Jul. 14th, 2014 04:17 pm
webofevil: (all hail)
It's amazing that the coalition ever gets anything done when there's the internet to peruse:


Click for legibility
webofevil: (all hail)
Lord Freud, reading directly from his brief (which is a relief for all of us), produces a phrase that is exquisitely ambiguous:

Lord Freud: ... we will ensure that pension credit awards are accurate and that, in future, limited resources are spent on those who require the most support.
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)
Public attitudes [about poverty] remain sceptical. An Ipsos MORI focus group in 2007 was presented with evidence of severe deprivation in some of Britain's poorest communities. “They probably don't wear coats because it's fashionable not to,” was one participant's explanation. “People in Cornwall don't need so much money—they can go out and cut trees down for fuel,” said another. The researchers concluded that people were reaching for outlandish explanations as to why the evidence didn't match their opinions.

Mark Easton, Britain Etc.
webofevil: (all hail)
Some people claim to have detected an element of hyperbole in some of the things I have written about the coalition. They point, for example, to my claims—rooted in observation but admittedly open to accusations of over-extrapolation—that the government is not merely denying the existence of disability out of ignorance and austerity-inspired parsimony but is actively pursuing an extremist, almost National Socialist agenda born of a furious hatred that is barely suppressed whenever any of its architects are pressed about its more offensive aspects. “You're just plummeting down the Godwin chute,” they say. “You can't just shout 'Nazi' just because, say, the government is openly lying to the media about disabled welfare claimants and stirring up prejudice about them.”

To be clear: any such ostensibly exaggerated claims fall into a particular category of writing known as “Prove Me Wrong, You Cunts”. The moment they did, the way would be clear to retract—but the longer they go on, the less it looks like there'll ever be any danger of that.

webofevil: (Default)

Early day motion 2477


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]
webofevil: (Default)
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: [I was] at a Jobcentre Plus office where I had to tell a disability employment adviser that the person in front of him had rheumatoid arthritis, when they were not an English speaker and they were describing their symptoms, and he had never heard of the condition.
webofevil: (Default)
This week's fake story in the Mail on Sunday about thousands of parents of ADHD children being eligible for free cars—churned into a typically unpleasant Taxpayer's Alliance press release—marked another step towards the campaign that the nation's newspapers are truly champing at the bit to run. Obviously, though, with a progressive government in power that doesn't hold with scapegoats and a newly invigorated Press Complaints Commission, this will never happen... [Harp music, vision goes wobbly]

Wei out

May. 25th, 2011 04:04 pm
webofevil: (Default)
Now that society is officially big, Lord Wei's work in the Lords is done and he is leaving. This will be a huge relief for the noble Lord, whose parliamentary role was proving an encumbrance to the important work of making a ton of money from the charitable sector.

He has no need to worry, though; the changes in attitude necessary for the big society to function are gaining ground in Parliament as much as they are in the rest of the country. At yesterday’s public session for the Joint Committee on Human Rights, talking about independent living for the disabled, all the witnesses gave evidence that a wide range of disabled people will suffer from the impact of cuts in funding, from outright loss of money, through cuts that will leave them with enough to stay live but not to leave the house, to subtle disincentives to use the aids and facilities that would alleviate their condition.

A woman from the National Centre for Independent Living pointed out that many disabled people will suffer from the closure of the Independent Living Fund. It’s already to closed to new claimants, and will close for good in 2015, affecting 21,000 disabled people. When this was announced, there was a vague statement from the government that the shortfall would probably be made up by local authorities or maybe the Arts Council, or had they considered going door-to-door selling jaycloths? (Not the actual wording.) Rehman Chisli, a Tory disable-sceptic* who appears to be on the human rights committee only sarcastically, was dismissive of this evidence, particularly of the two specific illustrations that she had given.
Rehman Chishti: Can I clarify one thing? You said 21,000, and you said you had the example of two who would be affected by the changes. Am I right in thinking—correct me if I am wrong—that out of 21,000 people who are claimants, that is the figure at which the Government stop? You have only two examples.
This is a level of scepticism rarely seen in Parliament, or indeed outside conspiracy forums:“You have said that 21,000 people will be affected but you can only give us two names. You must be lying”. But which was he—malicious or really stupid? His respondent gently assumed the latter.
Sue Bott: I think there is a misunderstanding here. I have presented two examples to you. I could present a number of other examples and I would be happy to do so, but I am mindful of how much reading matter you have to have. But the point is that those are examples of people who have been affected by closure of the fund since October last year, so they are people who would have been able to apply for the fund had it continued. It is closed to new applicants; that is probably where we are getting confused. A decision has been taken that the fund will close in its entirety. It is at that point that the 21,000 people who currently rely on that fund will find that they do not have that funding any longer, and to date we have no clear indication of where that funding will be made up from.
Mr Chishti looked scornful and left the session shortly afterwards, pausing only to [THIS IS NOT TRUE] punch a row of disabled children full in the face [THAT WAS NOT TRUE].

* He does not go as far as professing that disabled people are not actually impaired, but does make it clear that he believes that any financial help for disabilities is a personal affront to, and probable direct theft from, himself. This makes him a strong contender for a ministerial position at the DWP.
webofevil: (all hail)
The DWP’s hard work is paying off. Months of dripfeeding negative stories about disabled welfare recipients is translating into a healthy rebalancing of society’s attitudes towards disabilities. It’s time to condemn innocent people a little more and understand medicine a little less:
[In the past year] 37% of people with disabilities claimed they were increasingly being abused in the streets, erroneously reported to the benefits fraud hotline and accosted when trying to use parking spaces for the disabled. Nearly two- thirds thought others did not believe they were disabled and half of respondents said they felt others presumed they did not work. [Guardian]
As with almost all coalition policies, the disability benefit cut and back-to-work efforts are not even remotely designed to save money: as Scope has pointed out, this general atmosphere of hostility towards people with medical conditions means that they will face increased suspicion and outright discrimination when trying to find work, meaning that they are less likely to get it and therefore more likely to become or remain unemployed. But clearly, for the coalition, that’s a small financial price to pay if society finally gets the message about the “disabled”.
webofevil: (Default)
The big society has been neatly characterised as, “If we close all the libraries and youth centres, all the sacked librarians and youth workers will have plenty of time on their hands to go and volunteer at their local library or youth centre”. That may sound cynical but it remains infinitely more convincing, in the light of what we’ve seen so far, than any attempts by the government to sell it to us:
Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General (Francis Maude MP): … It’s about understanding that our obligations to each other don’t end with paying our taxes and obeying the law. We have obligations, and our communities work together. We have a big strong society when people do more, not just for themselves—that’s important, self-reliance—but when they do more for each other, more for their communities, and that’s what binds us together.

Interviewer (Eddie Mair): Point made. What volunteering do you do?

Francis Maude: I do­—golly, what do I do? I do a whole load of things. I’m involved with my local church. Gosh. That’s a really unfair question, cold. The point is—

Interviewer: I think, given that we’re talking about volunteering and how important it is, that you might have been able to tell me. Not least because in your manifesto, it says, “Our ambition is for every adult in the country to be a member of an active neighbourhood group”.

Francis Maude: Well, I’m involved in things in my local community. MPs spend their time involved with voluntary groups.

Interviewer: Well, that’s part of your job, isn’t it? You get paid for that. What else do you do?

Francis Maude: Well, we do it seven days a week, kind of thing. I do various things. It’s a great question to drop on me. [BBC]

This autumn: Roy Walker is Slobodan Milosevic
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.

Wei to go

Feb. 2nd, 2011 12:31 pm
webofevil: (all hail)
An English city has had to stop making its emergency payments to families.[1] This means that if a poor family contacts the council and says, “We have absolutely no money to last us until the end of the month”, instead of being able to dole out 30 quid or so to tide them over, the council is now obliged to automatically remove the children from the poverty-stricken home and place them, however temporarily, into care, a process that’s pretty awful for the family and is vastly more expensive for the taxpayer.

No politician ever sets out to make that sort of thing happen. However much you might hate the politician of your choice[2], they honestly didn’t arrive on their first day rubbing their hands and saying, “Right, first things first—have all the children taken into care and waste loads of money. And give the little sods one from me”. How has this happened?

If a council is spending a lot of money, Tory reasoning goes, they must be wasting it. There’s no conceivable way that all the money could be going on anything necessary. Look, it continues, the council responsible for my lovely village, containing all my lovely friends with their lovely cars and gardens, hardly spends anything. Lambeth council, on the other hand, spends oodles. They must be eating it or bathing in it or something.

So the government’s plan is to remove money from the very local authorities that depend on it the most, but also to restrict the ability of those authorities to raise any money of their own.[3] That’ll teach them, goes the thinking. Now they’ll have to get rid of some of those meaningless jobs they must have created over the years. No more Black Disabled Lesbian Hurt Feelings Officers for them.[4]

In response to those people concerned that their local council is facing a massive cut in funds and isn’t allowed to make up the difference, the coalition is sanguine. There’s no reason for your council to cut its services, they say. You shouldn’t have to lose your swimming pool or library or whatever. The council will just have to shed some of their useless jobs instead. You’ll see, it’ll all come out in the wash!

And maybe it will. What reason do we have to doubt them? After all, every policy decision the coalition has made has been backed up with barge-loads of irrefutable evidence, and hasn’t borne a single hallmark of simply having been spawned around the dinner tables of the privileged. Oh, excuse me, I just have to take this phone call. Hallo? That can’t be right. Yes, bags of evidence. No, I haven’t actually seen it myself. Really? Well, I have to say I’m disappointed. And there’s no need to use that sort of language.

Still, surely that’s a secondary question. After all, as the Bush and Blair administrations showed, faith—in both the religious and non-religious sense—trumps evidence every time. The windscreen-wiper of belief will always take care of the grit of facts. If, say, you have created the notion of the “big society”, of everyone giving up their free time to become active citizens and replace the burdensome state in running their local facilities, then you’ll definitely be wanting to lead from the front and blaze the trail for the rest of us.

Big society tsar Lord Wei “doesn’t have enough time to perform role”

Lord Wei of Shoreditch, who was given a Tory peerage last year and a desk in the Cabinet Office as the “big society tsar”, is to reduce his hours on the project from three days a week to two, to allow him to see his family more and to take on other jobs to pay the bills.

A common criticism of the plans, under which the government hopes that communities will take over the running of local services such as schools and charity projects, is that people don't have time to run a public service on top of holding down a job and seeing their families.

Wei has told friends he is cutting his hours to allow him to earn more money and “have more of a life”. He originally worked three full days a week and will now work two days, with the hours split over three, while taking on more non-executive directorships with private companies. [Guardian]
Hallo? Look, I can’t keep answering the phone while I’m writing. No, I don’t think the only fitting response to Lord Wei’s decision is “No shit, c*ntyballs”. How about some sympathy for the poor man, for a start? Well, because according to that article he gave up jobs in the charitable sector to become the big society tsar but was told only the night before he started in the House that the role was voluntary and unpaid, and—hallo? I can’t hear you, there’s too much laughing. Hallo?

At first glance, the noble Lord may appear to have fatally undermined his own clever idea, but actually he is continuing to light the way. For anyone who finds themselves battered by the tender mercies of the big society—perhaps one of those lucky recipients of disability benefit who are about to be liberated from the repressive shackles of state subsidy—it’s perfectly simple: take on more non-executive directorships.

Meanwhile, as the cuts are unveiled and services start to be dismantled—to some Tory dismay, as that really wasn’t supposed to happen—children from poor households whose feckless parents do not follow Lord Wei’s worthy example and simply refuse to become non-executive directors are just that bit more likely to get one of these:

[1] I’m not going to name it because I don’t actually know how confidential that information was supposed to be. If it turns out to be common knowledge I’ll say so.  Back

[2] I have a fantastic recording of an 11 year-old girl telling me what she thinks should happen to Nick Clegg, but I genuinely can’t reproduce it anywhere for fear that both she and I could be detained under antiterrorism legislation.  Back

[3] This is called “localism”.  Back

[4] Why the coalition hasn’t yet ennobled Richard Littlejohn is a mystery.  Back
webofevil: (all hail)
Lord Knight: To ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the letter from Lord Freud deposited in the Library of the House (DEP2010-2327), what was the methodology used to calculate that 750,000 private rented sector homes will still be affordable in London after the housing benefit reforms have been implemented.[HL5749]

Lord Freud: The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): I have written to the noble Lord to correct an error in this letter. There are fewer than 700,000 private rented sector homes in total in London, and a conservative estimate is that about 250,000 of these will still be affordable after the housing benefit reforms have been implemented.

That's 250,000 actual affordable post-Freud homes, "accidentally" inflated by the Minister to a fictional 750,000 -- an increase, as I'm sure he'd be the first to point out witheringly if these were someone else's figures, of 200 per cent.

Let's not forget that the chair of the UK Statistics Authority had to write to the DWP in November identifying serial "serious deficiencies" in the DWP's statistics. But are they lying to the public, or just rubbish at maths? Either way, this bodes pretty well for the big society.
webofevil: (Default)
Baroness Verma: The UK Government strongly support those efforts, as we have encapsulated in a new national action plan on women, peace and security, which was launched in November 2010. The Government are reorientating the development programme to put women at its heart, empowering women to make their own choices for their health and the health and well-being of their families.
Oh Christ, does this mean the coalition's going to wipe out development aid? They only ever use this sort of language when they're going to take all the money away.
webofevil: (all hail)
So, the government’s own advisers warned them that their housing benefit reforms would lead to social carnage but they went ahead anyway? What could be behind this? I mean, there really must be an overwhelming reason in the national interest to press on despite the risk of that kind of societal damage. Right?

The boss of a friend of mine has an arthritic condition that means she uses a wheelchair when travelling any significant distances. A few months ago she had a bewilderingly unpleasant cab journey across London during which the driver spent the whole trip exploring his theory that disability benefit was a swindle and that most if not all the people who claimed it were shirkers. This to (in case you missed it) a woman in a wheelchair with arthritis, who had done nothing to provoke him other than sit in a wheelchair and be arthritic. That taxi driver is now Under-Secretary of State for Welfare.

All right, no he isn’t, but he might as well be. “’Unable to work’? No such thing, mate”—these people put the “cabbie” in “cabinet minister”. It’s official, even if it isn’t true: all benefits are theft. Disability, housing; name it, you’ve stolen it and now the government want it back. All taxpayers are paying for scrounging families to live in luxurious accommodation far more expensive than their own, they claim grandly without ever actually producing the numbers to prove it. No-one should ever get free money, they lecture us sternly while investigating the easiest way to abolish inheritance tax.

Even occasional readers of this blog may be familiar by now with my surmise that the Tories are governing by their instincts and prejudices rather than necessarily based on any facts, often because the facts clash inconveniently with what they have already decided. I’m afraid I have to serve this reheated dish up once again: those instincts and prejudices, not the financial train wreck that the banks bestowed on us, are the first and only reason for the reforms.

Ask Howard Flight, the recently ennobled ex-MP for Arundel who was sacked in 2005. He had made a speech, when he considered that he was among trustworthy right-wing friends, that laid out how the Tories’ proposals for £35 billion in savings in welfare spending, far from being the full extent of them, represented only the start of what the party wanted to do. Their findings, he said, had been “‘sieved’ for what is politically acceptable and what is not going to lose the main argument”, but “everyone on our side of the fence believes passionately that it will be a continuing agenda”. This, remember, was in 2005, when we were doing comparatively well—there was no imminent financial catastrophe to be cited as the axe was swung. The speech was leaked to the Times, the public for some reason got the idea that the Tories were being dishonest about what they planned to do when they got back into power, and the whole incident contributed to their failure to dislodge Blair that same year. But the “continuing agenda” simmered away, and now the party has its chance.

Intriguingly, it turns out that one of the chief exponents of the exciting potential offered by benefit-slashing and poverty isn’t even in the Tory party (or the other one[1]). Thanks to Wikileaks, it turns out that Bank of England governor Mervyn King may have had a hand in creating the coalition’s deficit-reduction strategy and played a key role in ensuring that the cuts are as savage as planned. Not that Cameron and Osborne will have needed too much encouragement; the same cables reveal that King himself felt strongly that the pair of them were concerned only with the political impact of their reforms, not the economic. In other words, if for whatever reason you’re unable to work and you’re now scared of losing your home or whatever security you currently have, be under no illusion: these people really do hate you. They’re not concerned with any wider economic benefit of slashing your benefit—they just genuinely think you shouldn’t have it.

Ultimately, any arguments against are simply academic. The coalition outnumbers its opponents in Parliament and, like the previous administration before it, can drive enough of its own through the division lobbies to vote at the elected end of the building, while it can safely ignore any attempts by the unelected end to curb its legislative excesses. It doesn’t need to win the argument—it just needs to win the process. And it has very little incentive to listen to any voices of protest, even if they come from its own ranks, as it wages its total war against the straw men.

[1] That measurable Lib Dem contribution so far:
(1) Persuading the Tories not to destroy the BBC overnight but rather to delay the process (their flagship achievement)

(2) Persuading the education department to label part of its existing education spending as the “pupil premium” (not sure what the point of this was)

(3) Backing a tuition fee system that will see the less well off ultimately pay more than the rich because they won’t be able to pay their loan interest off as quickly

(4) Abandoning pretty much everything else they ever claimed to stand for on immigration, nuclear power etc etc
Have they got something really special up their sleeve? Because so far they seem to be living up to the most sarcastic expectations of their detractors.  Back
webofevil: (phil)
Earlier this year the Conservatives claimed that 54 per cent of girls in deprived areas were likely to fall pregnant before the age of 18. As I have suggested, this revealed not only poor mathematical skills but a welter of uninformed prejudices—you can bet that even when the figures were corrected, there was a lot of dark muttering among the party faithful about how they knew the true scale of the problem.

That was a harbinger of their governing style. Now that they’re in power, they’re not working too hard to dispel the impression that they’re practising what the Labour MP for Westminster, Karen Buck, has labelled “government by anecdote”:
Baroness Hanham [Con]: There is more than a suspicion that rents have risen quite substantially on the back of knowing that housing benefit will be paid. Rents are now very high; they rose substantially during the previous Government's reign, and that is where we are now with the level that they are at.

Lord McKenzie of Luton [Lab]: I apologise for interrupting the Minister. Is she suggesting that the policy was built around a suspicion about the impact of housing benefit on rents, or was there evidence that supported that suspicion?

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, there is a suggestion. I think I will put it like that. [Hansard]
In a debate on the recent report on health and safety, Common Sense, Common Safety, Baroness Turner pointed out that the evidence in the report itself flatly contradicts what the Prime Minister writes in its foreword:
Baroness Turner of Camden [Lab]: “A damaging compensation culture has arisen”, the Prime Minister says. He also says that “the standing of health and safety in the eyes of the public has never been lower”, yet the report makes it clear that, although this may be a perception, the reality is very different. For example, under the heading, “Annex D: Behind the myth: the truth behind health and safety hysteria in the media”, some of the stories that appeared in the media are repeated and shown to be quite untrue. I hope that we do not have more legislation based not on fact but on perception created by media misrepresentation. It is in everyone’s interest that workplaces should be as safe as possible. [Hansard]
Meanwhile, official correction seems to follow official correction as ministerial figures are shown to be wonky, and there are accusations that policy has been based more on supposition than on fact. Still, as long as everyone involved is sensible and has a clear and comprehensive knowledge of the world around them, that’s bound to be all right. I mean, if the people at the helm were just a bunch of millionaires barking pet theories and stale prejudices at each other as they stripped money and help from the vulnerable while quietly protecting those who were already pretty well cushioned, that would obviously be a disaster. But I think we can trust the good old British public not to let that happen at an election.
webofevil: (Default)
The popularity of sharia law among Muslims who have never actually experienced it can seem odd to non-Muslims, and indeed to some Muslims who have, but it is usually because their local standards of law and justice can be shown to be so laughably low that anything else has to be an improvement, especially a system that they are promised has been divinely sanctioned. Many villagers in Pakistan and indeed Afghanistan, tired of hopelessly corrupt local law enforcement and suddenly offered swift justice in place of no justice, will leap at the chance.

The reality of sharia, which is that those who choose to implement this ascetic, reductionist and let’s say unhelpful reading of Quranic law tend to err on the side of the base and the brutal, strikes them all too late. Just because you wanted to be able to travel in safety late at night, or to see a criminal face justice instead of the case against them falling apart due to bribery or sheer apathy, doesn’t mean you ever wanted your daughter’s school burnt down or your cousin stoned to death because someone says they saw her talking to a man she wasn’t related to.[1] They didn’t realise the nature of what they had invited over their threshold until it bared its fangs in their hallway.

A similar process can be seen at work among many right-wingers in this country. “A smaller state!” cry the fervent faithful. “Axe the quangos, burn down Whitehall, privatise the lot! Everything must be local!” I’m going to leave aside the question of how many of these people in the past will have used (or at least nodded furiously at) the phrase “postcode lottery” and how much they realise that fragmenting every last aspect of society, from its taxation to its schools to its policing, will lead precisely to the largest postcode lottery ever conceived.[2] What is immediately noticeable is how they yearn for the imposition of this harsh solution, the purifying flame to cleanse the land, until the exact moment when they notice how it will affect them personally. “Do you know,” they say, wide-eyed with shock and bewilderment, “they’ve closed down the post office in my village!” That’s not what they meant when they called for the post office to be privatised; all they knew was that state ownership had to be bad.

So we’re looking forward today to the second reading in the Lords of the Public Bodies Bill, legislation that will hand executive power to the government to delete swathes of quangos at the stroke of a pen. Many noble Lords themselves, as the BBC’s Mark D’Arcy points out, are “quangocrats”:
Some worry that the whole [second reading] debate could be taken up with declarations of interest.
As a result, some of those who would normally count themselves among the fervent faithful are suddenly finding themselves thoughtful about their own prospects. There’s dark amusement to be had watching them try and juggle their ideology and reality at once.

When Cameron has talked about government “transparency” you might have thought he was talking about accountability, but it turns out he just means it in the sense of being really obvious. A noticeable number of those quangos that will disappear are bodies that in some way aim to protect citizens against sharp corporate practice, while on the whole those that remain represent only the interests of business. Even more pointed is the abolition of the Audit Commission; the body that once provided an audit of the performance of local government is to be replaced by the production of figures by each local authority and, no word of a lie, citizens sitting at home and doing their own calculations with those figures on the internet. It’s at this point you begin to suspect that the “big society” is genuinely more than a code term for wiping out state safety nets for the vulnerable[3]; it’s actually a massively subversive and knowing parody of Conservatism. Cameron’s a performance artist and we’re his canvas. I hope you’re as excited about this as I am.

[1] The Taliban’s strict proclamations on clothing, beard length, music and kite-flying added to the repression felt under their reign; in recent years, as they have fought to regain local hearts and minds in the region—a job probably made easier by the fact that they’re not the ones wiping out entire wedding parties at a time—they claim to have softened their stance on some of these, but it’s a safe bet that this won’t include anything that applies to women.  Back

[2] It’s not that nothing should be locally decided, obviously; indeed, local authorities themselves have been clamouring for more decision-making ability for donkeys’ years. However, this is being implemented by the Tories with such year-zero zeal, with so much responsibility being delegated but so much of their funding simultaneously removed, that those local authorities won’t know what has hit them. It will be interesting to see how many prove unable to cope—and what ramifications that will have for their residents.  Back

[3] If your conscience tends to trouble you, I’d recommend you don’t emotionally invest in the line touted by ministers that it’s in any way beneficial for society. The government’s stated desire to move the poor away from wealthy areas because they don’t belong there demonstrates the true nature of the project.  Back
webofevil: (Default)
“What on earth is going on in your country?” my sister writes from Norway. “From here it looks as if there’s a gang of rich men who have decided that the only route to happiness is to take all the help away from the people who really need it, and sell all your forests!”

I have, of course, corrected her laughable misconception. I explained how the coalition is in fact a broad cross-section of society whose concern for the country’s long-term economic prosperity has led them to make some difficult decisions on all our behalf. I made it clear that cutting child benefit for the well-off was a brave and principled move, not a cynical ploy to politically outflank any opposition to the massive cuts in welfare for those who truly can’t afford it. Similarly, nothing should be read into the fact that the government are intentionally writing off a single corporate tax bill that is fully 86 per cent of the £7 billion being slashed from welfare.

I demonstrated quite clearly how those welfare cuts are driven entirely by necessity and aren’t in any way a sign that the Tory party is gunning for a variety of sinister targets that overwhelm its imagination but are a minority in real life—the eternal benefit claimant, the bogus asylum seeker, the endlessly pregnant teen estate dweller. I showed that there is certainly no question of ministers picking out extreme anomalies and pretending that they’re the norm to fit their ideological narrative:
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government (Baroness Hanham): … there will be a cap on the amount of benefit available for housing. Effectively, that will mean that some people will not be able to afford the rent that they are currently paying. We have drawn attention before in this House to the fact that there are some people in London living in accommodation that could not be afforded even by investment bankers. [Hansard]
I impressed on her that the Tories are in fact saving the country from financial ruin by applying the same policies that have led Ireland to swift and stable recovery (any references to an Irish “double-dip recession” are misleading and should be ignored). And I pointed out what a crucial role the Liberal Democrats are playing in that process, with many of their policies presumably so deeply embedded in the coalition’s plans that it is very hard to make them out at all. Indeed, there is a model for future UK governments in the way that the coalition embodies the most salient features of the two parties involved: the forensic sadism of the Tories in economically attacking the vulnerable, and the well-intentioned muddled incoherence of the Lib Dems in working out what happens next. Truly, this is the best of both worlds.

I set out how the reduction in quangos is very important for our future. The fact that almost any organisation that offered regulation or protection for the public has been abolished while any body that reflects business interests has survived could so easily be misrepresented; in fact, it benefits all of us since it allows business to flourish unhindered by meddlesome bureaucratic questions of good practice, corporate responsibility or indeed basic hygiene. This is because the Conservative party values business and is always willing to listen to it (unless of course a top businessman tells them to centralise and rationalise central government procurement just as a company would do, something to which they are ideologically opposed, in which case they sensibly turn out not to be nearly so business-minded after all).

I explained to my sister that just because the upcoming reorganisation of the NHS will be massively expensive and in many ways meaningless because most of the same work will still have to be done but by different people, while at the same time sending a lot of work the way of the private healthcare providers, does not mean that it is ideologically driven. No, it is crucially important because of the financial crisis, probably.

And I pointed out that as a Scandinavian, she should feel proud that the government keeps looking to Sweden for its inspiration, repeatedly citing it for its school reforms and public sector reduction. All right, so the “Swedish school” model didn’t actually make any difference in Sweden, and when the Swedish government reformed its public sector it didn’t sack huge numbers of its civil servants (because it wanted some motivated people onside to implement its reforms), but these are mere details; what’s surely important is to keep meaningfully saying the word “Sweden”.

Then she reminded me about the part where the government intends to sell off many British forests to private developers, at one stroke outraging not only the green lobby—never really a Conservative priority, you might be surprised to learn—but, more importantly, the Tory heartlands, the constituency so conditioned by its daily reading matter that it will read about the forthcoming clearances of the poor from our cities with equanimity, but show it a damaged hedgerow and it will weep tears of bewildered rage and start plotting coups. To deliberately provoke this central core of party supporters for the sake of a quick buck is surprisingly reckless, and I might have to rethink my previously unwavering support for the coalition in the light of it. Could it be that they deserve the label of “fucking idiots” after all?
webofevil: (Default)
When someone like me expresses (at best) scepticism about extending the role of private “providers” in all areas of public life, we might be moved to suggest a worst-case scenario in that regard. Don’t be ridiculous, we will be told, that would never happen; the rigours of the market would ensure that et cetera. There is no way, for example, that anyone could ever have predicted that encouraging the spread of private prisons could lead to this:
Former Pennsylvania judge Michael Conahan has pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge for helping put juvenile defendants behind bars in exchange for bribes.

He is accused along with former judge Mark Ciavarella of taking $2.8m (£1.8m) from a profit-making detention centres. Mr Ciavarella denies wrongdoing.

Prosecutors in a federal court in Scranton, Pennsylvania, said Conahan had closed a county-owned juvenile detention centre in 2002, just before signing an agreement to use a for-profit centre. Prosecutors say Mr Ciavarella, a former juvenile court judge, then allegedly worked with Mr Conahan to ensure a constant flow of detainees.

The two men were originally charged in early 2009 with accepting money from the builder and owner of a for-profit detention centre that housed county juveniles in exchange for giving children longer, harsher sentences. A spokeswoman for the non-profit Juvenile Law Center alleges that Mr Ciavarella gave excessively harsh sentences to 1,000-2,000 juveniles between 2003 and 2006.

Some of the children were shackled, denied lawyers, and pulled from their homes for offences which included stealing change from cars and failure to appear as witnesses. [BBC]

December 2015

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