recognition; “wrecked” might be a more accurate description [TR: certainly wrecked, yes, by Tory caps, cuts and discrimination].
Attlee’s welfare state grew out of the British tradition that welfare had to be earned [TR: Not it didn't! This is simply not true. Yes, there was always a contributory element to it, and that was in the onus being on the claimant to prove he was seeking work while receiving benefits; that was the basic premise of the welfare state from the beginning]. It was rarely given unconditionally [TR: what does he mean by 'unconditionally'? There has always been conditionality, in having to prove on is actively seeking work!]. Without a moment’s thought, that welfare state, based on contributing to a national insurance scheme that determined eligibility, was replaced by one that substitutes “need” as the entry ticket for help [TR: Heaven forbid! A welfare state based on NEED! How terrible! Let the poor go back to begging on the streets as they used to before the welfare state was introduced - is that it Mr Field?].
If people can prove their need on grounds of low income or homelessness, help will be forthcoming [TR: firstly, that isn't strictly true, nor ever has been: it has always been a rule of the UK welfare system that claimants never received more than the most basic ammounts of benefits, historically always set deliberately below average living costs; secondly, is it such a terrible thing that help should be forthcoming for those on low incomes or homeless? Does Mr Field want more people on the streets than there are already?]. This fundamental change takes no account of human nature [TR: evidence that Mr Field is indeed a Tory and social Darwinian]. Just as citizens would do their best to keep their contributory record in good spec, so, once low income becomes the gatekeeper, it literally pays to have a small enough income to qualify [TR: No it doesn't: this is a myth. It NEVER PAYS to be on low income or unemployed]. The electorate recognises that some people fall by the wayside and must be helped. But most of my constituents don’t think this group [TR: which group?] should be helped more generously than those who have paid in decade after decade.
That is where Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are so misplaced. Leaving aside whether his spanking new IT system will work, the principle underlying his universal credit is flawed. Merging as many means-tested benefits as possible into the universal credit is simply Gordon Brown on speed. And it won’t only be claimants who will adapt their behaviour so they can maximise benefits [TR: Absolute cynical and slanderous nonsense. Mr Field appears to have very little faith in human nature].
This welfare dependency affects businesses too. One of the reasons for the burgeoning of part-time jobs is that the tax credit system makes such work beneficial to employees. They have to satisfy what are called the earnings rules — the number of hours worked — to gain support, but these calculations feature in people’s work decisions. The rules distort the labour market — the biggest subsidies go to part-time jobs, which reinforces our low-wage economy.
In effect, the state is subsidising employees’ wages [TR: this is the only part of this absurd diatribe with which TR in part agrees - so why does Mr Field so glaringly miss the point otherwise?]. When the Tories started this subsidy, it cost the taxpayer £4m a year. The cost is now a staggering £26bn and Duncan Smith’s reforms will only see it rise further. The government can erect no effective defence of the welfare system as it is currently organised. However, if it is the prime minister’s wish to transform the system and defend British taxpayers [TR: but not defend them from endless bonus-guzzled bail outs of uber-rich gambling bankers? Mr Field should join the Tax Payers' Alliance], he has to embark on a programme of welfare reform that abolishes welfare as we have known it [TR: They have already! It'll be called Universal Credit].
This week I will be introducing a new Welfare Bill. Its aim will be to recast our system to counter our own homegrown entitlement culture [TR: Tory-parroting!] and to deal with the burgeoning costs of the National Health Service and benefits, as a greater proportion of us age, retire and find it difficult to find employment. The bill will restore over time the contributory basis of welfare [TR: there's nothing to restore, it's already there!]. All access to welfare and NHS care would be provided on the basis of a contribution record [?].
That process should begin with all new claims. Existing entitlements based on insurance contributions remain but the bill details two distinct reform phases. The first is to convince the government to abolish welfare as we have known it with a 10-year programme to move from a needs-based to an insurance-based system [TR: as in the US - not even many uber-Blairites would go along with this, nor even some Tories!].
The second deals with all new claims. Eligibility would be gained through a 10-year residency test and through the insurance record of a family member. So school-leavers and unemployed graduates, for example, would be covered but newly arrived immigrants would be disqualified. It is a pity that the urgency of this reform should arise from the consequences of EU expansion — welfare reform should be an ambition of the government in itself. The prime minister needs to send out the clearest message that while Britain is open for business, it is not a soft touch [TR: a country which stigmatises and financially cripples its poorest and most vulnerable citizens and claimants is hardly a 'soft touch' Mr Field!].
So, when in 1997 Tony Blair was said to have asked then-Welfare Minister Frank Field to "think the unthinkable" regards benefit reforms, contrary to popular belief, even Blair was surprised by the more - rather than less - extreme reponses of Field: apparently the latter wanted to go much further even than New Labour. This writer is unlikely to say this ever again (and has certainly never said it before), but in this particular context, when Blair apparently referred to Field's views on this issue as "unfathomable", he was, for once, absolutely right. It is also interesting to note from Field's biography on Wikipedia that both his parents were (working-class) Tories, "who believed in character and pulling oneself up by one's own bootstraps" - clearly a dictum Field has grown to believe in himself then, which makes one wonder why he ever joined Labour in the first place. But apparently Field started out in adult life as a Tory, and only left the party due to its quiescence on the issue of South African Apartheid (so not also because her destruction of manufacturing, gutting of the mining industry, privatisation of public utilities and services, cranking up of unemployment and homelessness to hitherto unseen levels, then...?).
But it seems Mr Field has been long repressing what appear to be his natural Tory instincts -hence this latest outburst which in one fell swoop stigmatises both the unemployed and Romanian and Bulgarian immigrants (most of whom haven't even come to the UK yet!), whilst parroting Tory rhetoric as to mythical 'something for nothing cultures of entitlement', proposing a contributions-only welfare system (which could mean potentially millions of future claimants are denied even the most basic state assistance in times of hardship) - and all only a month before the despicable bedroom tax comes into force in April! Mr Field, cross that floor NOW! Views such as these have no place in the Labour Party, even one still not quite yet distanced from its neoliberal New Labour solecisms, or 'Blue' Labour nebulousness!
Field's punitive stance does indeed echo some of the less savoury aspects to 'Blue' Labourism, or rather, 'Blue Rinse' Labourism: the latter sobriquet is chosen very deliberately by this writer since it is clear from his polemical outburst that Field only ever bothers to listen to the anti-benefits prejudices of sections of his local working-class community who - while of course being thoroughly exploited themselves by the capitalist system - unfortunately would seem to be completely in thrall to the "scroungerphobia" spouted by the right-wing red-tops (the Daily Express, The Sun et al) - and all rather than apparently ever bothering to listen to those at the pointy end of such punishing propaganda, such as the unemployed, the street homeless, and the partly state-assisted working poor families.
There can only be one reason why Field sources his own opinions on the back of frankly plain ignorant tabloid-fed 'opinions', and that is because constitutionally he clearly wants to believe it! If he didn't, he would be more broad-minded in his approach, more empathetic towards those with no real voice (i.e. the poor and unemployed), and much less knee-jerk in his proposed 'solutions' to an already tight, inflexible and aggressively regressive benefits system. Field's Welfare proposals are simply an abomination coming as they do from an MP who still claims to represent Labour values. Even the likes of benefit-basher Liam Byrne might be slightly unnerved by such flagrant anti-welfarism as here displayed shamefully by Frank Field.
The Recusant holds Mr Field's proposals in the utmost contempt and believes he has thoroughly missed the point in almost every respect (as annotated above in response to some of his more absurd and deeply unanalytical statements).
In a few weeks time, Eliot's famous trope will tragically take on a new and different meaning for our society. Shame on this nation. Shame on the Tories. Shame on any so-called 'Labour MP' who spouts political opinions more inkeeping with the Right of the Tories than anything resembling the values of his own party. Mr Field would seem a wolf in sheep's clothing. He certainly is a true 'poverty tsar': his views would appear to demonstrate a complete poverty of empathy, compassion, understanding, insight or even comprehensibility! Mr 'Not In My Back' Field is "unfathomable" indeed!
6 March 2013
Eastleigh of Eden
The recent Eastleigh by-election result. Firstly, it would seem that 'rumours' of Lib Dem electoral meltdown in 2015 have been 'marginally backdated' following their holding on to this marginal seat; but it is a false dawn for the Fib Dems: it tells us only that the constituency weren't keen on the Tories getting in. As for UKIP coming second, well, of course that is a parlous result for the Tories, to be beaten into third place by a bunch of anti-European Nimbys. Cameron rules out any "shift to the right" of politics in response to this result, as his ethically recidivist backbenchers call for, while the rest of us are left wondering, just how much further to the right can this government possibly get? It's already imposed the biggest social cull of modern British political history through its Mongol-like sweep through the benefits budget, capping housing benefits without capping private rents (which alone drove up the housing benefit bill) thus condemning hundreds of thousands of both unemployed and working poor families to 'doughnut ghettoes' outside London or to other regions and cities up to 200 miles away from where they live and have roots; while also telling families with disabled children to "downsize" their needs-adjusted homes.
This is the big "churn" society, and one which subverts semantics so that "gentrification" of inner-city areas is the new euphemism for 'social cleansing'. If this isn't extreme right-wing politics in punishing operation, then what is? What precisely would a move "to the right" in Tory terms incorporate? Gulags and black triangle badges for the unemployed? The return of the workhouse? Or even the sort of eugenics 'arguments' recently put forth by a crotchety Cornish Independent councillor, caught of guard 'in a bad mood', but subsequently - and rightly - forced to resign...?
Bluntly, the only move further to the right of current Tory 'fiscal fascism' would simply be 'fascism'. Any politicians, media pundits or members of the public who seriously nurse the delusion that our current government is any objective sense in the "centre ground" of politics really do need to wake up, or brush up on some elementary political theory. The UK political 'centre ground' in 2013 is some way to the right of European politics (just check out the political spectrums of Scandinavia, particularly Sweden, and even just over the water, in Hollande's France, to see just how right-wing this nation has become, and how much more left-wing and progressive the aforementioned nations are by comparison). A glaring example of this is how the UK Government was the only one in the entirety of the EU to vehemently oppose the trans-national move to cap bankers' bonuses. Such a view is certainly not in the European "centre ground", evidently.
That Nigel Farage of UKIP actually referred to the Tories as "social democrats" should ring alarm bells among the populace as to his and his party's truly deranged notion of ideologies. If even many of the Labour Opposition wouldn't even call themselves social democrats, how on earth can anyone seriously believe that an anti-state (indeed, anti-social policy), anti-welfare, pro-privatisation ultra-capitalist party such as the Tories are in any remote sense "social democrats"? This flippant remark from Farage alone shows just how deeply the politics of this country has sunk in the mire of extreme right-wing reactionism.
Christian Truths Against Tory Mythologies
No "social democratic" party would ever even contemplate - let alone enact, and with such unapologetic glee - the kind of mass social cleansing of the poorest in society as this current Tory-led government (indeed, whereas New Labour would "think the unthinkable", the Tories don't bother thinking about it but just do the unthinkable). If this wasn't the case, then we'd not be in a current climate where not only those campaign groups and parties on the Left are speaking out against it all, but increasingly also significant sections of the organised Christian and Church communities.
A recent impassioned column denouncing the moral duplicity of the 'Big Society' by Rev. Giles Fraser (who famously walked out from the St. Paul's clergy due to his sympathy with the very real Christianity of the soon-to-be evicted Occupy movement on its doorstep) in The Guardian apart, there is also an absolutely brilliant must-read report just published by a collective comprised of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church, the Church of Scotland and the United Reformed Church, entitled The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty. This is a document which provides a timely, comprehensive and absolute debunking of the common "scrounger" mythology cynically and perniciously spun by this visciously opportunistic government in its attempts to dupe the nation into accepting its immoral and inhumane stripping-down of the welfare state, and engineering of the biggest Diaspora of the poor since the last Great Depression of the 1930s.
This report should be read by everyone today, particularly those who inexplicably presume that the constant drip-feed of "scrounger" propaganda from Tory ministers and red-top tabloids is somehow an unquestionable truth. This report exposes the anti-benefits spin of this government for what it is: a Tory mythology oiled by extreme hyperbole and, basically, lies (or, as the report more politely puts it, facts made to fit pre-conceived opinions) solely designed to justify the Right's dismantlement of the greatest socialist achievement in our nation's history: the welfare state.
This exceptional report exposes the right-wing pincer-movement on any future hopes of social equality in this country as being based on a definitively "dodgy dossier", and chief among its authors is the despicable DWPoundland Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, whose initials will in future be merged with the uber-lie he has done more than most to perpetuate during the past three years - that of "integenerational worklessness" (for which there is no evidence!), and a "culture of idleness"; so the WP Secretary may well be rightly remembered in future by the sobriquet 'IDleneSs'.
The Recusant applauds the Churches involved in formulating this essential moral guide to navigating one's way through the malicious and false, poor-scapegoating propaganda of this Tory-led government, and commends their reassertion - through many biblical quotes - of the essential socialist message of Christianity and the Gospels, and, indeed, of both Testaments.
You can download a pdf of The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty via the icon on the front page of this website.
New British Renaissance of Socialist Realism
On a final note as to a timely and hopefully long-standing union of Christian and Socialist values to countervail the current societal dogma of neo-Victorian Tory 'moral' dogma, it's heartening to note the recent resurgence in media and public interest in the life and writing of George Orwell, and at a time in which the truth-subverting Humpty-Dumpty logic of "Newspeak" (Ninteen Eighty-Four) is currently at saturation level through the spin of our current dystopian government (re: "fairness", "do the right thing", "difficult decisions" and so on...). Contrapuntal to this new period of polemical questioning, apart from the recent 99p pamphlet publication of Orwell's monograph 'Politics and the English Language' (Penguin), are the releases of two socialist dramatic productions, Ken Loach's more than timely documentary, Spirit of '45, and Theatre Workshop Scotland's The Happy Lands, about the 1926 General Strike. It is an interesting sign of our times that such films and plays as these - alongside Lee Hall's superb The Pitman Painters and the new theatre adaptation of Robert Tressell's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - are presently in circulation across the country, and we can only hope for more to come. The Recusant predicts this is just the beginning of a new British renaissance in Socialist Realism to counteract the increasing Capitalist Surrealism of contemporary parliamentary politics.
3 March 2013
It was with the usual humungous dose of irony and hypocrisy that David Cameron and his uber-Right Tories solemnised for the cameras to mark Holocaust Memorial Day on 27 January. Of course, what serving government wouldn’t do this, even if it is currently numbered by a cabal of ethical Cartesians who simply cannot join up the dots of their own distinctly persecutory collective mindset: one which continually incites resentment, distrust and even hatred against the most vulnerable social groups in our society simply because they are in receipt of – often paltry – state benefits. The anti-welfare semantics in which all current Tory rhetoric is couched whenever discussing those who are unemployed – such divisive and ultimately destructive memes as “curtains shut during the day”, “workshy scroungers”, “skivers” and “shirkers”, all of which are parroted almost weekly by Tory-supporting red-tops – at a time of mass unemployment and economic meltdown.
But where Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith and the rest of their ghastly social-Malthusian Tories should really start to take serious note is in their rhetorical – and fiscal – stigmatisation of hundreds of thousands of benefit claimants who are sick and disabled, both physically and mentally. Because constant implications that many of those incapacitated claimants are just “workshy” is an historical ricochet of the very type of deadly propaganda which ultimately led to the mass extermination of the Jews by the Nazis – and this is no hyperbole when one takes into account this first paragraph on the Wikipedia page which discusses the Nazis’ use of the black triangle badge in concentration camps:
The black triangle was a badge used in Nazi concentration camps to mark prisoners as "asocial" or "arbeitsscheu" (work-shy). It was later adopted as a lesbian or feminist symbol of pride and solidarity, on the assumption that the Nazis included lesbians in the "asocial" category.
Alarm bells really should start ringing for Cameron, IDS and their ilk with this second sentence:
More recently it has been adopted by UK disabled people's organisations responding to increasing press allegations that disabled benefit recipients are workshy.
It is the height of moral and ethical duplicity for a government to so publicly and sanctimoniously mark Holocaust Day while it is itself both rhetorically and politically demonising the unemployed and eroding the basic material rights of the most incapacitated citizens via a universally condemned and medically illegitimate Work Capability Assessment regimen – conducted by a French IT firm whose very name sounds chillingly atomistic or atrophic, ‘Atos’ – which is in turn leading to increasing public hostility towards the visibly disabled (those in wheelchairs or on crutches for instance) while scores of the mentally ill are being driven to suicide as a direct result of the pressures of the WCAs.
This is all symptomatic of one of the inherently fascistic aspects to anarcho-capitalism: the attitudinal dehumanisation of the materially poor and/or 'state-dependent' made inevitable in a system which values ‘economic productivity’ and capital over and above human worth; which puts property rights above human rights (as most graphically illustrated in the new criminalisation of “squatting”, which is effectively an outlawing of the very homelessness created by government, and is inescapably a form of social cleansing). Small wonder 'Gripper' Grayling the Justice Secretary is champing at the bit to repeal the European Human Rights Act! What a bunch of heel-clicking ubermench these Tories are.
Meacher Impeaches Atos
In the parliamentary Atos debate, left-wing Labour MP Michael Meacher stated:
The real fundamental issue is this: how can it be justified to pursue, with such insensitive rigour, 1.6 million claimants on incapacity benefit at a rate of 11,000 assessments every week when it has led - according to the Government's own figures - to 1,300 persons dying after being put into the work-related activity group, 2,200 people dying before their assessment was completed and 7,100 people dying after being put into the support group?
The Recusant concurs absolutely with this argument and commends Michael Meacher for making it. But is anyone listening? Certainly not the Tories and the DWP. And if they can’t even listen to their own consciences what hope is there they will listen to anyone else’s? Well, in spite of the Tories’ best efforts, there is always hope. It is vital to all those compassionate citizens reading this who are alarmed by the hidden human cost of so-called “deficit reduction” to petition their MPs to keep raising the issue in parliament until something is done about the DWP persecution and Atos attrition against the sick and disabled of this country. There are many campaigns working towards a truncation of the appalling WCAs as currently structured, and to raise wider public awareness of what is happening under all of our noses. The Black Triangle Campaign is a good place to start: http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/
There is also the brave and vital Calum’s List, a website document of the politically obfuscated ‘list’ of those ESA claimants who have taken their own lives rather than keep enduring the Atos-WCA regimen. Interestingly, this site whose information is clearly considered ‘toxic’ by the powers that be has been continually hacked and – with crowning irony – ‘disabled’ at its original web address (curious too considering the coincidence that Atos is also an IT firm, though far be it from The Recusant to spread conspiracy theories!). Clicking on its official address in Google (which has allegedly ‘banned’ the site from its search engine) is a kind of lottery as sometimes one can access it, at other times, it’s vanished to be replaced with a Forbidden page. But it seems to be working at the moment (click on link above).
Sickness Is the New “Fitness” In the ‘Big Brother Society’
Government-spun semantics are continuing to take a deeply disturbing turn towards a neo-Orwellian Newspeak in relation to its official phraseology with regards disability and incapacity. Only last week this writer noted at his local – allegedly NHS – GP surgery a new list of charges for certain medical certificates: at the top of the list was this dystopian snippet:
Private Fit for Work Certificate (formerly Sick Note): £15
The blatant symptoms of backdoor privatisation of our NHS apart, how semantically twisted is it that what is essentially still a sickness note supposed to be used to confirm that someone is unfit to work for a specific period of time now termed as its complete opposite? But it is now apparently the common parlance that all sick notes will now be referred to as ‘fit notes’.
Tory England is clearly not a society which tolerates any form of sickness or chronic ‘malingering’, at least, not among its ‘labouring class’ citizens, those who do not have sufficient inherited capital to buy their way out of the industrially punishing merry-go-round of heating or eating, food or roof, unpaid work placement or unpaid benefits, or the growing exodus of the poorest from housing benefit-capped inner-cities tenancies to “doughnut ghettoes” via the new national “churn” (intra-governmental terminology for the process!), or what is more euphemistically termed “gentrification”: in layman’s terms, “social cleansing”. The Recusant has long argued and continues to argue that the only solution to lowering the housing benefit bill but not at the expense of making the poorest families homeless is to reintroduce rent controls and also a new rent cap.
But the new ‘fit note’ regime is deeply disturbing in its semantic manipulation of facts to fit political dictat: it’s almost like stating officially that those who are ‘sick’ are actually ‘fit’ – hardly a million miles away from Big Brother’s insistence that ‘2 + 2 = 5’. Of course such terms as ‘fitness’, ‘ability’ and ‘work’ are not in themselves negative terms, they are ostensibly positive one, but by superimposing them over terms which have the opposite meanings betrays a reality-twisting tendency towards atomistic propaganda and semantic subversion which, together with an obsessive preoccupation in Tory society with the concepts of fitness and ‘work’ as a cure for all ills and incapacities, such rewriting of reality, even of medical facts to suit governmental memes towards promoting certain economically desirable “behaviours”, or what is often termed “moral responsibility”, is laced with historical echoes of fascism. And there is simply no other way of phrasing it.
This Tory-led Government’s concerted attempts to rhetorically and symbolically stigmatise and economically punish disability, sickness, incapacity, whatever we want to call it, is inescapably a fascistic semantic tactic. This Government’s entire rewriting of fundamental human truths whereby those who are – often chronically – sick are redefined as “fit for work”, is fundamentally a form of rhetorical fascism which should never have been tolerated in a so-called democratic society as ours, less so widely supported among the public. In such a context, it is no hyperbole or scaremongering but is demonstrably justified to draw comparisons today between the Nazi mantra “Arbeit Macht Frei” and the Tory Government’s constantly belted-out tub-thump of “Make Work Pay” and “back to work”. Semantically, there are no differences at all. And since language – as through semantics and semiotics and memes – directly influences human behaviour, the only difference between Nazi or Tory propaganda is that the Tories are not mandated – nor hopefully ever will be – to pursue their persecutory politics to its logical extremes.
On a final note, it is high time all campaigners on this issue fixed a date to mark Atos Memorial Day – how about 27 February each year?
DWPoundland – Everything’s £1, including Shelf Stackers’ Hourly Rates
There have at least been two moral victories this week to brighten up the February bleakness. The first was that of the young graduate Cait Reilly who was absurdly ordered by the DWP Work Programme to leave a voluntary position in a museum related to her qualifications and career trajectory in order to stack shelves at corporate incubus Poundland instead. Ms Reilly rightly took this case to the Royal Courts of Justice who found that Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, had not given unemployed people enough information their rights to appeal against being made to work up to 780 hours unpaid and the penalties they faced should they opt not to do so.
Yes that’s IDS as in the chalk-striped fascist currently in charge of the DWP, who you will always see rudely sat on the front bench in the Commons constantly chewing (presumably nicotine gum – mark of a ‘vice’ which he condemns in the “profligate” unemployed population but finds eminently justifiable for multimillionaires like himself) and generally having self-righteous tantrums at the despatch box whenever any one from the Opposition dares to point out to him – albeit in circumlocutory parliamentary euphemism – that his morally despicable welfare caps and rhetorical persecution of the poor and unemployed constitute nothing short of attitudinal and fiscal fascism.
Moral Victory: Welfare Cash Cards Ruled Out!
The other moral victory has been the thankfully early death of the abomination of a ten minute rule bill which was seriously proposing the unemployed should in future be issued not with cash benefit payments but new ‘cash cards’, ones which would only be able to purchase basic necessities such as food and clothes, but not alcohol or cigarettes, in yet another clumsy Malthusian attempt by this government of oppressive behaviourists to literally control the habits and behaviours of every individual in receipt of state support (or “handouts” as Tories and red-tops derogatorily call them).
This is the new Tory ‘welfare contract’: as soon as one signs on today, they sign away all their basic social and human rights to be treated as fully human beings and sign up to being constantly bullied, stigmatised, persecuted, manipulated, tricked and cheated of their fundamental entitlements. If one is unemployed today, as far as the Tories are concerned, the Government – via the taxpayer – owns them body and soul!
So now we know de facto that the Tory tradition of “libertarianism” and “rugged individualism” only applies strictly to their own kind and class, and absolutely not nor ever to any one who for whatever reason is forced to apply for state assistance (not that it can in any way be termed such anymore in the wake of the national benefits caps). The Tories are the libertarians and de-regulators of the world of their rich friends, and the social oppressors and regulators of the poor. That is the Cartesian Tory mentality: different rules for those with different economic means; two nations (at least), but in reality, three or four. Toryism is the politics of social divisionism, of apartheid based not on colour but on capital, or lack of.
This despicable ‘cash card’ idea (What next, DWP Loyalty Cards?) was an even bolder move by one backbench right-wing Tory recidivist to push for an even more public stigmatisation of the unemployed, sick and disabled by imposing on them the daily humiliation of having to purchase basic goods with a card clearly advertising their “economically unproductive” status, and thus visibly demoting them to a second tier of the human species. This all of course links back into the above polemic on Tory hypocrisy on Holocaust Day. One wonders whether other Tory backbenchers (I mistyped that the first time as ‘bankbenchers’, a ‘Lord Freudian slip’ if ever I typed one!) secretly nurse the idea of the only clothes purchasable with such cards being a newly planned Peacock’s range in prison-striped togs with black triangles stitched onto their fronts!?
Nevertheless, this appalling attempt at further entrenching the nascent “shirker/worker” “skiver/striver” social apartheid of the ‘Big (Jackboot) Society’ was ultimately withdrawn before it even got to 2nd reading stage in the Commons. This almost restores one’s shattered faith in our ethically broken society that the parliamentary consensus isn’t quite at the equivalent stage of a cross-party Falange. But what in Bevan’s name has happened to this country that such blatantly persecutory proposals are even given such consideration as to pass to a first reading stage?
A Nostalgic Shot in the Arm of the Country We’ve Lost: Harold Wilson Night/
Watching the brilliant Harold Wilson Night on BBC4 this evening (15th February), one could see just how shockingly far this society has drifted to the Right in the past thirty odd years, or by a more specific rubric, how woefully far from its ‘Old’ socialist roots Labour has drifted. Watching the inspirational footage of the puggish-faced, cat-eyed, pipe-chimneying Harold Wilson reeling off a formidably left-wing and socially progressive list of policies implemented under his mid-Seventies premiership at a party conference in 1975, this writer was mesmerised by the sheer passion and energy on display, and the now long-extinct type of politician who was a synergy of both brilliant intellectual and compassionate qualities at the helm of the nation. And to think Harold Wilson – who put up all welfare benefits in line with inflation on both occasions he came into office in 1964 and 1974, who formed the Open University, who introduced invalidity benefits and extended and protected the employment rights of workers and the trade unions – was seen back then as if anything in the centre or even centre-right of the Labour Party, just shows how the UK pre-Thatcherism was quite literally an entirely different country with different – and far greater and more compassionate – ethics.
The Harold Wilson Night showed us poignantly just what this nation has lost, not simply in terms of politics and ethics, but in the sheer moral courage and intellectual calibre of politicians we once had. Oh, Wilson was certainly no angel, but compared to the inherited multimillionaire ex-PR or ex-parliamentary researcher/adviser careerist politicians we have in Parliament today, the Wilsonian breed were cut from a very different and infinitely more empirical and ethically literate cloth.
As the similarly cat-like – or rather more ‘tom’-cat-like – George Galloway put it on tonight’s otherwise damp squib of a Question Time, our current parliament is full up with “expenses fraudsters” who have spent 50% of the parliamentary calendar “on holiday”. That, in a typically robust Gallowagian nutshell, is about the strength of calibre our parliament attracts today.
15 February 2013
Cruel Britannia! The United Kingdom: United in Kicking the Poor When They’re Down
It is with some bitter irony that at a period of such synthetic patriotic inwardness and national self-deception (re last year’s royal wedding, the protracted Jubilee and Olympics celebrations etc.) many of us will be feeling truly ashamed to be British: we are of course referring to yesterday’s latest despicable kick in the guts of the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in this country with the easeful passing – by a majority of 56! – of the disgraceful capping of all welfare benefits below inflation at a rate of 1% over three years, which is effectively a real terms cut, just at a time when living costs and rents are soaring. Not so much a case of the ‘Nasty Party’ being rampantly on the warpath against the poor of this country, as the fiscal ‘Nazi Party’, who continue, unrepentantly, to put the jackboot in to the already punishing lives of those forced through necessity to claim assistance from our new 'anti-welfare (or 'hellfare') state'. Now we know categorically that rather than eliminating poverty, the Tories simply intend to eliminate the poor instead.
With the exceptions of Sarah Tether and two other of her party members voting against this shameful piece of fiscal fascism, the Liberal Democrats have once again allowed their Tory bedfellows to consign those on the lowest incomes in society to the lowest possible state by unconscionably cutting their budgets to the point of absolute poverty, destitution, and in many cases, in time, homelessness and even suicide. But then this Tory-led government, "proud" of its "achievements" to date (as emphasized in Nick Clegg renewing the vows of the Coalition's 'Faustian Pact' earlier this week), will no doubt think little on adding yet more faceless statistics to the increasing death toll of premature deaths and suicides which marks its despicable contribution to our society in only two and a half years.
‘Fiscal manslaughter’, ‘killing with ink’, call it what we will, it seems that contemporary British society, feeling the squeeze financially as it is, is broadly content to see whole sections of the unemployed and under classes effectively ‘cleansed’, if not wiped out altogether through the twin evils of relentless hounding benefit caps and cuts and skyrocketing living costs, rents etc.
As ever, the Tories are the great regulators of the poor, even, now, of their very right to reproduce (courtesy of the anti-Christian rhetoric of ‘Catholic charlatan’ and closet fascist Iain Herod Smith), but the de-regulators of everything else: they allow the very irresponsible and immoral capitalism which caused the economic crash to continue to run riot with all our lives; refuse to regulate banks properly; refuse to rein in mass tax-avoidance and evasion; refuse to even consider regulating private rents (because most Tories are also, of course, buy-to-let opportunists and parasitic property speculators) – wither Mr Shapps now that his evident lies that by capping housing benefit somehow private landlords, hitherto perpetually self-serving, would suddenly drop their rents accordingly, has singularly failed to come about, but rather, the complete reverse, as this writer and many others predicted back in 2010?
The Tories are unrepentant in their mass fiscal eugenics against the poor, sick and disabled, and it seems can rely on an ever credulous, resentful and ethically illiterate section of the great British tabloid-dribbling public to cheer them on in doing so. This is quite simply the most morally appalling episode in our modern political history, and any British citizens of conscience and compassion should do all they can to oppose it, to speak up at any opportunity against it: if ever there was a time for us to collectively shout, NOT IN OUR NAME, it is now.
Apparently that old rag the Union Jack is flying on top of Belfast City Hall again today – after months of being taken down, causing riots from city Loyalists – to celebrate the ‘Duchess of Cambrige’ or ‘Kate’s (as the media referrs to her to make her sound somehow familiar to all of us, the girl next door, that is, in the next door to another dimension/the parallel universe next to ours!) birthday – any excuse these days to constantly remind us we’re still reigned over by an inherited, intergenerational “culture of entitlement” which, strangely, most of the British public don’t mind in the least contributing exorbitant taxes to sustain in unearned riches.
For this writer’s part (and no doubt to many reading this), he wishes never to have see a Union Jack again, because to him it now symbolises unequivocally the flag of intolerance, unreasoning – and ill-founded – resentment (towards the most vulnerable in society – there could be no worse or more warped a form of resentment!), spiritless materialism and the prioritisation of money and property over the sanctity of human wellbeing and welfare - the once rudimentary rights of every citizen, no matter their circumstance or past, to have food in their belly and a roof over their heads. Not rights anymore, but "privileges"! The Tories have made it clear more than ever before on 8th January 2013 that they are the party that stands for social division, for jettisoning an entire section of society it sees as ‘undesirable’, ‘economically unproductive’, or what the Nazis used to term, "useless eaters" (though most of these victims of unashamed governmental stigmatisation and harassment are now not even regular ‘eaters’ thanks to the new choice between ‘eating and heating’).
For those who still - bluntly, with blinkers on their eyes - see such polemic as 'hyperbolic' and 'alarmist', just spare a thought for a moment on the very real fact that since this Government brokered its way into power in 2010, the term "scrounger" has practically become a standard, daily part of our national vernacular whenever the unemployed are discussed. Even to the point that those who ostensibly oppose Tory policies on welfare lazily slip the term in when differentiating between 'workless' and "working" claimants. How far away is such semiotic stigmatisation from that of Thirties' Berlin where the Jews (and, incidentally, the poor, unemployed, gypsies, travellers etc.) were routinely referred to as "vermin"? How far away are such rhetorical stigmatisating terms as "scrounger", "dole cheat", or tropes such as "curtains shut during the day" and active government encouragement for working citizens to actually spy on those neighbours suspected of being - shock, horror, at a time of mass unemployment and economic meltdown! - unemployed, and physically disabled people being abused, even assaulted, in the street, from activities such as in Nazi Germany when the public was encouraged to paint JUDE on a Jewish shop window? How far away is this country from literally tagging all claimants with badges denoting their 'economically unproductive' status when the rhetorical/metaphorical tagging is being meted out on an industrial scale, spread like a germ throughout the bogus headlines of right-wing red-top tabloids and the relentless hate-filled propaganda of government, on an almost daily basis?
We live in the new age of mass 'common sacrificial mythology' spouted by a government which spends more time engineering hate-inducing propaganda against its poorest citizens than it does actually trying to sort out the economic mess the country is sinking ever further into. This is the ultimate government of mass Jungian 'shadow projection' (the projection of a culture's faults and vices onto an easily victimised but innocent minority). It is the last ditch resort of a government which has wholly failed to achieve what it promised to two and a half years ago: in the glaring sunlight - the "best disinfectant remember"! - of their abject political failure, they desperately seek to distract the population from it and from the parasitic top 1% and the banks who created our Depression and austerity (also the Tories' own supporters of course), by throwing a torch-light on those already suffering in the shadows of poverty and misery made even worse by swingeing welfare caps. What a 'great' nation we are to decide to kick the vulnerable instead of squaring up to the rich culprits of our miseries! Is that "the British way", to become little better than the fascists our nation helped to defeat only 70 or so years ago? How a nation's character can be so corroded in such short a time!
Ultimately, is this the sort of country ANYONE would want to live in, let alone be somehow proud of? When every citizen outside the top 1% knows that if they lose their job and can't get another one, not only poverty but also daily stigmatisation will follow?
And the fact that all this 'welfare hate' is presided over by a sanctimonious so-called 'Christian', or 'practising Catholic', Iain Duncan Smith, only makes it all more perverse and bizarre, not to say, the greatest possible fuel for a new mass atheism. But IDS is NOT a Christian, nor a Catholic, no matter what he says: it is in what you do, not what you say. But even in what he says he is clearly far from a Christian. In this writer's mind, he is an anti-Christian. Indeed, someone should explain to IDS that it was Jesus who was the 'hero' of The New Testament and not Herod Antipas. Ditto, someone should explain to David Cameron that Pontius Pilate was little better, and certainly not a figure to model one's premiership on. The Tories just don't twig do they: when almost all the Church representatives and legions of Christian charities are openly condemning their policies as basically immoral, they still think they have the theological legitimacy to carry on while "profoundly disagreeing" with bishops. For a vacuous, anti-intellectual non-entity such as David Cameron to employ the word "profoundly" is, of course, beyond any recognised boundary of satire.
The Tories’ recent poster blatantly stating these facts by emphasizing they are “standing up for hardworking families”– and from a party most of whose members have never even worked properly in their lives due to gratuitous inheritances, but who have mostly spent their ‘careers’ speculating and tax-dodging! – and their playground-level hate rhetoric of differentiating spuriously between “strivers” and a mythical species they term “skivers” (all of whom are apparently ‘skiving’ from jobs that don’t exist, thanks entirely to the Tories’ driving our economy into a triple dip recession!), now sets the risible political climate up until 2015: vote Tory, and you get two, maybe three or four, different nations, each played off against its nearest neighbour in a perpetual confidence trick of divide-and-rule destined to wreck hundreds of thousands of families’ lives and cause further social unrest; or vote Labour, and get a pot-shot at what they term ‘One Nation’. At least on paper, it’s a ‘no brainer’.
But The Recusant is by no means particularly enamoured towards the Labour Party at present either, though we of course applaud its opposition to yesterday’s abomination of a Bill. But its seeming inability to properly stand up for the unemployed poor and to fall into the semantic trap of referring to the “strivers” among the “working claimants”, as if therefore all ‘workless’ claimants are therefore some form of “scrounger”, is just not good enough. The kind of impassioned intervention witnessed yesterday from, among other backbenchers, Caroline Lucas of the Greens (patron to our own Emergency Verse anthology of 2010/11), is the kind of thing we should be seeing from the Labour front bench too! Goodness knows, if even David Miliband gets up and calls it a “rancid bill” for its divisive rhetoric, surely even the average red-top reader must see that the Tories are tipping their own ‘nastiness’ headlong into a pit of something even more repellent than many could have possibly foreseen back in 2010: the politics of economic brutality and siege-mentality against the poor and vulnerable on an unprecedented scale: fiscal fascism.
In terms of the Government’s constant scapegoating rhetoric against the unemployed, sick and disabled on a routine basis for the past two and a half years, this Tory fiscal fascism is only one step away from actual fascism. The final component would be state-sponsored physical brutality, on a mass scale. So far, we’ve only had this in sporadic incidents: the taser-pounding eviction of Dale Farm, the assaulting of protestors during demonstrations and riots by members of the Police, and the more ham-fisted than actually violent forcible removal of the Occupy camp outside St. Paul’s. Generally, this Government expresses its brutalism in non-negotiable financial terms (hence, ethically speaking, ‘fascistic’), through legislation – such as the criminalisation of squatting, the welfare caps etc. – and, as witnessed after the August 2011 riots, through ‘pop-up kangaroo courts’ meting out unlawfully long and hefty prison sentences simply due to the politically toxic consequences.
This was perhaps the bleakest moment in the history of so-called “British justice” in many decades. By their knee-jerk response to mass riot, property damage and arson, and flouting of the “rule of law”, the Courts themselves appeared to also flout “the rule of law” by basing their sentences on political ‘context’ rather than on actual nature and severity of individual offence. And the fact that the prime minister himself directly requested tougher sentences than normal explicitly showed us that these were ‘political sentences’. That’s the sort of thing you expect to see in thinly-camouflaged one party states such as Russia, but not in our so-called ‘democratic’ UK. Just as Cameron was rhetorical promoting ‘democracy’ abroad in the “Arab Spring”, he and his government were busy suppressing democracy left, right and centre back in Blighty – and continue to do so ever more robustly month in, month out.
The fact that this is a democratically illegitimate government in the first place, one cobbled together to appease the faceless markets rather than serve its country’s true interests, and one which has forced through parliament two of the most “radical” (i.e. ‘extremist’) national policies in living memory, the welfare caps and the backdoor privatisation of the NHS, without any actual electoral mandate to do so, perhaps we should not be so surprised that all other areas of our constitutional laws – such as disability rights (trampled by the WCAs of Atos), being “innocent before being proved guilty” (which only applies to Cameron and his friends as we know), employment rights and protections from exploitation (all universally eroded through the Work Programme), and all those others routinely flouted because, according to the Government, at a time of austerity we are “effectively at war” (yes, with our own Government!) – have been systematically abused by those currently in power. But of course that’s not enough for them, they now seek to “repatriate powers” from Europe so they can finish the job and effectively outlaw anything they (specifically the right wing Tories) don’t like: any employment rights whatsoever; unions; welfare in its entirety no doubt.
We do commend Labour’s attempts to attack Baronet Osborne’s despicably callous and knowingly specious allusions to “shutters down during the day” (though in the real world it’s mostly ‘curtains’, rather than the French windows and drawbridges the likes of Osborne are probably used to) and general pig-ignorant stigmatisation of millions of people of whose lives and circumstances he has blissfully oblivious and athletically antipathetic towards; but The Recusant does not agree at all with Shadow WP Secretary Liam “New Labour” Byrne’s only marginally less punitive promise of “compulsory jobs”, no matter what those jobs are, for those unemployed for over two years – even if, with the minimum wage, it would undeniably be a big improvement on the literal slave labour imposed through the Tories’ gulag approach of the ‘Work Programme’ (Arbeit McMacht with Fries, and all that!).
If Labour is to get the votes of the still disillusioned Left of this country, it simply HAS to do better than just a slightly less punishing ‘carrot and STICK writ large’ approach to the parliamentary ‘grail’ of “getting people back to work”. A good start here would be for Ed Miliband to once and for all show New Labour fossil Byrne his cards and get someone with a bit more compassion and intellect into this most crucial of posts, someone who might at least attempt to think a little bit outside the box – the box being the seemingly psychically embedded paradigm that ‘unemployment = scrounging’, even in a time of mass unemployment for Heaven’s Sake!
How appropriate, given the satanic take on ‘New Year’s resolutions’ by HM Government at the beginning of triple-dip 2013, that this writer will be attending a Northern re-launch of The Robin Hood Book at The Bluecoat Poetry Café in Liverpool on 24th January: because, quite clearly, the long fight for the soul of the English nation and the defence of a besieged welfare state and public sector is now heading into its most apocalyptic phase, and at no other time before has the social, moral and political stakes been higher than this. All of us on the Left must now link up and join together to send a very clear message, again, to this festering incubus of a government: ¡No pasarán! You Shall Not Pass beyond 2015!
But not merely this – also: You will answer for the crimes you have committed against the vulnerable and poor of this nation – it is a moral debt that we will not allow to be passed onto the next generation to fester into further resentments, but a moral debt which will be called in, in this generation, whereby all those directly responsible for the cynical abuse of power, through wholly deceitful rhetoric, to crush the defenceless, to violate the voiceless, and kill off the hope of an entire young generation, WILL in the end be held democratically and legally accountable for their political crimes.
The Recusant agrees with various concurrent campaigns that prime minister David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne, Work and Pensions axis powers Iain Duncan Smith, Christopher Grayling and Mary Miller, and Housing Minister Grant Shapps, to name the most heinous perpetrators, are all guilty of the rhetorical victimisation and discrimination of the unemployed, sick and disabled of this nation, with absolute premeditation and deliberate distortion of truths, and are therefore also guilty of an abuse of social, disability and human rights, and the harassment and ‘social cleansing’ of the most vulnerable British citizens, on an industrial scale. They will, in time, be brought to justice and held to account for their crimes against them; and against all of us. It may take a long time, but the day will inevitably come when either the European Court of Human Rights or the courts of this land – tarnished though they are after their anti-democratic kangaroo courts following the riots – will be handing down some “exemplary sentences” to those who still believe they are above the moral law of this nation. They are not. And they will have to answer to it in the end.
As will such despicable neo-fascist rags as the Daily Express (or Daily Excrement as many rightly call it), whose days of unthinkingly and brutally bullying and stigmatising the unemployed, sick and disabled with its relentless, scabrous spawn of almost weekly "Scrounger" headlines will, The Recusant predicts, be eventually reined in following what can and must only be a new tougher regulation of the press to which ALL papers must sign up and out of which NONE must be allowed to 'opt out', as Desmond's hate-spreading piece of red-top filth has done all these years, hence its 'freedom' to verbally abuse and victimise unemployed and disabled claimants on its front pages over the years.
Just check out this despicable tabloid's gutter-level take on the passing of the almost universally condemned 1% cap below inflation of welfare benefits of yesterday:
Precisely which 'party' is this these red-top fascists refer to? The 'party' which involves daily poverty, heating or eating, and constant stigmatisation by the likes of their paper? Note how the dialectically incompetent Macer Hall of the Excrement's front-guard of malicious propaganda casually refers in his actual narrative to 'workshy scroungers' - yet again, the ringing evidence that we do live in the British equivalent of Thirties Berlin-style rhetoric against a victimised and defenceless minority. The likes of Macer Hall should be hauled up in front of any press standards committee - with any teeth - we still might have for his journalistically risible, malicious, ignorant and deceiftul piece of hackery, if not prosecuted for clear discrimination against a vulnerable section of society, along with this septic pit of a government.
Also note the rather Fuhrer-like photo of IDS in front of a fractured Union Jack motif - the only thing missing here is the Swastika and his Hitler moustache. A truly despicable man. But also note the amount of comments below this vile piece of hate propaganda that are fighting back against the Excrement's satanic rhetoric. This is because, in spite of what the right-wing pundits like to think, some sections of British society really have had enough now of the Tories' 'Welfare Hate' regime.
The Recusant calls on all conscientious readers from now on to openly boycott the Daily Express in any way they can, by complaining to those newsagents that sell it for its offensiveness, by complaining to the PCC and directly to the Express for its disgusting and immoral verbal victimisation of the unemployed - it is worth writing to the PCC, even if they can't touch the Express they can still pass on official complaints and the Express normally respond - as they did to this writer's complaint, with a weasily little piece of obfuscating and disingenuous 'legalese'.
We must not put up with hate rags like the Express any longer in this country, they are a moral poison, a cancer at the heart of the already recognised mass corruption of our media, but until there is proper independent statutory regulation of the press, which Cameron et al are desperately trying to kick into the long grass, then what are effectively social-fascist titles such as the Excrement will continue to make the lives of hundreds of thousands of impoverished and legitimate unemployed claimants a living misery. Not content with the escalation in suicides among Atos-bullied claimants, rags such as the Excrement wish to keep grinding the vulnerable into the dirt, all to sell their hateful papers, and clearly are genuinely pleased that scores of people are being driven to suicide every month by the punishing welfare caps and WCAs, and that around 1,700 sick and disabled claimants died prematurely last year as a direct result of stress-inducing WCAs. Clearly, the Express wants to sacrific many many more "scroungers" in its bid to free the "taxpayer" (which is all of us btw, including those on benefits!) from any social or moral obligation towards its poorer fellow citizens whatsoever. This is the new Hellfare State the British right-wing wish to impose on us from now on. And they are wholly prepared for thousands more of the unemployed and disabled population to be sacrificed at the altar of feral capitalism in order to save themselves and their readers a few quid each month in tax.
The Daily Express must once and for all be held accountable for its anti-democratic demonising of the poor and disadvantaged in society - it is one of the tabloids singularly responsible for corroding the basic morality and decency of this nation from a socially tolerant and compassionate democracy to what is rapidly becoming, in all but name, a form of 'democratically facilitated' social fascist state. It is the Daily Excrement, more than any other tabloid, which is fuelling this despicable ethical downward spiral in social tolerance. With wheelchair users being physically threatened, even assaulted, on some of our streets today, how much longer until there have to be curfews for the physically disabled, and until public verbal victimisation of the poor, disabled and unemployed becomes 'acceptable' behaviour?
We have seen the warning signs, they are getting worse by the month, so we must all now speak out in opposition to this new divide-and-rule 'welfare hate' social fascism spouted by government and gutter trash such as the Daily Excrement. Boycott the Daily Express for inducement of hatred against the vulnerable, now!
And in the meantime, please click here to sign up and add your voice to The Recusant's petition to the Government and tabloid media (specifically the Daily Express), to stop persecuting the unemployed:
The Government, tabloid media (the Daily Express): Stop persecuting the unemployed and those too ill to work as "scroungers"
9 Jan 2013
Day of the Leveson
It will have come as little surprise - in spite of its inevitably backfiring and politically suicidal idiocy - that Murdoch puppet-prime minister David Cameron should instantly rush to judgement (while cautioning against such response in the other direction among his fellow MPs) and instantly dismiss any suggestion of a "statutory underpinning" behind any new independent regulation of the feral press, a statutory underpinning which would, in short, actually give some 'teeth' to future regulation, and which is also at the core of the Leveson Inquiry report. For a serving prime minister to openly parrot reactionary rhetoric which is understood almost universally to be invalid to this particular debate (e.g. that "statutory underpinning" equates with "state regulation", when it's no such thing), is almost beyond belief. Cameron will lie his way out of any tight corner, expecting the public to swallow it just because he inflects his tone in a 'prime ministerly' way.
Cameron is showing his hand more and more these days, and on this issue, all of us can clearly see the cards he's playing at the despatch box, which simply translate as:
'Must remember to sound as if I back the principles of the Leveson report BUT otherwise MUST filibuster the 'statutory' thingy all the way so can kick whole thing into long grass and also ensure all the right-wing papers and red tops back us in the 2015 general election'.
Principles? Pah! Putting the devastated lives of all the victims of phone hacking before personal and party interests? Pah! None of that! It's every Jack for himself in this politics game - plus he has to keep the paws of that 'stalking polar bear' Boris at bay, as well as disgraced ex-minister Liam Fox ever ready to lick his lips with glee at another opportunity to deludedly threaten the premiership by puffing himself up as figurehead for the Genghis Khan right of the party (ditto the clueless Michael Gove).
The arrogance of Cameron really is on a par with Thatcher and any other number of would-be dictators masquerading as democratic premiers: he warns both the national and parliamentary cross-party consensuses to be "wary" of a knowingly disingenuous assertion of a "slippery slope" in bringing even the merest hint of anything 'statutory' into this issue. Why? Because he doesn't want to upset either Papa Murdoch or the uber-Tory right. In other words, Cameron is still the living proof that not one single lesson has been learnt from the hacking affair or the Leveson Inquiry which he only set up because his hand was forced on the matter.
Today, Cameron brazenly betrayed his utter insincerity in setting the Inquiry up, flatly dismissing the true gist of the report, and thereby not only showing once again how he has a cavalier disregard for wasting millions of money from the "taxpayers" he is always so quick to champion when he suits him, such as with regards to welfare; but also towards the very victims of hacking themselves, some of whom tragically are not even alive to express their disgust with his betrayal (as with many victims of the benefit caps too!).
Cameron is not only a hollow man, he is a straw man as well! The prime minister who sets up inquiries just to pacify public outrage, only to make his mind up well in advance of any findings. This is a man of no principle, no contrition, who stands for nothing other than clinging onto power. Once again, Cameron blatantly shows that when push comes to shove, he is always on the side of the rich and powerful, while holding the ordinary public in contempt. But should this come as any real surprise from a prime minister whose first instinct when Rebekah Brooks resigned from News Corps over the horrendous revelation of the hacking of Milly Dowler's mobile phone, was to first text Brooks telling her to "keep your chin up", and only secondarily express sympathy towards the Dowlers - the victims of the issue!? That just about sums up Cameron's sense of moral priorities and ethic. This 'Two Nations' prime minister for vested interests is a piece of the cancer at the heart of our sham-democracy and needs to be surgically removed through the ballot box in 2015.
Still, The Recusant predicts this abysmal betrayal by Cameron of the trust of hacking victims (who now feel they put themselves through the ringer a second time by being witnesses as the Leveson, for nothing!) and the public as a whole will be yet another albatross round his neck. The Recusant also commends (for the first time in a very long time) Nick Clegg for making a cogent, articulate and defiant speech in favour of the Leveson recommendations and in direct contradiction to Cameron. Let's hope Clegg sticks to his guns this time round (and ditto on boundary changes). Particularly hopeful too was Clegg's clearly very zealous response to Labour's left-wing MP John McDonnell (and head of the Labour Representation Committee), also head of the all-party NUJ committee of the Commons, on the extremely important issue of a 'Conscience clause'.
The 'statutory underpinning' recommended by Leveson (to whom The Recusant also pays high tribute) is mainly focused on ethics - which could well mean that if it is a mandatory regulatory agency, "scrounger"-baiting rags like the 'PCC opt out' Daily Express could even be reined in to some extent in how it constantly slanders and defames the unemployed of this nation. Isn't it interesting that on this particular issue, government ministers bang on all of a sudden about "not making snap judgements" when since they greased their way into power in 2010 they have done nothign but do exactly that with regards to such issues as welfare caps and most blatantly in response to the riots.
Tory minister after minister over the past 24 hours has spoken gravely of how "politicians shouldn't have a say in legal judgements" etc. And yet after the riots, the Tories almost to a man and woman did precisely that, Cameron most of all of course, by calling on the judiciary to mete out "swift" and "exemplary sentences" to all caught up in the riots, no matter how inconsequential their actions.
Cameron was the public ringleader in rounding up all involved, including those simply caught up in the riots but not actually active in them, and expressly pressured judges to disregard normal sentencing guidelines and go for the maximum jail terms.
The word 'hypocrite' is not sufficient enough to characterise the insultingly blatant duplicity of this appalling prime minister - one whom today as proven that he is the principal obstacle between us the people and true representative democracy, by needlessly and disingenuously blocking the almost universal wish for statutorily-backed regulation of the press.
Cameron simply has to go, at the earliest opportunity and before he brings the office of prime minister into irrevocable disrepute (which he pretty much does on a weekly basis anyway by flatly refusing to ever actually ANSWER any questions at PMQs, preferring instead to throw questions back at Ed Miliband). Protocol, frankly, ain't Cameron's strong point. And nor is democracy.
A.M. 30 November 2012
Eve of the Leveson
On the eve of the Leveson Report, as the prime minister's palms are growing clammy as he frantically scours the no doubt voluminous collection of papers no doubt desperately trying to find some way for his Government of Vested Interests to wriggle out of any thorough regulation of the so-called "independent" press, The Recusant urges all reading to this get involved in the lobbying by Media Reform, Hacked Off and the NUJ et al so that MPs finally get the message that 90% of the public now want newspapers to more tightly regulated and held accountable for their salacious excesses of the past thirty years.
As the eloquent and principled actor and campaigner Hugh Grant highlighted on his candid documentary this evening, assertions from press barons and their Tory friends as to this being a battle between "freedom of speech" and "state (or statutory) regulation of the press" is a straw paradigm concocted by the media powers and establishments to scaremonger against what the fight really is about, which is simply to ensure that all newspapers and magazines have to sign up to a mandatory form of independent regulation for the future. This is the only way to ensure that this country has its first real chance in history to have a national press which is not ideologically monopolised (by the Right of politics), cavalier with the 'truth' in how it choreographs its "news", or indulgent in industrial-scale malfeasance in terms of how they collect their "sources" (e.g. phone hacking, and bribery of public officials for information, etc.).
What we need to remember in this issue are two clear things:
1. Those campaigning for a more accountable and properly regulated media are specifically calling for mandatory INDEPENDENT regulation, and NOT "state regulation", which no one on either side of this debate wants. Every other profession has independent mandatory regulation, so why should the press be so special? Which other profession has members of its own ranks adjudicating on its own regulation as the media does with the toothless Press Complaints Commission? Moreover, a regulatory regime out of which ANY newspaper can "opt out", as has the appalling Tory mouthpiece, the Daily Express, which is what has enabled that rag to publish hugely disingenuous, even arguably fictitious, "scrounger" leaders practically every week for the past few years, which manipulate statistics and facts to ideological (right-wing) advantage, even allegedly make stories up in order to support an anti-welfare editorial stance - and this has been an "open secret" in the journalism world for decades.
The so-called "independent" press has abused its 'self-regulatory' regimen for too long and it is only fair and just that we now have a properly regulated media which is held accountable for what it prints - or, to use the trope-that-comes-back-to-haunt-them-both of the prime minister and anti-regulation Tory London mayor Boris Johnson: "sunlight is the best disinfectant"! Why are media barons and high-ranking Tories so scared of rudimentary independent regulation of the press? The Recusant suspects that it is something more to do with the fact they are perfectly happy at the current state of affairs with a press media around 98% biased towards the Right of politics, rather than to do with protecting the vital function of "investigative journalism".
Investigative journalism is the most important part of having a 'free press', and those seeking reform on media regulation are every bit as passionate about preserving this democratic right as those who oppose any regulation. But investigative journalism should be about stories IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST, and not abused as an excuse to cravenly ransack people's personal lives (whether celebrities or ordinary people) simply for mindless titilation - gossip and scandals about people's private lives are not on the whole in the public interest. Exposing the expenses scandal, corruption of politicians or people in public positions, and other conspiracies and cover ups which either harm people or harm our democracy ARE in the public interest, and this needs sensible and mature differentiation in order for this debate not to be further muddied needlessly.
2. We DO NOT HAVE TRUE "freedom of speech" in this country anyway. What we DO have is freedom of speech for the rich and powerful, and punitive, financially punishing libel laws in place to protect THEM from having too much "freedom of speech" aimed in their own direction, but also to disenfranchise the ordinary citizen and/or financially restricted victims of any top-down abuse of rights. Proper regulation of the press will only prove awkward for the rich and powerful and for those medial barons who currently monopolise our national press and, in turn, still hold disproportionate and anti-democratic influence over government and policy. THAT is NOT democracy! THAT is NOT having a "free press".
How can a national press in which one news corporation (News Corps) had/still has around 42% control of the newspaper 'market'? That is not a 'free press', nor even a 'free market', it is simply a 'free for all' for the richest and pushiest to dominate our press with ideologically distorted 'news' (in the UK's case, biased towards the Conservative Right of the political spectrum). If we ever did have a totally 'free press' in our history, we certainly haven't had one since the rise of Rupert Murdoch's empire - so not for well over three decades. And it's by no means only those on the Left of the spectrum who are fed up to the back teeth with an unregulated and unaccountable rogue press: latest polls tell us that almost 90% of the general public now thinnk that it is time to have new mandatory independent press regulation! Therefore, any move by David Cameron to fillibuster this issue and kick the Leveson findings into the long grass will prove once and for all unequivocally that he is completely in thrall to the vested interests of the media barons and anti-democratic 'shadow establishments' and not at all sincere about reforming them in the names and memories of the legion victims of rogue journalism and hackery over the decades. Cameron would also be betrayed, thereby, as genuinely resistant to any greater transparencies which might shed more light on the very murky links he and his party and government formerly had with the likes of his ex-spin doctor Andy Coulson, and Rebekah Brooks - both currently charged with various malversations at the very core of this entire debate, and the Leveson Inquiry 'set up' by a prime minister whose hands were forced on the matter.
The Recusant fully backs Media Reform, Hacked Off and the NUJ in its once-in-a-generation lobbying of politicians to back a new thorough and independent regulation of our press. The truth of this entire debate is laid out for all of us to clearly see in just who is backing which side of the argument:
Anti-regulation: The media barons and newspaper owners, and a large percentage of the Tory Right.
Pro-regulation: The National Union of Journalists, Labour, the Liberals, democracy campaigns and pressure groups, and the democratic Left.
But note the NUJ: if such a broad representation of those very men and women who actually work in the newspaper industry are demanding new independent mandatory regulation of their own sphere, then what does that say? As with the particularly astute and important 'Conscience clause' of the Media Reform campaign's 'Our Demands' card which will be distributed to MPs at tomorrow's lobbying inside Parliament, journalists are sick and tired of having to constantly toe politically biased 'editorial lines' in how they are made to compose news stories.
This 'Conscience clause' is of paramount importance (see above), since not only is its demand absolutely fair and reasonable, but it also highlights how the UK's newspaper culture has over the decades mutated from what was presumably originally about providing reasonably objective facts, or 'news', into one in which thousands on thousands of ordinary journalists are browbeaten into reporting and couching stories in unspoken 'style guides' determined by a paper's ideological editorial bias. This is a national imposition on individual conscience and arguably therefore an infringement on the individual human right not to have to succumb to a form of coercion which forces them (on pain of redundancy) to phrase a news piece in a way with which they feel uncomfortable and morally compromised. The Recusant backs the 'Conscience clause' all the way.
To get involved with Media Reform and/or take part in tomorrow's lobbying, here are the links:
On a final note and on a new official debunking of a theme which actually further highlights one of the worst aspects to having an unregulated press, the constant "scrounger" rhetoric of the red-top tabloids, is a report by NatCen, Poverty in Perspective, which now shows categorically that there is precious little evidence in the poorer communities of society that there is such a thing as a "scrounger" sub-culture, or even of significant levels of the "intergenerational worklessness" that Iain Duncan Smith and his Tory cohorts constantly claim are holding our welfare state to ransom. This study shows the Tory-red-top rhetoric is not only malicious but also specious - or, bluntly, deceitful. Many of us already knew this, but the majority of the public demonstrably don't, if polls are anything to go by. Isn't it interesting too that at precisely the same time as this report has vitally surfaced, the Department for Work and Pensions, in this instance, IDS and his new minted lackie, the disgraced former minister David Laws, are currently gerrymandering the official definition of poverty, trying to dislocate the obvious link between 'it' and lack of money! Because of course, multimillionaires such as IDS and Laws know that money alone isn't everything, that's why IDS married into wealth, and why Laws fiddled his expenses, in spite of already being grauitously wealthy, simply because he was able to. This is because both of them believe money isn't everything - not so much for themselves of course, just for those who haven't got any. Here is the report mentioned, which should be compulsory reading for everyone at this time of national scapegoating against the unemployed: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/28/benefit-scroungers-child-poverty-parents
28 November 2012