webofevil: (all hail)
“Who’s going to win the election, then?” It’s a question whose elements float around the building like a nebula, coating everything in it with an unsettling film of uncertainty, but rarely do they gather enough momentum to coalesce into a planetoid that can, say, be bowled at me slightly mischievously by one of our cleaners, a lady in her 50s originally from Mauritius. I run through my usual spiel that basically no-one knows anything at this point, and demoralisation nationally is such that any of the grab-bag of horrors running for office might scrape into power on the pitiful smattering of votes that people will be bothered to cast.

“I think it will be Ukip,” she says. I say that, despite everything I just said, this is still powerfully unlikely. “I shall be voting Ukip,” she says proudly. I look at her, wide-eyed. “But… you know that they don’t like you, right?” I venture. She raises her chin in defiance and pride. “I have been here for 40 years and I have worked for all that time,” she says, “and now I see all these immigrants coming here and getting everything for free.”

We bat back and forth a bit on the veracity of the relentless media reports of hordes of immigrants swarming across the Channel like flying ants to find themselves greeted with cries of joy from self-hating white do-gooders, wrapped in a carpet of money and gifted all the mansions they can eat [1], but she’s immovable. She firmly believes every word they print. “I have always worked for my money,” she says.

“And so do most of them!” I reply, but she’s having none of it. Finally I have no choice but to approach the more delicate aspect of all this. “Okay, but you do know that most Ukip members and voters are really racist?”

“I think that I also am becoming a bit racist,” she confides with a sheepish grin, before launching into an account of the welfare fiddles she reckons her Pakistani neighbours are getting up to. Her own experiences as a black woman emigrating to the UK in the mid-1970s, which are unlikely to have been too rosy, have faded enough that they can be overwritten by the same poisonous far-right narrative that can always be counted on to snare those who have very little: that lot over there are already getting more than you for doing nothing, and if you’re not careful they’ll come and get your stuff too. (Yes, this narrative can be used by the far left too, but in their case they’re talking about the hyper-rich and privileged rather than people who also have very little—and it can’t be quite so easily dismissed as untrue.)

Doomed, I persist. “And you know that they don’t think your children are British? Ukip, and the papers that support them, don’t care if someone is born here and has grown up here—they will always see them as ‘hidden migrants’ and use that to attack them.” Here she sidetracks unexpectedly into a story about having been told officially (by a never identified “them”) that she would be allowed to call her children English but not British, a claim I've never heard before and which sounds a lot like a misunderstanding, but it derails us from confronting the central issue of whether, having voted for them, she would honestly be invited to remain in he adopted country were her chosen party ever to win any kind of majority. Not, I suspect, that she would ever give this scenario any headspace to begin with; she has the monomania, and ability to ignore troublesome and conflicting ideas, of the true believer. She'd still vote for them if Farage himself beeped her nose and daubed a racist slur on her coat.

So when pundits note that the votes of immigrant citizens will play an increasing role in future elections, bear in mind that it isn’t necessarily obvious just who those votes will be cast for. It is at least as likely that someone who has come into a society from outside and had to fight for their place will be minded to pull up the ladder behind them as it is that they might be sympathetic to the plight of anyone following in their wake—especially if there’re encouraged to feel that way by cynical politicians looking to hit the electoral jackpot that is always guaranteed by spreading distrust and fear.

[1] You couldn't make it up.

Van damn

Jul. 28th, 2013 06:53 pm
webofevil: (all hail)

Following the news that the Home Secretary has been diagnosed with diabetes, advertising vans carrying a new information campaign aimed specifically at her have been spotted driving around in the vicinity of the Home Office. A department official denied that the posters could be seen as scaremongering, saying, “It's the only language Theresa May understands.”

webofevil: (all hail)
With the media brimming over with the Department of Health’s steady stream of anti-NHS propaganda, both subtle and not so, onlookers might be wondering how a Secretary of State who had previously appeared to be good for little more than waving through Rupert Murdoch’s wholesale takeover of the media turns out to have such an firm grip of his department’s message and such steely determination in hammering it home. This is no mystery, though, if you look at the consistency of the single message that he himself has been relentlessly exposed to for many years:

“What a dreadful c—”, “Here comes the c— now”, “I know he seems like a useless c— but he means well. No, only kidding”, “Watch this, the c—’s about to do his earnest face as he reads out my briefing notes and pretends to understand them”, “First up after the news, we're going to be talking to Jeremy C—”, “The fact that he looks like Sebastian Coe recovering after a massive traffic accident isn’t helped by the fact that he wears that dozy concussed grin around the place all the time, even when he’s alone. Also, he’s a c—”, “Mind where you're throwing that bell, you c—”, “Who’s that hapless c— hiding behind a tree?”, “Look at the rictus grin on this ghastly c—.This is your last chance to back out before he slips the ring on and I pronounce you man and wife”, “You’ve had all your Christmas presents, you irksome little c—, stop trying to steal other people’s”, “Congratulations, Mrs Hunt. It’s a c—.”
If this appears to be a case of tackling personalities rather than policies, it’s because what the Conservatives are engaged in now isn’t worthy of being called policy; it’s outright lying, treated as worthy of serious contemplation only by the party’s own wonks, by overworked churn-hacks in sparsely populated newsrooms passing on the bullshit as gospel, and by those who will benefit directly and materially from the Tories’ dishonesty (i.e. not most of us).

Liam Fox was secretly recorded in 2002 laying out the exact plan that his party has since carried out to the letter:

Tory health chief Dr Liam Fox is secretly plotting to kill off the NHS as the tax-funded, free-to-all bedrock of the welfare state. He says in a “secret” speech to Conservative doctors­—a tape of which has been leaked to the Mirror—that private insurance and payment for treatment from savings are the way ahead.

Dr Fox chillingly unveils a four-phase strategy to undermine the health service—“the first is to persuade the public the NHS is not working”… The Tory “softening-up” operation on the British people is planned to pave the way for a dismantling of the NHS…

Spelling out the strategy to undermine the NHS, he told the doctors: “The first is to persuade the public the NHS is not working... presently the press does that for us.”

Then the party had to convince people the service wouldn’t work and couldn’t work.

Thirdly, themes had to be introduced into the debate of how to fund reform and improvements.

The final stage would be details for the manifesto, “ultimately the most difficult phase”.

On the audio-tape, leaked to the Mirror, Dr Fox makes it clear that the “open-minded” health policy review ordered by party leader Iain Duncan Smith is a sham… The Tories fought the election last June pledging to match Labour spending on health pound for pound. Before the poll, Dr Fox assured voters: “We believe in a comprehensive National Health Service, funded from taxation, free at the point of use.” [Daily Mirror link now dead, but captured on this forum post]
A lie deployed specifically to reassure people that the one thing you won't do is the actual atrocity you intend to commit has many precedents, but none of them honourable. No wonder Liam Fox is still considered by many in his party to be a highly promising future leader.

Once again, though, I’m left asking the question that this “administration” raises more than any other: if the right wing have won all the arguments socially and economically, as we’re repeatedly assured by the affluent that they have, why this constant pressing need to keep lying?
webofevil: (all hail)
Don’t worry, George. The I-told-you-soers and the change-courseniks around you, they’ll cajole and aerate, but hold firm. You’re on course and they’ll never understand, until it’s too late.

You remember what it was like. More often than you’ll ever admit, they hang you by your ankles and crash your head on the floor, these ghosts, looming larger than they have any right. They were only adolescents, you all were, but the hurt and the shame and the fury are fresh as this morning’s dew. You learnt all the lessons you needed to about the arrogance of unwarranted privilege and how completely it shields those born into it. You yearned for that at first—who wouldn’t?—but you were denied. Instead, you saw old money’s urgent desire to attack new, and recognised the weakness that this betrayed. There is no revenge in impotent rage or empty gestures, but what group that thrives and depends on fierce tribal loyalty could survive betrayal by someone they had clasped to their heart leading them to their doom?

The usual suspects on the left who decry your decisions see only the surface layer of the damage you're inflicting, but you know just how deep it’s going to cut. Those at the bottom of the pile, the ones without the wherewithal and the family connections, they were always going to get a rough deal come what may—they’re collateral. It’s those at the top you need to dislodge, and that will take a far more colossal impact. For them to lose money and face, the country’s finances can’t just tank or slide off a shelf. The economy, along with any remaining notions that Conservatives have the faintest clue about governance, needs to be consumed in a screaming, deranged fireball. The fact that you will be consumed along with it isn’t even a price to pay; if it finally tends that ancient wound, any amount of chaos and hardship will be a blessed balm.

So, for now, hold your course. Your intended victims must have no time to shelter themselves from what’s coming. They trust you as one of their own, so reassure them as they get restive. Practise your most earnest facial expressions for when the PM—himself from the right school, the right background­—asks you, brow furrowed, “Are you sure…?” Every sign of economic failure, every creak and shudder from an increasingly strained hull, be sure to blame on your opponents. Make the right noises as you talk your toughest to those siphoning huge amounts of taxable income out of reach, while signalling that they have plenty of time to get their new arrangements in place and continue uninterrupted, tearing an ever greater irreparable hole in the country’s finances. Give your firmest support to divisive and destructive plans like the council tax benefit and the “bedroom tax”, even as older Tories begin to sniff the social unrest they could lead to and scramble to dissuade their government from implementing them. More Berlusconi-style contemptuous and unworkable gimmicks such as “trade in your employment rights for probably worthless shares” could see right-wing credos discredited for generations, and with them the entire basis for rule by the very people who broke you.

Revenge is an ugly thing, George, but they are even uglier. You owe it to yourself to take them with you. You can do this. You were born to it.
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”
webofevil: (all hail)
Obviously many words need to be written on the implications for the coalition and the indeed the British constitution of the government's abandonment of Lords reform, with the result that the Lib Dems will block the redrawing of the constituency map—but not by me. For a starter I'm on holiday, and as a main I have little to add to my general outpourings over the past couple of years to the effect that while clearly someone should take on the very necessary job of of restructuring and cleaning up our politics, it should under no circumstances be this shower of utter

Anyway there are, frankly, more pressing matters to attend to around here:

webofevil: (Default)
Potential future Tory leader and post-Boris Prime Minister Michael Gove (oh yes, the next 10 years is just going to be a cascade of competence) continues to bear the brunt of criticism and scorn for his mission to spread the Gospel to Britain's schools, but he is imperturbable—he understands better than anyone how neatly the work of the Lord dovetails with the aggrandisement of Michael Gove.

The latest to ping slings and arrows his way are the “disability bullies”, as the right wing has definitively identified anyone with an impairment or a special need, who are pointing out that paper Bibles are no good to children with visual impairments or dexterity problems, and that the Education Secretary has made no allowance for this or even mention of it. As a man of exquisite faith, though, Gove knows intimately something that Guardian-reading disabled-lovers never will—the eternal Word of the Lord:
For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or any thing superfluous,
Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded,
Or crookbackt, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken;
No man that hath a blemish... shall come nigh... unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries...

Leviticus 21:18-21, 23
You may have erroneously thought that the coalition's drive to stamp out tolerance for disabilities, special needs and health impairments was based purely on the witless prejudices of privilege, but in fact Iain Duncan Smith is right after all: they are doing God's work. With that in mind, if being ignored by the Education Secretary is all that special-needs kids have to kvetch about, they're doing pretty well. They should make the most of that exalted state while it lasts.
webofevil: (Default)
I try not to pay too much attention to the ideas and policies that are brewing in Whitehall. I fear for my mental health if I did, dashed as it would be against the twin imposing cliffs of this administration: the utter malignancy of their intentions on one side and, on the other, their delirious inability even to sit on a toilet the right way round. Obviously the crazy will sluice down to the Lords at some point in the form of legislation, but for now the decks have been cleared in the upper House in expectation of a year spent banging on almost exclusively about reform of themselves. Occasionally, though, I do up-periscope and have a peek, listening with a shudder to the shrieks and curses echoing around the Cenotaph.

Oh look, here's a health minister implying that poorer average health in the north of the country isn't the result of a long history of industrial labour in the region but is due solely to people who live there simply being feckless and unwilling to take care of themselves. She's doing more than merely reinforcing everyone's suppositions about the kind of person who lives in Guildford; in fact she's softening the ground for a wholesale abandonment of the universal principle of the NHS and its replacement, at least in the short term, with a moral thermometer. (Remember how ZaNuLabLiOrz or whatever was accused of “nannying” us by encouraging us to exercise? That was nothing next to this shit.) This has long been a dream of some Tories—a tax on those with the bad taste to get fat or sick from overindulging in working-class pastimes rather than expensive ones—and after the past two years I can't even be arsed to raise an eyebrow at the sight of the Lib Dems signing up to it as well.[1]

The final stage envisioned for what was once the NHS can be perceived in this next development. Nick Clegg's pledge for more “social mobility” has come a step closer to being a reality with the news that university tuition fees will be made cheaper for the wealthy who can pay up front. After all, a fast track and an easier ride for the wealthier is the natural endpoint once you have discarded the notion of universal access. Incidentally, Clegg himself must be very proud that his main legacy from his time in office will be the new definition of “pledge”, understood by many who were first-time voters at the last election, as “hopeless drivel”.

And the proposals to “tighten up” freedom of information laws intend to introduce a crucial change: the activities of the Royal Family will in future be exempted from any FOI requests, be they about the spending of government money, family members' diplomatic adventures with serial human rights abusers or indeed Prince Charles's incessant attempts to meddle with government policy.

Meanwhile, the right wing continue to be weirdly furious about everything, apparently not having noticed that they are in power and winning. Amid the frothing you can just make out that they blame their Lib Dem coalition partners for not having made foreigners illegal yet or having abolished all public services, but their impatience merely reveals that they haven't quite appreciated their situation. A country that embraced and admired the creation of the welfare state—in a time of austerity when the country had no money, yet—is never going to take to its heart an aristocratic-tinged Tea Party, no matter how many flags got waved around and drenched over the jubilee, nor any moves to restrict abortion or indeed women in general. The right, in their fury, are behaving like an invading army—they don't just want to occupy the territory, they want to be embraced, even loved. And, like many before them, they are going to have to learn that things just don't work out like that for invading armies. Witness for a start the popular revulsion at what, purely in terms of numbers, was quite a tiny example of what workfare can mean. In the short term, the right can easily implement Project Rewind with no meaningful opposition and return us to 19th-century industrialisation (“it's unfortunate that the word 'poorhouse' has so many negative connotations”, “left-wingers always flinch when you use the word 'indentured', but you do have to admit...”)—but they can never force us to accept it.

[1] “But surely they won't all sign up to it...” This lady said it best: "@MrsVB I love it when the Lib Dems threaten to revolt. This will consist of Simon Hughes making a :-( on the news, and supporting the Tories anyway"  Back
webofevil: (Default)

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


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!



webofevil: (Default)
Obviously I'm not in a position to say whether David Cameron usually means the things he says in public, but if he did then it would be extraordinary for an ex-PR man with—I keep hearing—a “populist” touch to deliberately resemble an extraordinary parody of a stuffed-shirt Tory, making occasional non-committal noises about business and high finance behaving more responsibly (“Come on now, chaps”) but reserving his true ire for “monsters” like workplace safety, understaffed nurses acting like they're understaffed and—his most notable intervention yet— insufficiently commercial British films. (The Prime Minister is due to meet record industry bosses at Downing Street later today to tell them, “I want more tunes I can hum”.)

This is deliberate, right? A man with finely honed political instincts surely wouldn't allow himself to keep making pronouncements that made him sound like an idiotic golf club bore. Such finely honed instincts might also help him fight shy of spontaneous utterances that seem to reveal undesirable personal attitudes: genial contempt for women, an inadvertent but no less troubling offhand disregard for disabilities. His recent unthinking “Tourette's” comment was characteristic—as a comparison for Ed Balls's demeanour, perhaps it was accurate and even legitimate, but the rules are meant to be different if you're Prime Minister. This was the the leader of the government giving an interview, but it didn't strike him that he needed to mind what he said or how he said it any more than some guy sounding off to his mates in the pub.[1]

His default retort to any complaints is airy dismissal (often immediately glossed by a No. 10 “spokesman said”). This instinct can be seen even in the way that he has responded to the question of a referendum on Scottish independence—scattergun condescension that could easily be taken as applying to Scotland as a whole, provoking rage and defiance among even the most anglophile Scots and actually increasing the likelihood of a yes vote. However, he really shouldn't be blamed for his limited range so much as pitied for it; after all, coming from his background, why would he ever have needed to learn any other response? Entitlement can be emotionally stunting if you know that every objection can be ignored or, if necessary, bought off.

Cameron's responses after last year's riots showed no sign that he intended to be Prime Minister of everyone, including those who had transgressed; he was Prime Minister of only a limited number, and could not conceive of any legitimate grievances on the part of the rest (some of whom indeed were apparently “feral”). As time has gone on, his spontaneous impulses have been even more revealing than his policies about how he seems to divide the population into the worthy whom he actually governs and the rabble who are to be barely tolerated, the latter category surprisingly numerous. As he glides sedately towards his hoped-for earldom, that oversimple worldview is unlikely to change for the better, which bodes ill for the people he will be wielding power over for several years to come.

[1] Perhaps some things, though painful, are for the best. A life of privilege and entitlement does not necessarily prepare one to be the most sensitive parent of a special needs child. “Not again! Why've you got to be such a spastic? Oh, sorry, sorry, I was speaking off the cuff.” “You can be so retarded sometimes. Oh God, sorry, stop crying, look, I was being outspoken.”
webofevil: (Default)
“You're all too cynical,” politicians routinely complain to the public. “And who started it?” the public retort. Look, I wouldn't normally quote myself but, damn it, it's pertinent:

… watching the Conservative party trying to care [is] almost as stressful for me as it must be for them. Education! The NHS! Social reform! The environment! … The sooner they stop having to harp on about the plight of the disadvantaged as if they think it’s a fit topic for conversation, the less likely the disadvantaged are to be fooled into thinking they have new friends. Also—admittedly less important but still a burning issue for this voter—I will be significantly less creeped out.

… it’s a depressing prospect: basically, about the same level of competence as the current incarnation of this administration but with even more tax-dodging and no public services. [The Web of Evil, 2 October 2008]

And so on. Still, however full of resigned foreboding (foreboreding?) I was then, I can safely say that even I was unprepared for this government's onslaught against—seriously, not even in my bitterest projections—the terminally ill. The disabled, sure, I had a fiver riding on them, but cancer patients? Trying to bounce them back to work with work assessments while sick, and then benefit cuts if they're still off work a year later?[1] Trying to quietly redefine "terminal illness" to cover only those given 12 months or less to live? If I had suggested that they would do a fraction of this, I'd have been shouted down for being hysterical.[2]

As some of you will know, my mother both works for the NHS and has had cancer, making her doubly suspect in coalition eyes. It's just over two years since she emerged from her operation, after which she had six months of chemotherapy that utterly laid waste to her, leaving her far more reduced than the disease and the surgery combined. The NHS kept her job open for her and she had a phased return to work as she slowly recovered from her treatment. (This was entirely thanks to European employment law, and I'm sure that plans have been drawn up to put a stop to that nonsense at the earliest possible opportunity.) Still, she says that only now could she say with confidence that she is back to being the person she was before she went into hospital for her initial operation.

I'm trying to consider dispassionately the possibility of her being dragged, mid-treatment and barely conscious, into a work assessment hearing with an unqualified idiot under intense (though officially denied) pressure to find her fit to work.[3] It's not important that that scenario defies all compassion; after all, any coalition member will tell you that we're dealing with a structural deficit and hard choices have to be made. It doesn't even matter that it defies all sense; like many coalition policies in this area—rehousing the poor, slashing incapacity benefit—the net result will end up costing even more than the current system, but what's important is that we're doing things differently around here. We're managing attitudes. No more of this “rights” shit. That's Mister Cameron to you.[4] No, what's important here is that it's beyond all parody. When your position can't be caricatured by exaggeration, something has gone horribly wrong.

Seriously, it's impossible at this point to cartoon the right wing's approach to anyone remotely vulnerable. Even those who think they're quite enlightened can't help but inadvertently display their baser attitudes; there's a reason why I keep on harping on about Lord Freud's incredibly revealing response about how “disabled” the disabled actually are. And the rage of the openly angry right wing does not stop at the poor and what they see as the workshy but roars onwards to encompass even the not entirely able-bodied and the sick.[5] The only time I have noticed a Conservative give even the semblance of a fuck is when their family or, more gratifyingly, they themselves are afflicted. Suddenly they're making speeches about the condition, publicly fundraising and determinedly defying the party whip when it demands they vote for charging for wheelchairs by the mile or whatever the hell fresh wheeze the DWP is brewing this week. Statistically, though, most of them are going to stay pretty healthy, so this is pretty much the course we're committed to for at least the next three years. And remember, if you are one of those with the bad taste to be affected, the government's relying on you to take heart and stay focused on the part where we're all in this together.

[1] In that article, Zoe Williams is fervently hoping that some of the more outrageous aspects of the reforms are actually a kind of departmental psyops, designed to soften us up for changes that are still bad but not as outright offensive and therefore will come as a positive relief. I used to hope the exact same thing about some of the bigger plans of the Blair administration. I was wrong. I'm just saying. Back

[2] Touchingly, it looks as if they will at least restore the mobility component of the disability living allowance. This may resemble another Lib Dem-friendly coalition U-turn, but there's a strong chance it's based on a wonk's canny calculation that people will then have no excuse not to travel to their appointment to be found “fit to work”.  Back

[3]The thinking behind this is that chemo affects people differently. While that is true, I'm not sure it has been seriously suggested that the number of people so unaffected that they could also hold down a job is high enough to warrant any blanket “work assessment”. Plus, it's not as if right now there's any bar to the lucky few who feel well enough to be able to contemplate working.  Back

[4] Until he's made an earl.  Back

[5] Extra points go to Jeremy Clarkson for his recent polemic about selfish suicides who throw themselves in front of trains: “Get the train moving as soon as possible and let foxy woxy and the birds nibble away at the smaller, gooey parts that are far away and hard to find.” At last someone has struck a blow against our ruthless oppressors: families of suicide victims! Now that's talking truth to power! He's the people's prince! I hope he does more of this stuff on his new DVD!  Back
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It's an exciting time to be in teaching. On the one hand, there exist Ofsted inspectors who will penalise you if you did not mention diversity and health and safety during the lesson that was being evaluated, whatever the subject you were actually trying to teach. I'd love to be able to say that was frivolous hyperbole on my part, true withering satire worthy of Clarkson himself, but it's an actual current example from further education.

But, you cry, what about the other hand? Well, it turns out to have a hole in it. Due to Britain's moral collapse, the government are sending bibles into every school with a new introduction by Education Secretary Michael Gove. As yet there is no word as to whether the Education Secretary plans any expansion of the scheme, but I await developments with interest.

Many UK schools have not yet allowed themselves to be bounced into becoming Govean “free” schools. Their resistance is an affront and ultimately futile: a new curriculum is being introduced for them, with virtually every lesson so hopelessly micromanaged that it is utterly impracticable, while private companies are waging a ceaseless offensive—sometimes charming, sometimes not—against the boards of dissenting schools. The practical and financial pressures being exerted on schools to transform tell their own story about how desirable it really is to become a “free” school (apparently we're not letting the market decide here after all) but will ultimately prove too much for most.

Amusingly, Michael Gove's vision of a “free” school is a school where he gets to dictate exactly what children must be taught about family life—so, not quite as free as we would have had you believe. Conservatives are said to be delighted at the news that “free” schools and academies must promote marriage, although I haven't seen any figures for whether these delighted Conservatives include the gay ones[1] and the single parents. Now there can be no argument, since it will be official policy, that marriage is simply the best and most important thing that ever can possibly happen, and any other form of family unit is grotesquely deformed and irredeemably deficient. My esteemed colleague put it best (she often does):
“In my experience, the extent to which a man goes on and on about the importance of marriage in general, and of his marriage in particular, is in direct proportion to the likelihood that later on he will touch my bottom in the kitchen.”
Still, at least there's no reason to doubt the government's word when they assure us it's sensible that any academy or “free” school that passes its Ofsted inspection with flying colours will not then have to be inspected again. The only reason for an inspection afterwards would be if, essentially, someone pulled the emergency cord, and you can imagine there might be quite some pressure from a private concern not to do so. But this is simply to save money and lift a restrictive burden from the government's flagship schools; in no way would it enable flaws and failing standards in those schools to remain usefully undetected.

As the riots this summer showed us, what our schools urgently need is to be freed from the manacles of old discredited educational theories and immediately re-manacled to even older discredited educational theories. “There are just too many sodding arbitrary HR targets,” teachers are saying up and down the country. “Where's a toxic deluge of ideological flummery and righteous hypocrisy when we need it?” Don't fret, gentle toilers, your parched days in the desert are at an end. Here comes the rain.

[1] As [livejournal.com profile] chiller has pointed out, gay people of course can't marry, and Gove's fundamentalist preaching on marriage ensures that gay children, like generations before them, will be learning the important lesson that they are inherently worse than the other, normal children around them. Mind you, since they came to power the coalition have gone out of their way to teach disabled people of all ages this exact lesson so I suppose they're consistent here, as long as you accept being gay as a disability.

Sorry luv

Sep. 14th, 2011 12:05 pm
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Downing Street is considering cutting the school summer holiday, overhauling child benefit and banning advertising to under-16s as part of a charm offensive aimed at winning back female voters, according to a leaked government memo.

The document reveals a growing anxiety at the heart of government that the coalition is failing to deliver on its promise to be the "most family-friendly government ever" and a worry that its support among women is particularly low. [Guardian]
Women! The coalition's sorry it said and did all those things, like blaming working women for a lack of jobs for men, slashing state services that provide support for women or showing itself to be broadly anti-abortion. How can the coalition make it up to you? The coalition promises to do the washing up for a week, the coalition will hang up the washing as soon as it's done and not leave it getting stale in a pile on the kitchen floor, and if you're really lucky the coalition might bring in a treat for you from the closest 24-hour garage to No. 10.

Look, you're right to feel upset; the coalition has been a bit distracted lately. But don't worry your pretty little heads—the coalition intends to spend much more time with you from now on.
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You can’t help your background, but David Cameron doesn’t just come from privilege—he is steeped in it, embodies it and reeks of it, and his privileged instincts reveal themselves under the slightest pressure. Maybe there is a way to persuade these kids that they have a place in society and that both it and they can be loyal to each other, but it certainly won’t come from him.

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Theresa May is cutting short her holiday to take charge after two nights of rioting in London. This is necessary only because she, the Deputy Prime Minister and the PM himself had all gone away on holiday at the same time. (You get the sense that Clegg was told when he was going on holiday. “But I thought I might be in charge while… No. Right. Sorry.”)

The only cabinet member who seemed to be available to speak on behalf of the government over the weekend was Lynne Featherstone. Maybe this means she was technically in charge, a scenario that would surprise her almost as much as it would surprise everyone else.

This is clearly senior cabinet members teaching the country a harsh lesson. “Imagine if we were really shit at our jobs,” they’re saying. “Imagine if it never struck us to co-ordinate even at the most basic level. Then we’d all be in trouble. So, just think on.” I trust that we will do exactly that.
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Some years ago I suggested that Tony Blair was trying to introduce consumer choice where consumer choice just wasn’t wanted or needed.

The coruscating political satire that toppled the Blair administration [1]

Still, I wasn’t prepared for the Tories to come roaring out of the traps with the same idea, only applied to police chiefs. And not just elected police chiefs, an idea already rife with potential pitfalls, but elected along political party lines. Party politics—your guarantee of transparency and fair dealing.

According to former home secretary Lord Howard, whose baby this is, the suggestion will ensure “transparency and accountability”. This would probably carry more weight as a reason if the phrase weren’t already obligatory in politics to get any project at all signed off, from dismantling the civil service to repairing a roundabout[2]). But elected police chiefs is a certified coalition Big Idea, a Tory policy that the Lib Dems are fully signed up to (I saw that twitch, ex-Lib Dem voter! It's time to let it go) so they got to work on it immediately upon taking power, and the result is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

At the heart of the bill is the election of police chiefs and putting the Met under the control of the Mayor of London (police reform), along with other provisions about licensing laws, drugs, arrest warrants and, at last, Parliament Square (social responsibility). It made its way unscathed through the Commons, as bills tend to when the government has complete control over the way the elected House scrutinises and votes on its legislation, and recently made its debut on the floor of the Lords.

The Lords didn’t like the look of it. Anyone with any knowledge of the police, from chairs of police boards to Met ex-commissioners, lined up to denounce the idea of elected commissioners as bafflingly idiotic (I paraphrase, but only just). The intriguing possibilities offered by having non-police in charge of police forces, the precise functioning of relationships between the elected commissioners and the chief constables who would have to remain in charge of actual policing, the chaotic potential of regular four-year political oscillations and many other aspects bothered their Lordships. To all of this the government replied, “We are listening”, which is of course subtle parliamentary code for “We are not listening”.

Wednesday saw the first day of committee stage. As this country works so hard to educate its citizens about the functioning of its own parliament, you of course don’t need me to tell you that committee is the first stage of the actual line-by-line scrutiny of a bill after its general principles have been rehearsed at second reading, but I thought I’d mention it in case any foreigners happened by[3].

The first line in the first clause of the bill read:
1 Police and crime commissioners

1) There is to be a police and crime commissioner for each police area listed in
Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 (police areas outside London).
Baroness Harris of Richmond, a veteran Lib Dem and for years the chair of the North Yorkshire Police Authority, had tabled Amendment 1, which read:
Page 1 … leave out subsection (1)
In other words, entirely remove police and crime commissioners from the bill. It could be argued that this ran counter to the spirit of the legislation.

There is a convention that you’re not allowed to table an amendment that could potentially kill a bill stone dead. However, in this case the bill wasn’t just about police chiefs since it contained the social responsibility provisions as well, so her amendment, though still controversial, was permitted. The Lords set to and debated it for the best part of four hours. Then—another convention flouted; you’re generally expected not to vote on amendments in committee since there can be dozens of them, even hundreds, and that would take forever—Baroness Harris pressed it to a vote.

As it became clear during the debate that the bill’s opponents included some rebellious coalition members, including traditionalist Tories appalled at their leadership’s proposed scheme, Nick Clegg is said to have sent his whips around to have urgent words in shell-likes to remind his own troops to vote with the government. On the first anniversary of the coalition it was important that they display unity, even if they might privately find some of the individual policy decisions troubling.

Pictured: coalition.

The result: 188 voted for the amendment, 176 voted against. Thanks to a Lib Dem, police and crime commissioners had been completely removed from the bill, at least for as long as it remained in the Lords. And 13 Lib Dem peers had rebelled, voting against the government’s own proposals, while others had abstained.

Consternation on the government benches. The guts had just been torn out of their bill, leaving only some tattered elements around the edges. Once the bill limps back to the Commons, the first thing they’ll do is vote elected police chiefs straight back into it and the whole rigmarole will start again, with the government forcing it through the Lords with the Parliament Act if necessary, but this defeat was a clear signal of massive opposition and battles ahead. They adjourned the committee in some disarray and the dinner-break debate went ahead a little earlier than scheduled.

When the committee reconvened, the opposition chief whip suggested that they stop proceedings so that the government could take the whole thing away and think again. The government chief whip responded stonily that there were plenty of other things in the bill still to debate, and would everyone please get on with it. This they tried to do, with much confusion about which amendments were still relevant and which were now redundant, while sundry peers kept bobbing up to object to the business proceeding at all. After half an hour of this, the government gave in and adjourned proceedings for 10 minutes, ostensibly to allow discussions among the usual channels—the whips of all parties—but, ever since the shenanigans in January, the two front benches have detested each other and can’t even bothered to be cordial about it, so the chances of communication between them are nil.

When the 10 minutes were up, the government immediately adjourned again for another 10. When they reconvened again, Baroness Royall pointed out from the Labour front bench that no-one had spoken to the opposition. Indeed they hadn’t; the government front bench had seethed and squabbled among themselves for the whole 20-minute hiatus. The result was that the House continued, crossly and pointlessly, to debate the bill. The legislation had, technically, just been transformed beyond recognition but the government have every intention of restoring it and so decided to proceed as if nothing had happened. Their feathers were thoroughly ruffled, though, and their leader can be catty when he’s fractious:
Baroness O’Loan [Cross-Bench, former police ombudsman]: My Lords, if I may speak again, perhaps the Leader of the House could help me by telling me exactly what it is that I am now discussing. I think that I am discussing a police commission comprising a police and crime panel that will elect one of its number to be a police commissioner that has no powers in the Bill, as all the powers in the Bill belong to other organisations. I am mystified as to what I am supposed to be thinking about.

Lord Strathclyde: The noble Baroness is generous in giving me powers, which I do not have, of knowing what it is that she is talking about. [Hansard]
Lord Harris of Haringey: Can the noble Lord the Leader explain to the House why the government Front Bench has permitted us to debate an amendment that potentially no one in this House understands? …

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, first of all, this will not be the first time that the House has debated an issue that it does not know anything about. [Hansard]
After more confusion and sniping, tempers were pretty frayed all round:
Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, may I make one very small point?

Noble Lords: Sit down! [Hansard]
Some 30 minutes of further debate later—which felt suspiciously like 30 minutes’ detention for an unruly House, since it achieved precisely nothing—the House finally adjourned, with a flagship government bill in tatters and the coalition partners fuming at each other. This isn’t over by any means, and doubtless the government will get its own baffling way on this one as on everything else, but this unexpected spasm of life from the otherwise supine Lib Dems, against the wishes of their leader, might prove to have interesting consequences.

[1] In my defence, some of these weren't too bad.  Back

[2] If Saddam Hussein had had his wits about him and described his invasion of Kuwait as “a move to ensure transparency and accountability”, the UN would probably have just nodded it through. And if he’d gone on to say it was “sustainable”, they’d have given him a sodding grant for it.  Back

[3] I grew up in Britain. I knew very little of our political process, and nothing of the day-to-day functioning of Parliament, until I actually worked there. My sister did learn all about the UK's constituency system and how its bills become acts, but then she grew up in Norway. Back
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If you do not exactly feel yourself to be a natural Tory voter, please bear in mind that today's referendum features a choice between two campaigns that, yes, have both been run equally badly, but one of which (hint: "NO") has been funded entirely by wealthy Tory donors and is backed by the BNP*, and might therefore be worth opposing. I'm just saying.

That said, people are naturally disposed to baulk initially at the notion of change and, when actively encouraged to fear and therefore hate it, tend to respond with alacrity. Should that be the result, though, I will be pressing for legislation to be brought in that inflicts the direst penalties on those who voted "no" (or indeed failed to vote at all) but then continue to bitch about their MP or the behaviour of politicians in general.

* Conservative chair Baroness Warsi has tried to claim that the BNP want AV. Conservative chair Baroness Warsi says a lot of things.
webofevil: (all hail)
So, like many others, I received my “No to AV” leaflet and, like many others, I found that it immediately tipped me over into the “Yes to AV” camp. Rarely have I been so powerfully persuaded of the rightness of an argument by the paucity of the case put by its detractors. Charlie Brooker is right to castigate the Yes campaign for its recent “war veteran” advert, but its timing rather suggests that it was produced as an incredulous kneejerk reaction to any credence at all having been given to the barrel of old pigs’ tits that the No camp is attempting to pass off as reasoned arguments.

Yes, the smears have been diverting, from the subtle (“None of your taxes have been used to print this leaflet”, which smartly implies that the other side is running on taxpayers’ money) to the blatant (George Osborne saying that the Electoral Reform Society supports the change only because it stands to make money out of vote-counting machines, which, if true, would be the world’s dullest ever scam). And it is quite entertaining to contemplate the damage that the coalition partners MIGHT face; since voting reform is what they appear to have abandoned many of their principles for, the Lib Dems would face total wipeout in the face of a no vote—but, while that would be amusing and quite gratifying, more meaningful in the long term (if less immediately apocalyptic) would be the damage done to the Tories by a yes.

But just shelve these considerations for a moment and chew on the basic question: should an MP have to aim to win the votes of more than 50 per cent of their constituency’s voters? If you think they probably should, then AV would be a fairer system than what we have now.

Some opponents of AV have used the analogy of an election being like a race—under first-past-the-post, the person who gets most votes wins, so it’s like a winner winning a race, and that’s the fairest system. I could get caught up in finer points of detail here—perhaps you could see the 50 per cent barrier as the winner’s tape, so the “race” is still “won”?—but ultimately there’s a broader objection, one that I haven’t seen expressed anywhere more concisely and effectively than in the words of my own dear mother:

“It’s not a fucking race.”
Indeed it isn’t; it’s meant to be about fairness of representation. I’m not aware of that being a critical aspect of racing, but then I don’t follow sport. Mind you, by the same token I wouldn't have expected rowing champion James Cracknell to have known a great deal about AV, but he has announced that “AV is so complicated it will put off voters”, although the No campaign might have cast a bit further afield to find a spokesman to argue that AV was difficult to understand who wasn’t hampered by (a) being a sports personality and (b) a colossal brain injury.

If you’re more bothered about how we are all represented in Parliament than by how much the new MP on election night feels like a “winner”, AV is the only option available right now that would address that. The reason why my mother is so exercised about this topic is that she has spent 30 years watching her vote fail to count for anything, as she lives in a seat that couldn’t be safer for a party she bitterly opposes. Brain-damaged sportsmen gargling on about “fairness” are advised to stay the hell away from her door.

webofevil: (stick with me)
There’s an old saying that all military generals dream that one day they will be out of a job (though the size of the MoD payroll rather belies that). At the moment, the same goes for government ministers. All you’ll hear from any of them at the moment, whether Tory or Lib Dem, is how central government is at an end; it has ceased to be. It’s not for government to interfere in people’s lives any more. We’re rolling back the nanny state! The Wicked Witch is dead!
Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg says the coalition has made good progress in rolling back many of the intrusive laws passed by Labour. However, he told Henry Porter people were right to continue to be suspicious of central diktat. “You shouldn’t trust any government, actually, including this one. You should not trust government—full stop. The natural inclination is to hoard power and information.” [Guardian]
This is fine, and entirely in keeping with a libertarian agenda, except that it ignores the glaring fact that private providers don’t offer much opportunity for trust either. After all, what remains more successfully hidden than “commercially sensitive information”? At least government secrets sooner or later usually wind up leaked. Non-communication, a general tendency to hoard power and overall imperfection aren’t attributable to one particular system; rather, they can be put down to what the Tory Lord De Mauley once alarmingly referred to as “the involvement of humans”. To fear the all-encroaching state but not the negative potential of other forms of organisation seems irrational.

But all right, let’s go with it. No more central regulation; everything to be organised locally, from neighbourhood policing to sewerage budgets to youth care provision to street light maintenance to geriatric care to tax revenues. Leaving aside the fact that anyone who has ever used the phrase “postcode lottery” really has something to look forward to now, we’re all suddenly being asked to contribute meaningfully to the kind of decisions that we previously left to elected representatives.

I have said before, and I’m not being facetious when I do, that the bulk of the business of politics is overwhelmingly dull. That’s not even a criticism; it’s meant to be dull. You need a very specific kind of mind to want to crawl line by line through legislation about, say, building regulations, querying and testing it to see if it’s “fit for purpose”. Most of us do not have this kind of mind—just like most of us have no desire to spend a lifetime studying a particular species of ant—and we should be grateful that people exist who thrive on precisely that.

Perhaps you object to the very concept of building regulations as being too centralist, and would be happy if no such legislation existed. If so, I put it to you that you have not lived in a country where there was no building code. Either that or you’re Turkish and you still owe me for the mess you made of tiling my bathroom, you clown.

If we’re going to decentralise services to this extreme degree, though, let’s have the courage to see it through to its conclusion. We don’t just want care provision veering wildly from parish to parish—we want to get our hands on defence. Centralisation in the military has held us back for too long. It’s not the government’s place to dictate military policy. Each local authority its own division and weapons! Unleash the little platoons! Let’s see Newcastle and Sunderland sort it out once and for all!

No, obviously not. That’s a ridiculous extrapolation, and just the kind of unhelpful commentary that the prime minister has been chiding the big society’s critics for, although his demand that opponents “stop sniping” is a bit rich coming from a man who’s leading an all-out artillery assault. In fact the prime minister seems unnecessarily anxious about all this, given that he really can’t lose. If by some miracle the country comes through the next few years relatively unscathed, he can personally take the credit. If, however, as seems likely, the coalition ends up scathing us quite a lot, Cameron can claim that it only goes to show that governments always make bad decisions, the very idea of the centralised state is discredited and he was right all along.

His complaint, though, is that his vision is constantly being misrepresented. Far from simply being a cover story for massive cuts in government spending, he points out, it’s actually social reform that entirely relies on massive cuts in government spending—a completely different proposition.

Unfortunately, his claims that this is a positive and constructive initiative are being steadily undermined by the Department for Work and Pensions. It has had to issue correction after correction to Parliament about the dubious figures it has been issuing since the election[1], and has done nothing to counter the recent flurry of lying press coverage about disability benefit recipients. (“Millions” are fit to start work “straight away”, apparently, including people on dialysis and chemotherapy. Go on, get on your gurney and look for work![2]) Overall the DWP has proved to be very slightly less reliable and accurate in its reporting than Lord Haw-Haw, and all of it directed to the same end: demonstrating, at any cost, that the department’s massive cuts and reform will not wreak huge damage and that anyone receiving welfare, whether related to children or a disability, is basically on the rob.

Such insistent demonisation seems designed to persuade the public to accept the full extent of the cuts when they come—or, at least, that part of the public not in any way affected by them. Anyone who has seen the alleviating effects of disability payments is a lost cause as far as the coalition is concerned, but statistically there aren’t many of them. The resentful many are a much more satisfying crowd to play to.

So Cameron’s departments are pressing ahead with their cuts, often (a) on spurious figures, (b) with no regard to their consequences[3] or even, as Ben Goldacre amply demonstrates here, (c) against the evidence. But the prime minister is still insisting to everyone around him that this is a moral crusade for the nation’s benefit. One explanation more than any other suggests a plausible reason for this:
I fear here that Cameron has fallen victim to the availability heuristic. He looked at his own family and acquaintances and saw many social entrepreneurs, millionaire philanthropists and rich men’s wives looking for a role, and forgot that these were not typical of the country. [Liberal Conspiracy]
From his perspective, then, he’s in The Life of Brian, insisting to the crowd that “You’re all individuals!”, while all we do is stay put and shout back, “Yes! We are all individuals! Now why are you shutting our fucking youth centre?” (Technically they’re not shutting anything, of course, they’re just making it impossible for them to remain open—another fine distinction that’s in danger of being lost on the rest of us.)

Plainly, it’s not as if nothing in the country needed improving, while the previous administration's keenness to explore how far the state could intrude into its citizens’ business will have helped persuade a lot of people that the state needed a sharp lesson in learning its place. But I suggest that a slash-and-burn policy implemented by millionaire dilettantes was perhaps not the ideal route forward.

Cameron may have his eyes lifted to volunteer heaven but the rest of us are going to have to keep trudging around in a distinctly earthly corporate swamp. This disconnect between his ideals and reality can be seen in the government's mixed messages about charities. They are the jewel in society’s crown and the way forward, apart from the large ones that get state handouts, even if they’re actually being paid to carry out particular local tasks for the state. They shouldn't need state support, says the coalition, at the same time as it says it wants them to take on even more vital functions than they already do. A lot of the social work in Camden and Tower Hamlets, for example, is contracted out by the local authority to the NSPCC. Slashing funding to both the NSPCC and the local authority, and insinuating that both are pathetic for needing state funds into the bargain, is precisely the kind of thing I might have suggested before the last election that the Tories were itching to do when they took power—as I’ve mentioned before, Lord Flight had the good grace to warn us of this in 2006—but it would likely have been dismissed as being a ridiculous and ignorant lampoon of Tory policy. It turns out the Tories are perfectly able to provide that themselves.

(Incidentally, the cure that the coalition suggests for charities like the NSPCC that have become too dependent on government money is simply to get back into the habit of raising their own funds. Charities, it turns out, aren’t already active enough[4], and need to up their fundraising game. Essentially, the big society is a chugger's charter.)

There has always been a stark division between the people who, if they saw someone crawling out of the desert, would rush to give them water, and those who would see it as an exciting opportunity to sell them some liquid. Now David Cameron is showing us a third way—do neither but wait for water to materialise from somewhere else, while lecturing them on why they shouldn't have been in the desert in the first place.[5]

[1] Like this one.  Back

[2] Lord Freud: In my view, people who are autistic could benefit more than virtually anyone else from the package of measures in the work programme that we are introducing. These are people who can work if they are helped to do so. [Hansard]

I worked with special needs young adults for a while when I was younger. Pete was 18 and so powerfully autistic that he could scarcely communicate. He never made eye contact, never spoke a word and was never seen to read or write. He would allow himself to be led outside by the hand for a walk, and if there was any music playing he would smile to himself and sway gently from side to side with his eyes closed. That was pretty much the extent of his contact with the outside world. I would love very much to watch Lord Freud explaining to Pete how much Pete wanted to work, and how it was only Pete’s disability living allowance holding Pete back. Actually, Pete would probably do quite well as a fact-checker for the DWP.  Back

[3] Some of the defence cuts are actually very sensible, but the cancelling of the Nimrod planes strongly suggests that this was more by luck than judgment. Powerful spy planes with vast coverage allow a more sparing deployment of forces and use of weapons; getting rid of them leaves us dangerously underequipped. The Tories are very hot on renewing the UK’s “military convenant” with its troops, but that seems like a very hollow exercise if at the same time you're getting rid of their ability to see the enemy coming. "We really do appreciate everything you chaps—ah, sorry, you probably should have ducked then. What address should we send the flowers to?"  Back

[4] I am certainly surprised to learn this, 14 months into my battle to fend off Oxfam’s urgent attentions after they got hold of my address. I like you as a friend, Oxfam, but nothing’s going to happen. Please stop sending me letters.  Back

[5] Also, spend your available resources on blocking all the nearby wells and then demanding that the aquifers flow harder. I mean, I could go on.

December 2015

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