Friday, 3 January 2014

A Parcel of Rogues

Standard Answer Number 47 To The Question of Scottish Independence

I realise that, in setting down these thoughts, I will possibly offend or discomfit at least three of my friends north of the border, but I hope if they re-read this they will realise that actually every word has been carefully and dispassionately considered to have what I think are their best interests at heart.

The trick, it seems to me, is “how do we ensure the continued `independence’ and wellbeing and growth of the Scottish people and Scotland while also continuing to ensure the continued wellbeing and growth of the UK as a whole?” I believe the current route being considered is incompatible with these aims, and the one is being sacrificed to the other, on a pretext which, when you examine it, is pretty spurious.

Although the issue has been obfuscated by all sorts of party politics and vested interests, I do believe that it is possible to achieve that aim, although what I am suggesting will be viewed initially as anathema by some people whom I currently count as my friends.

I hope my own loyalty to Scotland is not in any doubt. I have been going to Scotland on holiday since 1971, over 40 years ago. All my adult life, in fact. My ancestors, the Fenwicks, were on the side of the Jacobites. “Sir John Fenwick’s the flo’or amang them” is piped by smallpipers both sides of the border, Ettrick shepherds in shepherds’ check, in memory of Sorrell, the sequestered horse that resulted in William of Orange’s death when it stumbled on a molehill, leading to much quaffing of Drambuie and toasting of “The Wee Gentleman in Black Velvet”.

When it comes to Scottish culture, I can quote Rabbie with the best of them, I can recite the Selkirk Grace on Burns Night (and I cook a mean vegan haggis) and I even know my Hugh MacDiarmid. So, as an “eemis stane in a yowdendrift”, I hope you will respect my bona fides.

If I could, I would wind back the clock and apologise for Culloden and the Highland Clearances. Not least because it would take the wind out of the sails of Alex Salmond. And that could never be a bad thing. But I can’t. Even though my ancestors were probably on the losing side, I can’t. We have to start from where we are.

So; at the last election, Alex Salmond won a mandate from Scotland for a referendum on independence. Which probably was rather a “brown trouser” moment for him, since up to that moment his political stance had been posited on the sort of vague idea of “Scotland shall be free … er … one day” This was the perfect status quo for Alex Salmond, because it was the optimum mix that allowed him to surf a wave of vague, unfocused anti-English casual racism that is extremely prevalent in some parts of Scotland, while not actually having to do anything about it. It is what I sometimes refer to as the Braveheart tendency, which is normally expressed these days by supporting whoever England happens to be playing at either football or rugby. Anyone but England. That should be the SNP’s motto.

Having had his bluff called at the election by the very people he had been courting for years, Salmond now realised he had to actually hold the referendum he’d been hoping to avoid. So his next step was to try and transmute the idea of Scottish “independence” into something more palatable to his political ends – something which he called “devolution max”. Under this option, Scotland would continue to derive all the benefits it currently enjoys from being a member of the United Kingdom, but would have even more money from central funds and even more say over where it is spent. Nice work if you can get it. Amazingly enough, David Cameron managed to talk him out of this, and the result is that we are now back to the idea of a straight in/out question.

If I had been asked to put money on it, in that particular contest, I’d have bet on Salmond. He’s the sort of person who’d go into a revolving door behind you and yet somehow emerges from it in front of you, and clutching your wallet. Anyway, somehow Cameron managed to argue him back to a straight referendum – possibly he has some incriminating negatives or something, who knows?

So, a devolution vote there must be. I have to say at this juncture, that if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have started from here. I think the road to devolution on which we were set by Tony Blair in the run up to the 1997 election has been a disaster for the United Kingdom, and particularly for England. It’s set up all sorts of anomalies and precedents, it’s created divisiveness and ill-feeling, and it’s landed us with, amongst other things, the West Lothian question.

One idea which is often promulgated as a solution to this is that we should have an English Parliament, too. Personally, I resent the additional cost, apart from anything else, of these additional parliaments, not to mention the constitutional anomalies I referred to earlier. I have always thought, and I still maintain, that the only effective and sensible government of the British Isles is that they are governed as the British Isles. In other words, that the political and government boundaries of the islands should be the same. I also feel that Ireland is another area where the boundaries of the island should be the same as the boundaries of the government, and I believe that one day they will, but I don’t want to get sidetracked into a separate discussion of the Irish question right now.

Just sticking with the constitutional issues for the time being, the basis of the case for Scottish independence is usually cited as being the right of indigenous peoples to self-determination, as set out by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. I have to say I think this is stretching things a bit. There has been so much interchange over the centuries, and so much emigration (often for regrettable reasons, but there again we can’t wind the clock back, however much we may want to) that I am not sure any more what the indigenous Scottish race even is. There are probably more indigenous Scots living in Canada, and they don’t have a vote. And neither do I, despite my occasional Scottish genes. The vote which is based on the supposed “right” of the indigenous Scottish people, will in fact be taken by a “snapshot” of the inhabitants of that country, some of whom will be Italian, some Chinese, some Polish. It is a complete anachronism. The actual premise under which the vote is being held is at an irrevocable variance with the people who are actually currently entitled to vote.

Plus, I am afraid to say, a vote which affects the future of the whole of the UK should, really, if there is anything like fairness and justice, be voted upon by the whole of the UK. Surely people in England should have some say in Scottish “independence”, even if you allow that it won’t have such a direct effect on the Welsh and Northern Irish. Proponents of a yes vote in the referendum argue against this on the grounds that people in England would vote to keep the Scots “enslaved” under the “English Yoke”. I think they might be surprised. I do, however, think that the United Kingdom, in an uncertain world, is “better together” even though by using that slogan I risk potentially allying myself with some people I deeply loathe and despise (David Cameron, to name but one).

The argument that we should all have a say in the future of the UK because we all live here, which seems perfectly logical and sensible to me, has - I am afraid - already been conceded without ever really being debated, and now the focus has switched to the mechanics of what Scotland would look like if it did decide to vote in favour of “going it alone”, and in the White Paper published by Alex Salmond, we see a further attempt to smuggle the idea of Devo Max back in through the back door.

Scotland will basically cherry-pick, according to this document – they will keep the pound, they will piggy back on the UK’s network of international embassies and consulates, they will retain the Royal residences, they want to stay in Europe without having to re-apply, they’ll stay in NATO, but they don’t want the nuclear subs on the Clyde. In other words, we’re back to devolution max. I wonder how many Scots would vote for independence if it meant developing a new currency from scratch, recruiting their own army, developing their own banking system and their own diplomatic service, and re-applying to join the EU, to name but a few. I can understand this seems appealing to some Scots, especially Salmond’s Braveheart tendency, in that it represents the best of all possible worlds, but I still fail to see how, when you look at it in the cold light of day it could be defined as “independence” in any meaningful sense of the word.

So, we’ve got an election to establish the rights of the indigenous Scots to independence, which most of the indigenous Scots can’t vote in; we’ve got a proposal to break up the United Kingdom, in which only one part of the Kingdom actually has a vote, and we’ve got a definition of independence which looks very much like the existing “English Yoke” but without the nuclear subs (which will probably either be housed on the Mersey or used against the inhabitants of Merseyside, depending how David Cameron feels that day) Still being in NATO will still make you a target though. And of course the currency and diplomatic stuff assumes that England lets you do it, though I agree, with the Tories in power, if you offer them enough money, they’ll let you do anything.

I am pretty sure that Scotland, high on a tide of Proclaimers and Braveheart sentiment, will vote “yes” in August 2014. Somebody’s probably already done the calculation for all the oil versus the Scots share of the deficit and all the other incidentals that need to be taken in along the way. And when they wake up, the morning after, and drink a gallon or two of coffee, I hope that the people who support anyone but England, and who think that voting “yes” in the referendum is in some way paying back “the English” for Culloden and the Clearances, can see a difference, when the party’s over and the poppers are swept up. Because the only difference I can see is that the future of the United Kingdom will be more perilous and more uncertain than it was, and that, north of the border, nothing much will have changed. The poor will still be the bottom of the heap. Alex Salmond will retire to “Dunleadin, Isle of Arran”, and the MSPs will carry on pretty much the same as before, with pretty much the same powers.

So there you are, I’ve probably lost three good friends by writing this, though if they are as good as I hope, they will have done me the honour of at least hearing me out, and I hope they will realise that I am writing this because I am totally fed up of the inaccurate shit coming from both sides in the “debate” so far. And because, believe it or not, I have what I see as the best interests of Scotland at heart as well. It’s just that me, Mel Gibson, Alex Salmond, Alastair Darling, Nicola Spurgeon, David Cameron, old uncle William Wallace and all, all disagree about exactly what that is. I think it’s Scottish people deciding Scottish issues up to the point where these conflict with the welfare of the UK as a whole, but the sort of people who sing “Flower of Scotland” at Murrayfield will already be hitching their kilts abune their knee, and jerking it in my direction for daring to say so.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

An Urgent Appeal By The Disasters Emergency Committee


This week's good cause: Simon is 46, and like 649 other people in the UK, is totally unable to manage on his meagre salary of £65,000pa as an MP.

"Yah, it's totally dreadful", he says. "Some months, we can't afford to have the moat professionally cleaned at all, and I have to round up some jobseekers in my constituency and threaten to cut off their benefits, to make them do it for free instead. I'm down to my last three houses, and only the other day I scuffed my last pair of good brogues, tripping over a homeless person in Oxford Street. If daddy hadn't found me this part-time job in his stockbroker firm, I don't know how I'd make ends meet!"

"People think being an MP is a cushy number, but those expenses forms take hours to fill in, so there's actually very little time left for answering whining letters from pensioners living off cat food on toast who can't afford to put the heating on, especially as I have a table reserved for lunch. I haven't been to Granita for several days now."

Please give generously. £10 will buy Simon a grass-fed organic beefburger from Pret a Manger with all the trimmings, allowing him to tweet a picture of himself eating it, which will do wonders for his self esteem, as he thinks of his constituents foraging in the skips behind Tesco. £650 will buy him an ornamental duck house for the lake at his family seat, so that he will be able to go to bed at night safe in the knowledge that his ducks have a roof over their heads, even if those dreary people kipping down under the arches don't.

Unless we act quickly, there is a very real danger that Simon, and those like him, may be forced to live in the real world, with the rest of us. It is vital that we prevent this happening, and give up our cash to enable them to maintain their sheltered, fantasy existence.

Please send whatever you can afford today, no matter how large, in a plain brown envelope or jiffy bag marked "Bung Bonanza Appeal" to:-

Sir Simon Tiglet-Frisbee, OM, KPMG,
The Distressed MPs' Benevolent Society,
The Old Rectum,
Wystan Auden,

And Simon, and the other poor unfortunates like him, will thank you from the heart of their bottoms.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Victory Road

Victory Road. It sounds very 1945. Very Beveridge, very brave new world. Redolent, perhaps, of VE Day street parties, NHS spectacles, and school milk for the kiddies. Looking at the houses on Victory Road, Derby, the impression is that they are solid, square, utilitarian. A number of them have been tarted up and sport satellite dishes. The ubiquitous wheely-bins, black and green, line up along the edges of the gardens. It isn’t the fictional Chatsworth Estate, though. There’s a lack of burnt-out cars, steel-shuttered shops, pubs with barbed wire on the roof, drug-dealers and broken windows.

You could be forgiven for thinking it was the set of Shameless, though, if you didn’t bother to look it up online (surprisingly easy in these days of Google Street View) - if you relied only on the impression given by the coverage of the Philpott case by the likes of the Daily Mail. Today, as I type this, the Daily Mail has published a front page article about the deaths of the Philpott children, in a fire started by their father in an attempt to win a custody battle and implicate his estranged ex, under the headline “Vile Product of Welfare UK”. An article which contains the incredible assertion:

“Michael Philpott is a perfect parable for our age: his story shows the pervasiveness of evil born of welfare dependency. The trial spoke volumes about the sheer nastiness of the individuals involved. But it also lifted the lid on the bleak and often grotesque world of the welfare benefit scroungers – of whom there are not dozens, not hundreds, but tens of thousands in our country.” 

There is so much wrong with that paragraph, with its fallacious logic and gross oversimplification, and use of anecdotal, unprovable statistics as if they were guaranteed, copper-bottomed facts, that, once you have come back from having your jaw wired back into place and put the kettle on, it’s tempting to just look at it again, laugh in sheer unbelief, shrug, and say “Oh well, it’s just the Daily Mail, isn’t it?” Except it isn’t. It’s everywhere. As a person who is (and always has been) interested in politics, and who happens to be in receipt of some state benefits (of which more later) I’ve noticed it more and more.

Although (thank God) it doesn’t affect me personally, I’ve spent some of what is laughably described as my spare time this week arguing about the Bedroom Tax on social housing and about Iain Duncan Smith (the Quiet Man, with a lot to be quiet about) and his absurd claim that he could live on £53.00 a week any time he chose, and his subsequent arrogant dismissal of the 400,000 people who signed an online petition (over two days) asking him to do just that.

Some of the people who post on internet message boards constantly stagger me with their inept bigotry. On the Bedroom Tax: “Why should all recipients of social housing/housing benefit largesse be allowed a dining room as well as a living room? Perhaps they should get a 'daily' on the council to keep it clean and tidy.” Again, notice the language – social housing, and housing benefit, are “largesse” apparently. And how dare these poor people aspire to having a separate dining room? This is straight out of The Road To Wigan Pier. Don’t give them a dining room, they’ll only keep coal in it! A. L. Kennedy has said today on Twitter that " Blaming the welfare state for the Philpott killings is like blaming the Rambling Association for the Moors Murderers." She might as well have added that it’s also like blaming the NHS for Harold Shipman, except of course that, since the Tories hate the NHS as much as they hate the Welfare state, they, and the Daily Mail, would probably agree with the latter assertion.

This phenomenon of looking down on the most disadvantaged and least self-motivated sections of society isn’t new. It was prevalent in Victorian times, into the twentieth century, maybe died out a bit in the 1950s and the 1960s when the Welfare State started to have some effect, then resurfaced again, like the Kraaken waking from the deep, under Margaret Thatcher, a woman who more or less invented “divide and rule” in British politics. We saw it in the case of Karen Matthews. She was, again, a product of an area with no jobs and little opportunity. An area of poverty and deprivation. Margaret Thatcher caused these areas, or at least her policies did, and while it would be absurd to claim that this makes her responsible directly for the actions of Karen Matthews, you can see how, in an area like Dewsbury Moor (my wife teaches there, so I know of what I speak) Thatcher’s slash-and-burn approach to UK industry meant that the only option to successive generations of people who have very little and don’t know how to get out of the hole they are in, would seem to be to kidnap your own child for the compensation.

What we see now, though, is Karen Matthews writ large. Supersized, with extra fries. Since the advent of the “Coalition” Junta in 2010, with its questionable mandate and its back-of-the-envelope list of policies no-one voted for, almost from day one, the type of opprobrium showered on Karen Matthews has been amplified and blasted out from the likes of the DWP, aided and abetted by their friends in the media, and systematically targeted at the disabled, the ill, those on benefits, and immigrants. While it’s tempting to think that some of the people who post stupid, ill-informed and badly worded claptrap about people on benefits on social media sites are actually Tory Central Office by any other name (and undoubtedly some of them are) unfortunately, most of them aren’t. And what this means is, that the Junta’s propaganda is working. It’s an insidiously simple (if inaccurate) nasty little cocktail of twisted fiction, and it goes like this:

There is no money [subtext, Labour spent it all]. In order to “pay down” the deficit, we have to make cuts. There are lots of “scroungers” on benefits whose benefits could be cut to help “pay down” the deficit and ease the burden on “hard working families”. To make matters worse, there are lots of immigrants coming over here and taking all our resources [subtext, Labour relaxed the controls and let them all in]. This, again, is nothing new – historically speaking, that is. It was par for the course in 1930s Germany, for instance. Pick a group in society, scapegoat and demonise them, and appeal to the supposed patriotism of the remainder. Divide and rule. The disabled, the ill, the poor, and immigrants (specifically Muslims) are the new Jews.

So, let’s have a look at these assertions in more detail. The UK Prime Minister isn’t obliged to make a yearly “State of the Union” address, to tell us all how we’re doing. So I’ll do it for him. Here we are, with my own version. Because you have to peel it apart carefully, and it is enough to make you cry, until you start to get angry about it, my version is the “State of the Onion”.


It’s all going terrifically well, isn’t it? George Osborne continues to insist that only plan A will do, and stands there like the boy on the burning deck, except that in his case, the water’s lapping round his ankles, there’s a large hole in the hull, a torpedo in the engine room, and he put it there. His original forecasts have been revised and downgraded to the extent that really, I can’t understand why anyone should believe a single word he says, from now on. Business confidence and growth are more or less non-existent, and the banks are sitting on a huge amount of our money and refusing to lend us it back and charge us interest on it! As the recent Joint Churches report Truth and Lies About Poverty pointed out, the amount of money given to the banks would have paid the current JSA (Jobseekers’ Allowance) bill for the next 150 years. It is large enough to pay the amount currently wrongfully claimed by benefit fraudsters for the next 1000 years. As far as infrastructure is concerned, even the boneheads who advise Osborne are finally coming round to thinking that it's only by the government investing in large-scale infrastructure projects that we can kick start the economy again, especially the construction sector, and get the tax take rising, which is the only way to close the deficit. Don't take my word for it, though, listen to Paul Krugman, professor of economics at Princeton University, USA.

He believes that we can find the solution to our problems by looking at the ideas of John Maynard Keynes during the depression of the 1930s. Then, as economic output fell, governments in the UK and the USA believed that their responsibility was to balance their budgets by cutting spending. Keynes argued that this intensified the downturn. If governments cut back even as households and companies did the same, then demand across the economy would fall. This would push up unemployment, hitting family incomes and cutting sales for businesses. So they would cut back even more. And so, in Keynes' view, a vicious cycle could take hold. Which is exactly what we're seeing now, and what I also said would happen when the first inklings of the scale of the coalition's scorched earth economic policy became clear. Nobody's offered me a professorship, though, yet. Keynes believed only the government could break out of this, by borrowing more and using the money to stimulate the economy. Professor Krugman says governments today are repeating the mistakes of the 1930s, going for tough austerity just when the private sector is cutting back as well. The result: stagnation for the UK, catastrophe for the likes of Greece and Cyprus.

The simple truth is this. You can’t pay down the deficit like you can a credit card. The economy is not a household budget, and if you owe someone a thousand apples, you will never pay them back by cutting down the entire bloody orchard. The Junta likes to boast that it has created “a million private sector jobs”. But if you look at the actual criteria for what constitutes a “job”, for what constitutes being “in work”, a different story starts to unfold. On every front, as well, the Junta has been attacking the rights of workers in work, seeking to limit the notice periods for statutory redundancies and make it easier for people to be sacked, bullying job claimants into taking any old job that comes along, including things like working as “interns” for nothing, or three hours a night in a distribution centre for minimum wage, just so they can be massaged off the jobless figures,

Nevertheless, the people who are still in work, despite Osborne’s attempts to finish off the economy once and for all, are lauded by the Junta – they are the “hard working families” who are the strivers, not the “skivers”. They are the ones who make up “alarm clock Britain”, who are supposed to feel indignant if their neighbours’ curtains are closed first thing in the morning. Because the Tory answer to the “benefits trap” of it being more cost effective to stay on benefits than to take any crappy low-paid job that comes along, is not to increase wages to the point where it is actually worth taking a job, so that at least you get the benefit (no pun intended) of a reasonable standard of living, but instead to drive down benefits to the point where a low-paid dead-end job, any job, is the lesser of two evils, and then demonising and denigrating the disabled and the unemployed, many of whom have become unemployed precisely owing to George Osborne’s near-criminal mismanagement of the UK economy. . Which brings me to benefits.


The Junta’s attack on the poor, the ill and the disabled rests on the fallacy that there are two different and discrete sets of people “benefit scroungers” and “hard working families”, when in fact, in real life, it’s much more complicated than that. It rests on the fallacy that everyone on benefits is on the fiddle, when in fact the fraud rates are – statistically – very low, and it rests on the fallacy that there is a shortage of resources, we “can’t afford it” and “foreigners” get a disproportionate share of the cake. And finally, it rests on the biggest fallacy of all; that poor people should pay, and should continue to pay, for the mistakes of the rich. George Osborne talks about “shrill” criticism of the benefits changes from vested interests who are not themselves on benefits but who have a kneejerk objection to any kind of change. So let me nail my colours to the mast, here. I worked continually from 1976, when I graduated from University, paying tax and NI for 34 years till I fell ill in 2010. At the time I went into hospital, I was a director of two companies, one of which I owned. When I came out, six months later, one of the directorships had been made redundant and I was looking at a company which was a basket case because of my six months in hospital.

For the last two years I have been fighting to rebuild my company from my wheelchair, claiming DLA, and we’ve been living off that and what my wife earns teaching. My diagnosis is Facioscapularhumeral Muscular Dystrophy, which is easy for you to say; it’s incurable, and progressive. No doubt when DLA is replaced by PIP I will have to prove to the likes of ATOS that I really am still dying: not for nothing is the ATOS assessment centre in Glasgow known locally as “Lourdes” because people go in there terminally ill, and come out “fit for work”. My only ambition left in life now is to build up my publishing business again, and clear its lingering debts (and they are legion) so that when I die, my wife is not left with a huge financial headache to sort out. So, George Osborne, unlike you, I do know what it is like to live on benefits. I am not a shrill, kneejerk naysayer. Ironically, given the slow burning nature of the disease, I could actually have claimed DLA even when I was working. But I didn’t. Because we didn’t do benefits. If there were five jobs for every applicant, instead of the other way round, then George Osborne might have a point. He would still be a smarmy little squit whose face I would never tire of punching, but he might have a point.

But it IS five applicants to every job, and it's going to get worse. WHERE ARE THE JOBS????? I often hear the phrase, when benefits are being discussed: “Those who choose not to work” It’s an interesting concept. We're back to sturdy beggars and the undeserving poor here again. I contend that, given the chance and the opportunity, anyone and everyone wants to work, but that generations of people have been beaten down by lack of motivation, lack of opportunity, and lack of any idea how to go about it. Usually in areas of former heavy industry, where there is very little "choice" involved because there ARE NO JOBS.

I take issue with the word "choosing". But I do agree that those unfortunate enough not to be able to find work should be financially supported by a state benefit system, yes: I believe it's what sets us apart as a civilised society. Or one of the things anyway. Housing Benefit has been fuelled by the housing boom which was created by unsustainable offers of credit from irresponsible banks to people who didn't know what they were getting into, encouraged by lax regulation all around and - let us not forget - not one Tory voice was ever raised to object to this because their pals in the City were all busy filling their boots, thank you very much. I am a little bit unclear about what people are supposed to do though, if there's no point in them applying for jobs and they "choose" not to work, and then they don't get any benefits, I guess it comes down to .... oooh, a couple of days on their grouse moor for those with private incomes, and for the rest of us ... er ... begging, I guess. Every so often, there is a concatenation (good word, that) of stories in the media that seems (on reflection) to have been almost planned to complement, even supplement each other.

This has happened frequently over the issue of benefits. First there was a programme on ITV, which usually concentrates its limited resources on crap like “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!” and films about people who had their face nibbled off by a chimp, about bailiffs, and the way they are being used as never before by councils up and down our green and pleasant land to recover various benefits debts, and the shenaningins they get up to in bending – or mostly, to be fair – just breaking, the rules. Then there was the Panorama documentary, Britain on the Fiddle, about benefit cheats, and this was followed by the news story of the sad fate of Mark and Helen Mullins – of whom more later – and there was some interview or other where the BBC’s The One Show, put Edwina Currie up against some woman who was on benefits and living off food parcels. I watched the Panorama programme with mounting anger and a sinking heart.

Mounting anger, because the BBC was going after easy targets - the benefits system is huge, and government policy has resulted in many more people on benefits, and in any system like that there are going to be people who succumb to the temptation to cheat and yes, they should be caught and punished, with an appropriate and just punishment, if found guilty by due process (which does not include trial by reality TV, where as we know, it is all in the edit). As a programme, it sat well alongside, the one on bailiffs shown on ITV, which also demonstrated the extreme lengths councils and other bodies, drunk on the heady wine of RIPA, will go to, to pursue relatively minor sums.

Mounting anger, because nobody is making programmes about the amount of benefit to which people are due, which goes unclaimed because of official errors, or the sheer complexity of the system; for instance, I am apparently eligible for council tax benefit and mortgage tax relief, neither of which we claim for, because the forms for each of them are about 28 pages long, full of questions like "are you now or were you ever a prisoner of the Japanese" and all demand you send in original documents to back up your case, documents which of course can't be in more than one place at any one time. I know there have to be safeguards in the system to prevent fraud, but I bet you no council is expending anything like as much effort in making sure people claim everything they are entitled to, as they are putting into pursuing the chancers and crims who try and exploit the system. Mounting anger, because nobody is making equally prodnose journalism about MPs who are still fiddling, and those who fiddled and got away unpunished, the injustice of bank bonuses, and multi-national corporations with their non-domiciled non-taxpaying owners who are probably costing our economy a damn sight more in lost revenue than some bogus Algerian identity thief in a council flat in Croydon.

And a sinking heart, because I knew that every frothy-mouthed fanatic in the known universe would emerge blinking from under their stone to post on the internet with the usual dreary monotone about how all people on benefits have a cushy life and they are all fiddling the system, send them all back home, plasma TVs council houses, here since the days of William the Conqueror. And lo, so it came to pass. Selah. As I’ve said before: “We’re all in this together” has been ditched, apparently, in favour of the resurrection of the Victorian idea of the deserving and undeserving poor. In Cameron’s Tory Bullingdon Club world, the idea of a universal entitlement to benefits under a welfare state is anathema. You should earn your benefits, dear boy, preferably by picking oakum in the Workhouse.

He’s preaching the same baseless, anecdotal crap that you can hear from any pub bore at closing time in any working class boozer – and around quite a few middle class dinner tables as well. Or you can pay good money and read it in regurgitated form in The Daily Mail. “A man in the pub told me once that he had a bloke in the back of his taxi who said there are thousands of them claiming benefits that they aren’t entitled to, they’re all immigrants, over here taking our jobs, etc. etc.” The sad story of Mark and Helen Mullins came shortly after the Panorama programme was aired. Of course, Mark and Helen Mullins didn’t have a Panorama film crew following them round documenting their struggle to survive on benefits, the way they had to walk six miles for food handouts from a charity, and the way it seems in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, that they may have decided the struggle was just no longer worth it, as they spiralled down, and down, and that they were better off dying.

I wrote, at the time, when I was talking about homelessness, in my blog, that the only way to get the government and the media’s attention on the problem was to indulge in shroud-waving, if and when someone homeless eventually died as a result of this Government’s policy, and sadly, it seems that the same priorities apply with regard to benefits reform, and even then, the Government will probably refuse to listen. Just so there is no doubt at all over the issue, I consider these are the people who are responsible for the deaths of Mark and Helen Mullins. David Cameron, George Osborne, Iain Duncan-Smith, and Chris Grayling. I would love to see them arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder. People have said to me, about the Mullins case, that “they would have been better off being illegal immigrants.”

Another common fallacy, of course, given the raft of benefits that Asylum seekers may not claim, but let's not divert into immigration, I am quite happy to debate it, and have done many times, but what struck me about the Mullins story was that if these two had been cheating the system then there would have been 50 posts on every right-wing message board by now, denouncing them as the scum of the earth, telling them to learn to wind an alarm clock, get on their bikes and look for an (imaginary job fairy) job. I have to say, that in my own steep learning curve into the benefits system, the Mullins’ case seems, sadly, very familiar. Several different entities to deal with, confusing forms, I gather one of them had learning difficulties, and God alone knows the forms are confusing enough without that, help (of a sort) available from stretched organisations and charities, and no doubt like everyone else on benefits they were fed up with being demonised by David Cameron and George Osborne. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Mullins case wasn’t just the tip of an iceberg we will hear more of as the economy unravels still further.

This type of debate, seasoned politician against actual welfare claimant has been a feature of several news programmes in the press and media’s collusion with the Junta. The broadcasters give the politician a platform to spout, by pitting them against what is often an easy target, in the form of some bloke or woman who seems to have had one or two material possessions conspicuously on display in the background. Beveridge's vision in setting up the welfare state was the abolition of what he called his five great evils: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Have these been abolished in the 21st century? Good question. I'd contend that they still exist, but maybe in different forms to those which were around in 1944, when Beveridge originally put the report that was the foundation of the Welfare State together.

Disease is probably the easiest one to look at. The NHS, despite criticism (including criticism from those with a political axe to grind) does achieve wonders, and of course, medicine generally has advanced enormously in things like transplants, treatments for cancer etc. But there are still people getting ill and the major killers remain the same. The differences in life expectancy in regions of the UK still attest to links between lifestyle and disease.

Want is a very relative term. People's expectations have changed a lot in the last 60 years. My granny would have thought a TV, a washing machine, a hoover and an inside loo were the height of luxury, whereas these days they're seen as a basic right! Some kids think they're deprived if they don't have an X-box and a TV and laptop in their room. I'd argue that the sort of want Beveridge was talking about, grinding poverty of trying to survive week after week on minimal resources and no savings, prey to any financial disaster that came along, has been lessened, but at the same time, the goalposts have moved. And that this Government is busy trying to wind time back to the days when grinding poverty was the norm.

 Ignorance - I think in some ways education has gone backwards in recent years, because of the concentration on teaching things from a narrow national curriculum rather than teaching people to think for themselves. This is my own personal view. Teachers and educators are under so much pressure to fill in useless paperwork and meet "targets" set by politicians who do not understand either the theory or practice of education and who continually meddle with the system for political reasons instead of letting good teachers get on with teaching. This, and the inequality of resources in some schools, means that people leave school unable to read, write or spell properly, and in history for instance, they know all about the holocaust but nothing at all about the Battle of Hastings. The poor outcomes of education mean, of course, that they find it harder to get a job, as the youth unemployment figures show.

 “It is pitiful to think that thousands of these men had better homes in the trenches of Flanders than in the sunless alleys of our Motherland. Do thousands of children come into the world, to gasp for life in a slum; to go to school hungry for a year or two; to pick up a little food, a little slang, and a little arithmetic; to grovel in the earth for forty years or to stand in steaming factories; to wear their bodies out like cattle on the land; to live in little rows of dirty houses, in little blocks of stuffy rooms, and then to die?” 

These words, written by Arthur Mee, himself a passionate believer in self education writing in “Who Giveth us the Victory” [George Allen and Unwin, 1918, page 139] are, sadly, for many people, still true, 93 years later, after the War to end all Wars. Although the social world which he described has changed beyond all recognition, in some cases real poverty still exists and in other cases it has been supplanted by poverty of expectation, caused by the failure of educators to provide the circumstances where inspirational teachers can stimulate people to their full potential, leading them to assume that “education is not for the likes of us” and to leave formal education having to be picked up by the tertiary education sector, turned around, and put back on track.

Squalor - again a difficult one to assess. Some people have a higher standard of living, some people still live in sub standard or overcrowded conditions or bad environments. Again, this is another area, like want, where the goalposts have moved since Beveridge's day. He was talking about getting rid of slums and giving everybody hot water, heating and bathrooms and stuff like that. These days these things are generally taken as norms but it still doesn't mean there aren't still people living in bad environments, sink estates, poor housing, homelessness.

 Idleness, unfortunately, is on the increase, owing to unemployment rising as a result of Government policies, which are deliberately putting people out of work under the mistaken assumption that this will in some way bring about a miraculous recovery in the economy when in fact it's doing the opposite, and business has no confidence to invest for the future, hire people and train them. Of course, in one respect, the attitude of these ignorant people who post fatuous comments about some woman who has been put up to be crucified on The One Show because she owns a tumble drier is as laughable – and as familiar, sadly - as those which Orwell wrote about in The Road To Wigan Pier, where he says that:  

The real bourgeoisie, those in the £2000 a year class and over, have their money as a thick layer of padding between themselves and the class they plunder; in so far as they are aware of the Lower Orders at all they are aware of them as employees, servants, and tradesmen. But it is quite different for the poor devils lower down who are struggling to live genteel lives on what are virtually working-class incomes. These last are forced into close and, in a sense, intimate contact with the working class, and I suspect it is from them that the traditional upper-class attitude towards 'common' people is derived. And what is this attitude? An attitude of sniggering superiority punctuated by bursts of vicious hatred. Look at any number of Punch during the past thirty years. You will find it everywhere taken for granted that a working-class person, as such, is a figure of fun, except at odd moments when he shows signs of being too prosperous, whereupon he ceases to be a figure of fun and becomes a demon. In a number of Punch soon after the war, when coal was still fetching high prices, there is a picture of four or five miners with grim, sinister faces riding in a cheap motor-car. A friend they are passing calls out and asks them where they have borrowed it. They answer, 'We've bought the thing!' 

This, you see, is 'good enough for Punch'; for miners to buy a motor-car, even one car between four or five of them, is a monstrosity, a sort of crime against nature. That was the attitude of a dozen years ago, and I see no evidence of any fundamental change. The notion that the working class have been absurdly pampered, hopelessly demoralized by doles, old age pensions, free education, etc., is still widely held; it has merely been a little shaken, perhaps, by the recent recognition that unemployment does exist. For quantities of middle-class people, probably for a large majority of those over fifty, the typical working man still rides to the Labour Exchange on a motor-bike and keeps coal in his bath-tub: 'And, if you'll believe it, my dear, they actually get married on the dole!' 

This is what this poor woman has done – by having a tumble-drier, she has aligned herself with the miners who bought themselves a motor car, she has ceased to be a figure of fun, and has become a demon, a focus of middle-class opprobrium. Never mind that the exorbitant prices charged by the Utilities for the electricity which runs the tumble-drier probably contribute to the woman’s supposed poverty, exorbitant prices about which the Government does nothing other than mutter sympathetic platitudes. Never mind that the time saved by drying clothes in a drier could be put to use in applying for jobs. The fact is, she has been held up and judged by middle England to be one of the undeserving poor, and her sentence is to take her washing down to the river and bash it on the rocks. A sentence imposed by people who would never dream of doing anything similar themselves, mind you! But what happens if you do implement the Tory solution, and allow employers the “freedom” to undo all of the safeguards which are intended to protect employees’ rights, get rid of the minimum rate per hour, and drive down wages to the point where they are lower than they were, but still slightly higher than the reduced benefits which may by then have been cut or suspended anyway? To answer that question, we can look across the Atlantic to the USA, where journalist Barbara Ehrenreich went “undercover” and tried to live off the wages that she could earn doing tedious, low-paid manual jobs such as waitressing, cleaning, or working in Wal-Mart.

The resulting book, Nickled and Dimed: Undercover in Low-Wage USA, is well worth a read in its entirety, as it shows up the paucity of the sort of thinking that even now underlies Tory and Tory-Lite policy on benefits and employment. Basically she showed that it was possible, more or less, to get by, just about, if you took two or three low-paid jobs and tried to dovetail them together, but the end result was more like grim existence than anything that might be described as “life” and could easily be derailed and thrown into chaos by a sudden emergency, like the need for medical care or a vehicle breakdown. In some respects, it is the same set of conundrums faced by the people Orwell was writing about in 1936, and indeed, in their own way, the same problems faced today by people on benefits. In the £53 a week argument, it’s the difference between living and existing. In her conclusion, Ehrenrich writes:

“I grew up hearing over and over, to the point of tedium, that “hard work” was the secret of success. “Work hard, and you’ll get ahead”, or “It’s hard work that got us where we are.” No-one ever said that you could work hard - harder than you ever thought possible – and still find yourself seeking ever deeper into poverty and debt. When poor single mothers had the option of remaining out of the labor [sic] force on welfare, the middle and upper middle class tended to view them with a certain impatience, if not disgust. The welfare poor were excoriated for their laziness, their presumed addictions, and above all for their “dependency”. Here they were, content to live off “government handouts” instead of seeking “self-sufficiency” like everyone else, through a job. They needed to get their act together, learn how to wind an alarm clock, get out there and get to work. But now that government has largely withdrawn its handouts, now that the overwhelming majority of the poor are out there toiling in Wal-Mart or Wendy’s - well, what are we to think of them? Disapproval and condescension no longer apply, so what outlook makes sense? …Some day of course, and I will make no predictions as to exactly when – they are bound to tire of getting so little in return, and demand to be paid what they’re worth. There’ll be a lot of anger when that day comes, and strikes and disruption” 

Anyway chaps, we're all just three bad decisions away from being on the street and/or benefits, and these days, with the current set of clowns in charge, they don't even have to be your decisions... and you're only as good as your next heartbeat, so I hope you all enjoy your presumed supremacy over the poor and disabled while it lasts. But of course, as usual, that point will be lost on those who think that you have to be “worth” something to “society” before you should be allowed to commit the crime of “being poor in charge of a dishwasher”. Meanwhile, in some nondescript council estate somewhere in Britain, with boarded up windows, graffiti’d walls, and broken glass in the streets, there is probably another couple like Mark and Helen Mullins struggling along, spiralling down and down, being despised by the media at the behest of the Tories, and getting ready to decide that enough is enough. And God bless Panorama and The One Show, for making their journey to an early and undeserving pauper’s grave just that little bit easier.

Some people say, of course, that it was all the Mullins’s own fault. It’s yet another common misapprehension that the poor can’t manage their money, and if you just sign it over to them, they’ll go and spend it on drink and/or drugs. This is another myth which is comprehensively debunked by the Joint Churches report – in fact, the entire report is worth reading in its own right, and comprehensively demolishes the Junta’s divisive rhetoric, which is why it seems to have got under Osborne’s skin somewhat. An example of this misapprehension is the recent pronouncement by York MP Alec Shelbrooke that in his opinion, people on benefits should have a payments card instead of money, to prevent them spending their money on alcohol and cigarettes. It’s yet another off-key strand in the crescendo of hate that has been building ever since the Junta assumed power (without a mandate, and only with the support of the Liberal Democrats) and began this ceaseless attack on the poor and the disadvantaged that was nowhere to be found in their manifesto.

The MP in question is one of those useful idiots (like Philip Davies, the MP for Shipley, who thinks that the minimum wage shouldn’t apply to disabled people, to give them more chance to “compete” with “real” job seekers) who the Tories trundle out every so often to float unpalatable ideas. Floating unpalatable ideas is the job of cannon-fodder, expendable Tory back benchers. If and when these ever become law, though, the job of announcing it will be given to a Liberal Democrat, while the Tories claim the credit. That’s how the coalition works in practice. Whether Mr Shelbrooke thought up this idea all on his own or whether he had the seed planted in his mind by one of the right-wing think tanks which come up with this garbage and then feed it into the hate-stream via Conservative bloggers and “astroturfers” who pop up on Social Media posting the “party line” but doing it as if they were ordinary members of Joe Public, is really a bit academic.

As it happens, Alec Sherbrooke has said that, under his proposals as presently framed, disability benefits will be exempted. For now. Once the principle has been established, however, who knows what may come in the future. Once you abandon the principle of a universal system into which everyone has paid and from which everyone can take when they need to, then you have created the deserving and the undeserving poor, and then, of course, there is simply the issue of who decides who is deserving and undeserving. Anyway, I would be quite comfortable with the idea of a “Benefits Card” provided MPs matched it by using an “Expenses Card”, so that we can check they really are spending our money on folders and pens from Rymans and not on having their moat cleaned at our expense.

Several people have observed, as I said above, in the case of Mark and Helen Mullins, that “they would have been better off if they had been immigrants”.

This is the final strand in the Junta’s propaganda war – that immigrants have a cushy life, compared to good honest English striving workers, or some such meaningless phrase. Again, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Gordon Brown (remember him?) was prone to whittle on meaninglessly about “British Jobs for British Workers”. Of course, that was immediately taken up and repeated by people a lot further to the right than he was, people who used the phrase to mean “British Jobs for White British Workers”, which is still basically the position of people like UKIP, the BNP and the EDL today, whatever they say officially. Anyway:


We cannot afford to spend out on the necessary infrastructure - BlairBrownBalls spent all of our money, not least on benefits for immigrants, as Byrne confirmed on being thrown out of office. 

Yet another message board social media posting, typical of many hundreds of thousands more. Before going on to discuss this further, could I just say how depressing it is to see Ed Miliband these days attempting to out-bigot the bigots and out-Pugwash the pirates, in the same dismal way that Brown did with his witterings about British Jobs for British Workers and Local Houses for Local People. I had few if any expectations of Miliband as Labour leader, and even those have been dashed. The man is an idiot, and/or he's very badly advised. The logical progression of political parties vying with each other to seem yet more and more xenophobic, and blame all society's ills on outsiders as scapegoats, is fiery torches and Kristallnacht. I can see why the Tories are shifting to the right on immigration – their own xenophobic rhetoric has come back to bite them on the bum, and now they have UKIP snapping at their knackers in by-elections. The way it's going, the next election will be won by the party that promises to hold public executions of asylum seekers.

 But the statements Miliband has made will undoubtedly be taken out of context, and will enter the white van man "a bloke dahn the pub told me" lexicon as coming to refer to anyone who isn't white British. Thus enabling the likes of the EDL and the BNP to say "yeah, well, Labour opened the floodgates and let em all in" without distinguishing between different categories of immigration and different types of immigrant, because that would muddy their simple demagogic message aimed at the hard of thinking. You mark my words. Even though what he was talking about was primarily a decision taken as part of our membership of the blasted EU and involved (mainly) Polish and Eastern European workers. I don't know why he just didn't give the real reasons why Labour signed up to it, enumerated quite succinctly by Jonathan Portes (former chief economist at the UK Cabinet Office) in his blog, "Not the Treasury View" 

First, the broader geopolitical one. The UK had long been the most vigorous proponent of membership for the countries of the former Eastern bloc; they were seen (correctly) as likely allies for the UK’s generally liberal positions in EU debates. So the decision was seen as a way of cementing our relationship with them, and in particular the Polish government. Second, the economics. The UK labour market was in good shape; and all the analysis suggested that immigrant workers – particularly the reasonably well educated and motivated ones likely to arrive from the new Member States – were likely to boost the UK’s economy without doing much if any damage to the prospects of native workers. And third, the practicalities. Free movement is an absolute right within the EU, so we couldn’t stop the new citizens coming here; we could only stop them (for a while) working legally. The assumption was that if we did so, they’d still come, and still work, just not legally. This hardly seemed like an attractive alternative.

The only answer I can think of is that Miliband (or his advisors) think that, in the current swamp of xenophobic rubbish that passes for informed opinion, there are more votes to be had in sounding like Alf Garnett than Winston Churchill. Plus of course, any discussion about the EU as a whole is off limits as far as both major parties (and the Liberal Dimwits) are concerned, because they all think Europe is a jolly good thing and don't want to rock the boat with Mrs Merkel. And, as I've said many times before, the debate about immigration generally is hobbled and made meaningless by this fact, that nobody wants to talk about Europe.

Portes goes on to point out that there have been three major studies looking at the aspects of the economic and labour market impact of the migrants from the new Member States. One by him and the University of Leicester, found no impacts on native unemployment, either overall, or specifically for the young or low-skilled. Nor any significant impact on wages, although the data is less conclusive. One by researchers at UCL, which found that the new migrants made a substantial and disproportionately positive contribution to the public finances, because “they have a higher labour force participation rate, pay proportionately more in indirect taxes, and make much lower use of benefits and public services”, and one by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which found relatively small, but positive, macroeconomic impacts. Jonathan Wadsworth, of Royal Holloway College and the government’s independent Migration Advisory Committee, summarises: “It is hard to find evidence of much displacement of UK workers or lower wages, on average.”

As Portes concludes:

So; the new migrants get jobs, contribute to the economy, pay taxes, don’t use many public services, and don’t take jobs from natives. What, exactly, is the problem? The decision was correct at the time, and the UK should be proud that, unlike most of the existing Member States, it was prepared to take that decision on the basis of rational argument and good analysis, rather than fear and prejudice. It is, of course, true that the UK has a persistent problem with youth unemployment and inactivity – and that this was true even before the recession. But research suggests that this has little or nothing to do with immigration; it is about educational underperformance among disadvantaged young people while at school, the poor quality of much post-16 education for those who are not going to university, and our neglect of the school-to-work transition. And it is just as bad (often worse) in areas where there are few immigrants as in areas where there are many. In this respect, the previous government does indeed have much to apologise for, as does the current one; the economic evidence is very clear that the cancellation of the Educational Maintenance Allowance will do far more damage to the future prospects of disadvantaged young people than migration ever did. 

But although this may be correct, it doesn't make for good urban myths, and even a cursory study of (say) The Daily Mail will show that a lie can be half way round the world before the truth has even got its trousers on. So what Miliband has done, by apologising for Brown, will provide a ready-made smokescreen, because now Cameron can now bang on about this for weeks on end, thus meaning he therefore doesn't have to talk about any of the awkward piles of doodoo he and his government have fallen into lately. It will make it easier for people to claim, erroneously, that there's a flood of immigrants all on benefits sucking the lifeblood out of our wonderful country and our economy and infrastructure. So you'll get yet more of this sort of thing, rentagob columnists writing in the popular press about how:

 …All you have to do to get everything Britain has to offer is to turn up illegally with some sob story of how your own country is too dangerous or that you're a lesbian who'll be shot if you stay there and Hey Presto, it's like you've won the lottery! And, in effect, they HAVE. Free houses, free cars, free healthcare and free money. Hell, they don't even have to work or speak the language. Even the suggestion they should is seen as racist in Brown's Britain. 

This is the sort of thing that you regularly see in the yellow press. 'Turning up illegally' implies illegal immigrants. But they wouldn't need a "sob story" to stay, because they're illegal, and don't get any benefits, though they may work in the black economy. The 'sob story' and 'free houses and money' implies asylum seekers, but they don't turn up illegally, and they aren't allowed to work. So all that's left is economic migrants, many of whom are incomers from the EU and we can't stop them.

But instead of taking the time out to challenge this sort of utter wenge, Mr Miliband has made it even more likely, because he's donned his union jack underpants and blown his dog-whistle as hard as he can, in a desperate attempt to increase his votability, which will only sicken and disgust many of his party's grassroots supporters, will not change the mind or voting intentions of a single EDL or BNP member, and which will take some of the well-deserved and self-inflicted pressure off Cameron. He is an idiot, as is Liam Byrne, for leaving that stupid crass note in the Treasury in the first place. Immigrants from inside the EU are entitled to reciprocal health arrangements same as we are when we go over there. Covered by what used to be form E111 if it still exists.

With regard to immigrants from outside the EU, the issue is currently whether they are legally resident in the UK. The University of Oxford Migration Lab web site says:

The definition of migrants… refers to all those born outside the UK and encompasses the diversity of migrant categories. This includes both recently arrived and/or temporary migrants and those who have been settled in the UK for many years. In relation to health care it ranges from those who are legally resident in the UK, whether citizens or not, and have full entitlement to free health care, to those who are deemed ‘not lawfully resident’ and are denied entitlement free of charge to some health services. 

Illegal immigrants, because they are illegal, aren’t entitled to anything. If they happened to be in an accident or something, presumably they would be treated in an emergency situation but afterwards the doodoo hits the air conditioning. Asylum seekers, according to the Department of Health web site, are treated as follows:

The Department of Health appealed a High Court ruling, which found that, in certain circumstances, failed asylum seekers can pass the ordinary residence test that confers an automatic right to free NHS hospital treatment or, alternatively, be exempt from charges for hospital treatment after having spent one year in the UK. In a judgement issued on 30 March 2009, the Court of Appeal found that failed asylum seekers can not be considered to pass the ordinary residence test, nor can they be considered exempt from charges by virtue of spending one year in the UK. This is now the law.

The Court of Appeal also found that trusts have the discretion to withhold treatment pending payment and also the discretion to provide treatment where there is no prospect of paying for it. Trusts should take account of DH guidance when applying this discretion. The UK has a lamentable track record of sending seriously ill people “home” to die when their leave to remain has expired, while of course we’re quite happy to fly people half way round the world for brain surgery in Birmingham if they’re on “our side” in the “war on terror” or there’s political capital to be made from it. Asylum seekers, if they are lucky can get £36.62 per week in financial support from the soon-to-be-abolished UKBA. They are not allowed to work. If they’re really unlucky they might end up getting choked to death while being forcibly deported, like Jimmy Mubenga did in October 2010.


So there we are. This is the longest blog posting I have written, although some parts of it have been updated and taken from previous postings. It has taken over 9000 words to get to this stage. The Gordian knot of lies woven by the Junta has taken that much unravelling. Others, of course, have said it much better than I have. As Tony Probert said in a letter published in The Independent

The coalition government – comprised of very rich people – is using the deficit inheritance to impose the austerity measures on people who had nothing to do with the bankers' greed which was responsible for the worldwide financial problems of today. Osborne and his Eton buddies are overjoyed at being able to use the excuse of the deficit reduction to destroy the welfare state. 

Sorrell Kinton, in her blog posting 7 Reasons Why You Should Stop Bitching About People on Benefits, says:

 Politicians need you to think that these people are feckless and undeserving so they can get away with slashing the welfare state; Journalists need you to believe this so they can continue printing lazy, knee-jerk puff-pieces. Screw the lot of them over by remembering that all people are just people and a percentage of all people are dicks; I’d be more worried about what the rich and powerful dicks are doing.

I’ve alluded at several times in this blog posting to the role of the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg, the “Leader” of the Liberal Democrats, and a man doomed at the next election, whenever it comes, thought we were stupid enough to be grateful at his assertion that if the Liberal Democrats hadn’t been in the coalition, benefit cuts would have been even worse. Er, no they wouldn’t, because if the Liberal Democrats hadn’t been busily propping up the Junta for the last two years, then they wouldn’t have been able to cut anyone’s benefit, because they would at best only have been able to form a minority government.

But the real question, now, is what are we going to do about it. Much as I loathe the current face of the Labour Party, we have to accept that they are the only party with a serious chance of damaging the Tories fatally at the next election. If they have any sense, the Labour Party will stop apologising for things that weren’t its fault, and start engaging the hard-of-thinking on the real issues. The Labour Party should be saying “Vote Liberal, Get Tory” to make sure the self-doom of the Liberal Democrats is complete. They need to take advantage of the fact the Tories have pissed off so many of their core supporters and their opponents, that half the Tory party will be voting for UKIP and thus splitting the anti-Labour vote. It’ll be like in 1997, when we had to hold our noses and vote for Tony Blair simply in order to get rid of the Tories.

In short, the Labour Party needs to get its arse in gear and start winning the arguments instead of trying to be more Tory than the Tories. And it needs to keep scotching the Tory myths, over and over again. The poor, the disabled, the unemployed and the immigrants did not cause the financial crisis. It is not a crime to be poor. You can’t cut your way out of a financial crisis that needs to be solved by growth. There are not two different sorts of people, strivers and skivers, and the amount of fraud is minimal. And that one of the main reasons why there isn’t enough social housing is that for years, councils weren’t allowed to build any. And the money that could have gone to build them has been spent on bombing the crap out of the Middle East to please George Bush. Labour didn’t spend all the money, and Labour didn’t open the immigration floodgates.

 The Labour Party has to man up, to step up to the plate, or whatever the metaphor is this week. It needs to come up with some radical ideas, and a way of saying in six lines what I’ve just said in 9000 words. It’s a tough call, and I – personally – hate being in a situation where a Labour Party led by Ed Miliband is our only hope, but any port in a storm, I guess.

Give me your arm, old toad. Help me down Victory Road

Friday, 27 July 2012

Team GB

This is my second attempt to write this blog, owing to the idiocy that is Windows 7 and its “updates”. Having lost two pages and almost 1000 words to a windows update, and just having spent a considerable amount of time re-installing printer drivers and re-setting all the settings in “Word” back to how I like them, rather than how Bill Gates thinks I want them, I have now determinedly turned OFF “Windows updates” because Microsoft are idiots who cock up my computer and lose my work. In fact, idiots is a bit mild, they are a bunch of mutton-tugging gongfermours who should be stood up against a wall and raked with an AK-47.

Rant over.

Anyway, as I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, I haven’t been keeping up with this political blog of late. This is because of a number of factors coinciding. I’ve been very busy, I’ve been in hospital again (but only for one night, back in May) I lost the login details for the blog itself, briefly, and finally – to top it all off - my old and faithful laptop is no more. Its motherboard, dodgy at best after years of hammer, finally succumbed to a power surge during a lightning strike when the thunderstorm was directly overhead. And that was it, deader than tank tops and sideways-ironed flares.

This doesn’t mean I’ve lost my interest in politics, of course, far from it. I’ve watched with jaw-dropping incredulity as The Blight staggers on from week to week, from crisis to crisis. Jeremy Hunt and the B Sky B bid, inviting us to choose between the only obvious conclusions, that he was either incompetent or guilty of terminological inexactitudes. What was it Sherlock Holmes said? “When you have discounted the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth.” The double standards on Syria. The phone hacking scandal. The “in a hole, keep digging” philosophy of Osborne on the economy, despite some glimmerings of Keynesian common-sense, on the part of the Literal Dimwits, who have now finally realised that they are on a one-way trip to the electoral abattoir – or at least, some of them have.

I’ve also been watching, in particular, the unfolding fiasco of the Olympics.

By the word “fiasco”, when I say it, I am referring to the totality of the fiasco. The Olympics are a shambles on many levels, some of which have serious implications for the rest of us who couldn’t give a stuff about the mens’ 100 metres, whatever that may be.

I’m not just talking about the obvious things, either – others have done a much better job than I can of deriding the ridiculous and grandiose directives of the various sponsors and LOCOG and their attempts to copyright the words “Olympics” “London”, Gold” Silver” and “Bronze” not to mention “rain”, the official weather of the London Olympics.

Mark Steel, writing in the Independent, and Ray Corrigan in his blog have both pointed out the glaring disparity between the “we’re all in it together”, gung-ho attempts of the likes of LOCOG and the BBC to push the “official” line on the Olympics – that celebration is compulsory, and anyone who doesn’t join in is not only a party-pooper but also potentially a Trotskyist fellow-traveller and a threat to society – and the reality of life in Britain that all of us who aren’t part of “Team GB” face on a daily basis.

A global festival is taking place in our city and we're told every day to stay at home, work at home, and not even use the word Olympic unless we're an official sponsor. By next week, London will have become like the queue for a prestigious nightclub, with bouncers patrolling the streets telling anyone who isn't good-looking or famous to go home, so we don't damage London's global brand image by revealing our unsightly people.

This is already happening – people were being interviewed on the news on TV tonight about how they were being stuck in traffic jams while the so-called “Olympic Lanes” stand temptingly empty.

There is a dark side to this sponsorship issue as well. Some of the sponsors are people who have in the past, been associated with less happy events, sponsoring chemical explosions at Bhopal, for instance. Some of them are not immediately associated in the public mind (rightly or wrongly) with health and sport (McDonalds). All of them, however, seem hell-bent on maximising their “official” involvement, safeguarding it rapaciously, and extracting every last “bang” for their “buck”. The Prime Minister has even joined in, with his claims that the Olympics is going to generate lots of business in the various conference rooms and boardrooms of the capital during the games. He would much rather talk abut this, of course, than have to account for how the economy is in a terminal nosedive under the stewardship of George Osborne. The Olympics is, for The Blight, a good fortnight to bury bad news.

There are so many potential logistics cockups about the Olympics, you could be forgiven for thinking that if LOCOG was tasked with the elevation of some urine, in an environment hitherto given over to alcoholic fermentation, they would struggle to achieve even this.

Anyone who has been watching the BBC’s excellent series “2012” will already be familiar with the numerous crossovers between drama and reality . When you hear about things such as the attempts by McDonalds to ban people from selling chips within the Olympic exclusion zone unless they are accompanied by fish, it’s pretty obvious that we’re on our way to la la land in a handcart.

More worrying, perhaps, is the thought that they only discovered, two weeks before the event, that they would have to shorten the opening ceremony. Did nobody time it? I can’t believe that in all of the multiple tiers of officialdom and Olympic organisation, nobody had access to a stop-watch.

The BBC has now moved into its purpose-built studios on top of a block of flats inside the Olympic Park. These are constructed on top of a block of council flats which are supposedly going to be demolished after the games. But there is another Olympic story there, also, as this posting to an online news site by one of the residents of the estate in question (the Carpenters Estate) shows:

These flats are located on the top five floors of two residential tower blocks, which have the closest panoramic view of the Olympic park and surrounding area. We’ve also been led to believe that the BBC is seeking to spend millions of pounds of tax payers’ money to pay for the change of use from residential homes to commercial TV studios. It’s worth pointing out that even though there are over 28,000 people on Newham Council’s waiting list, the highest in London.

It would seem the Mayor would rather have millions of pounds spent on converting these former homes into BBC studios, rather than insisting on putting families in those apartments, even if it’s for just for five or six years. We have consistently asked the local authority for the proof that these tower blocks were no longer fit for purpose i.e. structural or asbestos reports, but have never received them. Perhaps the BBC and Sir Robin could tell us why these tower blocks are good enough for the BBC, but not good enough for Newham residents.

Or, as another message board poster on another site puts it, summarising the situation quite neatly:

The BBC news studios during the Olympics are on top of a council-run block of flats in Stratford. Residents were moved out with relatively short notice and some were moved out of London so that the studio (and affiliated offices needed to run the studios) can be set up and have tight security. I am sure they could have just installed a rooftop camera and have it as a back drop for much less cost and displacement of people. So much for this being the people's Olympics!

The BBC has been at pains in the past to report on the displacement of (for instance) the unfortunate inhabitants of Beijing who were displaced by the totalitarian dictators of China to make way for the Birds’ Nest stadium. But they have been strangely silent on the people from the Carpenters estate who have been displaced by the totalitarian dictators of the BBC.

Or, indeed, the homeless who have been displaced and re-located for the Olympics by Westminster Council’s appalling practice of “wetting down the streets” – sending water carts round at night to soak rough sleepers and their bedding in an attempt to make them get up and move. Obviously it’s not quite so drastic a solution as the Greek authorities employed when they went round Athens in the run up to their games shooting all the stray cats, but when it comes to The Blight and their acolytes, nothing would surprise me.

One thing we can be sure that the BBC won’t be reporting on, is the insidious threat to civil liberties represented by the Olympics. These issues have been barely acknowledged, let alone discussed. In fact, if you were so unwise as to demonstrate publicly against the Olympics, you may find yourself in receipt of one of the Olympic Asbos, as happened to Simon Moore in his attempt to protest against the use of Leyton Marshes for the use of basketball training. In a statement outside court on 18 June, he said:

''The effect of this ASBO is to criminalise peaceful protest. There are legitimate issues for concern around the Olympics such as the destruction of Leyton Marsh in East London for a temporary basketball training facility and the ethics and human rights records of corporate sponsors for the games. These punitive and coercive measures will not stop us from peacefully protesting or from doing what is right.''

Because of our appallingly misguided foreign policy adventurism since 2001, we have done everything we can to fuel Islamicist fanatics at home and abroad. And as a result of this, of course, the Olympic Games are a prime target for any beardy weirdy nutter Jihadist to have a go if they think they’re hard enough.

When you have people writing to the papers (as reported recently by Yasmin Alabhai-Brown) suggesting that for the security of the games, all Muslims in London should be interned for their duration, clearly the English Defence League has nothing to fear – LOCOG have obviously been doing their work for them.

The big story on the security agenda of course is the failure of part time outsourcers and full time skimmers and chancers G4S to recruit or train enough staff to fulfil their contract for meters, greeters, electronic-wand-wavers and friskers. Thus necessitating the call-up of various units of the armed forces, some of whom are still war-weary from Afghanistan. What everyone would like to know, of course, is when exactly Theresa May knew that there was a problem. Because it once more abuts on the “Jeremy Hunt” defence. Was she really not in control, or was she merely practising selective amnesia? I must admit I find it very difficult to believe, from my own knowledge of running government fulfilment contracts, back in the days when I used to do it, that nobody asked “how are we doing?” I used to have to report on progress in person during update meetings every other month, and provide monthly stats. Are we really to believe that there was no such monitoring process in place over the G4S security guards, and if there was, and it pointed to a shortfall in recruitment, did nobody think to tell Theresa, or did she not think to ask? Erring on the charitable side, there are questions about her competence, even assuming she was telling the truth about what she knew and when.

The security operation for the Olympics is massive, of course, and it, too, has implications. With tanks on the streets, missiles on the roofs of tenement blocks, and a warship anchored in the Thames, as has been wryly observed elsewhere, any foreign dictator from a totalitarian regime visiting London for the Games will feel very much at home.

On one level, again, it is easy to poke fun at this over-egging of the pudding, which arises in part because the government is terrified of being pilloried in the press for lax security if something does go wrong. But of course, it’s the wrong security, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. And it comes at a risk to our freedoms. Al Qaida are not noted for their proud naval traditions stretching back to the time of Nelson, although maybe they have recently got hold of a RIB from somewhere and been practising at the Kabul Lido. No, what this is all about is getting us used to these sorts of sights, getting us to acquiesce to the paraphernalia of a security state for our “own good” and making sure nobody asks too many awkward questions about whether it’s necessary or why it has to be there in the first place.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Al Qaida, or some flake-off nutjob splinter group of Al Qaida, was planning to have a go at the games. As I said above, we’ve gone out of our way to prod the hornets’ nest of Islamic fundamentalism with a stick at regular intervals since 2001, and the twisted and sick minds who plan bomb outrages might see it as a neat “bookend” to the London bombings of 7/7, the day after the award of the games to the city. But, as Ken Livingstone has pointed out, you don’t catch Al Qaida by chasing them in a warship or a tank, you don’t catch them by firing a missile off the roof of a tower block in Poplar, you catch them by intercepting clandestine messages, electronic intelligence, patient casework, and surveillance, if it must be done at all. And in an ideal world, you do it without impinging on the freedoms and civil liberties of the rest of us. Sadly, however, since 2001, the terrorist threat, real and perceived, has been used by governments of both major parties (and the Liberal Democrats) to support legislation intended nominally to counter “terrorist” threats, but which has had grave implications for the freedoms we all used to employ.

And this is my real fear about the Olympic security issues: once you get used to the idea that you have to have an increased security level, once you get used to the idea that there must be tanks on the street for increased public safety, you’re well on the road towards building a barbed wire fence all around the coast of Britain, with gun turrets at regular intervals. Because none of this stuff ever gets repealed, you see. They bring in “emergency legislation” which allows them to “cleanse” the streets of the homeless, which allows them to prohibit this, and restrict that, and enter the premises of anyone suspected of committing counterfeiting against the interests of the Olympic sponsors; they bring in legislation to prohibit protest and public displays of disaffection; they even selectively arrest and detain “potential troublemakers” as happened to the performance artists who planned to burn the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in effigy on the day of the Royal Wedding last year, and then that’s it. It all stays on the statute book, for ever and ever, amen. And so our ancient freedoms of free speech and of legitimate, peaceful protest, are criminalised and taken away from us, step by stealthy step.

You may not agree with the idea of burning the Royal Family in effigy. I am not particularly in favour of it myself. But arresting someone before they commit a crime or because they might commit a crime is a development which I find even more disturbing than the thought of six nutters in a park burning a tailor’s dummy dressed in a wedding gown. Six nutters who could always in any case have been arrested and charged after the event, if it was considered they had actually committed a crime, and subject to the due process of the law, rather than being preventatively incarcerated.

We’ve already had the first political hissy-fit of the games, as well, with the North Korean women’s football team walking off the pitch when South Korea’s flag was shown on the big screen. The fact that the North Korean women’s football team and Kim Wrong-Un are probably the only people in the world who would have noticed the difference is neither here nor there. It happened. And it really shouldn’t have, in an event that has been seven years in the planning and the micro-management.

The degree of planning, for instance, which has been evident in the Olympic torch relay. I’ve said my piece already in other places about the cost of the security implications, having Metropolitan Police officers jogging through the streets of Penzance and Aberdeen to prevent anyone from getting too close to the torchbearers: you can join in, but only up to a point. The presence of police in areas that they aren’t normally territorially “responsible” for is linked to the issues around the presence of foreign security officials, some of them armed, on the streets of London and elsewhere, during the games. This has been a concern of mine since the Chinese army goon squad ran through the streets of London with the previous torch. Who controls these foreign security operatives? What are their rules of engagement? Can they draw weapons and open fire? Under what circumstances, and at what risk, to UK citizens?

I’ve also written before about the way in which the media, especially the local media, seeks out the halt and the lame and the “human interest” stories of the torchbearers. I can just imagine the planning meetings when they all sit round the newsroom table trying to decide if the film of someone who had his legs blown off in Afghanistan is more tragic than a child victim of leukaemia carrying the torch. Although disabled people are only useful up to a point – they are corralled off into their own “special” Olympics, which receives nowhere near as much attention or coverage as the “real” ones. [This is not to denigrate the actual torchbearers, by the way, who are probably genuinely proud and justifiably regard it as an achievement in their own personal terms. It’s not for me, but it means something to them. What I object to is the way in which they are exploited for sentimental effect, particularly the injured military, who are used as another stick with which to prod us into a more “patriotic “ stance].

The patriotic stance (which in their terms means approving everything The Blight does, from engaging in needless and costly wars, to causing unemployment hardship and havoc at home) was never more evident that the speech of Boris Johnson to the massed crowds in Hyde Park on the penultimate day of the Olympic torch’s progress. Apart from the advances in film technology, anyone switching on in the middle of the BBC news coverage of the events could have been forgiven for thinking it was coverage of Hitler and the Nazis cavorting before the 1936 Berlin Games.

And so, as I write this, on the eve of the event itself, we find ourselves in a locked-down security state where the privileged can sweep through the capital in specially designated traffic lanes and patriotism has become compulsory. This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing we used to deride good old communist Russia for. Smile and wave the flag, comrade, or you vill be shot.

I sort of feel sorry for the athletes, some of them, at least, who only get the chance to demonstrate their rather obscure hobbies on world TV once every four years. But even there, it’s difficult to tell these days which performances are natural, and which are chemically assisted. Anyway, I hope they manage to have some fun, despite the ghastly sinister meaninglessness of it all.

It all seems a very long way away from the original concept of Baron de Coubertin, of a festival of international peace through athletic prowess, not to mention the ideals of the Ancient Greeks. Or even the Ancient Geeks. And talking of geeks, and looking at the list of sponsors, I was surprised to see that Microsoft was absent, because, to be honest, if ever there was something that WOULD actually benefit from Microsoft’s mindless, monolithic determination to re-set everything back to the original defaults, completely regardless of any subsequent modifications, it’s the bloody Olympics.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

102 Uses for a Daily Newspaper

The Daily Telegraph was very keen this week to make hay out of the fact that there are apparently 102 criminals who we can’t deport because of the European Convention on Human Rights. This may well be true, although if the Daily Telegraph told me the sun would rise tomorrow, I would want the fact independently verified by a competent astronomer.

I would be much more likely to believe in the Daily Telegraph if it balanced its relentless bashing of the ECHR with some sort of statement to the effect that in any complex area of jurisprudence there are inevitably going to be times when the result of the process is not what you would expect. On both sides of the ledger.

I reckon, for instance, that – given the resources and the budget of the Daily Telegraph – I could probably find at least 102 instances of people who we have deported who we shouldn’t have done, because by doing so we were condemning them potentially to torture and death at the end of their journey.

Such as the Tamil asylum seekers we deported back to Sri Lanka this week despite clear evidence, which it was left to the likes of Channel 4 to publicise, that there was, potentially, genocide committed by government forces against the Tamil Tigers and those allegedly associated with them. One of the Tamils was so concerned about his potential fate that, rather than risk being deported, he tried to hang himself with his prison duvet. A Labour MP who raised the matter in the House of Commons said – quite truthfully in my opinion – that deporting them was akin to “painting targets on their backs”.

I once read somewhere, I can’t remember where, but I daresay it’s verifiable one way or another, that the standard test for the effectiveness of a particular type of toilet was whether or not it was possible to flush a rolled-up copy of The Daily Telegraph down it. If that is true, I would strongly contend that it remains the most useful thing you can do with it.

No dissent, please, we're British

The possibility of being found guilty of thought crimes came another step nearer with David Cameron’s recent pronouncement that he was going to “crack down” on anyone not espousing traditional British values. Bizarrely, this apparently includes getting Ofsted to spy on universities and educational establishments to see if they are being “radicalized”. As the only difference between Ofsted and a plastic surgeon is that the latter tucks up the features, I can’t see this being a riproaring success.

Still, one question haunts me… would that include the “traditional British value” of free speech within the bounds of the law, Mr Cameron?

Gadaffi your horse, and drink your milk

Can anyone tell me what we are still doing meddling in Libya?