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: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/apr/08/citizens-income-instead-of-benefits . 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’).
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
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