Excellent 2008 documentary from the BBC about the birth of the National Health Service.
Monthly Archives: April 2013
Yesterday, I went on the march and rally to save hospitals in West London. For those of you living outside of West London, Charing Cross, Hammersmith, Central Westminster and Ealing Hospitals, are to have their Accident and Emergency departments closed under the government’s plans to
destroy streamline the NHS. All emergency treatment will then be provided by Northwick Park, West Middlesex and Chelsea and Westminster hospitals. For those of us who live in Hammersmith and Fulham or Ealing, these A&E units are too far away and anyone needing emergency care could find themselves dying en route to one of these hospitals.
In the last few months, I’ve used Charing Cross A&E department: once for a badly burned hand and last week, for chest pains…. which turned out to be a muscular-skeletal problem. If that A&E department were to close, I would have to spend an hour getting from my home to the nearest hospital.
Here in Hammersmith and Fulham, the ruling Tory group supported the resident’s campaign and cross-party opposition to the closures. As was reported on this blog and Stephen Cowan’s blog, the Tories later back-peddled and signed off the government’s proposed closure of Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals.
Cllr Cowan says,
It turned out that there has been a considerable amount of disquiet amongst local Conservatives about attacking their own government’s policy of hospital cuts. Many had never wanted to join the residents-led campaign in the first place. When the government offered them a cop out they took it and figured they could use council funds to blanket the Borough with propaganda spinning what they had done.
They have so far spent over £20,000.00 of tax payers’ money telling residents that they have “Saved Charing Cross Hospital.” Nobody who has studied the facts or heard their explanations believes that’s true. In fact, in the panic of trying to explain themselves last week, one Conservative councillor admitted nothing had been finalised and nothing yet agreed – underlining how the Conservatives have undermined their negotiating position.
Hammersmith & Fulham Tories have shot themselves in the foot over this issue and have exposed themselves as hypocrites.
The Hammersmith and Fulham side of the march started at Acton Park. I took my bike with me since it is quicker to get to the park by cycling than to take the 266 bus. I arrived in time to hear Andy Slaughter speak.
There are at least 300 people assembled here. The march starts and we walk down Uxbridge Road towards Acton. I’ve put my bike in the lowest gear and I’m riding very, very slowly at the sort of speed that is alien to London’s legion of bad cyclists. One of the march stewards even compliments me on my control skills. Loads of motorists beep their horns in solidarity as they pass us on the other side of the road.
We arrive at Ealing Common. There’s a funfair. It’s not a great day for fun fairs. The chilly, damp weather has done its best to dampen our spirits but it hasn’t succeeded. We’re here to let our voices be heard. There are more people here than at the dismal Rally Against Debt a couple of years ago. And you know what? You never see anyone from UKIP or any other so-called libertarians at these rallies and do you know why? They don’t care.
I look towards north-westwards and I can see a the Ealing contingent making its way towards us, there must be around 1,000 of them. I can see the banners of the local Labour, Green and Socialist Party branches. The Socialist Workers Party, Left Unity and even the Workers Revolutionary Party are here too. There’s even someone selling the WRP’s paper, Newsline. I haven’t seen that for awhile.
Bob Marley’s song Get Up, Stand Up is blaring from the speakers. It’s an inspired choice. “Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up. Don’t give up the fight”!
This woman’s placard (below) says it all.
One of the leading campaigners from Ealing, Dr Onkar Sahota, who is also an AM for the Greater London Authority, has the task of being MC for the afternoon. Ealing, unlike Hammersmith and Fulham, is a Labour-controlled council and has resisted the government’s plans. Sahota tells us that many people from neighbouring boroughs of Hillingdon, Harrow and Brent are here making their voices heard. Indeed, this is a good turn-out. I can see Ealing’s MP Stephen Pound waiting in the wings, when he does come up to the mike, he comes across as something of a showman (he used to be a boxer). The crowd loves it.
Pound is followed by Tory MP, Angie Bray, who is greeted with a mix of boos and applause. She leaves to the same mix of boos and applause. A woman standing next to me complains and tells those who are heckling Bray to shut up. They’re not listening to her remonstrations and she walks off in a huff.
One speaker from the GMB union reminds us that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt authored a book in which he calls for the NHS to be denationalised, but erroneously attributes the words “60 year old mistake” to him. These were, in fact, the words of Lyin’ King when he appeared on Fox News five years ago to lambast the NHS and argue for his coveted small state. Nonetheless the sentiment is the same. In spite of his warm words and vacant expression, Hunt does not like the NHS and like many of his fellow Tories, he wants to cut it to pieces and sell-off the profitable parts to his vulture capitalist friends. Andy Slaughter reminds the rally that under the council’s proposals, 60% of Charing Cross Hospital site will be sold off to private developers. The Tories, despite what they’ve said about ‘saving’ the hospital, have done nothing of the sort.
Hammersmith and Fulham council is the only council out of 11 in London affected by the hospital closures to have supported them, and this is a damning reflection of their interest in what those they govern think. They are stitching up their own constituents, metaphorically but certainly not literally, so that they can play nice with central government. Their decision to release these plans before the official date may have given us some unwitting help though by allowing us some time to organise. What we need to do now is campaign against this ham-fisted reorganisation.
A Lib Dem councillor comes on to speak and at that point, I decide to leave. The Lib Dems have done much to support this Conservative-led government in achieving its ambitions, none of which appeared in their manifesto and for which they have no mandate. A man next to me says, “I don’t want to listen to the Lib Dem, they helped the Tories to do this”. I agree with him, get on my bike and ride home.
The next Save our Hospitals event is a rally at Jubilee Gardens (where I once lamented the passing of the GLC) on 18 May at 1200. If you care about hospital provision in London, you’ll be there. I know I will.
You can find out more about the campaign here.
In the wake of Thatcher’s death and funeral, some senior and some not-so-senior Conservatives have been demanding the party ‘rediscovers’ Thatcherism. I must admit, I’ve been mightily amused by the Tories’ clamour for more Thatcherism. It’s as predictable as it is absurd. It also smacks of terminal desperation. Make no mistake, this is a party in decline.
The first to stick his ugly, fat, unkempt head above the parapet was Bozza. The Guardian reports,
London mayor Boris Johnson called for a show of “Thatcherite zeal” as he joined backbench MPs in demanding an overhaul of the law to make it harder to call strikes.
Johnson said was “farcical” that a strike could be called with the backing of less than half of union members and has urged the government to rethink legislation on taking industrial action.
It comes as a report by the Conservative group on the London Assembly estimates that tube strikes in the capital cost the economy £48m a day, putting the cost of industrial action between 2005 and 2009 at £1bn.
Johnson told the Sun: “The idea that a strike can be called by a majority of those that vote, rather than a majority of all those balloted, is farcical. It often results in a strike backed by just one in 10 union members, antagonising millions of commuters in the process and costing London and the UK billions every year.
“I’d urge the government to act with some Thatcherite zeal and at the very least legislate against strikes supported by less than half of all union members.”
The call for new laws follows on from union groups raising the prospect of calling a general strike in protest at the government’s austerity measures.
So Bozza said this to The Sun? Well, there’s a surprise. He’s been having regular lunches and dinners with The Old Bastard (Rupert Murdoch to you), which he’s only just begun to declare in the register of members interests at City Hall. In the same article, Dominic Raabid, who was in short trousers when the Auld Witch was ensconced in Downing Street, tells us that:
“Margaret Thatcher injected a dose of democracy into the unions, to empower their members and protect Britain.
“We now face a hot summer of discontent, with reckless strikes from schools to airports that most union members refused to back.
“It’s high time we had extra safeguards to protect the hard-working majority from this abusive militant minority.”
“Margaret Thatcher injected a dose of democracy into the unions”, opines the humourless Raab. This nutjob is serious! Last year, Raabid called for Britain to adopt a sweatshop economy. He was supported in this endeavour by his fellow headbanger, Priti Patel, who says:
“Defending the rights of people to work without fear of intimidation, bullying or violence is exactly what Margaret Thatcher championed and this legislation could once again put the rights of workers above the vested interests of the left and their union barons.”
Come again? Thatcher was a bully and her cabinet was composed mainly of bullies. The current government have carried their public school bullying with them throughout their journey to Westminster. It is their desire to make the rest of us their fags.
The mere mention of a possible general strike is enough to get the likes of Raab, Johnson and his Nazi-fetishizing chum, Aidan Burley calling for even more draconian anti-union legislation. The next step for these bullies will be to call for an outright ban on unions. That’s how much they love ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’, kids.
Yesterday, Bozza’s kid brother, Jo, was appointed to the Downing Street Policy Unit with, I am reliably informed, a remit to inject more Thatcherite poison into the Tories’ already polluted bloodstream. Nicholas Watt of The Guardian writes,
The appointment of the mayor of London’s brother, who formally becomes a Cabinet Office minister, is one of a series of moves designed to strengthen the political operation in Downing Street and to patch up the prime minister’s frayed links with the Conservative party. One senior figure described the moves as a deliberate attempt to create a more political – though not politicised – Downing Street in the mould of Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 operation.
The Tories are so deluded that they seriously believe their only salvation lies in serving us warmed-up Thatcherite leftovers from 30 years ago. It’s farcical.
The real tragedy is that the opposition Labour party can’t see how weak the Conservatives are and do nothing to help finish them off (it’s called a coup de grace, Mister Ed). There’s blood in the water and if you can’t move in for the kill, then you have no business being in politics.
Ed Miliband’s spine was last seen getting into a car on the northbound carriageway of the M6 near Congleton. If anyone knows its current whereabouts then kindly inform the owner.
Pride’s Purge has been a victim of Facebook censorship. If you thought you lived in a ‘free’ country, think again.
UPDATE – here’s an open letter I’ve written to Mark Zuckerberg about this:
Just what is it about political satire that seems to get up the nose of those in positions of power?
Yesterday Facebook suddenly decided to flag this blog as spam – effectively censoring it by scaring away anyone who might want to link to it or share it on Facebook.
That was obviously a surprise but I was even more surprised when a member of staff from JobCentre Plus openly boasted to me that it was she who had reported the blog to Facebook as spam after she got annoyed by this particular satirical blogpost critical of ATOS and the DWP:
It’s obvious even from the headline that the article is pure…
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I first met Esther McVey, the current Minister for Disabled People, when I was booked to perform my routine on Channel 5’s bizarre afternoon programme, 5’s Company, some time in 1997. This show had 5 presenters, which was a recipe for disaster in my mind. I had been asked to do about 5 minutes worth of stuff. Not an easy task for someone who was once known as one of the circuit’s three sweariest people, which also included such illustrious company as Bob Boyton and Jerry Sadowitz (apparently there was a ‘book’ on which one of us said “fuck” the most in any given week). After spending some time cleaning the salty language from of my material (which was never vetted, by the way), I left all the political material intact. It was risky to be sure.
After my first spot on the programme, I was invited back a year later because someone had pulled out. It was on this occasion that I met McVey in the wings, who said (or words to the effect) to me, “I didn’t like your stuff about the Conservatives”. I paused, looked at her and replied, “You’re a Scouser”. “Not all of us are left-wingers”, she snapped back. “In which case, you’re rather unusual”, I quickly retorted. That was the last time I ever said anything to McVey’s face. Since then, I’ve been tracking her career and so wasn’t surprised to discover that she’d been elected as Tory MP for Wirral West. The Wirral, once in Cheshire, is where Scousers tended to go once they’d made it big. I’m not so sure that’s the case nowadays. I mean, have you seen what Birkenhead looks like these days?
Scouse Tories are as rare as unicorns and to this day I can only count them on one hand. There’s Steve ‘Shagger’ Norris, Edwina ‘Eggs’ Currie, Stephen McPartland MP and Kit
Shitehouse Malthouse, who is one of Bozza’s deputies. I only became aware of McPartland the other day when he rose to speak in The Commons. That’s a total of 5 Scouse Tories in the public eye. That isn’t many for a metropolitan county with a population of 1,380,000. But then if you look at Scotland, you’ll see a similar picture.
Here’s a clip of McVey on 5’s Company being used by ventriloquist Scarlet Ray Watt as his ‘impromptu’ assistant. Doesn’t he look a little like Eddie Murphy?
In recent years, the word “libertarian” has been hijacked by the Right, who have transformed the definition of the word from “one who supports the principle of liberty” to “one who supports an idea of liberty that gives license to the elite to continue to exploit others for personal gain”. Personally, I think these soi-disant libertarians suffer from a combination of arrested development and bad parenting. Why do I say this? These so-called libertarians are fond of complaining about “big government” and if you unpack this discourse, it’s no different to a child railing against a parent. Yet, paradoxically and without any apparent sense of irony, they would demand the retention of the repressive functions of the state should their dream of a ‘free’ society come to fruition. So much for liberty.
Among these so-called libertarians, selfishness and greed are celebrated and venerated. Selfishness is one ugly trait that the majority of parents stamp out at the age of 2. “It’s mine”, screams the toddler. Many parents will have witnessed such behaviour and will act swiftly to nip it in the bud, but other parents will cave in as soon as their child starts screaming, stamping their feet and holding their breath. It’s the children of these parents who grow up to become Right Libertarians. They continue their selfish, greedy behaviour into adulthood and seek to rationalize it with cherry-picked words from Hayek or will hide behind the dull prose of Ayn Rand, whose words are akin to gospel in their eyes.
I saw this amusing cartoon a couple of years ago and I thought I’d share it with you.
The followers of Ayn Rand, who call themselves “Objectivists” (Oh, the arrogance), deny that they are libertarians but their gross misanthropy and their obvious cupidity says otherwise.
Right libertarians never tire of telling us how much they love freedom and this wide-eyed zeal often seems like nothing more than the veneration of a fetish-object. This is clear in the language they use to promote themselves too. By the way, I’ve never heard anyone say that they “hate” freedom or even love for that matter but love is the last thing on the mind of the Objectivist. I mean, what’s in it for them? If you see what I mean…
As I’ve indicated in previous blogs, the Right’s idea of freedom is narrow and can only define itself against what it perceives as unfreedom. In other words, anyone who isn’t on the Right or doesn’t support a neo-Hobbesian formulation of liberty is, in their eyes, against freedom. If you think the NHS is worth saving, then you “hate” freedom. If you’re a socialist, you “hate” freedom and so on and on it goes.
I support civil liberties and I consider myself to be on the Left – I am a libertarian socialist. To the Right libertarian, this is as bad as admitting to being a Stalinist. Ironic, really, when you remember that many of them gave the thumbs up to General Pinochet and others like him. When you confront them with this truth, watch how they squirm.
Other self-described libertarians will tell you that they are “anti-war”, but will then advocate the use of military force to “open up” markets, often under the rubric of fighting “terror”. Remember Iraq? There were some of these so-called libertarians who saw opportunities created by the invasion and occupation of that country. In fact, they don’t mind sharing a bed with neoconservatives. Indeed for all their talk about peace between free-trade nations, many of them are ardent warmongers and some are even members of the Territorial Army (others hold undergraduate degrees in War Studies). What does that say about them and their brand of libertarianism? It says that they lack the capacity for self-reflection and they don’t have the critical skills to interrogate their ideas. It also shows them up for the immature liars they truly are.
Predictably, the scenes of celebration that greeted the news of Margaret Thatcher’s death on Monday were met with shouts of hurt and anguish by the Conservatives and their allies in the right-wing press. “It’s hateful”, “it’s disrespectful”, “Have some bloody decorum”, cried the genuflecting faithful of the cult of St Margaret of Grantham.
But it wasn’t just the Tories who complained about the celebrations: members of the Labour party, too, urged restraint. Restraint? On an occasion like this? I think not. To make a philosophical point: we’ll never get another chance to celebrate the death of the authoritarian-libertarian Thatcher again. This was a woman whose international friends included the ‘friendly’ dictator (according to The Daily Mail), Augusto Pinochet and the butcher of Indonesia, Suharto. A life like this should not be celebrated. On the contrary, this is the occasion to burn effigies.
Those who were the victims of Thatcher’s government – ordinary workers, the poor, the disabled, gays, lesbians, travellers, the list goes on – have every right to celebrate her demise. A safety valve has been inadvertently provided for us to let off some steam. For all those who wrongly believe that Thatcher’s death has been the only instance in history of mass celebration of the death of a public figure, let me just say that there is nothing new in this: we can see these celebrations as a form of carnivalesque that goes back to mediaeval times. The carnival had its own rules and during these mass celebrations, the participants were subject only to the laws of the carnival. Church-led celebrations of the middle ages demanded formality, deference and obeisance to the objects of veneration. In other words, they were boring.
We don’t know if mediaeval folk celebrated the deaths of tyrannical rulers, because no record of their culture exists. We only have the official version of this period of history and it’s usually mediated to us by the likes of David Starkey.
We do not celebrate the life of Thatcher, that is the job of hagiographers, the dewy-eyed panegyrists and the chinless lickpittles in the media. We rejoice in the death of one who visited pain and suffering on many communities. This is our right as citizens. It is also the nature of carnival.
For all their meaningless rhetoric about liberty, the Conservatives are really authoritarians who are in denial. In those totalitarian countries that they purported to have historically positioned themselves against; those in which the people aren’t even permitted to utter curses and oaths (not of fealty) to the corpse and memory of a much-hated dictator, the Tories seem to think that anyone who does so in this country should be silenced. Such is their weakness of spirit and intellect. Such is their desire for the total control of discourse that they are actually trying to rewrite history before our very eyes! “She saved Britain”, “She ended the Cold War” are just two of the more popular myths being substituted for the materialism of history.
It’s been pointed out elsewhere that the Right didn’t hold back in celebrating the death of former Labour leader, Michael Foot. Their jubilation was no less effusive when Hugo Chavez provided a similar opportunity for them a month or so ago. Unable to fathom how much Thatcher was hated, some Tories will only concede that she was “divisive” and then, in the next breath, they will ascribe superhuman qualities to what was supposedly a human being. Breathtaking stuff. Anyone would have thought that cults of personalities are the sort of things that authoritarian leaders of totalitarian countries do, not self-described ‘free’ countries. Surely not in democratic Britain?
It’s worth noting that the death in 2006 of Thatcher’s close pal, Pinochet, was also celebrated by his opponents. There are other examples in history where the death of a hated public figure has been greeted with celebration. For example, Thatcher’s friends should count themselves lucky they didn’t live in 12th century Constantinople. The Late Roman (Byzantine) Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus’s two-year reign was marked by harsh and brutal laws (he had also married the 12 year old Agnes of France). Andronicus became increasingly paranoid and created a terror state in which his opponents (and anyone else) were summarily imprisoned, tortured, mutilated and executed. He also attempted to move against aristocracy, thus incurring their wrath.
In 1185, Andronicus was away from Constantinople on a military expedition. His loyal lieutenant, Stephen Hagiochristophorites (who actually had questionable loyalties), moved to arrest Isaac Angelos, who had previously been involved in an uprising in Nicaea. Isaac killed Hagiochristophorites and took refuge in the Hagia Sophia, from there he appealed to the masses to rise up against Andronicus. When the latter returned, he discovered that he’d been overthrown and Isaac had been proclaimed emperor. Andronicus was arrested while trying to escape and Isaac, now Isaac II Angelos, handed him over to the mob. He was tied to a post and beaten, mutilated and burned for three days before being strung up between two pillars by his ankles. Legend has it that two Latin soldiers took turns stabbing him to see who could plunge their sword the deepest into his body. He died a few days later. Grisly stuff. By the way, Isaac was later blinded and imprisoned by his elder brother, Alexios, who was proclaimed Alexios III Angelos, who would in turn be overthrown by his nephew and so on…
So it amuses me when I see the likes of Louise Mensch whining on Twitter about people celebrating the death of Thatcher. It amuses me even more that the Right is making themselves look foolish and weak because they cannot deal with any criticism of their idol. It amuses me when I see arsekisser-in-chief, Charles Moore, claim on television that Thatcher was “Dorothy” to the Warsaw Pact’s “Wicked Witch of the East” in response to Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead rising up the download charts. It amuses me that they have no sense of humour and are only capable of laughing at those weaker than themselves – which isn’t funny. It amuses me when Thatcher’s boot-licking worshippers buy downloads of the Not Sensibles’ song, I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher, and misread the lyrics so badly. They just don’t get satire.
Tories: they may be rich but they aren’t very bright.
Bakhtin, M., Iswolsky, H. (trans) (1984). Rabelais and His World. Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Yes, she’s finally dead. She tore apart the country and sold off the family silver. Under her rule, the North-South divide grew larger and people were urged to think only of themselves. Large swathes of the country had their hearts torn from them.
I promised myself that I’d play this on a loop when Thatcher snuffed it and here it is.
Here’s another tune that sums up the moment.
Elvis Costello wrote and recorded this at the height of Thatcher’s rule.
It’s 1322, I may go for a beer. I don’t usually drink during the day but this is a very special day.
Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 11 years of her misrule.
- The sale of council homes. Councils were forbidden to use their capital receipts to build new homes. We now have the biggest housing crisis since WWII
- The Miners Strike. Subsequent pit closures devastated the communities that grew up around the collieries. The Metropolitan Police served as Thatcher’s private army
- Section 28
- The Poll Tax
- The abolition of the metropolitan counties
- The Falklands War
- The deregulation of the financial sector, which has contributed to the banking issues we see today.
- The widening of the North-South divide
- School league tables
- The wholesale privatization of nationally-owned industries and public services
- The marketization of education
- The Toxteth, St Paul’s, Handsworth and Brixton riots
- The lack of real jobs to replace those lost through privatization
- Anti-union legislation (revenge for 1974)
- Canary Wharf and the rest of the “Enterprise Zones” where people could be paid less and weren’t allowed to collectively bargain for improvements to pay and conditions
- British Rail effectively starved of funding to prepare it for privatization
- Massive cuts to arts funding. Arts and culture reduced to commodities.
- Unqualified support for Pinochet and his repressive regime.
So there you have it. The wicked witch is dead. Now let’s get rid of this shower in power.
In the days since my last blog, I’ve noticed a proliferation of articles and blogs in the Tory press defending The Gidiot and that Daily Mail article. The sheer number of these articles is not an indication of the government’s confidence but of its desperation.
Suffering from a debilitating mix of fear, anxiety (over UKIP) and anger (at being found out), the collective (yes) mass of Tory hatchet-men have squeezed out blog after blog defending The Mail’s colander-like thesis that the Philpott children died because of their thuggish father’s ‘addiction’ to state benefits. “We need to have a debate”, the Right cried. The words they left out were “on terms controlled by us”. The only people who fall for this trick are the gullible readers of the Mail and the parliamentary Labour party, which has a history of losing its nerve at the wrong time.
However this rash of anti-welfare blogs and articles from the Tory press tells us something: the government is desperate. While some trot out the usual stuff and nonsense about affordability and the myth of a “crowded Britain”, others use this tragic event as an opportunity to mount their hobby horses. Take this one from The Lyin’ King:
It wasn’t the 1945 Labour Government that created the welfare state, that Saturn which now devours its children. The real power-grab came in 1940.
With Britain’s manpower and economy commandeered for the war effort, it seemed only natural that ministers should extend their control over healthcare, education and social security. Hayek chronicled the process at first hand: his Road to Serfdom was published when Winston Churchill was still in Downing Street.
Churchill had become prime minister because he was the Conservative politician most acceptable to Labour. In essence, the wartime coalition involved a grand bargain. Churchill was allowed to prosecute the war with all the nation’s resources while Labour was given a free hand to run domestic policy.
The social-democratic dispensation which was to last, ruinously, for the next four decades – and chunks of which are rusting away even today – was created in an era of ration-books, conscription, expropriations and unprecedented spending. The state education system, the NHS, the Beveridge settlement – all were conceived at a time when it was thought unpatriotic to question an official, and when almost any complaint against the state bureaucracy could be answered with “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”
The welfare state is seen here as evil; a monster created by the Labour party, then in a wartime coalition with Churchill’s Tories. But what’s worse is that Hannan dishonestly connects the welfare state to wartime rationing. How did he do this? It’s magic, I tells ya! Magic! It’s also desperate.
Meanwhile Hatchet-job Hodges tells us that “Labour is panicking over welfare”. The
Blairite cuckoo in the nest Born Again Tory tells us,
But then Philpott was convicted, the Daily Mail made the welfare state an accessory to the fact, and Shameless George Osborne moved in for the kill. Labour’s initial response was to downplay the whole issue. Then they lost their heads, and dispatched Ed Balls to launch an hysterical attack on Osborne, driving the Chancellor’s comments to the top of the news bulletins, and making the Labour Party look like they had been employed as Mick Philpott’s defence attorneys.
Now we have the spectacle of Labour trying to recast itself as the party of welfare reform. Suddenly it’s Labour that wants to “make work pay”, is talking of responsibility at the bottom and threatening to remove people’s benefits. And good for Liam Byrne, because this is where Labour should be.
But it’s too late. Much too late. The welfare debate is over. And Labour has lost it.
Hmmm, smells like government desperation to me. The Cat thinks Balls was right to attack Osborne for his drawing of a hazy line between a tragic event and a poisoned debate on welfare. That doesn’t make me a fan of Balls or the parliamentary Labour Party, by the way. Hodges, the son of Labour MP Glenda Jackson, goes on to note his agreement with millionaire Liam Byrne’s ideas for welfare ‘reform’ , which is no better than what this government is pursuing. The fact that Byrne has started aping the speech of the government’s mouthpieces indicates weakness on Labour’s part, not panic.
The Tories, impatient for the arrival of the next General Election, have started their campaign early and, with over two years to go, this is a desperate manoeuvre. A lot can happen in two years. For instance, there may well be scandals involving government ministers. After all, this government saw its first ministerial casualty within two months of being elected. There’s also the little matter of the suppressed French prosecutor’s report into the misconduct of the Nazi-fetishist, Aidan Burley. It’s all to play for.
To be honest I’m glad the Tories have done this, now we can sit back and watch as the Tory juggernaut crashes and burns in glorious slow motion. My only concern is this: should Labour win in 2015, they will fail to repeal all the brutal and muddleheaded legislation enacted by this government.
In the aftermath of the Mick and Mairead Philpott trial, the Right blamed the murders of 6 children on the Philpott’s “addiction” to benefits. First, the Daily Mail produced its sensational front page (above), then the Telegraph chipped in with its ‘analysis’. Both articles use a tragedy to push the abolition of the benefits system by making use of narrativizations. In other words, this terrible event has been magically transformed into a particular kind of story that fits the neoliberal’s small state discourses .
Let me take you back to 2008 and a mansion fire in Shropshire that caused the death of a family. The perpetrator was Christopher Foster, a wealthy businessman, who had allegedly accumulated massive debts and was staring financial ruin in the face. Foster died in the fire that was intended to mask the shootings of his wife and his 15 year old daughter.
The Guardian says
Police believe Mr Foster killed his 49-year-old wife and 15-year-old daughter at their £1.2m home in the village of Maesbrook, Shropshire, before setting fire to the property. Their burned bodies were found at Osbaston House days after the blaze in August last year.
The hearing at Shrewsbury magistrates court heard that in December 2005, Mr Foster told police his former accountant was blackmailing him over a joint property deal in Cyprus. Two defendants were prosecuted and found not guilty at Shrewsbury crown court in November 2006.
The inquest, attended by Mr Foster’s mother Enid and his younger brother Andrew, was shown photographs of the luxury five-bedroom house before and after the blaze in the early hours of 26 August.
Images of the dining room showed containers of heating oil on the floor. The inquest was told an oil tank used to heat the property was sited in outbuildings and would have been full at the time of the fire.
The body of Christopher Foster was found lying on top of his wife on the floor beneath what would have been their bedroom.
Home Office pathologist Dr Alexander Kolar said Jill Foster died as a result of a gunshot wound to the back of the head, which appeared to have been carried out by another person. There was no indication she was alive during the fire, he said.
Their 15-year-old daughter had a wound to the left side of her head, caused by a high velocity impact. It was likely she died as a result of a gunshot wound, Dr Kolar said, but he could not rule out the possibility that her injury was caused by falling debris.
The court was told alcohol was found in Mr Foster’s urine, indicating he may have been drinking on the night of the fire.
Yet, the Right wouldn’t dare to lazily join the dots between these tragic deaths and Foster’s wealth. Why not? I think we know why not.
On the same day that The Guardian produced its story, the Mail coughed up this sensationalist cack:
But Foster knew a great deal about fires. According to his brother Andrew, he was always fascinated by them. He even set fire to Andrew accidentally when they were boys.
The Mail had its angle but it didn’t blame the deaths on Foster’s wealth.
Now the argument that the Right would put forward would go something like this: “At least Foster used his own money to kill his family”. That’s a rationalization and it’s this same lazy thinking that allows them to view the Philpott case as one where “my (sic) money was involved” in “subsidizing” a lifestyle. The truth is this: it is not your money that pays people’s benefits. Furthermore, if one adopts that kind of attitude to benefits claimants, then why don’t they adopt the same position when it comes to MPs ever-increasing salaries and their swollen expense accounts?
The real tragedy is that many British people are unable to think for themselves and allow the press to produce their opinions for them. Pumped with stories of benefit cheats and plied with grog from the trashy, voyeuristic mess that is The Jeremy Kyle Show, these people connect dots and see anyone who is struggling to make ends meet as “subhuman”.
But it wasn’t just The Mail that was guilty of apportioning blame to the benefits system. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Honourable Gideon Osborne, heir to the baronetcy of Ballintaylor and Ballylemon, says in this video that the Philpott case “raises questions” about the welfare state “subsidizing lifestyles like that”.
Even an expensive education has failed to teach Osborne critical thinking skills. The rationale goes something like this: one benefits claimant is bad, therefore all benefits claimants are bad.
In today’s Daily Mail, Tim Shipman, uses his article to take a swipe at the Labour party, which he believes, doesn’t want a “debate” on the welfare state. But it is not a debate that he or the Right wants; they want to control the discourse on benefits: this means lying and smearing those who oppose their warped narratives.
Within hours of his remarks about Philpott, he faced a backlash from Left-wingers who accused him of ‘cynically’ exploiting the tragedy to push the Government’s case for cuts to handouts.
Senior Tories said the reaction of the Opposition is proof that it still fails to grasp the depth of public fury at the way some have abused the benefits system.
If you ever believed that this country had a “free press”, then now is the time to cast your naive beliefs aside. This country’s “free press” operates, mainly, as an unofficial Ministry of Information. The manufacture of consent for further cuts and dismantling of the welfare state begins on the pages of the Tory press and the mainstream television channels.
In connecting this tragedy to a poisoned ‘debate’ on welfare, the Conservative know that they can further control discourses on the very existence of the welfare state and, by doing so, pull the so-called “hardworking families” and so-called floating voters into their orbit. Make no mistake, if the Tories win an outright majority at the next General Election, they will abolish what’s left of the welfare state. They cannot be allowed to do this.