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25 Dissenters against

the Welfare Cap
Roll of Honour

Diane Abbott
Ronnie Campbell
Katy Clark
Michael Connarty
Jeremy Corbyn
Mark Durkan
Jonathan Edwards
George Galloway
Kelvin Hopkins
Glenda Jackson
Angus MacNeil
Alasdair McDonnell
John McDonnell
George Mudie
Elfyn Llwyd
Margaret Ritchie
Linda Riordan
Angus Robertson
Dennis Skinner
Tom Watson
Mike Weir
Eilidh Whiteford
Peter Wishart
Hywel Williams
Mike Wood


In the Red Corner: Catholic Church/

In the Blue Corner: The 'Catholic' Tory
Socialist Christianity
versus Capitalist Malthusianism

Maria Miller Finally Does "the Right Thing", which David Cameron Glaringly Misdiagnoses, Again!/ 61 Petitions Blocked By Government Website

What a bizarre state of affairs it is that it takes a domino effect of the persistent complaints of a lone Labour backbencher, the investigative journalism of a Tory newspaper, a crop of grumbling Tory backbenchers and peers, protests at the gates of Downing Street, tens of thousands of signatories to 61 public petitions, a splash on the front page of the Morning Star showing how all 61 petitions had been blocked on the Government website, and a rapid-response poll showing a third of Tory supporters are now thinking twice about voting Tory in 2015, for Maria Miller to finally be removed office, and for our woefully out-of-touch and arrogant prime minister to be taught by the blunt fist of 'participatory democracy' what "the right thing" he so often alludes to actually is! And even then David Cameron doesn't learn: he simply pulls his 'petulant pigeon' face in PMQs as the Opposition Leader impeaches his habitual lack of leadership and principle, and then later the same day moots that hopes to see Miller back in the Cabinet in the near future. Clearly then, as with Jeremy 'conflict of interest' Hunt before her, Miller has passed the crucial 'duplicity test' by which Cameron handpicks his more unscrupulous political allies. All sides of the political argument would seem to agree on Cameron's demonstrably faulty moral barometer when it comes to his judgements on 'friends'.

The damage done to Cameron's credibility as a morally responsible prime minister -for the third time in almost as many years (cue his identically intransigent stances with regards to both Andy Coulson and his last embattled Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt)- with this abject demonstration of a laughably poor sence of moral judgement, is only as marked as that simultaneously done to the Tory 'brand' as a whole, which is once again exposed at being in contempt of democracy. Such a heinous charge is vindicated in the revelation that the Government's own website actively blocked 61 online petitions calling for Miller to be sacked, including the 158,000-signatured petition signposted on the front page of The Recusant a couple of days ago. This reprehensible attempt at censorship of widely held public opinion by government serves as yet another ringing example of Tory hostility towards democratic accountability. This revelation was exposed on the front page of today's Morning Star, but was conspicuously under-reported among other newspapers. The headline, 'GOVERNMENT SHUTS DOWN MARIA MILLER CRITICISM' says it all.

Seeing as this Morning Star front page appeared on the morning that Maria Miller announced her resignation -initially to the Tory 1922 Committee, then to the media- it would seem that the nation's only reader-owned co-operative newspaper played a significant part in forcing the issue to its almost inescapable conclusion. Meanwhile, Left Unity must also take contrapuntal credit for calling a protest outside Downing Street that same morning, notice of which had been posted in advance at the Huffington Post and mentioned on LBC Radio -and although Miller's resignation halted said protest, LU had still managed to get its call for Miller to face a criminal investigation into her expenses claims covered in The Telegraph, Herald and Express (the latter rag being notorious for its obsession with hounding out "benefit cheats" -for once covering one of the few genuine examples of an otherwise much-mythologised breed). LU added in its own circular its rapid response to a lesser reported potential insult-to-injury:

When news emerged that Miller was in line for a £17,000 payoff after quitting, Left Unity moved fast to set up a petition calling for her not to get the cash and produced the image above. It spread fast across Facebook and Twitter and appeared in The Guardian, gathering 794 signatures in just four hours before Miller caved in to pressure and gave the £17,000 to charity.

Returning to the Morning Star's front page scoop on the website block: its sub-line also prodded at a thornier polemical point to this hypocritical episode, which few if any other papers are prepared to touch on: 'Officials block 61 petitions demanding £45,000 benefit cheat be sacked as Culture Secretary'. But there's a very big difference between Miller's misbehaviour and that of an average so-called "benefit cheat": whereas the latter more often than not is motivated by financial desperation into cutting corners on a claim, i.e. genuine 'need' which the welfare caps have ensured can no longer be met by the state, Miller was simply motivated by greed, the temptation of an opportunity for (further) self-enrichment at a time pre-2009 when the expenses system was poorly policed, and which proved irresistable to her -as it did, let's not forget, to dozens on dozens of other property-flipping MPs. So to depict MPs' fiddling expenses as equivalent to "benefit fraud" is, while an understandable and symbolically potent point to make, to actually significantly underplay the far lower ethical depths of the former: "benefit fraud" is often a last resort of desperately impoverished people, but expenses fiddling is a pecadillo of richly remunerated MPs, many of whom are already relatively wealthy prior to even entering Parliament, either through inheritance, or previous speculations in property or other forms of capital, or a combination of both. The latter is therefore, in our opinion, a far more heinous moral offence than anything perpetrated by the unemployed claimant.

But what particularly stuck in the craws of so many people was Miller's seeming impunity to the same form of interrogations and punishments meted out routinely all the time to ordinary people accused of "benefit fraud", almost all of whom are already impoverished and often punished with still further pauperisation by having their benefits stripped. But even now we've still not seen full justice, since Miller remains a well-salaried MP for the meantime, and has still not yet been asked to return any more than the paltry £5k out of £45k she wrongly claimed in expenses. Cameron's emphasis on Miller having been found not guilty of the core charges against her is disingenuous to say the least: the fact she was originally asked to return £45k is pecuniary testament to her guilt; and the fact that a bunch of MPs, mainly Tories, decided to overrule this decision, neither invalidates its findings, nor gives much confidence to an already disillusioned public that Parliament has learnt anything from the expenses scandal or that it is morally fit to 'mark its own homework'.

The political fallout from the Miller affair is also very significant: it now seems that, in spite of Cameron's unwavering support for her, at the last minute, she was actually 'pushed' from office by 'a member of the Cabinet close to Cameron' (according to tonight's Channel 4 News). So now, in addition to his contempt for democratic accountability, basic "fairness", oh, and public opinion, Cameron can now also be seen as spineless as well, especially since this late decision to sack Miller was communicated to her vicariously through said anonymous colleague. Further, Tory vice-chair Michael Fabricant MP -he of "the blonde thatch" (C4 News)- has been sacked this evening after 'tweeting' his delight at Miller's 'resignation'. Add to all this the adamant stance of the right-wing Telegraph in the face of Tory tantrums, and a quote from "the Scottish Play", something about 'Duncan's horses' eating each other, springs to mind. Grim augurs for government.

Mole in the Ministry: DWP Whistleblower/ Discredited Face-to-Face WCAs to be Scrapped?

Indeed, after the many grim augurs for the anti-austerity Left of 'Dark March', it would seem that April is ushering in the 'disinfectant' of a form of 'sunlight' more antagonistic to Tory dark arts. In addition to the Maria Miller debacle, an anonymous DWP whistleblower has released a series of damning 'tweets' about job centre malpractice and 'sanction targets' against legitimate claimants. This turned into something of an online interview with a Twitter sobriquet (instead of silhouhette), @JobCentreMole, some of which is barely legible, but much of which is explosive in terms of revelations as to the institutionalised malversation at large under the directive of Herr Duncan Schmidt. Basically, it depicts current DWP practices as indistinguishable from the bounty-chasing corporate corruptions of Atos (the full thread is reproduced at the end of this editorial). These blows to the 'credibility' of both Atos and the DWP are fitting complements to Miller's own political fall, her having been a glacially intransigent Disabilities Minister during the first -and most remorseless- couple of years of the WCA rollout, during which time she also, famously, pulled the rug from under Remploy (which employed disabled workers in its factories), thereby providing her Atos box-tickers with fresh supplies of incapacitated claimants (all these vile infringements on the rights and security of sick and disabled people are presumably a large part of what Miller referred to as the "tremendous achievements" during her time in government when interviewed after her resignation).

And, finally, talking of Atos, there has also been a leak today suggesting that, following the recent termination of Atos' contract, the now notorious face-to-face Work Capability Assessments that have played such a significant part in claiming the security, wellbeing and even lives of tens of thousands of sick and disabled claimants, might now be axed altogether, to be replaced by a new protocol of assessment via correspondence, forms and paper medical evidence. If this is to become reality, then it can be seen as a more fundamental triumph of four years of diehard campaigning by groups such as Black Triangle and Disabled People Against the Cuts, as well as numerous petitions. The fall of Atos was a symbolic victory, a scalp; but a more substantial reform to the odious WCAs would be something approaching a capturing of the colours.

Here is the piece, from online forum 'SLaM TWIG', by D. Rosier:

Humiliating and demoralising face-to-face ‘fit for work’ assessment interviews, known as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), could be scrapped following a report by experts which blamed the controversial tests for delays in processing benefit claims.

It is understood that the Department for Work and Pensions is exploring the possibility of replacing the WCA with a streamlined system, based upon written medical evidence acquired from claimants, their GP’s and consultants.

Critics of the face-to-face interviews argue that scrapping the WCA would lead to a speeding up of the process, fairer outcomes for sick and disabled people and savings for taxpayers, due to less appeals being lodged against negative decisions.

At long last, it now appears as if the DWP may agree. A spokesperson for the department told the Daily Record:

“Expediting the process will reduce the uncertainty faced by claimants, improve outcomes for those not eligible for employment and support allowance and reduce the consequent burden on taxpayers.”

The move comes after private firm Atos withdrew from a £500 million contract with the DWP, forcing the government to seek a new provider. The DWP continue to insist that the contract was terminated by the government.

Labour MP Tom Greatrex said:

“The WCA process hasn’t worked for years and the Government have failed to address it.

“The experience is demeaning, causes anxiety and 40 per cent of the tests are overturned on appeal which demonstrates it’s not fair or accurate.”

D Rosier | April 8, 2014 at 10:11 am

Excuse the pun, but are things beginning to get just a little bit rosier?

We leave you to draw your own conclusions from the following deluge of allegations drawn from direct witness from a DWP employee, the aforementioned @JobCentreMole:

Interview with a Job Centre Advisor: sanction targets & corruption revealed

Employment rights, unemployment, Jobcentre & workfare November 21, 2013 Comments: 43
@JobcentreMole is a Job Centre advisor who has taken to Twitter to speak out about the Job Centre’s unfair treatment of people who are claiming benefits. For obvious reasons he is anonymous. I think that what he’s doing is very brave. We did this interview by email. (All emphases are mine).

The Mole says: “I started my career with Jobcentre plus over 15 years ago at such a young age, I have literally done every job at lower (band B) level there is within the Jobcentre. I can assure you my knowledge of Jobcentre Plus is up with the best, I can also assure you I am not alone with my views.”

Do the management have targets to sanction x number of people, or are your team encouraged to sanction people?

There is 100% no specific target at all, however it is and has been mentioned before that each signer should be looking at a minimum of 2 sanctions a day. say for example offices are looked at in clusters, and say there are 7 offices in a cluster, lets use London for example…. if there are 10 offices in London, Office one achieving 100 sanctions a week, office two 90, three 80 and so forth, I can guarentee you that offices 5 to 10 will be pulled week in week out regarding why they are not achieving what the other offices are achieving. we all have a sister office (generally means an office that has a similar register to yours) and we are marked on our achievements in accordance with theirs. If they have a bad ass office manager who hammers staff to sanction customers, it impacts on office b. I once saw a guy who works for us sanction 23 customers in one day!, it took him a ridiculous amount of time to do all the paperwork!, had he done this to get a better box marking? or to warrant his job? no he did it because the night before he had watched a programme on tv. it disgusted me!. There are customers that quite blatantly flaunt the rules and there are the odd customers that indeed require a sanction!, but I mean this, only the odd one!. and never generally the ones that actually get the sanctions!.

What was the worst thing that you saw happen in your Job Centre?

Without a doubt has to be the two facedness of the managers. we have weekly meetings, in these meetings we are encouraged to sanction customers for various reasons mainly not actively seeking employment in adherance to their jobseekers allowance. now not a lot of customers know this but its a lottery who gets pulled, it depends on the member of staff, and also on the customer, example, if a 6ft 2 big aggressive builder was to walk over to the signing section I can assure you he would not be challenged, however the more weaker clientel are. We give customers a JSA1(ils) form and are encouraged to get them to sign it to (re-open their claim if sanctioned), what we dont tell the customer is that signing this form puts another 2 weeks on the sanction.

We also do our referrals online now, and these are not vetted by anyone, so basically you could walk into a jobcentre and be pulled for not actively seeking, we would take the details of what you have been doing over the past fortnight and totally change your answers, thus guaranteeing a sanction. I have never in my time seen one customer ask to see the papers as to why they have been sanctioned. not one. the unfortunate thing is the general public is too trusting of jobcentre staff. Neither by the way do customers demand to speak to FJR managers (basically the manager responsible for the member of staff doing the paperwork). Sure they ask to speak to the office manager, who comes along and hasnt a clue whats really happening so pay lip service. Customers need to deal with the front line managers, only then will something be done, these guys get the easiest ride in the jobcentres, trust me I’ve been one!.
SO…individually what is the worst thing I have ever seen in a jobcentre, I see people on the DEA caseload (disabled people) sanctioned week in week out because if they don’t ask for support no one gives a damn. I see customers come in and get lied to and fobbed off. I once saw a gent come in who had missed an appointment because his wife had passed away, and because he did not make a fuss about this he basically accepted his claim had been closed and he had lost 2 weeks benefit. It’s a cruel world out there, and as much as I do believe people need to be looking for work, I can also assure you that even the genuine people that are genuinely looking lose their benefits.

Have you ever been made to take action on a benefits claimant that you feel wasn’t right?

I cannot say I have ever been made to take action on a customer, but what I can say is I was acting front line manager for 12 months due to me being the most experienced member of staff and the manager being on long term sick. During this time I was reprimanded repeatedly regarding the team I had and how little DMA we had done (not enough benefit sanctions ect). I was told that it was my teams fault that our office had no one kicking and screaming at the security guards, and this was a bad thing as it reflected that my office was not strict. I have seen many advisors and front line staff waiver their end of year bonus, we get box markings ranging from 1/2/3, 3 = £0 bonus, 2 = £300, 1 = £500, this is my grade, the ammounts go up the higher up the ladder you get. I have seen advisors and front line staff get a 3 because they are not sanctioning enough customers. They are the good people that work in the jobcentres, and generally are the ones that smile and can have a human conversation with customers on a 1 to 1 level.

I have also seen members of the public attend Jobcentre plus and just because they are known outside the organisation by certain managers they are let off certain requirements of receiving jobseekers allowance. Only 2 weeks ago my direct line manager was stood over me as I was explaining to a customer he had worked 16 hours so unfortunately had to sign off, she proceeded to ask him if it was 16 hours or 15.45 due to a 15 minute unpaid break, he didnt understand her so repeated 16 hours until she amended his B7 part time earnings form. unfortunately I wasnt in a great position as the said manager is very good friends with the office manager… nowhere to go you see.

Do you think that any groups (e.g. disabled, lgbt, women) are treated worse by the DWP or your Job Centre? Or is everyone treated equally badly?

Groups… Right, there is a guy who signs on in my office. He has signed on for over 6 years, I guarantee you he has never been challenged regarding what he has done by any member of staff why? because he is over 50 and death stares everyone who he comes into contact with. Also anyone who comes to sign who believe they are upper class, or lets say looking for work in certain sectors or area’s that jobcentre plus dont have expertiese in basically get a pass through the system until they find work. Work programme participants get no support from jobcentre plus, and as for work programme.. dont get me started.

Again I’ve visited offices and know the staff over there to know they have the most ridiculous easy job you could imagine… more on this later. to finish question 4 the group thats most effected is the vulnerable. they are targeted by the majority of staff, you know the ones, they approach and are not going to answer back or fight their corner. I am a firm believer that IF every customer read what they signed, and if they completed their paperwork according to their jobseekers agreement there would be no sanctions at all from jobcentre plus. unfortunately the weak dont ask questions, they take what they are told and live by that. “I’m sorry its not me that makes the decision” all lies, the front line member of staff knows categorically its a disallowance before it go’s up!. Another casing point, did you know that if you as a member of the public ask for a reconsideration and list enough to cover your jobseekers agreement, regardless of what initial paperwork went to the decision makers, the decision will come back favourably allowed?. No one knows this you see!

Are the middle class jobseekers treated better than working class, unskilled or long term unemployed jobseekers?

Middle class, elder, all very rarely challenged on jobseekers allowance. 80% of sanctions come from young Britons. I can tell you too that not even 5% of foreign customers get sanctioned for actively seeking or anything else like that, why? Because its too difficult to do in the 10 minutes tops that we have with a customer. There is not enough support in my opinion for the unskilled person. nowadays you need pc skills, online cv, a licence for this, a certificate for that. Do you know you now need a certificate to be a cleaner???. Where do the unskilled start if thats the case?. its a bad circle that will not be broken until we treat people like individuals and not all as collectives.

Does the Work Programme help the job seekers who attend your Job Centre find work or have more motivation?

Work programme…… total and utter failure, bad management, bad advice, bad motivation, and a total lack of customer understanding. We set out with work programme to target the “hard to work on” customers. genuinely for every 1000 people signing on for jobseekers allowance 200 are the hardcore, who are either more than happy with jsa and their life on jsa, or their skills are not required in the work place at any level. Work programme was set up to target these people and inspire them and help them to become more employable. Total and utter failure, this has come to light ever since april, since the returners have been coming back into the mainflow for jobseekers… basically put on weekly signing for no reason other than to inconvenience them… another interesting fact for you, every work programme returner is interviewed PURPOSELY 3 days after their signing day so we have 5 clear days if they forget to ensure their claim is shut… all craft you see!. My view is the work programme will be dressed up a success, but show me one success story and I’ll show you 100 that have not got anything from it apart from an utter waste of time.

Do the Job Centre courses or group sessions help people find work?

Well.. thats a tricky one, group sessions tend to be information sessions based at helping customers to know what their role as a jobseeker is, or other things ie what is expected of them. Some courses can help them find work, we often refer the customer to the FLT courses, or on occasion SIA courses, this of course will give the customer something new in their gun to fire at prospective employers. Now the basic skills courses… not one bit of those helps any customer in any way. One to one coaching in my opinion is what is required. Why try to milk a dog?, or teach a cow to bark?, its how it is!. If I had a customer and after a 30 minute consultation worked out that the best this guy could do was push trollies at a supermarket, why spend 6 months trying to brush him up?. We should be starting him pushing the trollies and move him up whilst in the job. instead we concentrate on making him apply for jobs beyond his reach, each time knocked back takes a bigger chunk from his confidence. deep and disasterous hole that he gets himself into!

How have sanctions affected Job Centre customers who attend your Job Centre?

Now thats a hard question…. how have sanctions changed jobcentre customers.. Well they certainly have become aware of how to note down their activities a lot more than some of them were!, they also come across more matter of fact. the problem here is again people tend to accept things!. they accept that they have a sanction because this happened or that happend!. I liken it to insurance quotes… I often wonder each year how many people auto renew their car insurance?, one year £300 a year, the folowing £900, how many people actually check what they are signing?. Check why certain things are happening?. “the process has changed, if you have forgotten your looking for work book you now have to fill in this ASE stencil”….. really?…. no thats a coward working at jobcentre that dare not tell you he/she is not happy with what you have produced as evidence to support your JSAG. (jobseekers agreement). Problem is too many people want a smiley face, I once saw a tattoo of two guys face to face shaking hands, whilst holding a knife behind their backs… unfortunately thats the relationship thats forming from these sanctions…. customers do not trust the jobcentre, and it will only get worse, while the jobcentre staff on large will always find ways to stick the knife in without the customer actually knowing who it is that had the final push!

Are most of the Job Centre customers you see benefits scroungers who are happy to be on benefits for life?

Hmmmmmmm, I am not going to lie to you, I see a fair few people that are MORE than happy to remain on benefits all their lifes. I see sally who’s 30 with 9 children, I see jason who’s 40 and has continually signed for over 10 years without a job. all of which have in my opinion not had the education or the pat on the back throughout their lives to make them realise their is actually a purpose for them in civilisation. It takes on average is it £19k per year to rehabilitate a prisoner, a jobseeker gets £80 a week… cheap at half the price is it not?. A prisoner comes out of prison with one of the biggest barriers to work anyone could wish for, a criminal record, yet whilst he/she is in prison they are given all the education and training they require. A jobseeker is HIGHLY lucky to recieve training to get a CSCS card… We should be helping customers to achieve reasonable goals as aposed to sanctioning the ammount of benefits we sanction. I’ll tell you what heres one for you….. lets give the customer the choice actively seek work, however IF we feel you have not done enough to look for work we will sanction your benefit, and put the money we stop towards your FLT licence ect ect.

Unfortunately jobcentre plus as a business model and a public service is dead. My prediction is it has minimal time to run, customers are now using online services, within the next few years all jobcentres will be fitted with IAD’s (internet access devices), so customers can do all their benefit work online. Staff will be cut of course, and before you know it you’ll do everything from home, failing that an out reach or a library. The digital age is upon us, and will take with it all the bad advisors and bad management, unfortunately the good people that work for jobcentre plus will also be taken down with what is a sinking ship.

Why did you decide to take to Twitter to speak out? Why Twitter?

Well… I had seen and been pushed with many @jcp twitter accounts, and how they were pivital to getting the digital word out there for customers and staff, it took a certain office over 2 years to get 1000 followers, its taken me 3 months to get over 500, and I havent been going gung-ho at that. I guess its just my way to stick it to the man, and also throw out some help to members of the public who are treated unfairly. Its a shame about the anonymousness (is there such a word? ha ha), but in a way I prefer it that way, I’d like to think of myself as the invisible friend. Come to me and ask, if I can help I will, simple as that.

You can follow the Mole at @JobcentreMole. Also follow @JCPAdwiser.

May JobCentreMole continue to push more DWP malpractices to the surface!

A.M. 9-10 April 2014

Parliamentary Privilege and Leveson Leverage: New Leaked Recording which Implies Maria Miller, 'Expenses Scrounger', Uses Her Legislative Power over the Leveson Report as Leverage to Discourage Telegraph Investigation/ "The Miller Row risks becoming a witch-hunt" says IDS, who should know, being Whitchfinder General of the Department of Witch-hunts and Persecutions (DWP)

So flagrantly un-apologetic was the mealy-mouthed 'apology' of Culture Secretary Marie Miller in Parliament this week, that even the right-wing press (the Mail, Telegraph et al) splashed her with opprobrium! For those thirty-one seconds which must have felt more like thirty-three to Miller, she was flanked by Tory party whips, and visibly supported by her Cabinet colleague, Health Secretary Jeremy 'Murdoch's Man' Hunt, who removed himself to the back bench from where the mulish Miller stood to choreograph her emphatic contempt for Parliament and for the fact she was forced to have her wrists slapped so publicly for being caught with her fingers in the till of the public purse. Miller basically made a mint -£1.4 million in profit- from the sale of her erroneously designated 'second home' (actually used by her parents), all subsidised by the taxpayer since 2005! But presumably British taxpayers are far less concerned about being ripped off by already excessively wealthy and propertied politicians than they are about the 0.7% of the benefits budget that is allegedly defrauded by impoverished unemployed claimants ('benefit fraud' meaning anything from premeditated false claiming to the odd undeclared scrap of sporadic cash-in-hand driven more by need than greed, and partly in order to top up the pauperising caps on benefits).

In an equally reprehensible and opportunistic move, the Government tried to bury Miller's day of reckoning by rushing out an incipient proposal to u-turn on its recent rejection of the standardisation of cigarette packets. Apparently, this will now probably go ahead, at some distant point in the future, and simply HAD to be announced with the greatest urgency on the same day that one of the few women Ministers left in the Boys' Own Cabinet was named and shamed for her venal malversation. But of course, a 30-second 'apology' and the returning of a mere fraction of the amount actually embezzled from the state kitty by Miller (a paltry £5,800, which is pretty much a month's pay for the multi-millionare Culture Secretary, and about a year's income for a JSA claimant) is quite enough, in the mind of the prime minister, for instance, to obviate her having to "do the right thing" and resign from her ministerial position. Her reprehensible conduct in this, made even worse by her arrogant attitude towards to the parliamentary Committee investigating her fiddling, and her obfuscations of the procedure put in place against her, clearly make her position as a Cabinet Minister untenable. And yet she is apparently remaining in her post!

Meanwhile, out in the real world, any unemployed benefit claimant found to owe the DWP over five grand in allegedly wrongly claimed benefits will be promptly sanctioned, stripped of benefits until they repay the sum (and with what means exactly?), or even prosecuted and dished out six months in prison or a year's 'community service' (probably cleaning out the staff toilets at Poundland). That even the ex-editor of the Torygraph, Tony Gallagher, brought up this chasmal disparity in punishments meted out to rich and powerful fraudsters of public money and those alleged 'benefit cheats' at the bottom end of the scale, on the Daily Politics on Friday, shows that even some factions of the political Right think that privilege and status should not mean legal impunity. Unfortunately, however, the current Conservative-led administration demonstrably does - at least, when it comes to protecting party interests. Seldom before has a government shown such reflexive tendency to close ranks to the torch of democratic accountability.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant", it seems, only for interrogating and administratively terrorising the impoverished lives of benefits claimants, in Cameron's mind; but emphatically not in the case of any illuminating probes into the shadowy intrigues of his own government - then it's more a case of 'darkness is the best camouflage'. So much for political transparency eh? At the slightest glint of sunlight, the Tories shut the curtains and poke potted cactuses through the gaps. This Government is about as transparent as a tinted-paned greenhouse; and their greenhouse intrigues, chronically etiolated. Nevertheless, it increasingly seems that not only Miller, but also Cameron himself, are getting caught in the headlights of investigative journalism. And although The Recusant is hardly any fan of the right-wing Telegraph, there are two respects in which we think it has merit: its tendency against trendiness in its cultural supplements, and its sporadic investigative journalism in the cause of public interest (even if its own motives behind such splashes are more about bringing Cameron down rather than the Tory party itself, labouring as it does under the bizarre misapprehension that the current government - the most fiscally regressive and reactionary since Stanley Baldwin's in the Thirties - isn't right-wing enough!).

This pathological hypocrite of a prime minister, who says that Miller should be swiftly exonerated, kept in her ministerial position, and that we should "leave the matter there", is the very same prime minister, let us not forget, who called for "exemplary sentences" to be meted out to purloiners of water bottles during the riots, and who rigorously applauds the DWP's rapid-response criminalisation of any unemployed claimant suspected of so much as a couple of quid's over-claimed benefits. According to one source, Miller simply "forgot to make the right adjustments" to her mortgage claims! Out in the nitty gritty of society under Tory austerity, if an unemployed person argues that they 'forgot to make the right adjustments to their benefit claim' they are at the very least severely reprimanded and docked said surplus sums, and at worst, accused of "benefit fraud" by the DWP, labelled as "scroungers" by the right-wing press and stripped of benefits for a set period or even prosecuted.

If Cameron is still planning to stick to his guns on this thorny matter, which grows more murky and scandalous by the day, no doubt at this moment he must be having serious second thoughts after a very telling snippet from a taped phone conversation between Telegraph reporter Holly Watt and Maria Miller's special adviser Jo Hindley, leaked by the Telegraph and reported on across the press today. Hindley slipped the following into the exchange:

Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to flag up that connection for you to think about.

If this is not vicarious evidence of gross corruption of office then The Recusant doesn't know what is! Here the implication is very clear: it is a threat to the Telegraph (if we recall, the paper which broke the original parliamentary expenses scandal) to back off from its pursuit of Miller's expenses scam by implying that if it does not, the full force of the Leveson recommendations on press regulation may be implemented (which, for completely different reasons, should be anyway). Isn't it interesting that the latest Tory Culture Secretary to be dragging their heels -following Jeremy 'Murdoch's Man' Hunt's laughable bias against greater regulation prior to Miller's replacing him- on the Leveson Report and extending an olive branch to the right-wing media barons in return for support of the Tories in the run up to next year's General Election, is suddenly threatening to withdraw said olive branch if one of those right-wing newspapers attempts to expose said Secretary's malfeasances? We might call this latest example of parliamentary corruption 'Leveson Leverage' or 'Leveragegate'.

That just shows how much 'principle' is behind the Tory obfuscation of the Leveson recommendations: nil: they are simply using their power to implement the Report, if they wish to, as leverage to bribe and 'gag' a Tory paper (which is, however, quite anti-Cameron) from pursuing coverage that damages the party. But then we shouldn't be so surprised, given this is, after all, the Government which is imposing the 'gagging law' on campaign groups in the run up to the 2015 General Election: perhaps the most blatantly anti-democratic piece of legislation ever passed by a British Parliament.

If Cameron continues to defend Miller's untenable position in spite of this new proof of corruption of office, then he is openly complicit in it, and should also, in our opinion, be forced to relinquish his premiership -as he should have been a long time before when he unacceptably defended the completely untenable position of the former Culture Secretary Hunt (and not least due to the nature of his still unscrutinised associations with Brooks and Coulson). Otherwise, as in the case of Hunt, we are left to conclude, for a second time, that another of Cameron's Ministers has some 'hold' over him regarding knowledge of undisclosed factors that seriously compromise his own position.

But one thing we can be absolutely sure about in David Cameron's 'Big Boot Society' is of its true 'culture of entitlement': the 'One Rule for Us, Another for the Poor and Unemployed' legal and moral impunity of the political classes (most particularly Cameron's mates), made even more insulting by the fact that their prolific pecuniary malfeasances are never driven by genuine need -as they are almost always in the case of benefit claimants- but by pure greed and opportunism, simply because it can be done, and is only reprehensible if it is brought to light and officially labelled as such. Once again, we are reminded that some of the very Tory overlords who never let us forget about the dastardly folk devils they and their red-top chums mythologise as 'benefit scroungers' are themselves the truest 'scroungers' of them all: the actual definition of this modern day verbal meme is 'someone who borrows with no intention of repaying or returning' -and that would seem to perfectly define precisely how Miller has behaved; not through the motivation of any need, but simply because she was able to, because the opportunity presented itself and proved too much of a temptation to resist. We might call it another form of 'parliamentary privilege'.

Readers of The Recusant will of course be familiar with Maria Miller's glacial face, being one of the three portraits from our 'Atos Axis of Shame' gallery, left as a permanent reminder on the front of this webzine of those ministers directly responsible for administrative crimes against the disabled over the past four years. The Recusant wonders, does Miller ever deign to compare and contrast her own impunity of status and riches to the absolute poverty of 'rights' and representation among the unemployed (even more so today due to heinous cuts to legal aid support), or, more specifically, the chronically sick and disabled, 10,000+ of whom died prematurely (or took their own lives) within six weeks of being declared "fit for work" by Atos, in one year alone (2011), under HER watch as Minister for Disabled People? Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of incapacitated citizens rendered even more incapacitated -in the practical sense- with Miller's stripping of the Independent Living fund; as well as those hundreds of disabled workers who were slung on the scrapheap of unemployment following her closing down of the Remploy factories. Of course not. When it comes to morality, the Tories are Cartesian Dualists: 'morality' is for the lip-service worship of Sunday Church-going, not for day-to-day Malthusian politics. Perhaps Miller's ministerial title should be re-termed 'Secretary of State for Culture and Entitlement'?

The ever-reliable Morning Star splashed on this latest episode of parliamentary hypocrisy on its front page today (4 April) as well as making it the subject of the main editorial, which, contrapuntal to The Recusant, takes the angle of the chasmal disparity of punishment between defruading MPs and alleged 'benefit fiddlers' -the choicest excerpts of which I include below:

How jolly decent of David Cameron to stand by Culture Secretary Maria Miller and how emblematic of his government's consistently compassionate attitude to people who claim state benefits to which they are not entitled.

Claimants bemused by paperwork or under stress because of poverty may draw comfort from the decision of the Standards Committee, composed of MPs, to overrule the less charitable response of Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson.

Perhaps the government will allow a committee of claimants to sit in future judgement on Department of Work and Pensions officers' decisions to sanction benefits.

The committee could reduce payback orders and advise fellow sufferers to issue a cursory 32-second apology - "Erm, sorry about that" - and that would be that.

Or as the Prime Minister's latest catchphrase has it, "I think people should leave it at that."

Well, he would, wouldn't he? But he knows that most people see MPs at it again, helping themselves to the public purse while lecturing everyone else to tighten our belts.

Miller appears most upset at having been referred to the Standards Commissioner by Labour MP John Mann, but he acted correctly.

MPs are supposed to defend the public purse and, if he saw someone filling their boots without due cause, he was honour bound to report it. ...

Most voters will believe that Standards Committee members have, like Cameron, shown a far more understanding attitude to Miller, one of their own, than poorer people outside the Westminster village might expect to encounter.

As if to prove the point, former Labour minister Michael Meacher raised the issue yesterday of trigger-happy Jobcentre Plus staff operating a "sanctions first, think later" approach to claimants.

This can only result from a directive from above in response to political pressure from government to slash spending on benefits and, just as crucially, to reduce the official jobless tally.

Did the government ministers and backbenchers who backed Miller so ostentatiously in Parliament follow this by opening their hearts to the thousands of vulnerable citizens denied basic benefits by unfeeling officialdom?

Yeah, right. The milk of human kindness flows but not so freely as to reach those who actually need it.

MPs have made no secret of their hostility to Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson and it's easy to see why, given that she takes a more rigorous attitude than the Standards Committee.

However, even the committee had to conclude that the minister neglected to co-operate fully with Hudson, failing to provide full information, and that she had twice extended the mortgage on her home without consulting the House, in contravention of Green Book advice.

It beggars belief that the committee should have overruled the commissioner's finding that Miller had overclaimed £45,000 and should repay that sum.

It shouldn't pose too much of a burden since she made a £1 million profit when she sold her house.

Justice and past practice demand that she resigns as Culture Secretary and, failing that, the Prime Minister should sack her.

Neither will do so, to the sharp disappointment of Remploy workers thrown on the scrapheap and disabled people deprived of Independent Living Fund grants when she was equalities minister.

The in crowd have looked after their people again and, as Cameron tells them constantly, "we're all in this together."

How ironic it is that after apparently 'saving the taxpayer' the cost of subsidising the Independent Living Fund, Remploy, and ESA and DLA for tens of thousands of genuinely sick and disabled claimants (many of whom have subsequently died), Miller then undermines that cost-cutting by effectively fiddling £45,000 from the national kitty to line her own pockets! Given that the death toll of sick and disabled claimants was around 10,000 in 2011, we can assume that by now the aggregated figure of the 'fiscally cleansed incapacitated' is somewhere in the region of 40,000+. The numerical irony here, unsavoury to say the least in symbolic terms, is noted.

The Recusant has no doubt that it is a combination of outrage at all these hypocricies, in addition to the Culture Secretary's clear contempt for parliamentary process and her positional onus of accountability, that have together served to turbo-power the speed of her pursuants. The Telegraph apart, it is undoubtedly due to the indefatigable determination of Labour MP John Mann -pit bull scourge of Tory arrogance- that this scabrous issue has been thrust out of the parliamentary shadows and into a more public cause célèbre. Indeed, rather than Tory notions of 'sunlight', we'd say the 'John Mann' brand is 'the best form of disinfectant' when it comes to intra-parliamentary conspiracies against democratic accountability. (We'd also add, if inclined to tabloid punning, 'Well done that Mann'!).

JUST IN on 6 April 2014: According to polls, 8 out of 10 voters think Maria Miller should be, at the very least, sacked from her ministerial post, many even feeling she should also be prosecuted and slung out of the House of Commons altogether. And yet the Prime Minister still stands by her, which really says it all about his sense of moral accountability to the electorate. He even made a speech on Saturday at the Tory Spring Forum announcing the Tories' plans to lower taxes for the better off, if they return to power in 2015, declaring governments that spend "other peoples' money" are little better than "white collar thieves", while affirming to the self-interested Tory faithful, "It's YOUR money!" (So much for 'Render unto Caesar'!).

But Cameron's 'tax is theft' grandstanding was choreographed against the glaring backdrop of his own public backing of a cupidinous Culture Secretary who has flagrantly stuffed her pockets full with £45,000 of 'taxpayers' cash to which she wasn't entitled -and who is not only expected to repay a piddling £5k of that sum, but can also, as far as he's concerned, keep her job! Ah, but of course he'd remind us that this was "a mistake", wouldn't he? No such 'benefit of the doubt' extended to benefit claimants accused of overclaiming. If hypocrisy was a prosecutable offence, this prime minister would be in for a life sentence by now.

But this wasn't the only show of Tory hypocrisy we had to contend with this weekend. In a tenuous attempt to deflect from Miller's misconduct by claiming the (mostly right-wing!) newspapers are pursuing a vendetta due to her purview over the Leveson Report, Inane Duncan Schmidt hurled the accusation that "the Miller row risks becoming a witch-hunt"; which, coming from the Secretary of State for the Department of Witch-hunts and Persecutions (DWP), is beyond hypocritical -but then, being Witchfinder General of the long arm of Government, I suppose IDS should know, shouldn't he? Nevertheless, his apologism for Miller's malfeasance perhaps wasn't best placed on the same day that his department mooted that alleged "benefit fraudsters" who own their own homes will be expected to sell them to pay back monies overclaimed! All those except Maria Miller, it seems.

So, while defending Miller's pure greed (as opposed to need) in overclaiming £45,000 of 'taxpayers'' money, a paltry £5,000 (peanuts to a multi-propertied millionairess) of which she is expected pay back, while keeping her richly remunerated ministerial job, IDS is then, on the other hand, announcing that claimants who behave in precisely the same way, but most likely due to financial pressures rather than calculated cupidity, will have to pay back every single penny overclaimed, even if it means selling their homes. There could be no more graphic emphasis than this that the Tories believe they and their kind are outside the juridisction of common decency and morality and the very laws they themselves impose on everyone else; that they are the impune Olympians and we are just the punishable hoi polloi. This is Tory antinomianism writ large.

Working-class and Proud of It

Just to furnish a brief Recusant riposte to one Alex Proud who recently wrote in the Daily Torygraph a risible 'opinion'-piece on the pros and cons of 'making good' from a working-class background, and in which, among other absurdities, the self-made stalwart of the 'Telegraph Men' column posed the thorny question, "Is it really so bad being poor today?" . In a word Mr Proud, Yes, it is. And in some more words: the mushrooming demand for food banks, the proliferation of street homelessness, the tens of thousands of families driven out from their homes by the bedroom tax and welfare caps and dumped in cramped B&Bs by way of very permanent 'temporary accommodation', and the thousands of school children across the country suffering chronic poor concentration and/or having fainting fits due to malnutrition would seem to imply that being poor in Britain today is not all a bed of roses as it might once have been in the parallel universe of your own memory. I think that answers that quandary.

It seems this year April's Fools Day is spanning the entire first week of the month, unless some of the absurd 'opinions' spouted by one or two political pundits in the past couple of days are actually to be taken seriously. One preposterous 'opinion' was aired on Question Time on Thursday by the deputy editor of The Times, Vanessa Polly, who expected the public to seriously consider the proposal for £10 charges to be introduced for visiting one's GP, and for charges to patients who miss three appointments in a row -another Tory stick-and-no-carrot approach to NHS patients which sounds uncannily similar to the 'three strikes and you're sanctioned' regimen of the DWP against benefit claimants; a kind of 'incentive by pain of punishment' which is the distant poor relation to the 'incentive by cash bonus in spite of gross misconduct' applied by the Tories to the bankers and speculators. Sting the poor for money they don't have, and pat some more cash into the pockets of bankers who don't need it. That's the Tory notion of "fairness" for you.

Two of the points Ms Polly missed, of course, are: 1) the NHS isn't entirely free since it is -rightly- subsidised through taxation; and 2) she appears to have never heard of such a thing as prescription charges, which, incidentally, rise annually by a pound or more. The current charge for ONE item of a prescription is an extortionate £7.65. Imagine, then, how much several items cost at a time, bearing in mind many patients have more than one essential medication prescribed periodically (usually around every two or three months). Consider, too, that in Wales and Scotland, prescription charges have been abolished! Is it not, then, simply perverse, not to say utterly contemptuous of the severe hardships induced by Tory austerity throughout England, that anyone should suggest that on top of prescription charges, patients should now also have to pay to see their GP?

Polly also threw into the mix a suggestion that patients who don't, for example, complete the full course of prescribed antibiotics, should be reprimanded with a lecture on how much the capsules cost the NHS to provide (i.e. how much the parasitic pharmaceutical suppliers stung the NHS in order to maximise their profits), or even charged for non-completion -so in effect, charged TWICE for one item! Seeing as most NHS patients, not only all those in work, but even many who are unemployed but not on 'passport' benefits which would enable them to have the charges waived, have to fork out streamlined amounts per prescription item with no variability in spite of some items costing less to produce than others, surely then, in our much-trumpeted (though specious) culture of 'Choice' in today's NHS, patients have the right to not complete a course of pills they've had to pay for in the first place? Simply, we shouldn't have to pay for prescriptions anyway -those costs should come out from the tax contributions to the NHS. The NHS didn't have prescription charges originally, and when they were introduced, early in its gestation, Aneurin Bevan, its founding Minister, resigned in protest. Having them is one thing, but having them inflated annually is quite another. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say of the modern NHS: 'Free at the point of use, but expensive at the point of prescription'?

The Tories, of course, keep banging on about how "everything has to be paid for" (just not by taxation), not least the NHS, as, apparently, "people are living much longer now" -but they also disingenuously omit to clarify that that actually only applies, in the main, to wealthier people, while the mortality rates for the poorer parts of the population are if anything drastically reducing, due to Malthusian Tory social policies (the Atos WCA regime alone has managed to cap the alleged trend of longevity among a significant percentage of the sick and disabled population!). The only people "living longer" to any significant degree are the propertied and super-rich classes whom the Tories, of course, represent. And it's in their party's interests to keep all the blue-rinsed pensioners in their pecuniary suspended animations, since they need the "grey vote" to keep in power (or should that be the "Dorian Gray vote"?), assuming, that is, that most of them don't turn purple-rinsed in 2015 and vote for "that nice well-spoken, goose-stepping Mr Farage" instead (and with the wholly disproportionate spotlight the besotted British broadcasting establishment extends to Monsieur Farage, most of them probably will!).

Then, on Friday, there was an absurdly shallow and also very insulting tone of argument coming from a defender of the British Union on Channel 4 News, who gave the following reasons as to why he thinks Scotland should not go independent but remain part of the UK: 1) Think of James Bond. A typically English icon, but everyone knows the best Bond was Sean Connery, a Scot (I know, I don't really get the point either!); and 2) Alex Salmond talks of Scotland becoming like Norway. I don't think that's much of an aspiration: he should be aspiring to it becoming like Qatar, buying up the World Cup -not like a country which spent most of the money from its economic boom on a boring welfare system! I kid you not, this is what this biarre entity offered by way of his 'argument' against Scottish independence. I believe he is a Scots comedian (and confess I've not the willpower to Google to find out who precisely he was at this juncture) -but if his 'polemical' pitch on C4 News was, in part, a stand-up comic routine, not only was it superficial to the point of idiocy, but it also wasn't remotely funny. Even in jest, referring to something so fundamentally vital to any civilised society as a welfare state as "boring" is not simply cretinous, it also shows contempt towards the most pressing issues of our time, such as the relieving of epidemic poverty. But what's ultimately really insulting is that he should have said this with a comedic smirk on his face and a metaphorical spinning bow-tie pinned between his collars: camouflage, of course, since, as the old axiom goes, 'Never a truer word said in jest'. We think this particular character needs to work on his delivery, not to say on his material too.

A.M. 4-7 April 2014

The Ides of March

The Welfare Cap: Parliament’s Anti-Wham! Rap against the Indigent

That cyclical benefits such as JSA and Local Housing Allowance –along with ever-sacrosanct pensions ring-fenced by the Tories for the grey vote– were kept out from the welfare cap is small consolation for the broadly vindictive and penny-pinching capping of state support for many of the very poorest and/or incapacitated claimants in the country, the latter of whom have already endured four remorseless years of administrative persecution through the auspices of the DWP and Atos.

(Similarly, that the said contaminated brand of outsourced bounty-hunters has been prematurely relinquished of its contract to facilitate Work Capability Assessments –apparently mostly due not to its heinous administrative pogrom on the sick and disabled, which has so far resulted in tens of thousands of premature deaths and/or suicides among claimants within six weeks of having been declared ‘fit for work’ and stripped of benefits, but the subsequent deluge of “death threats” sent to its staff as a result of such merciless methods– is also more a symbolic rather than full-fledged victory for the admirably dogged campaigns against them; since Atos Solutions –or should we call them ‘Atomist Solutions’ or ‘Atrocities Inc.’?– will simply be replaced by an identically mercenary private sector parasite such as the serially fraudulent A4e. For, in the end, the fall of Atos is a symbolic scalp in a far wider battle: it is the still-intact and chronic WCA regime, devised by the DWP, which is what really needs rooting out).

Normally it's April that is 'the cruellest month' - this year it appears to be March. Indeed, The Recusant is minded to name the third month of 2014 ‘Dark March’, since it has been chockfull of further blows to the morale of the British anti-austerity Left. First, Labour’s self-immolating weakening of its ties with the unions. Second, the untimely deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn within days of each another. Third, a reprehensibly poor-bashing/rich-boosting 'Bourgeois' Budget, which paid tribute to the folkloric memory of the Sheriff of Nottingham (of whom George Osborne is the living reincarnation) by reversing Robin Hood’s old modus operandi and ‘taking from the poor to give to the rich’ (couples owning up to £300,000 a year between them being permitted to keep enjoying their completely unneeded winter fuel allowances and other fringe benefits with a pecuniary curd scraped from the bottom of the bowls of the very poorest –those who most desperately need state support).

Fourth, the deeply depressing but frankly not unsurprising popularity of said ‘Robber Baron Budget’ among the ‘Great’ British public, and subsequent boosting of the Tories in the polls, almost putting them neck and neck with Labour for the first time since 2010. And fifth, the aforementioned and shamefully triumphant passing of the new punitive welfare cap, with the full support of the ‘Opposition’ front benches: the knock-out blow to an already near-eviscerated welfare state, which heaps ever more misery and hopelessness on the poorest in society, promising them only apocalyptic prospects of abject poverty through unemployment, or the curate’s egg of chronically insecure and abysmally waged ‘zero hour contract’ Mcjobs. A ‘choice’ between two types of economic slavery for the un-propertied and the dispossessed of the population is a ringing plague-bell for British society of the early twenty-first century as we enter into a new age of poverty-stigmatisation, attitudinal stitching of ‘Ps’ onto the worsted rags of the poor who are no longer to be supported but simply policed –is this 2014 or is it 1614?

We can now see the direction of travel of the current neoliberal parliamentary consensus: the gentrification of the welfare state, whereby the very poorest and most vulnerable citizens, who need state assistance more than anyone else in society, are effectively being sacrificed to a figurative gulag through which the new onus is not on what the state can offer them in terms of support, but what they, with zero means (as evidenced in the rise of food banks), can offer the very state which is abandoning them in terms of support and fealty-in-fetters: the new cultural germ of ‘mandatory voluntarism’ (unpaid ‘work placements’, ‘internships’ etc.) –to which Labour offers the only marginally less degrading option of ‘compulsory Mcjobs guarantee’– in return for the badges of indigence: food vouchers for tinned victuals. The welfare state is now being ‘upgraded’ to a kind of purely contribution-based state bank for the middle classes which prioritises their ‘returns’ of ‘investment’ over the very direly needed alms those ‘contributions’ are supposed to partly be subsidising.

These are the ramifications after four years of vicarious mass self-harm inflicted on the unemployed by the two-headed hydra of the maniacal Iain Duncan Smith and George Osborne, the ‘trickle-up’ sociopathic Chancellor –how many among the British public are yet to recognise their complicity in a largely unchallenged ideological fanaticism that is seeing the mass-sacrifice of the security, wellbeing and even lives of many of the poorest and most vulnerable in British society? The Recusant would call the Atos-hounded death toll of 40,000+ sick and disabled claimants of the past four years something akin to a fiscal holocaust, let alone “social cleansing”. Is it partly the Tories’ intention to gerrymander the electoral margins via vicarious corporate manslaughter on a significant scale which grants the bonus of effectively wiping tens of thousands of non-Tory voters off the political map altogether?

For anyone reading this who are still sceptical as to the true impact of the WCA regime on the sick and disabled of this country, they might read a short article by one Kayleigh Garthwaite in the New Statesman of November 2012 which signposted a survey of over 300 people receiving IB conducted by MIND which ‘found that 51 per cent of people reported the fear of [the Atos] assessment had made them feel suicidal’ –no significant leap, then, to grasp the probability that a not insignificant percentage of that 51 per cent would be likely to act on those suicidal feelings, if not during the great stress of the assessment period, then more probably if they were incorrectly found “fit for work” and then stripped of their incomes. Garthwaite also quoted from one IB claimant whose own impression from his experiences at the assessed-end of the blunt instruments of the DWP-Atos axis reaffirmed the view of many –claimants and critics alike– that the Tory-Atos axis is basically an administrative experiment in Malthusianism (population capping and shrinkage):

I think it’s gonna cause breakdowns, possibly even the worst case scenario y’know topping yourself. If the Government could cut a penny in half, they would. I think if they could bring euthanasia in, they would. If they could find a way of getting round all the moral outrage they’d probably do it. Take all the lame ones out, just like a sick animal.

Readers take note: this is not a first-hand account of Thirties Germany, but of Britain in the early 21st century. As well as doing our own bit on the polemic of ‘Scroungerology’ (a Recusant coinage) through Emergency Verse, The Robin Hood Book (which included my brother, journalist James Morrison’s insightful polemic ‘Farewell Welfare’) and, of course, this webzine’s own editorials, we are heartened to discover that in three years or so there have been some crucial academic interventions particularly into the arena of how Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ treats the sick and disabled in terms of both welfare policy and associated rhetoric. Most notably, the aforementioned Kayleigh Garthwite has published two highly significant monographs around this theme in two peer journals: “The language of shirkers and scroungers?’ Talking about illness, disability and coalition welfare reform’, in Disability & Society, 2011, and the ‘Fear of the Brown Envelope: Exploring Welfare Reform with Long-Term Sickness Benefits Recipients’, published in Social Policy & Administration in October 2013.

The phrase ‘fear of (the) brown envelope(s)’ has over the past few years entered into the common lexicon, so psychologically corrosive has been the accumulative affect on the claimant population of remorseless DWP correspondences frequently imparting notices of benefits withdrawal, suspensions of claims, sanctions, penalties, covert ‘queries’, appointments for ‘work-focused interviews’ or for the dreaded WCAs, or sometimes Kafkaesque notifications of the imminent visits of ‘Customer Compliance Officers’ to ‘check information’ is ‘correct’ and/or ‘up to date’ with regards to ongoing ‘claims’. In the apparent pursuit of ‘miracle cures’ for the sick and disabled, the DWP seem to have unwittingly piloted a whole new type of psychological disorder on an epidemic scale: ‘envelophobia’.

Whatever one’s conclusion from all these ‘dark arts’ being conducted today with seeming impunity by the Tory-led administration, of one thing we can be absolutely certain –and nevermore so than since last Monday’s vote by a staggering majority of richly remunerated, multi-propertied MPs to permanently limit the amount of benefits available to some of the most impoverished and vulnerable citizens: that the British welfare state remains in place only nominally in the service of its original purposes (to serve as a safety net to prevent the very poorest in society slipping into abject penury –that function has long gone, the net having been shredded to tatters by the Tories and outsourced to the alfresco altruism of the Trussell Trust), but emphatically as a national kitty for the “squeezed middle” to be utilised as vote-bribes.

From hence on, then, the British Welfare State will no longer be there to answer to the call of Need, but only to that of Greed –along with most other institutions under Tory management. Allied to all of this is a new parliamentary edict, dipped in bronze and figuratively hung like a giant leper-bell in Big Ben: it is eminently acceptable to continue to rhetorically and attitudinally discriminate against the ‘economically unproductive’ of society, the unemployed in particular, whose impecunious and hopeless plight is now consolidated as behavioural deviancy and moral taboo.

How long until unemployment is criminalised as some form of ‘anti-social’ tendency? The Tories have done this to squatting already, and effectively to street-begging too –a penalisation of poverty itself; seeing as their instincts are to wrap symptoms up as paradoxical causes in order to abdicate any responsibility either for their proliferation or alleviation, surely it’s only a matter of time before the unemployed are dished out ‘porridge placements’ and used as unpaid cleaning staff in HM prisons? But The Recusant doesn’t wish to tempt fate, especially when Chris ‘Gripper’ Grayling currently has his knuckledusters rapping the on the desk at the Ministry of Justice –see further in).

But, the poor, unemployed, underemployed, disabled, mentally ill, homeless, squatters, gypsies, travellers, immigrants and refugees aside, the UK would seem to be an otherwise ‘open-minded’, ‘liberal’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘tolerant’ nation with an almost exclusive eye to equality of sexuality (just not equality of any other kind!) with the highly progressive advent of the first gay marriages taking place throughout the country. But, from a cynical point of view (for such are undoubtedly the Tory motives) will such an opportunistic policy (in terms of harvesting more votes for the Tories), which no doubt incorporated much chomping at the bits by the more 'religious' of Tories, bring rich returns in next year’s elections –alongside the pension pitch– from the gay and the grey votes? Even if the grey vote is presumably largely antagonistic towards the new gay marriage legislation (as its legion village blue-rinse NIMBYs are no doubt to the high speed rail link). But then -the basic egalitarian and humanitarian aspects apart- there is a dimension to the Gay Marriage argument that, with emphasis on the amplification of individual demands, has the spirit of libertarianism, something which, at least, for those Tories who are not so tied to Christian tradition, and those who are atheists as well as materialists, has much some common currency.

The Recusant is, however, perplexed as to how such parliamentary liberalness with regards to the Gay Marriage vote contrasts with such parsimonious vindictiveness towards the poorest and most vulnerable in our society (including the disabled and the mentally ill), and what such schizophrenic ethical fabric says of the political classes! Championing ‘equality’ of sexualities and legislatively advancing against associated discriminations is in itself a laudable advance; but coming from a parliament which, oppositely, appears to think it perfectly acceptable, even morally admirable, to persist in both rhetorically and fiscally scapegoating the poor and the unemployed –the prime victims of capitalist austerity– as “scroungers” and “skivers”, and actively discriminating against them time and time again through punishing policies, cuts and caps in ever greater measures proportionate to their existing miseries and suffering, using them as the perpetual political footballs of the cross-party neoliberal consensus (while also doing sweet F.A. to in any tangible sense improve the dreadful and rapidly deteriorating treatment of the mentally ill, or to substantially tackle societal discriminations against them), oh, and hounding tens of thousands of sick and disabled claimants to their graves (sponsored by Atos) to appease the parsimonious "taxpayer" -well, the word ‘hypocrites’ immediately springs to mind.

Is it not utterly bizarre, not to say morally and intellectually completely inconsistent, that while Parliament –perfectly rightly– passes through legislation with perfectly rightly gives out a strong symbolic message that discrimination against homosexuals is unacceptable, that they should have parity in the eyes of the Law, and that, therefore, by dialectical implication, they have not chosen their sexualities and thus should not have to be punished for it (all of which is of course absolutely commendable in our opinion and comes at a significant time when homosexuals are being openly and violently discriminated against in Russia, parts of Eastern Europe and throughout Africa) at the same time it passes other social policies with equally proportionate majorities that implicitly do give out symbolic signals that, for instance, poverty, unemployment, and to some extent even disability and mental illness, are in some absurd and irrational sense ‘lifestyle choices’, and that, therefore, these sections of society should be discriminated against, both fiscally and rhetorically, and punished accordingly!?

And that the welfare cap should be voted through so smoothly and gleefully by Parliament only a month after all the established Christian Churches in Britain openly condemned the welfare ‘reforms’ and benefits cuts of the past four years! It is a very strange and disorienting state of affairs that in the space of only months, Parliament has near-unanimously voted through two diametrically opposite and ethically schizophrenic social policies, both of which, for very different reasons, are bête noires to the established Churches: the Gay Marriage Bill, and the Welfare Cap. Politically-speaking, we live in deeply schizoid times.

Now, we expect this kind of transparently opportunistic and duplicitous political point-scoring from the Tories –but for the Labour ‘Opposition’ (?) to so spinelessly capitulate to the welfare cap on the scale that it did last Monday is beyond reprehensible: it is quite simply full-scale betrayal of the very sections of society it should be vigorously arguing to protect from any further cuts and caps –as, for one, Diane Abbott admirably did during the pre-vote debate in Parliament:

Any member of the public watching this debate this afternoon and listening to people jeer, laugh, smirk and joke might imagine that some Members of this House were playing a game. Well, I am rising to say to the House that this is not a game; this is about people’s lives. Whether they be elderly people who are dependent on some of the age-related benefits that will fall under the cap, the disabled or people in low-paid work who depend on the system of tax credits, this is not a game; this is people’s lives. If it is really the position of Government Members that poor people should be made to live on even less, they should at least have the grace to be dignified about it, and not turn it into a game. I put it to Government Members and to those on my own Front Bench that social security and people’s lives should not be made a matter of short-term political positioning.

Everyone in the House wants to bring down welfare spending, because welfare spending is the price of Government and social failure. The Chancellor talked as if he were some brave warrior wreaking vengeance on an army of “Benefits Street” layabouts. The reality for British people is very different. Just this week, we saw 1,500 people queuing for three hours for a low-paid job at Aldi. The picture Government Members like to paint of the British people and what is happening in the benefit system is false, misleading and derogatory, yet it is feeding through to public attitudes. The public thinks that 41% of the benefits bill goes to the unemployed. In fact, it is only 3% of the benefits bill. The public thinks that 27% of benefits are claimed fraudulently. In fact, only 0.7% is so claimed. The truth is that 80% of the people who claim jobseekers allowance—those so-called “Benefits Street” layabouts—only claim it for less than a year. There is no credit to MPs if they constantly talk in a derogatory way about people who claim benefits when, at any given point in our lives, we may be dependent on social security—be it child benefit, benefits for the elderly or in-work benefits.

This benefits cap is arbitrary and bears no relationship to need, as our benefits system should. It does not allow for changing circumstances—rents going up and population rising—and will make inequality harder to tackle. There are ways to cut welfare. We could put people back to work, introduce a national living wage, build affordable homes and have our compulsory jobs guarantee. An arbitrary cap is the wrong way in which to go and sends out the wrong message. The Chancellor does not say many things that I think are correct, but he is correct to say that voting for this cap locks us into the coalition’s cuts. I say to the House that the issue of social security should not be about political positioning. As the months turn into years, people will be coming to our advice surgeries wanting explanations for totally arbitrary and counter-productive cuts. Will we say that it was a game we were playing with the Chancellor one afternoon in March? Our welfare system should be based on the facts and on need. Whatever short-term political advantage people think is gained by voting for this cap, it is far outweighed by what is problematic, so, no, I will not be voting for this cap in the Lobby tonight.

Here is the lone voice of reason and decency in a Commons otherwise completely morally bankrupt across the parties. Diane Abbott’s speech is precisely the kind which should have been being made by the Labour front bench –that her perfectly fair, balanced and compassionate stance is the voice of a tiny backbench minority within the ‘Opposition’ serves to demonstrate yet again just how utterly gutless the Labour Party is today when it comes to making a stand in defence of the most defenceless citizens.

It’s not only that the number of Labour MPs –all backbenchers, naturally– who actually voted against this despicable new ‘Poor Law’ was a pathetically small 13, but that over 38 other Labour MPs, including some frontbenchers, such as, ironically, benefits-bashing Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Liam Byrne, either ‘abstained’ from the vote, or were ‘absent’ altogether (Michael Meacher, your halo has just slipped and wrapped itself round your neck! You’ll have some explaining to do in your next column in the Morning Star). This was gutless quiescence on an epic scale. It resulted in one of the biggest majorities for a policy vote in living memory: Ayes 520, Noes 22. The Recusant here lists the names of those 22 valiant dissenters of this Kangaroo Commons –and mark their names and party affiliations well, for these are, demonstrably, the last 22 MPs left in the wolves’ den of the Commons to whom we can accurately ascribe the Jedi-like epithet ‘socialist’:

Diane Abbott – Labour
Ronnie Campbell – Labour
Katy Clark – Labour
Michael Connarty – Labour
Jeremy Corbyn – Labour
Mark Durkan – SDLP
Jonathan Edwards – Plaid Cymru
George Galloway – Respect
Kelvin Hopkins – Labour
Glenda Jackson – Labour
Angus MacNeil – SNP
Alasdair McDonnell – SDLP
John McDonnell – Labour
George Mudie – Labour
Elfyn Llwyd – Plaid Cyrmu
Margaret Ritchie – SDLP
Linda Riordan – Labour
Angus Robertson – SNP
Dennis Skinner – Labour
Tom Watson – Labour
Mike Weir – SNP
Eilidh Whiteford – SNP
Peter Wishart – SNP
Hywel Williams – Plaid Cymru
Mike Wood – Labour

(sourced from Left Futures).

Dr Eilidh Whitehead of the SNP very much summed up The Recusant’s own opinion on the Tory welfare ‘reforms’:

This welfare cap is a reprehensible and regressive measure that once again puts the most disadvantaged people in our communities on the front line. The cap that has been proposed is a crude blunt instrument.

The Recusant notes that the name Green’s only MP, Caroline Lucas, was conspicuously absent from all the lists of names in relation to the welfare cap vote, including the Ayes, Noes and Abstainers. The only list of Absentees we have come across was specifically of the 38 Abstaining or Absent Labour MPs, so we have not yet come across a list of all Absentees, which must presumably include Mrs Lucas. But this is rather perplexing, we sincerely hope that some mistake has been made here and that for whatever reasons The Hansard failed to record her name in the list of Noes. But we remain to be elucidated.

The Recusant salutes each and every one of this Compassionate 22, and predicts that in the future, if we do eventually return to something more akin to a decent, civilised and compassionate society again (i.e. a pre-Thatcherite type one), this list of names may one day be as respected as those of the petitioning registers of the 17th century Levellers and Diggers, the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, and Arthur Henderson’s austerity-rejecting Labour Opposition of 1931, which put itself out of power under Ramsay MacDonald primarily due to its refusal to go along with his Tory-Liberal-backed proposals to introduce punitive cuts to unemployment benefits, resulting in the end in his heading a ‘National Government’ of almost all Tories and Liberals. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Sadly history, in all the very worst ways, has a capacity for repeating itself.

A Bit of Background on the 'Welfare Debate' via Jeremys Bentham and Seabrook

Such a truly vicious and heartless 'reform' as the Welfare Cap could only have been made possible by the falsely informed 'public consensus' artificially constructed from four years of relentless welfare-stigmatisation spun through Tory rhetoric and red-top front-page thuggery; one of a ferocity and scale arguably never before witnessed in British society, even during the "scroungerphobia" of the late Seventies and early Eighties, which inspired both Tony Garnett's superb Play for Today, The Spongers (1978), as well as Peter Golding and Sue Middleton's classic polemic, Images of Welfare: Press and Public Attitudes to Poverty (1984) -two works that should be required viewing and reading in today's even more hostile environment. But at least the hitherto entirely lop-sided contemporary '(anti-)welfare debate' is finally starting to see a stepping up in tempo on the side of more compassionate dissenters. In addition to Kayleigh Garthwite's vital 'Brown Envelope' interventions in the academic sphere, last autumn also saw the publication of Jeremy Seabrook's Pauperland: Poverty and the poor in Britain (Hurst, 2013), which, even from its mealy-mouthed TLS treatment, sounds as if it is a hearteningly humanitarian antithesis to today's 'received thesis' in the welfare dialectic.

Jonathan Benthall gives it a fair(-ish) airing in his TLS piece 'The inconspicuous poor', and elucidates that 'Pauperland borrows its title from a “map of pauper-land” tabulated by Jeremy Bentham in 1798, a detailed taxonomy of all the causes of poverty'. Seabrook is a left-wing ex-social worker, and both aspects to his empirical makeup perhaps inescapably inform the tone of his polemic -but how refreshing it is to at last see a book on the subject of both contemporary and historical poverty and welfare written by someone who actually knows something about the subjects other than what he's picked up from other books! Benthall's own summation of the book's dialectic is the best possible sale's pitch from The Recusant's point of view: 'The thrust of his polemic is to expose the disdain for poor people that he sees as a malady of contemporary British politics and journalism'. Hurrah! Pauperland sounds as if it is a formidable polemical event, and hopefully one indicative of a gradually changing dialectical climate; it may also turn out to be the belated heir to the hitherto unbettered Images of Welfare (though I've not yet read Bronislaw Geremek's much-lauded Poverty: A History, Wiley 1991 -also cited in Benthall's review).

Benthall disputably betrays a tincture of true colours more typical of the supplement in which he is writing when he comments: 'He [Seabrook] satirizes philanthropy to some effect, but goes too far when he asks “Whoever heard of a poor philanthropist?”' He also appears to still be personally inhabiting the honeymoon period of the late 'New' Labour Nineties rather than the socially devastated Twenty tens when he writes, with a certain naivety: 'Today, poor people are a minority among British citizens and pose no serious electoral threat'. Mr Bethnall obviously hasn't visited any food banks recently -but no doubt he is some point in that through the welfare caps, benefit sanctions, bedroom tax, Atos WCAs and other policy abominations, today's rapidly 'mapface'-wiped poor population is posing an ever diminishing 'electoral threat' to the Tories -a small triumph through their Malthusian imperative, which is a kind of gerrymandering via mass administrative eviction/ material and nutritional siege/ even vicarious fiscal manslaughter. Benthall also partakes in a rather crass piece of outdated ideological wish-fulfillment: 'while the dreams of communism and socialism have dissolved' -but not those of capitalism? Are we not currently living amid its catastrophically cropped ruins?

Benthall interlocutes some other interesting aspects to Seabrook's dialectic: 'He describes a polarization in the United States – and the same must apply in Britain – between 'intense, hypercompetitive overachievers' on the one hand and, at the other extreme, a wide variety of people that includes intermittent workers, 'downshifters' who seek an improved work-life balance, environmentalists, New Agers, 'grungies' and homeless people, as well as marginal ethnic groups'.

Benthall's piece is instructive though almost entirely in its wealth of tantalising quotes from Seabrook's book: 'there is scarcely anything in daily consumption, a child’s toy, a garment, a tropical fruit, a piece of jewellery, uncontaminated by the suffering of people whose existence is unknown to us' (used as a pull-quote in the review); 'Most people in poverty are not conspicuous . . . . Many of the six million unpaid carers, despite Attendance Allowance, struggle to survive, not only materially, but psychologically. Of Britain’s carers 1.5 million are over sixty, and almost 60 per cent are women'; his argument for 'wealth abatement' (a re-casting of 'wealth' into opprobrium -what Bethnall anticipates as a 'new puritanism'); his sharp point on the modern phenomenon of what might be termed purely 'aspirational trickle-down', in his description of an almost self-harming underclass culture (commonly associated with the much-maligned 'Chavs') which presents itself as 'ostentatious kitsch and bling, a degraded version of aristocratic grandeur'; 'We cannot get enough of [rich people’s] multiple homes, guarded islands, exquisite taste and enviable possessions, their celestial loves and epic tragedies; even their failed relationships and expensive divorces, public detox and private rehab, showy suicide attempts and premature deaths do nothing to impair our wonder at their superior station'; his aspiration for the super-rich of the future to be viewed as 'mouldering unregarded, the gaze of indifference wandering over their exorbitance'; 'The question of whether tea and potatoes were more nourishing than bread and beer is eclipsed by the great sorrow of the unchosen transhumance to the long season of industry'; and, 'Britain’s Coalition government, having contracted out to private entities a labour test on those previously on disability benefit, has discovered that there are people suffering from terminal illness and in extreme pain, who are nevertheless ‘fit for work'', which is in riposte to Bentham's hard-hearted Utilitarian take on the necessity of 'work' at all costs, which might be enshrined in every Atos office:

Not one in a hundred... is incapable of all employment. Not the motion of a finger – not a step – not a wink – not a whisper – but ought to be turned to account in the way of profit in a system of such magnitude . . . Employment may be afforded to every fragment of ability, however minute.

Jeremy Bentham would no doubt applaud much the Tories are doing today, though would have probably argued for plans to be drawn up for labour camps and workhouses too. (But we don't want to give Herr Duncan Schmidt any more nasty ideas). If Bentham's -no doubt by now 'mouldering'- auto-icon at University College London was to suddenly twitch back into life, we suspect 'it/he' might be installed as a replacement for Frank Field as the Government's Poverty Tsar (certainly he'd be more charismatic!).

Ultimately, perhaps the only way forward in securing a long-term safety net for the poorest in society -and indeed for everyone- which is freed from the eroding stigmas of 'welfare' would be something that, for example, the Green Party has been arguing for some time, and including in its manifestoes: a Citizen's Income. Increasingly, such a radical idea is gaining more currency as we see the devastating effects of relentlessly swingeing cuts to the welfare budget; indeed, it was mooted again recently in The Guardian by Hannah Fearn: . The Recusant supports this proposal and hopes a new debate will be prompted by it.

Indeed, the debate does seem to be belatedly shifting somewhat, at least in the academic field: another new polemical study has just been published, The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910–2010 by Selina Todd –which puts the ‘Chav-bashing’ adumbrated by Owen Jones into a ‘broader context’ –according to Guardian reviewer Suzanne Moore– and, presumably, one which emphasizes more the intra-working-class dynamics of the ‘Chav’ stigma, that some of its most vehement propagators are themselves working-class, even if they don’t identify themselves as such (and such calculated atomisation of class consciousness is at the core of Todd’s polemic); that the ‘Chav’ is half-invented sub-section of the working-class, its ‘non-working’ sub-section, in many ways part of a sprawling underclass, which serves the purpose of providing a source for working-class downward ‘shadow-projection’ in order to both divide it and thus fracture any possibility of solidarity, and to distract it from the true parasitism of the upper classes, something which might well be called the ‘scroungerocracy’).

Wackford Rap!

What can one say about this latest demonstration of the Chronic Hermeneutic Dislocation Disorder suffered by so many Tories today that sees baby-faced Dickensian Education Secretary Michael ‘Wackford Squeers’ Gove extemporising Wham’s debut single, ‘Wham! Rap’, to a classroom of subsequently permanently traumatised school children. With a monumental lack of irony the incurably right-wing dogmatist recited –with mechanical near-gesticulations– his own Chap-hop interpretation of the following lyrics, penned at the time by George Michael as a pop-polemic on unemployment in Thatcher’s Britain. Gove’s excerpt was perhaps one of the less openly politicised of the song’s lyric:

Everybody take a look at me
I've got street credibility.
I may not have a job but I have a good time
With the boys that I meet down on the line.

Interesting, too, that he didn’t choose to start at the beginning of the lyric –if he had, then there would no doubt have been ‘words’ from Iain Duncan Smith at the next Cabinet meeting:

You got soul on the dole
You're gonna have a good time down on the line.

Had he continued reciting, things might have got a bit trickier for Gove, being one of the more right-wing of Tory ministers:

I said D.H.S.S. – man
The rhythm that they're givin' is the very best.
I said b-one b-two – make the claims on your names all you have to do.
Folks can be a drag if work ain't your bag and when you let them know
You're more dead than alive in a nine to five
Then they say you'd got to go
And get yourselves a job or get out of this house.
Get yourself a job, are you a man or a mouse.
A finger in each ear you pretend not to hear
Gotta get some space get out of this place.
Wham bam – I am a man
Job or no job
You can't tell me that I'm not.
Do you enjoy what you do if not just stop
Don't stay there and rot.
On the streets in the cars on the underground
If you listen real hard you can hear the sound
Of a million people switching off for work
Mr. Average
You're a jerk.
Not me – you can't hold me down
Not me – I'm gonna fool around
Gonna have some fun.
Look out for number one
You can dig your grave
I'm staying young.
Wham bam – I am a man
Job or no job
You can't tell me that I'm not. . . .
If you're a pub man or a club man
Maybe a jet black guy with a hip hi-fi
A white cool cat with a trilby hat maybe leather and studs
Is where you're at
Make the most of everyday.
Don't let hard times stand in your way
Give a wham give a bam
But don't give a damn
'cos the benefit gang are gonna pay.

When Etonian David Cameron cited The Jam’s scathing 1979 cri de Coeur against the public school system, ‘Eton Rifles’, as his favourite song, and played the Style Council’s 1985 Miners’ Strike protest-song ‘Shout to the Top’ at his pre-election rally, we all thought this would be an outburst of the symptomatology of Tory-prone CHDD which would be impossible to beat. But Michael Gove has almost proven us wrong. This current crop of Tories, already long satire-proof, are also, among many other charges, the permanent infringers of the demarcations of ironists.

Books Banned in Grayling’s Gulag

During the first Great Depression, the Nazis burnt books; today, in the Great Recession, the Tories are confiscating them: passive-aggressive psychical pugilist Chris Grayling, trans-satirical Justice Secretary, has announced in the last couple of weeks that he will be banning books being supplied to prisons by visiting friends and relatives. Once again, this is ringing evidence of the Tory notion of prison not as rehabilitation but as pure retribution, thumbscrews to be tightened until the nails squeak, prison to mean prison again, in the good old tradition of manacled ankles and rock-splitting. ‘Gripper’ Grayling demonstrably aspires to a chronic ‘criminal class’ to be encouraged to periodically ‘serve their time’ but never lose their essential deviant tendencies for learning through imprisonment that in Tory society their really is no other viable alternative for the likes of them: crime isn’t simply their ‘lifestyle choice’, it’s also their phrenological predisposition, and prison their periodic merciful release from the societal temptations to their temperaments.

Self-education, autodidacticism –as accessed through books– poses a threat to the diminishing of one of the largest ‘problem groups’ of society onto which Tories and their voters can project their most misanthropic bile and vent their most deterministic spleen. Poverty doesn’t produce crime –crime produces poverty; so goes Tory Doublethink. No reforming of the unreformable, but only the option of putting them under lock-and-key and cultivating an atmosphere of such unforgiving judgement that most are antagonised into continuing in type once on the outside again.

Better still, for the Tories, the prospect that eventually prisoners will be stripped of the vote too, and with so many homeless people and “squatters” being increasingly sheltered at HM Pleasure, this could in the long-turn be another ingenious strategy of electoral gerrymandering which means a hemorrhaging of the Labour vote by the thousands. So why not jumpstart this ultimate atomisation of penal life by stripping prisoners of the right to read books, reasons Herr Grayling? That will send out a clear message to the prison population that they are well and truly being confiscated from society and all the rights and privileges citizenship involves, by having not only their literal freedom but also the freedom of their intellectual curiosity and starved imaginations seized from them. Clearly Grayling is much keener to encourage the ever-growing penal industry of drug-dealing, a black market in the cause of servicing criminal recidivism, than permitting prisoners to fan themselves in their grey-bricked opium dens with the incendiary callipers of subversive literatures? So be it.

But it is heartening to have learnt that as a result of this reprehensibly regressive, neo-Victorian, crypto-fascist prison policy, indefatigable anti-establishment thespian Vanessa Redgrave, loud-hailer in hand at the forefront of a protest this week outside Pentonville Prison, managed to drag along with her, among many other people involved with Writers at Liberty, one of the foremost doyens of the poetry establishment, Ruth Padel, who was photographed speaking into a similar contraption with a book folded-back in her other hand. Was she reciting some of her own poetry, or that of a different poet who actually writes about these kinds of issues and has something apposite to impart in relation to them? Whatever volume this was, it looked very thick, and certainly wasn’t the prison-grey of David Swann’s The Privilege of Rain (Waterloo) or the field-grey of Andrew Jordan’s sublime Bonehead’s Utopia (Smokestack). Maybe it was a translation of Osip Mandelstam. The identity of the book –and whether it was a poetry collection, or some more polemical work– remains a mystery. (Perhaps we'll be surprised soon by a Youtube snippet of a 'Padel Rap'?).

Nevertheless, ironies aside, it was encouraging to see, for once, a high profile British poet actually making a stand against something other than simply opposing arts cuts and library closures, albeit, in this case, still a biblio-centric cause célèbre (and so, if one was to be really cynical, a perfect ‘PR’ opportunity for a prominent contemporary poet). Still, after four years of general literary quiescence in the solipsistic British mainstream, this public appearance from Padel on the ground at a protest against a Tory policy was something of significance and perhaps signifies the tip of a new burgeoning iceberg of greater political activism among poets…? Well, hope springs eternal.

A.M. 30 March-1 April 2014

One Notion Labour’s McCompulsory Jobs Guarantee

‘One Nation’ Labour’s recent re-announcement of its proposed ‘Compulsory Jobs Guarantee’, as reiterated with icy rhetoric by Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and the glacial Rachel Reeves: The Recusant is completely opposed to any such scheme which coerces and bullies young and long-term unemployed people into unsuitable jobs on pain of losing benefits. This is ‘Tory-lite’ policy-making, and the carrot of a guaranteed ‘minimum wage’ is not nearly enough, in our view, to justify the stick of benefits-stripping hoisted automatically on a claimant’s reticence or inability to take up such impersonal, streamlined and even antipathetic ‘opportunities’ foisted on them. In any case, simply coercing the unemployed into unsuitable jobs just to get them off benefits and reduce government expenditure is not to in any authentic or sustainable sense resolve what is an underlying, endemic and chronic problem of the ramshackle British ‘work ethic’ of today: the impersonal, unreasonably pressurising and antipathetic culture of ‘employment’, which needs radical and wide-sweeping reform if this nation is ever to see a healthier and more productive culture of full and propitious employment. Moreover, part of the explanation as to why our society has such a high number of people on incapacity benefits is due to the mental health issues induced or exacerbated by the uncompromising pressures, stresses and oppression of the personality in the workplace.

Unfortunately, the Tories have done their level best over four years to make employment as unappealing as it is possible to make it, in spite of the repeated implicature of their deeply duplicitous mantra ‘Make Work Pay’ –as if simply repeating a phrase ad infinitum somehow magically makes it happen; moreover, a mantra which be half so laughable if it wasn’t simultaneous to the Government’s athletic diminution of employment rights and securities and freezing of wages. What this phrase actually translates as, of course, is ‘Make Benefits Not Pay’. So, the choice would seem to be between impoverished and stigmatised unemployment, or only slightly less impoverished and much-praised employment –those aren’t particularly attractive ‘choices’, and are barely even viable alternatives.

By simply parroting thick-headed Tory rhetoric, Labour is betraying a continued disinterest in, if not contempt for, the people ‘at the bottom of the heap’ in society, those very people it should be championing above all others, especially at this time. Had Tony Benn lived to be leader of his party, he’d have been doing precisely that. But unfortunately the leader of One Nation Labour, Ed, youngest son of Benn’s lifelong friend and political soul mate Ralph Miliband, is (to pun on a famous Cream album) going into Disraeli gears when he should cranking up those of the great progressives of his own party’s proud history –the likes of Keir Hardie, George Lansbury, Arthur Henderson, Clement Attlee, Nye Bevan, Michael Foot and, of course, Tony Benn.

But a recent Morning Star editorial, titled ‘Labour’s lousy jobs policy’, really summed up The Recusant’s own stance on Labour’s risible ‘Compulsory Jobs’ fob-off, and put it much more succinctly than I’m able to at this point –the first line excerpted here is an apposite aphorism for our times:

Long-term joblessness is rising under the coalition because it is an anti-jobs government.

Ed Balls is right - it is "shocking that the number of young people stuck on the dole for more than a year has doubled under David Cameron."

But Labour's proposal to strip such people of benefits if they refuse to take the jobs offered under its Compulsory Jobs Guarantee is a dismal sop to Tory "scrounger" propaganda.

Whatever the disinformation peddled by Daily Mail columnists, Con-Dem Cabinet ministers and - appallingly - their Labour shadows, most jobless people do not choose not to work because they fancy "a life on benefits," a phrase Chancellor George Osborne bandies around at Tory conferences that was tellingly echoed yesterday by Mr Balls.

Long-term joblessness is rising under the coalition because it is an anti-jobs government. Hundreds of thousands of secure, skilled jobs have been axed - are still being axed - across the public sector.

A survey by trade union GMB found 631,000 public-sector roles had been given the chop by autumn last year, a figure the government's own projections suggest will exceed a million by the next election.

An administration that boasts of destroying a million jobs is no enemy of unemployment. But it is the enemy of unemployed people (as well as of people with jobs, as we've just seen).

From workfare - which effectively provides forced below-minimum-wage labour to private firms at taxpayers' cost - to ever increasing sanctions on jobseekers who can't jump through a constantly changing set of hoops, people who are out of work have been exploited, punished and demonised by the Department for Work and Pensions and its sanctimonious chief Iain Duncan Smith.

Indeed, last year the Chancellor decided to introduce a waiting period between losing your job and being eligible for jobseeker's allowance, presumably as an extra kick in the teeth for the 631,000 people his government has chucked on the scrapheap.

Labour should be highlighting the rank hypocrisy of a regime that sacks people en masse and then blames them for it. Instead it seems content to follow in its footsteps.

There is no shortage of serious options for tackling mass unemployment. Britain is crying out for a huge programme of council-house building.

The increasingly unpredictable weather resulting from climate change, which saw devastating floods hit the country last month, ought to prompt investment in flood defences in the short-term and in the new technologies needed to moderate and cope with global warming in the long-term.

Our NHS needs more midwives, more nurses and far more resources dedicated to treating mental health issues. We face a teacher recruitment crisis.

And rebalancing the British economy away from an overheated and reckless financial sector and towards a future based on quality manufacturing could create hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs.

Mr Balls should take a look at such options before rushing to jump on the blame bandwagon.

A generation has grown up with the impression that counting the unemployed in the millions is normal - a legacy of Thatcher, who created the mass unemployment we've lived with ever since.

But it doesn't have to be. Full employment has existed before and it can again.

If we want to see a Britain where everyone can be assured of decent, well-paid work - a Britain where everybody counts - we need to be shot of the neoliberal gang who have hijacked this country and start putting people before profit.

[Stop Press: It would seem that Labour's notion of 'One Nation' doesn't, as The Recusant had long suspected, incorporate the poor and unemployed, as re-signalled today 19 March with the party's spineless and unacceptable capitulation to Chancellor Osborne's proposed permanent annual welfare cap! It would seem that 'One Nation' Labour is more '¾ Nation' Labour, very much the party of the "Squeezed Middle" rather than of the working classes and underclasses -in fact, it would appear to be a party which champions the so-called "savers" that the Tories are banging on about, along with perpetually ring-fenced pensioners, in their courting of the grey, or rather, blue-rinsed vote. So once again we are reminded of the two main parties in Parliament: in government, the Tory Party, and in Opposition, the Not the Tory Party. What a 'choice' that is for 2015! The Recusant says Vote Green for a true alternative to austerity, because we ain't going to get it from 'One Notion' Labour.

In these risible circumstances, where Labour presently appears to stand for nothing other than austerity-lite policies, it's impossible not to see a depressing symbolism in the recent deaths of both Bob Crow and the great Tony Benn, two of the Labour movement's staunchest socialist champions: 'One Nation' Labour's ridiculous weakening of the union links to the party, now combined with its support for a welfare cap, make for a double blow against any hopes among the British Left that the party will be standing up for the unrepresented poor, or for the unemployed, sick and disabled, all of whom have had been punished more than any other section of society in the four years of Tory austerity, and seemingly now are to be punished several times more, annually in fact for an indefinite period, with Labour's backing! What a risible tribute that is to the legacies of Crow and Benn!

This last month or so will go down as one of the most deplorably regressive in Labour's history, and only shows up the party as one big empty gesture gutted of any real purpose, soul or any even remotely left-wing narrative -the real Opposition (as opposed to Labour's 'Propposition') in the UK at this time remains almost entirely outside parliament, with Left Unity, the People's Assembly, the Green Party, Occupy, UK Uncut, the Communist and Socialist parties, the unions and the Churches. Labour is simply the synthetically 'progressive' poster-boy imposture of the political class. That the political Opposition is outside parliament makes for a potentially toxic climate come 2015 -but of course Boris Johnson is now commissioning his water canons in anticipation of further bouts of 'participatory democracy' in the months ahead. Labour would do well to heed the People's Assembly's People's Budget before writing its 2015 manifesto, because if it ignores its urgent demands, then its potential Left vote will completely haemorrhage in the General Election].

Two Nations Tories: A Tale of Two Britains

To take a broad brushstroke of the UK political climate today, there certainly is some ‘clear blue water’, or rather ‘green carpet’ between the two main parties: ‘One Nation’ Labour is largely a rhetorical response to the ‘Two Nations’ Tories, and the latter pit of wolves really are shaping the nation up to be quite literally two nations –if not three or four or five– in terms of the abrupt breaks the current Tory-led Government has put on any kind of authentic redistribution of wealth over the past four years. The evidence for this heinous pauperisation of at least a fifth of the population by the Tories through a rapacious blitzkrieg of benefits cuts and caps to the poorest people in the country year on year since 2010 is revealed in Oxfam’s new report, A Tale of Two Britains, which shows that the top five richest families in the UK have a combined wealth slightly over that of the poorest 20% of the population! So much for some mythical “We’re all in this together” trickle-down effect eh?

And as if this isn’t heinous enough, this week psychopathic aristo-Chancellor Osborne will announce a new permanent annual cap on the already massively depleted welfare expenditure, and, even more vindictively, a further £12 billion a year to be slashed from the welfare budget indefinitely! His own austerity brinkmanship having abjectly failed over the past four years to produce anything other than ‘mythological growth’, the heir to the baronetcy of Ballentaylor –whose personal inherited and unearned wealth is £4m (outside of his capital inheritances of the Ballentaylor estate and assets, and his own personal multi-million property portfolio)– is now playing his last and blatantly Malthusian card: to try and take a short-cut through austerity by fiscally obliterating the poorest and most vulnerable citizens in the nation.

In this one statement alone this week, Chancellor Osborne will be once and for all letting his fangs show as he drools over the prospect of unleashing a final decisive wave of unabashed fiscal fascism in an attempt to effectively wipe a ‘residuum’ of economic ‘undesirables’ off the map of the UK. Tens of thousands of premature deaths, and several hundred suicides, among Atos-hounded incapacitated claimants to date clearly isn’t an impressive enough body count for Osborne, Cameron and the Pontius Pilate of the Department of Whip-hands and Punishments, Iain Duncan Smith; and how do they bring the hundreds of thousands impoverished and/or made homeless through the reprehensible bedroom tax and trapped in B&B accommodation, or what is set to be over 800,000 more children living in poverty by 2020, into this aggregate death toll? The DWP claims not to hold any statistics of the suicide rate among claimants hounded by Atos bounty hunters, accrued through four years of remorseless welfare cuts and WCAs rigged against the sick and disabled, but The Recusant suspects there may be a secret numerical document furnished for the Chancellor’s own private pleasure.

But for the full facts and figures relayed in a more impartial journalese, here is the gist of the Guardian piece today by Larry Elliott:

The scale of Britain's growing inequality is revealed today by a report from a leading charity showing that the country's five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population.

Oxfam urged the chancellor George Osborne to use Wednesday's budget to make a fresh assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together.

The development charity, which has opened UK programmes to tackle poverty, said the government should explore the possibility of a wealth tax after revealing how income gains and the benefits of rising asset prices had disproportionately helped those at the top.

Although Labour is seeking to make living standards central to the political debate in the run-up to next year's general election, Osborne is determined not to abandon the deficit-reduction strategy that has been in place since 2010…

The early stages of the UK's most severe post-war recession saw a fall in inequality as the least well-off were shielded by tax credits and benefits. But the trend has been reversed in recent years as a result of falling real wages, the rising cost of food and fuel, and by the exclusion of most poor families from home and share ownership.

In a report, A Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

The most affluent family in Britain, headed by Major General Gerald Grosvenor, owns 77 hectares (190 acres) of prime real estate in Belgravia, London, and has been a beneficiary of the foreign money flooding in to the capital's soaring property market in recent years. Oxfam said Grosvenor and his family had more wealth (£7.9bn) than the poorest 10% of the UK population (£7.8bn).

Oxfam's director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: "Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.

"It's deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline."

The UK study follows an Oxfam report earlier this year which found that the wealth of 85 global billionaires is equivalent to that of half the world's population – or 3.5 billion people. The pope and Barack Obama have made tackling inequality a top priority for 2014, while the International Monetary Fund has warned that the growing divide between the haves and have-nots is leading to slower global growth.

Oxfam said the wealth gap in the UK was becoming more entrenched as a result of the ability of the better off to capture the lion's share of the proceeds of growth. Since the mid-1990s, the incomes of the top 0.1% have grown by £461 a week or £24,000 a year. By contrast, the bottom 90% have seen a real terms increase of only £2.82 a week or £147 a year.

The charity said the trends in income had been made even more adverse by increases in the cost of living over the past decade…

Osborne will this week announce details of the government's new cap on the welfare budget and has indicated that he wants up to £12bn a year cut from the benefits bill in order to limit the impact of future rounds of austerity on Whitehall departments.

Oxfam said that for the first time more working households were in poverty than non-working ones, and predicted that the number of children living below the poverty line could increase by 800,000 by 2020. It said cuts to social security and public services were meshing with falling real incomes and a rising cost of living to create a "deeply damaging situation" in which millions were struggling to get by.

The charity said that starting with this week's budget, the government should balance its books by raising revenues from those that could afford it – "by clamping down on companies and individuals who avoid paying their fair share of tax and starting to explore greater taxation of extreme wealth".

The IMF recently released research showing that the ever-greater concentration of wealth and income hindered growth and said redistribution would not just reduce inequality but would be economically beneficial.

"On average, across countries and over time, the things that governments have typically done to redistribute do not seem to have led to bad growth outcomes, unless they were extreme", the IMF said in a research paper. "And the resulting narrowing of inequality helped support faster and more durable growth, apart from ethical, political or broader social considerations."

Phillips said: "Increasing inequality is a sign of economic failure rather than success. It's far from inevitable – a result of political choices that can be reversed. It's time for our leaders to stand up and be counted on this issue."

There we have it from the IMF: increased inequality ‘is a sign of economic failure rather than success’ and ‘a result of political choices that can be reversed’. This moral abomination of a government has made its ‘choices’ on our behalves without full mandate to do so; they’ve made the bed –very badly– but it’s us who have to lie (or die) in it!

Contrapuntal to the typical pelt-stripping social policies of the Tories there are also rumours they are now trying to bring back fox-hunting "by the back door" -no doubt partly because Cameron and Osborne are fed up with having to try and find other things to do on their country breaks. And once there are no more foxes and badgers left, how long until the these mounted heirs of entitlement start turning their hounds on benefits claimants? Metaphorically at least, they've been doing this for four years on the trot, though more a case of sniffing out the urban foxes; hounding out the "scroungers" to the scourges of brown enveloped sanctions and red-top stigmatisations.

Balkanisation of the Ukraine?

Finally, on the toxic subject of Ukraine, The Recusant is ambivalent, as is perhaps the best attitude at such a time where true political motives either side of the much-touted (by the Western media) ‘new Cold War’ are unclear. Accusations of nascent fascism have been hurled from both sides and there certainly seems to be some stock of truth behind such aspersions, most disturbingly, on both sides of the impasse. The initially ‘democratic (?) revolution’ (or ‘coup’ as the Russians refer to it) in Ukraine, which saw Victor Yanukovych ousted, mostly because he seemed to be denying the nation a choice on whether to join the EU, was apparently accelerated by certain ‘neo-fascist’ Ukrainian factions, and now the post-‘coup’ ‘interim president’ Oleksandr Turchynov has reportedly set up a 600,000-strong National Guard to, as he puts it, "protect the country against all citizens". President Putin, on the other hand, has deployed troops to ‘occupy’ strategic points throughout the Crimea, ostensibly to ‘protect’ Russian inhabitants, while currently reigning over a horrendously corrupt and attitudinally brutal oligarchic regime on his domestic front, which is in many respects totalitarian (one only has to recall recent footage of government-sponsored Cossacks taking whips to the Pussy Riot protestors in broad daylight, in addition to a current ‘acceptable’ public pastime among certain social groups of beating up suspected homosexuals with apparent impunity).

Nevertheless, with so many people in Crimea seemingly petitioning for Russian occupation and protection, even absorption into Russia altogether, and given the enormous scale of Ukraine, in might well turn out to be inescapable –in spite of the howls of outrage from Western leaders at Russian incursions across a national border and into ‘sovereign’ territory– that the Crimea does once more melt into the vast parameters of the Russian ‘Empire’ [Stop Press: Indeed, just before posting this editorial, the Guardian has reported that Crimea has now applied to part of the Russian Federation]. Depicted as the aggressors, the Russians nevertheless seem to see in the Western powers’ apparent patronage of the Ukrainian ‘coup’ a symbolic ‘diplomatic incursion’, or interventionism, perilously close to the Russian borderlands.

Although this all might have made more sense if we were still in the days of the Capitalist-Communist Cold War, and not in a kind of apocalyptic anarcho-capitalist aftermath of past chilled relations, where today, by no means any more satisfactorily, the attitudinal and rhetorical divide between Russia and Europe seems nothing at all to do with fundamentally opposite ideologies (the ideologies are now, sadly, the same) but seemingly more with cultural differences and mutually antagonistic economic monopolies –a game of brinkmanship between two massive land empires vying for extra territories (so more akin to the tensions that led to the First World War rather than any ideological clashes which led to the Cold War). It is particularly chilling to find in the centenary year of the outbreak of World War I, America, Europe and Russia apparently playing another game of brinkmanship over the possibly imminently Balkanised Ukraine, itself being, of course, on the edge of the Balkans themselves. While the cultural and racial mix of the Ukraine –Ukrainians, Slavs, Belarusians, Romanians, Russians, Tatars– is, given the current political uncertainties, potentially problematic.

The Morning Star has taken an interesting and robustly unfashionable (in terms of the saturation-point pro-‘coup’ capitalist media coverage) view of the motives and duplicities lurking behind the current ‘cold’ crisis in the Ukraine:

Revolutions begin when capitalist contradictions become grave enough to unleash an explosion of public anger - but not all mass movements are progressive, warns Tomasz Pierscionek

Small protests, triggered by seemingly trivial or unrelated events, may rapidly gather pace to become mass movements.

The course they follow depends on pressures from within as well as from external factors, such as antagonistic forces and social-economic conditions.

The past few years have seen mass unrest in a number of countries across the globe, sparked by events that might otherwise have been relegated to a historical footnote.

Social upheavals akin to that recently witnessed in Ukraine can emerge from the spark of a single event that sets alight a powder keg of long-mounting contradictions in society, such as increasing inequality and feelings of alienation among the working class.

Once class conflicts reach a critical point they can quickly manifest in the overthrow of traditional power structures.

In nature, earthquakes occur following an unseen build up of pressure caused by two separate sections of the Earth's crust rubbing against each other until energy built up by years of friction is unleashed in a surge of natural and violent force.

So too do social movements. Revolutions begin when contradictions inherent in capitalist society, often unseen at a cursory glance, become grave enough to unleash an explosion of public anger.

But not all mass movements have a progressive character or result in improving conditions for the working class.

The initially peaceful and middle-class led protests in Kiev, which later gave way to fascist-orchestrated violence, did not begin solely because of President Victor Yanukovych's refusal to accept a paltry offer of aid from the EU in exchange for opening up Ukraine's markets for plunder by a cash-strapped and desperate alliance.

Such an act would have almost inevitably led to the collapse of industry in the east of Ukraine alongside a westward leaching of the country's wealth.

Yanukovych was undoubtedly aware of what EU loans have meant for Greece.

Other factors also likely played a role in his reluctance to be strong-armed by the EU.

Ukrainian oligarchs, who control much of the industry in eastern Ukraine, may have pressed Yanukovych not to accept any deal as they would have lost out to competition from the wealthier and more organised capitalist forces of the EU.

Additionally, Russian President Vladimir Putin's offer of €15 billion (£12.4bn) compared to the EU's €1bn (£830 million) and Putin's power to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine could have played a role in Yanukovych's decision.

The challenge to the old order in Ukraine follows two decades of falling living standards.

Ordinary Ukrainian citizens were finding it harder to survive as wealth inequalities grew, leading to an increasingly impoverished majority alongside an ever wealthier elite.

Some in the latter group had been members of the Communist Party of Ukraine pre-1991, having joined to advance their career prospects rather than through confidence in the scientific method of Marxism-Leninism and a genuine desire to improve the lot of the majority. They found the transition from party bureaucracy to bourgeois democracy relatively straightforward.

Yanukovych and his cronies represent a faction of the Ukrainian ruling class that faces towards Moscow in contrast to the pro-EU faction led by darlings of the West Yulia Tymoshenko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko.

Klitschko himself has lived in Germany for many years yet manages to be head of the Udar (Punch) party in Ukraine.

In the final analysis, neither wing of the Ukrainian elites had anything of substance to offer the impoverished and demoralised majority.

The Obama regime in the US, undoubtedly still seething at Putin's role in forcing the US to suspend plans for bombing Syria coupled with Russia's sheltering of US National Security Agency truth-teller Edward Snowden, seized the opportunity to wade in and spread "democracy."

Nato - read the US - has long harboured plans to expand its influence eastwards into former Soviet territory and tried to do so during the Ukrainian "orange" revolution of 2004 and the 2003 Georgian "rose" revolution.

A Nato-backed puppet government installed in Ukraine could lead to the loss of one of Russia's most strategically important naval bases, the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet at Sevastopol in the Crimea.

In the early days of the demonstration, top-level politicians from the US, including former presidential candidate and Republican Party senator John McCain and Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, travelled to Kiev to hand out cookies and give the protests a stamp of approval.

For those with any understanding of history and politics, alarm bells must have started to sound.

If the Kiev protest movement had truly represented the interests of the working people of Ukraine, top neocons would not have been seen fraternising with protesters.

While its politicians were interfering in Ukrainian affairs, the US warned Russia that any intervention in Ukraine would be a "grave mistake."

One can only speculate on the US State Department's reaction if a member of Yanukovych's party, or indeed a Russian politician, had travelled to New York at the height of the Occupy Movement to express public support for the 99 per cent.

Despite sporadic fighting between protesters and police, violence rapidly intensified around the weekend of February 22-23.

A day before the escalation Yanukovych had signed a compromise deal with opposition leaders.

Shortly after the agreement, remarkably well-organised and armed far-right street gangs sprang into action attacking police, occupying government buildings and easily wresting control from the protest leaders.

In the absence of a genuine working-class alternative, the most organised and fanatical forces in Ukrainian society sprang forth to fill the vacuum.

Leaders of far-right paramilitary organisations such as Oleg Tyahnibok, leader of the neonazi Svoboda movement, who has a history of fighting alongside Chechen militants against Russian forces, installed themselves in key government positions.

Several Svoboda leaders were appointed to the cabinet, three of whom were declared to be ministers of education, culture and justice.

Other cabinet members hail from the centre-right Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) and Udar parties.

The Svoboda movement - until 2004 called the Socialist-Nationalist Party of Ukraine - is descended from Stepan Bandera's Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists which fought alongside Hitler's forces after the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and was responsible for mass exterminations of civilians.

At that time, Bandera issued a manifesto which stated: "Moskali [Ukrainian slang for Russians], Poles and Jews are hostile to us and must be exterminated in this struggle."

Many of Svoboda's current members had fathers and grandfathers who fought in Bandera's organisation.

The next several days saw far-right protesters in Ukraine wielding flags of the German-led EU as they marched through the streets suppressing democracy, intimidating supposed rivals and openly making threats to Jews, Russians and other ethnic minorities.

Yet EU and US officials still claimed that the protest movement spearheaded by the far-right was somehow a move towards democracy and for the most part did not condemn what was effectively a coup d'etat.

If even a fraction of the violence seen during the weekend of February 22-23 had occurred on the streets of Britain or the US, there can be little doubt that live rounds would have been used - in the US martial law might even have been declared - and the state-serving media would have likened the protesters to the spawn of Satan.

In the US, even a peaceful movement such as Occupy Wall Street was met with massive brutality.

An example of this, caught on camera and broadcast around the world, was the sight of NYPD officers assaulting and spraying seated and handcuffed protesters in the face with pepper spray.

In Britain, a document produced by the City of London police listed the Occupy Movement alongside violent organisations, such as Farc in Columbia and al-Qaida in Pakistan.

Recently leaders of the Jewish community in Ukraine issued a warning to their 200,000-strong community advising them to leave the area in the wake of increasing threats from far-right groups.

Rabbi Moshe Reuven Azman of Kiev stated: "I told my congregation to leave the city centre or the city altogether and, if possible, the country too."

There were also calls from the far-right to ban Russian as a second language in Ukraine alongside other threats to other minority groups.

At the beginning of the month the Russian Parliament voted to approve a request by President Putin to use military forces to protect ethnic Russians living in the east of Ukraine should they come under attack from fascist paramilitary forces making good their threats.

Earlier, the lower house of Russia's Parliament had requested that Putin "take measures to stabilise the situation in Crimea and use all available means to protect the people of Crimea from tyranny and violence."

Without hesitation British and US media went into overdrive, spouting myths of Putin's desire for a new cold war and pretending that Russia had invaded Ukraine.

Such an example of lying by omissions ignore the fact that Ukraine and Russia have longstanding mutual agreements which permit Russia access to Ukrainian airspace and allow for Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops in its bases in the Crimea.

Although Russia has sent troops to Crimea in recent days, at the time of writing it is estimated that there are only half the permitted numbers of Russian soldiers in Crimea.

In the mainstream media little mention was made of the role the US and EU played in instigating the crisis and no mention was made of the very real invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya undertaken by Western forces.

Additionally, US and European governments should be asked how they would act if an actual hostile force was issuing threats to their expat communities, bearing in mind the destruction wrought on a non-threatening country such as Iraq.

Many genuine criticisms of Putin could be made but warmongering is not one of them, especially since the Soviet Union's Warsaw Pact was disbanded following the end of the cold war while the West's "defensive alliance" of Nato continues to behave aggressively.

With Crimean citizens forming their own self-defence committees to protect against any aggression from paramilitary forces in Kiev, one has to ask whether Ukraine could go the way of Yugoslavia and descend into internecine conflict. Ukraine is also on the verge of a economic collapse - that word default here again - and the IMF is only too ready to ratchet up the poverty level with offers of "aid" in exchange for various "concessions," as in Greece.

One positive piece of news is that sections of the Ukrainian armed forces have refused to follows orders given by the unelected cabal in Kiev, leaving open the possibility of the isolation of the Kiev-based politicians and paramilitaries (if they don't receive a shot in the arm from the West, that is).

As an increasingly desperate imperialism - referred to by Lenin as the highest stage of capitalism - finds itself devoured by an economic crisis that is inherent in its structure, it is likely we may see further aggression against non-Nato counties such as Russia and China conducted under the usual pretexts of democracy and counter-aggression.

It is worth bearing this in mind on the eve of the 100th anniversary of World War I which very few expected to break out until it actually did.

Then, as now, one empire had run out of space to expand and felt threatened by another that was up and coming.

It is also possible that proxy wars, akin to that in Syria, may be fought on behalf of larger powers with the people living in those nations suffering greatly.

It is up to the working classes of all nations to demand an end to this system and refuse to be taken in by nationalist or scaremongering rhetoric. The threat is at home and not abroad.

Dr Tomasz Pierscionek is editor of the London Progressive Journal

The more disturbing development of a Ukrainian National Guard is reported on here at the Morning Star:,000-strong-national-guard#.UyX3Pqh_vfs

In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising that, for instance, our own Tory-led Government in the UK is so supportive of the Ukrainian ‘coup’, if it has indeed now played into the hands of the far right Svoboda movement: since all this means is that one democratically illegitimate ruling party of ‘fiscal fascists’ in the UK is supporting the rise of another opportunistic bunch of ‘out of the closet’ fascists in the Ukraine. The only irony being that Putin’s brutish regime is itself fascistic, and its rhetorical persecutions of the Russian gay populace hardly that different to the four year rhetorical persecution of the unemployed, poor, sick, disabled and homeless in the UK.

The differences being, so far, that Putin turns a blind eye while certain groups beat up homosexuals in public; while Cameron, Osborne, Iain Duncan Smith and the Tory-supporting red-tops rhetorically stigmatise the unemployed and encourage the attitudinal persecution of benefit claimants as parasitic “scroungers”. Although not out-and-out violence, one could quite reasonably argue that this is a programme of vicarious violence (or ‘vicarious fascism’), since it has driven tens of thousands of sick and disabled claimants to premature deaths, and hundreds on hundreds to taking their own lives.

The behavioural ramifications in the UK and Russia may be markedly different, in that in Russia, behaviours are rapidly growing brutal and outwardly violent –but while Putin is ‘turning a blind eye’ to such behaviours, our government, though no doubt likely to fall short of publicly countenancing any open violence against benefit claimants, is however continually stirring up hatred and resentment towards them through spiky political rhetoric and propaganda, which in turn can and has led to bouts of isolated aggression, if not violence, particularly against the visibly disabled.

In 2011, only a year into the new intensified benefits-bashing regime of the Tories and tabloids, hate crimes against the disabled rose 75%! That shocking upsurge in aggression towards the most physically vulnerable people in our society prompted Katharine Quarmby to write and publish the polemic Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People (and fans of the 1971 dystopian series depicting a future fascist state in Britain, The Guardians –formerly reviewed on this site– will no doubt note the uncanny echo of the name of that series’ fragmented pro-democracy dissent group).

So while the behavioural results are different in degrees of violent severity, the attitudinal ones are almost indistinguishable, and the parts each government is playing in promulgating them is, arguably, more actively pragmatic on our domestic front than it is on the Russian one. So perhaps British politicians should be facing up to the growingly fascistic attitudes and behaviours they themselves are helping to propagate against our most vulnerable citizens on the domestic front, before casting superior judgements elsewhere in the world...?

In solidarity

18 March 2014