Tobacco

Jan. 10th, 2013 02:56 pm
webofevil: (Default)
In talking about the Growth and Infrastructure, Baroness Wheatcroft is sticking firmly to the ancient Lords convention that quotations, whenever possible, must be inexplicably misattributed:
Baroness Wheatcroft: I am reminded of that Tom Lehrer song when he bumps into Walter Raleigh, who is trying to explain to him about tobacco. “What?”, he says; “You do what?”. If someone goes home and announces that they have sold their rights for a few shares, that is the sort of response that they might get—“What?”.
In his day, Bob Newhart was a stand-up and sitcom star as big as Seinfeld in the 90s. This was one of his best known routines. Attributing it to Tom Lehrer is like talking about "Charles Dickens's beloved character, Sherlock Holmes":



As Lord Greaves said, "only in the House of Lords could someone quote Tom Lehrer and expect everyone present to understand the reference and remember the song."
webofevil: (all hail)
Offering employees the chance to sign away their basic employment rights in return for company shares is such a comical caricature of Tory thinking that at first sight it might have been concocted by the party’s fiercest opponents. While it’s true that it suits many right-wingers to characterise any notion of rights as a breezy fad, it’s still remarkable for any government to set out so baldly the contention that its citizens are as nakedly cynical and venal as it is. It’s also remarkable that the Conservatives, with all the accolades showered on them by their friends and beneficiaries for their strategists’ political nous, and so keen to broaden their appeal in order to win the next election, are nonetheless apparently oblivious to the stark message that they’re sending out:
“If we didn’t already have colossal amounts of money, we’d be easily bought off for a pittance too. Thank Christ we’re not you!”
This proposal—voluntary for people with jobs, compulsory for people who have lost their previous ones—is currently in draft form in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill, which introduces several measures similarly dressed up as “deficit-busting” and “business-liberating” but in fact designed mainly and straightforwardly to remove statutory protections for ordinary people. While it’s a foregone conclusion that the coalition will ignore any changes and/or improvements suggested by the Lords (see the welfare act, the break-up of the NHS etc etc, you know the drill by now), the bill still faces hefty criticism and many late nights of heated discussion, which may well be the reason for the hurried departure of the minister in the Lords originally tasked with it, the day before it was introduced.

If the Chancellor's scheme is deemed a success (in the face of the stiff opposition to it not just from unions and human rights organisations but also from employers), he is said to have drafted similar measures for other areas where the coalition feels that rights have held society back. Citizens will be offered the chance to give up all their human rights in exchange for a sliding scale of remuneration, paid in government shares. The Chancellor's preliminary draft is set out below:


Basic £3,000 Freedom of speech
Standard £10,000 Basic package + Reproductive rights
Enhanced    £25,000 Standard package + Right to freedom from torture (UK only)
Deluxe£100,000Liberation from all rights including freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Gold£500,000    Deluxe package + The phrase “I DONATED MY RIGHTS TO THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY” carved on your forearm
Platinum£1 million Gold package + The Chancellor of the Exchequer will personally visit your house, suspend you by your ankles and slam your head against the floor until you cry out, “I am a despicable cunt”

Ah Zabenya

Jan. 8th, 2013 12:31 pm
webofevil: (all hail)
One of last year's de facto political highlights—partly because it was amusing and partly just because it didn't involve gerrymandering, demonising any particular social group or outright lying—was the attempt by the mild-mannered Lords education minister, Lord Hill, to resign his post:
Lord Hill, an Education Minister, remains in his post after apparently trying unsuccessfully to resign from the Government during the reshuffle two weeks ago. The Prime Minister is said to have been distracted and failed to catch what Lord Hill was saying to him when they met in Mr Cameron's Commons office at the end of what had been a long day of blood-letting. Warned he was late for a photocall, the Prime Minister left the room telling the minister to “carry on the good work”, leaving him with little choice but to remain in office. [Telegraph]
Happily, Lord Strathclyde's surprise announcement yesterday that he is quitting his post as Leader of the House of Lords—it has been reported that the noble Lord has grown weary of the occasional displays of conscience among the Liberal Democrats—means that there is suddenly an acceptable opening for Lord Hill to leap into. Whether trying to ensure the effective functioning of a divided House will prove more restful than helming unpopular education bills through it is something that he will shortly find out.


webofevil: (all hail)
Lord Dykes: Fifty years ago, a former US Defence Secretary, whose name I have forgotten, said to one of his friends, "Listen, honey, I'm a politician. That means that when I'm not kissing babies I'm stealing their lollipops. Never forget it". [Hansard]
The noble Lord does an admirable job of kicking over the traces of this quote's origin, but it's worth noting that it actually comes from The Hunt for Red October.
webofevil: (all hail)
Lord Gilbert: My Lords, I am afraid that I am going to be in a very small minority today, probably not for the first time, which gives me no tremors whatever, as I am unable to add to the fulsome welcome that this report has received.

Before I turn to the substance of the report, I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to some of the stylistic matters that caught my eye. I do not normally care to read reports but I had intended to read this one from cover to cover. However, I gave up on page 10, actually only the fifth printed page of the report, where there is a misplaced apostrophe. Noble Lords will ask why I am wasting the Committee’s time on a misplaced apostrophe. On the previous page, page 9, there is one of many subordinate clauses without any commas at either end so you have to read the sentence over and again to find out what it actually means. On page 8, going backwards, there is an egregious spelling mistake that any child of 15 would be punished for making. On page 7 we have a sentence starting with a conjunction.
The noble Lord is unlikely to have seen the funny side if Hansard had begun that last sentence with "And…"

The real blow, though, comes on the very first page. I am now going to read out to the Committee a direct quote from the middle paragraph of the summary:

“By better co-ordination of forces and most of all by ensuring that forces are capable of, and willing to, deploy Europe can achieve this now”.
I will happily buy lunch for any member of this Committee if he can show me how to parse that into an English sentence; it is not capable of being made into a sentence. It really is disgraceful.

This accumulation of grammatical solecisms, misspellings and punctuation errors says to me one of three things: that the members of the committee read the report and did not notice these things, which I find unbelievable, seeing how talented they are; that they read the report and did not give a damn about them, which I do not think would be the case; or, much more likely, they never the report. That is the most charitable explanation. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, may frown, but his name is on this report. [Starts banging the table in time with his words] He is chairman of the committee and is responsible for putting the report in front of us with the House of Lords imprimatur on it.

Lord Radice: I am loath to intervene on my noble friend’s speech because I am sure that it is going to be extremely good, but I suggest that the noble Lord reads the sentence before the one that he has criticised. He might then find that it was more intelligible. It is a good thing to read a couple of sentences rather than just taking one on its own.

Lord Gilbert: Of course, I read the whole page. The noble Lord is right, but that sentence is rubbish. It is not even a sentence and it should not be in a House of Lords report. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Roper, to ensure that in future any reports from any sub-committee of his committee are written in decent English. I have got that off my chest but I stand by what I said; it seems to be perfect evidence that the people who wrote the report did not read it before it was printed. [Hansard]
As threatened, he turns to the substance of the report.

[The committee] found some idiot called Pierre Vimont. What a lunatic. This is what he is summarised as saying:

“Despite the limited success of the A400M”.
I would like to hear anybody else in this Committee talk to me about the “limited success” of the A400M—it is a disaster, but there is not a word in this report saying why it is a “limited success”… The A400M is a complete and absolute wanking disaster and we should be ashamed of ourselves. [Hansard]
Lord Gilbert is very fond of this word but his usage of it here is even more idiosyncratic than usual. Could it be, I find myself wondering more and more, that he doesn't actually know what it means?
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The Minister responds to a debate about the voluntary sector and social enterprise:
Lord Wallace of Saltaire [Lib Dem]: We are all volunteers. Volunteering, after all, has a long tradition in Britain. Long before the welfare state grew up there were churches and chapels; philanthropy and charitable activities by the well-off; friendly societies; co-operatives among the working classes; trade unions, of course—
Which is why the welfare state had to be invented. Turned out a haphazard cavalcade of the well-meaning and the tax-evading wasn't a reliable basis—and perhaps was even a shitty one—for ensuring that vital services were provided.
—and, above all, women. My mother retired from her last voluntary post when she was older than a considerable number of the women in the old people’s home of which was chair. She was one of that generation who would have had a career had she not got married and, as we know, one of the problems that we are facing in the voluntary sector has been that nowadays there is not that great pool of capable women who are not able to work because they are married. We therefore have to rely on the fit retired much more than we did.
So not only has David Willetts established beyond question that the rise of working women is directly responsible not only for all unemployment figures but for the dwindling and now even vulnerable position of men in society, but now Lord Wallace is setting out the case for married women not to be allowed to work because otherwise there won't be any publicly provided services at all.
I suppose that in some ways I am one of the fit retired who is a volunteer, as are half the government Front Bench. I work but I am not paid, although that is partly because I have quite a generous academic pension—not, of course, half as generous as doctors’ pensions—which enables me to provide my contribution. [Hansard]
Ha ha ha! It's funny because it's true; doctors are our most wasteful resource. We definitely need fewer of those grasping bastards and more questionably academic ministerial quisling scrotes. The Lib Dems, everybody!
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My long-held suspicion that the business of showing that you care about young people basically involves fishing words out of a bag in random order is certainly being given weight by Lord German today.
Lord German: We need to give substance to that very difficult group of young people to reach their needs.
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Lord Selsdon "on" the government's policies on food security:
Lord Selsdon: Not so long ago I met some gang from Chicago who were very interested in all of this. Some of them wanted to speculate in the grain market and others in production. A lot of help, surprisingly, came from Israel. They asked me whether it was possible to produce pork bellies. Thinking of some of the prejudice of the Arab world to the pig—although the pig is a forager, and the Romans walked around with it—I was quite intrigued.
And so on.
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The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: Having sailed through the Gulf of Aden only last year, and engaged to my full extent in pirate practice on board ship, the realities of the instability and dangers there were very immediate in our minds.
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Commons Speaker Michael Martin, now Lord Martin of Springburn, interrupted the progress of the Parliament Square (Management) Bill, due to go through on the nod, to stress that the Bill should strengthen powers to bar protesters from Parliament's environs and keep them looking neat. This seemed slightly redundant, as the entire purpose of the Bill is to strengthen powers to bar protesters from Parliament's environs and keep them looking neat. Lord Martin had already complained about the persistent failures in the past to evict Brian Haw, and then he said these actual words, with actual people listening to them:
Lord Martin of Springburn: We even had those who called themselves the Tamil Tigers and held hunger strikes, not only on the pavement but on the square itself, which meant that anyone who wanted to visit the beautiful memorials to people like Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and Lloyd George could not do so.
The noble Lord is quite right. If there's one thing Nelson Mandela would never stand for, it's someone protesting and risking their very existence for their beliefs, let alone on a nicely tended lawn.
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Lordswhips is, as the name suggests, the website run by government whips in the Lords, containing information about forthcoming debates, recess dates and so on. Right now, though, according to Google, the Lords appear to be diversifying their online business a bit:



(It's possible that Google is accurate in its assessment that the site "may be compromised", but you never know.)
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So today we get to witness something we don't often get to see: changes being made to the most startling public-sector edifice ever created that will lead to an irrevocable and fatal shift in its priorities and the end of its functioning as we know it—a proud boast for any government, but particularly for one that made such a point of saying that that edifice was safe in its hands.

It's always been known that the Conservative party are like a dog on heat with the NHS; they just can't help themselves—it's a “60-year mistake”, and so on—and the trick has always been simply not to bend over in front of them. One day maybe someone's memoirs will reveal precisely why the Lib Dems decided to kneel on the NHS's neck and hold it down so the Conservatives could finally get on with it, but for now it mystifies everyone (including quite a few gratified but baffled Tories) why we're faced with the unedifying sight of a shoal of Lib Dem peers, many of whom know precisely what these changes mean, nonetheless trooping glumly through the division lobbies in support of them because their leaders and whips have told them crossly that it's for the sake of the party.

It's said that the Lib Dems have calculated, as has No. 10, that the opposition to this step in the privatisation of the NHS will blow over and waft away after the bill is actually passed. It's this kind of brilliant and canny political calculation that neatly sums up all the strengths of this government.

The day before the bill is due to be passed in the Lords—after which it will skip gaily back down the corridor to the Commons, to be welcomed with open arms by the government who intend to start implementing it almost immediately—Baroness Thornton, Labour front-bencher on the bill, went public with an assessment of the government's conduct that would get her sternly told off by other noble Lords if she were to voice it in the Chamber:
“This is an ideologically driven bill and the Lib Dems capitulated. Ministers lied to get it through. I know it's unusually unparliamentary language but I am really horrified. They have sold us a pup."

[She] says that although the bill has been amended more than 300 times, its pro-market measures remain largely intact and the health service will be end up as "a terrible bureaucratic, expensive and fragmented NHS"...

Her ire is particularly directed at the Lib Dem peers Lady Williams and Lord Clement-Jones. After weeks of working with the pair on defeating the government over the pro-competition parts of the bill, Thornton said the two had pulled out just before the crucial Lib Dem spring conference...

Instead of shielding the NHS from the full force of EU competition law, Clement-Jones did a deal with the government so that ministers would offer a “strong statement” on the need to take patients' interests into account—arguing that this would insulate the health service in court against legal challenge. Thornton said a minister's “strong statement” was not likely to be “worth much”, adding it would mean “the proposed protection comes when legal action starts to take place. I would prefer the protection to be in the bill to stop it ever getting to court.”[Guardian]
It's not clear exactly why Lord Clement-Jones was chosen for this job in the first place. He is perhaps best known for having tabled on behalf of the entertainment industry an amendment to the Labour government's Digital Economy Bill that was actually more hawkish than the government's own proposals, and which posed a direct threat to ISP freedom. The government delightedly accepted his amendment on the spot. A fortnight later he tried to amend his own amendment, after uproar not only from ISPs but from his own Lib Dem colleagues who understood more about the implications of his proposals for internet freedom than he did. However, the government weren't interested and he had rather ignominiously to withdraw. This debacle led to Lord Clement-Jones being nominated as the ISP Association's Villain of the Year, for introducing his web-blocking amendment “without sufficient research or understanding of the consequences”.

Heroic failures aside, though, It's not as if this is a straightforwardly partisan issue. In fact, if Members of all parties, in both Houses, with interests in private health companies were barred from voting on this legislation—that's any interests at all, not merely troughing so blatant that it even provokes the ire of the Daily Mail—then you'd likely see an extremely different result today. But then Parliament has never been very good at shame.


Oh look, an American trying to persuade fellow Americans of a thing that this country already knows to be true but is preparing to fling to the winds for some fucking reason:
webofevil: (all hail)
The most common response of this government to critics of its largely ideology-based and evidence-free legislation, more popular even than “We're a listening government” hissed through a rictus smile or intemperate yelps of “You're all Trotskyite bastards!”, is the simultaneously wheedling and patronising “You clearly haven't understood. Let us explain it again”. Never mind that everyone involved understands it all too well; the fiction must be maintained that there's a positive social dimension to the health and welfare changes, that the government's austerity measures are objectively sound and not just an article of monetarist faith, that the bunch who once earned themselves the title of “the nasty party” have transformed themselves into a force for good for all. (A leg-up not a hand-out, runs the strapline, which is perfectly true so long as you understand that the leg in question is headed at speed up towards our collective crotch.)

Among the many changes that we "haven't understood" are (I know I've gone over this ground time and again but I can't help it if the truth remains the same tedious truth) the move away from the concept of disabled people having “rights” to a decent, or even normal, life, the removal of legal aid from cases of clinical negligence in children—a provision that the government initially defended fiercely but eventually, to its “credit”, reluctantly caved in on—and the opening up of the NHS to private interests.

You can picture the original Health and Social Care Bill as a slimly built, keen-eyed assassin, dispatched with the single mission of killing off the NHS. Many months later, after repeated and clumsy attempts to disguise it in order not to alarm the populace, the bill is a shambling bloated mutant, Frankenstein's first draft, with extra limbs and organs grafted on every which way, blundering howling and unloved through the corridors of the House of Lords. Don't be fooled; its mission remains the same, but thanks to the last few months no-one can now be under any illusion about what it's here to do, and we will all be watching as it does it. Honestly, Minister, we really do understand.

In fact, at the moment I could just run a form template for this blog:
Name of government wheeze

Brief description of how wheeze is targeted at the vulnerable.

Rundown of how coalition claims furiously but unconvincingly that wheeze is not targeted at the vulnerable.

Scattered profanities.

Angry assertion that the government will get its own way via transparent manoeuvres and laughably ragged procedures in the Commons, possibly in

VERY LARGE LETTERS.


Update a few weeks later of how the government indeed got its own way in the Commons. More profanity.
I shall not be doing this, though, for the sake of your sanity and mine. On the contrary, it's important to keep spirits up in these relentless times. Um... so what's the deal with airline food?


Collect the set!

       

       



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Yesterday the government suffered further defeats in the Lords, this time on the legal aid bill. In all fairness to the coalition, there are plenty of positive things that they are putting in place to try to deal with domestic violence, as the minister was extremely keen to stress during yesterday's debate, but that can suddenly count for very little if someone spots that your reforms mean, for instance, that someone who has made use of a women's refuge will no longer be able to use that experience as evidence of domestic abuse. (Yet another Con Dem “tough decision”, by the way, designed and expected to have zero impact on the people who took it.)

And who was the minister sent out to ferociously defend this plank of government policy? It was, of course, Lord "Fall Guy" McNally. The theory about his officials' evil template gains ground.
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Baroness Cumberlege: This poor [unsupervised] executive is an orphan; he or she is operating without a parent. In the model proposed, Public Health England is in the cosy embrace of the department, with a civil servant directly accountable to the Secretary of State. It is a model that produces a fire blanket to extinguish any spark of innovation or risk-taking.
A fire blanket… for the orphan? Is the orphan on fire? Who's burning orphanages? Are the Lib Dems supporting that now as well?
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Last week the coalition government were finally able to fulfil their greatest promise that they had made to an anxious nation when they came to power: to protect men everywhere from the sexual advances of the late Alan Turing.

Convicted in 1952 of the crime of consensual homosexual sex—which itself only came to light because Turing reported to police the fact that the man he had sex with had later broken into his house—and sentenced to chemical castration, Turing had his security clearance revoked because he was deemed a blackmail risk and appears to have killed himself a couple of years later.[1] In 2009, Gordon Brown issued a formal apology for Turing's treatment:
While Turing was dealt with under the law of the time, and we can't put the clock back, his treatment was of course utterly unfair, and I am pleased to have the chance to say how deeply sorry I and we all are for what happened to him. Alan and the many thousands of other gay men who were convicted, as he was convicted, under homophobic laws, were treated terribly. Over the years, millions more lived in fear of conviction.
Brown went no further than an apology, though, and the coalition has followed suit and set its face against any notion of a pardon:
A posthumous pardon was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted. [Hansard]
The logic at work in this announcement is particularly threadbare. A pardon takes no account of whether someone's offence was considered illegal at the time—after all, if it turns out they hadn't done something illegal in the first place, surely that's not a pardon, that's a successful appeal. The “proper conviction” of First World War deserters didn't prevent the British government from pardoning them, although it did so extremely posthumously. In fact, that provides a clue to the real motivation here—less ideological than financial. Any pardon for Turing would obviously have to encompass anyone else convicted under the same law, and the last thing a cash-strapped government needs is suddenly to find itself liable for compensation.

The coalition's choice of spokesman to announce its decision was telling. Minister of State for Justice and Leader of the Lib Dems in the Lords, the personable Lord McNally has become something of a fall guy for the coalition. Increasingly, if an unpalatable change or wildly indefensible policy is up for discussion, chances are Lord McNally will be sent in to bat for the government, getting more irascible and stumbling incoherently over his departmental brief the more he personally disagrees with it. With the Lib Dems already having had to move so far from what they once thought were their principles, having Lord McNally put his name to the Turing announcement might herald a sinister new development. Department officials now appear to have a template prepared for the Lib Dem Minister, beginning with the words “As a lifelong Liberal, I have always believed in...”, and to be jostling to find ever more sadistic ways to end that sentence. Watch out in coming months for “hanging”, “apartheid”, “eugenics”...

Or, indeed, “closed tribunals where evidence is withheld from the defendant”. Last year's justice and security green paper proposes extending precisely that system from a very few cases involving national security to all civil proceedings, meaning that damaging material—say, evidence that British security services had colluded in torture—would never have to be revealed. This hurls a sheep's carcass through the windscreen of anything even resembling a liberal principle, and none but the most diehard unthinking government cheerleaders could possibly be happy with it. As Minister for Justice, though, this policy will fall squarely to Lord McNally to defend, and the spectacle of him loyally expounding its virtues to incredulous colleagues can only demean everyone involved.



[1] Unfortunately, MI6 also considered it a strong possibility during the war that Turing was the person responsible for “molesting schoolboys” at a public library near Bletchley, which might prove a stumbling block for the campaign to restore his reputation.
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Lord Mawson: In the people of this country there is a sleeping giant waiting to be woken from its slumber. You can see this giant dozing in many of our communities.

Governments… with all their resources, often in reality seem to achieve so little, yet social entrepreneurs and local enterprises seem to achieve so much with just one man and a dog. How can we grab hold of the dog’s tail and shake it? This is the big question—the David and Goliath struggle.

When you raise these issues, older and wiser heads than me predictably give weary smiles because they have heard it all before and know how difficult it is in reality to do. That might be so, but someone needs to throw the stone to create the ripples.
So… David is fighting the sleeping giant? By slinging a stone at him that creates ripples? Is it the dog that's rippling? WHAT EXACTLY IS GOING ON?
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And the day began so politely. The third day of the Report stage of the Welfare Reform Bill started with a government amendment—that is, the government themselves had seen the virtue of a specific criticism of their bill and decided to make improvements in the light of it. In fact a smiling Lord Patel, who had spotted in the amendment elements of suggestions he had made in Committee, was the first to thank the minister, Lord Freud.
Lord Patel: My Lords, I speak to Amendment 42, to which the Minister has just referred. Before I start, perhaps I might wish him a happy new year and, in doing so, thank him enormously for his Amendment 43. It may be claimed that it was in response to my amendment in Grand Committee; if so, I am very grateful for it.
Everyone knew, though, that the day's real sport hadn't yet begun. Opposition and independent Cross-Bench amendments were coming up that went against some fundamental money-saving propositions by the government: cutting contributory employment and support allowance from people who had been unable to work since childhood due to disability, time-limiting ESA to 12 months and means-testing cancer patients after one year instead of two.

The government knew these measures were contentious enough for there to be votes on them, and knew those votes might be close. The Tories were under strict instructions about how to vote on these questions. It had been reported that the Lib Dems, who had been making it clear behind the scenes to their own whips that one or two aspects of this legislation were too unpalatable even for them, had been given a looser leash than they have been used to under the coalition, allowing some of them them to abstain without provoking... whatever a whip could possibly threaten a life peer with. A Chinese burn?

However, the government hadn't been expecting to lose the first vote—on contributory ESA for people who had never been able to contribute national insurance—by 260 to 216. There's no way a government can gloss those numbers as the work of one or two usual suspects or professional contrarians; when one side is being heavily whipped to vote against but a hefty majority acting on its conscience votes for, that can confidently be taken as the will of the House.

The next amendment, on the time-limiting of ESA and all the implications that would have for people with long-term conditions, was Lord Patel's. He argued his case passionately, went into great detail about cases where individuals would suffer and was neither the first nor the last to appeal to Lord Freud's compassionate Conservatism by pointing out that sufferers of terminal cancer would save the Treasury money by not living long enough to collect their pensions.

Various Lords chipped in to this particular debate, including the Conservative Lord Blencathra, a Commons whip under Thatcher and the only disabled peer the coalition can remotely rely on to wheel the party line[1]:
Lord Blencathra: I am informed that his amendment as it stands has serious cost implications. I believe that it would cost up to £200 million next year, maybe £400 million the year after and again the year after that… it is incumbent on the Opposition or on those who are arguing for this amendment to say where the £1 billion, if indeed it is £1 billion, is to come from... It is easy to feel morally good because we have done something to help those who will be affected, but we have to bear in mind the others who will lose £1 billion of expenditure, or wherever that £1 billion will come from. [Hansard]
Lord Patel's manner in response was courteous as ever but implacable:
Lord Patel: We are talking here about not taking money away over five years even to the level of £1.3 billion from the most vulnerable in society. As I pointed out, they are those on the lowest third centile of income, to whom, as the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, said, it is £94 a week. If we are going to rob the poor to pay the rich, we are entering into a different form of morality. [Lord Blencathra] asked the question whether it is moral. I say that it is moral to look after those that are sick, vulnerable and poor. If that is immoral, what is moral is to pay the rich—and we are on a different planet altogether... They are not skivers or benefit cheats. They are the last people who cheat. Are we going to make savings there? I was honest in accepting that what I proposed was costly, but I am not going to be dishonest and say that therefore we should let those people suffer. I ask the House to determine who should be supported. [Hansard]
The debate was being followed live by many people who normally might hesitate even to point to the location of the House of Lords on a map of Parliament but, for this one important day, found themselves riveted to its proceedings. People who previously had never had any reason to hear of this eminent doctor, peer and member of the Order of the Thistle were getting carried away:
@DocHackenbush I've been teetotal my whole life, but I've been seized by an overwhelming urge to get drunk and snog Lord Patel.
The House duly determined who should be supported by another convincing margin, 234 to 186. That was on the time-limiting of ESA but immediately afterwards they voted again, this time specifically on Lord Patel's other amendment about means-testing cancer patients, which was carried by 222 to 166.

No minister wants to lose a vote on Report. The hope is that, by a combination of pressure applied to the arms of your own colleagues and a deft and persuasive performance in the Chamber, you'll storm any vote or perhaps even convince the opposition not to go ahead in the first place. Still, it's accepted that losing is an occupational hazard. To lose badly twice in one day, though, is an exceptionally bad day for a minister. To do so three times is all but unheard of.

Lord Freud was visibly stung. He had seemed unflappable all through Committee, but then he had known that the rules meant that at that stage no-one could actually vote against him. On Report, though, his attempts to persuade the House by sheer force of argument had been at least futile and possibly even counterproductive—after all, repeatedly telling the House of Lords that you're explaining something to them slowly so that perhaps this time they'll understand you is unlikely to win you a sympathetic hearing.

(Lord Freud, like his Commons counterpart Chris Grayling, says that whole swathes of the population are too well off to need or deserve benefits, and that therefore his schemes are fair. As with virtually every other coalition policy, though, they can't produce a shred of evidence to justify the numbers they—vaguely—refer to, and in fact appear to have based their assumptions of large incomes and sizeable inheritances purely on what they know of their immediate friends and families. It's a shame for posterity that these Conservative ministers never minuted the delightful dinner parties where they presumably arrived at their conclusions about everyone else's finances.)



A relaxed Lord Freud shows us around his beautiful home.

But he had a plan. It was a simple one: to wait until later in the evening and then insist on other government amendments later on in the bill that would reverse what the House had voted on. It is a convention that if the House has made its will expressly clear on a matter, then any related amendments that day will be dropped. Conventions, though, are no match for a minister scorned, and he went ahead and forced a vote on just such an amendment, which would restore Clause 52, which the House had earlier voted to remove. Most of the Cross-Benchers and Opposition members who had supported Lord Patel in the division lobbies had long since gone home satisfied that their fight was won, and the government won this unexpected vote comfortably by 132 to 49. Lord Freud's blood was up and he wanted to press more amendments that would annul all of the day's painful reverses for the government, but at this point the opposition made it clear that there would be all hell to pay if he tried it. He backed down, glowering (or smiling delightedly, or possibly heavily constipated—it's quite difficult to tell with him), but safe in the knowledge that he had clawed one back for the team.

Not, in the end, that any of this matters. I hate to say it but the “victory” the other day in the Lords was purely illusory, and gave false hope to the very people to whom that spiteful gift should never be given. Even without Lord Freud's inventive manoeuvres that evening, it was a given that the government would immediately start planning how to reverse the Lords' decisions once the bill returned to the Commons. This coalition will not be deflected from its core agenda, which seems as ever to be to redefine once and for all, and at any cost, the relationship between the vulnerable and their betters.

Ever keen to leave behind the “nasty party” tag that dogged them for so long, the Conservatives can be confident that with their behaviour over this bill they have done exactly that, although whether they were wise to do so by eagerly embracing the label of the “unbelievable cunt party” remains to be seen.[2]


[1] The noble Lord is the closest thing the coalition has to the coalition cheerleader in the Chamber that I recently helpfully suggestedBack

[2] It would be hard for the Lib Dems to trash their reputation any more than it already has been, but those who are still dutifully filing through the lobbies in support of these particular measures are having a stab at it anyway.  Back
webofevil: (*gulp*)
Lord German: My guess, and it is purely a guess, is that the Scottish Government will take the money, convert it by putting a bit of Alex Salmond paste on top of it, and make it into a Scottish system. [Hansard]


webofevil: (Default)


Early day motion 2477

"BIG SOCIETY"

Date tabled: 24.11.2011

Primary sponsor: Paul Flynn MP

That this House notes that not one Government Minister gave a full answer to the parliamentary written question on when they undertook their Big Society One Day Challenge and the nature and date of their volunteer work; and believes this is further proof that the giant concept of the Big Society has shrivelled into a protozoan nothingness. [Hansard]

December 2015

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