Category Archives: Liberal Democrats

The Main Parties And The Election’s Forgotten Voters

At election time, politicians from the main parties (and UKIP) will repeat the mantra of low taxes and blah, blah, blah. There is a group of people whom these politicians always ignore, unless it’s to claim they will “create jobs” or offer some kind of “job guarantee” for a certain age group. Who am I talking about?  The people on out of work benefits. These are the forgotten voters.

The rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) has failed to keep pace with the increased cost of living.  There are two kinds of JSA: Contributory and Income-based. The rates for each are exactly the same. I won’t bother going into detail about the minor differences, because they’re not that important. The only real difference is the rate for couples.

The rates are

Age JSA weekly amount
18 to 24 up to £57.90
25 or over up to £73.10

For those on Income-based JSA, you get a little more if you’re a couple. A massive £114.85 a week. Big wow.

There isn’t a single frontbencher from the three main parties that will stand up and say how little people on out of work benefits are paid, let alone defend them. It’s just tough. For the three main parties (and UKIP) the unemployed are out of work by choice. All three main parties (and UKIP) continue to punish or ignore the unemployed and complain about the ‘welfare’ bill. I’ve looked at their election manifestos and I have to tell you that I’m not impressed with what I see.

UKIP claims it

is fully committed to maintaining a strong and supportive safety net for those who fall on hard times, but will not be a soft-touch on welfare.

Nothing there, let’s move on.

Labour’s position on the unemployed isn’t much different to the Tories, save for this caveat of sorts:

  • We will pay a higher rate of Jobseeker’s Allowance to those who have paid in over the years, funded by asking people to contribute for longer before they receive the contributory benefit.

In other words, if you’re languishing on 73 quid a week, tough shit. Get a job… if you can find one.

For the Tories, there’s no mention of the unemployed at all. Instead, they talk about reducing tax for those on low pay and there’s loads of guff about “creating jobs for all”. Be suspicious about the last clause. Be very suspicious. If you’re unemployed, you could find yourself in a forced labour camp.

The Lib Dems aren’t much better. Like the Tories, they also talk about raising the tax threshold for the low paid but make no mention of the unemployed.

So, from the manifestos of the three main parties (and UKIP), you can see that anyone out of work is regarded either as a non-person or fodder for unscrupulous employers in the fast food industry, the supermarkets or Poundland. The Tories claim they want to “make work pay” but there’s been no evidence of that in their five years in office. The unemployed have been made scapegoats for the banking crisis and the recession that followed.

Labour, on the other hand, is more interested in shunting people into jobs that don’t exist, while continuing to punish the unemployed by paying them as little as possible. It also says that people will have to “pay in more” to get a higher rate of JSA, though it doesn’t say how high this rate will be, or how much more in contributions you’ll have to pay. Finally, there’s Rachel Reeves, who claimed last month,

“We are not the party of people on benefits. We don’t want to be seen, and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,”

That’s loads of potential voters alienated by a few foul words. Reeves just sees a reserve army of labour ready to be exploited and/or punished for the lack of work. Red Tories, eh?

If you’re unemployed there isn’t much choice on the menu: it’s either a shit sandwich or a shit sandwich. If you don’t want to eat a shit sandwich. Tough shit. Eat up.

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Filed under General Election 2015, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Political parties, Tories, UKIP

The “Leaving Debt For Future Generations” Fallacy

How many times in the last five years or so have we heard the popular refrain “We mustn’t leave debt for our children and grandchildren”? Too many to count. The Tories and their allies in power, the Lib Dems, use it as a discourse-killer; a means of defending their absurd austerity measures and to silence their critics. However, this notion that if the government should borrow money to invest in public services or infrastructure, then this debt will be passed on to our children and grandchildren and so on is nothing but bunkum. It’s little more than a form of emotional blackmail to convince gullible voters to cast their ballots for the dismal Tory Party,  whose profligacy in government would make the most financially incontinent blush with embarrassment.

Governments always borrow money. If they didn’t, it would be unusual. The Lend-Lease deal that was negotiated between the Attlee government and the United States was paid off in 2000.  First World War debts were finally paid off a year ago. I wonder though, did any of you actually notice this debt dragging on you as members of the successor generations? No? I didn’t either. The South Sea Bubble, which happened in 1720 incurred massive debts. The Battle of Waterloo sucked in money like a black hole absorbs light. Those debts are still outstanding. It’s funny how none of the Tories or Lib Dems ever mention this. Instead of avoiding bubbles, the Tories and the Lib Dems actually did their best to stimulate them. Help to Buy has the potential to become the British equivalent of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac. The recent attempt to revive Right to Buy, which has contributed to the current housing shortage, is another economically incompetent manoeuvre.

Truth be told, individuals don’t pay back these historic debts because they’re held in bonds that were issued at the time of borrowing. The wealthy people who lent money to the government demand their interest but, in effect, they’re a form of savings. So what about the budget deficit then? Well, that isn’t helped by the fact that the last government failed to collect enough in tax revenue because they gave tax cuts to their rich friends, while hammering those who need to work more than one job just to have an extra couple of quid a week. Yes, they told you that those earning less than £10,000 a year would be taken out of tax but those people often have no choice but to take another job. So they lied to you.

Governments can raise money in three ways: taxation,  borrowing (at preferential rates of interests) or by issuing bonds. The latter is often used for funding wars, while taxation is used for such things as social security. The government will often borrow money to service public sector needs (this used to be known as the public sector borrowing requirement or PSBR) or for infrastructure projects. PSBR is the old way of referring to the budget deficit. The government can always go into debt for wars and other military adventures but they will never claim that those particular debts will “be passed on to future generations”. Yet they will make that same claim when it comes to much-needed investment or paying out social security benefits. Such staggering hypocrisy should not be allowed to go unchallenged.

It’s The People’s Money blog had this to say about the “leaving debt for future generations” fallacy.

The real debt we leave to our children is the state of the environment and the nation’s resources they inherit from us, along with the lack of investments we could and should have made in their future. It is never about the record of government money on an accounting ledger.

The notion that the national debt is passed on to “our children and grandchildren” has its origins in Thatcher’s household finances analogy fallacy. The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a US-based research outfit claims:

Politicians, especially those who want to cut programs like Social Security and Medicare, are fond of telling people that our children and grandchildren will pay the national debt. That one may sell well with focus groups, but it is complete nonsense. Unfortunately, Eduardo Porter repeats this line in his column today.

A moment’s reflection shows why the debt is not a measure of inter-generational equity. At some point everyone alive today will be dead. At that point, the bonds that comprise the debt will be held entirely by our children or grandchildren. The debt will be an asset for the members of future generations that hold these bonds. This can raise distributional issues within a generation. For example, if Bill Gates’ grandchildren own the entire U.S. debt there will be important within generation distributional consequences, however this says nothing about inter-generational distribution.

In other words, the debt actually becomes a form of savings not a crippling burden as the free market cultists in the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties would have us believe.

When a government, like the last coalition government, keeps cutting taxes for the rich, it leaves a massive hole in the government finances. What the coalition has done is to pass on debts to those who can least afford them, while letting bankers and other parasites off the hook. The outgoing Blair-Brown government also dumped debts on unemployed by abolishing the social fund grants and replacing them with ‘budgeting’ and ‘crisis’ loans. If anyone is being saddled with unsustainable levels of debt, it’s the poor who are living at this moment in time. They’re in debt bondage and they’ve effectively become serfs in our late capitalist, post-Fordist economies. Why? Because the bullies who govern this country know they can’t fight back, because they lack the economic and political power to do so. When George Osborne stands before us and claims “it would be a dereliction of our duty to future generations”, he’s relying on widespread ignorance of state finances to push this mumbo-jumbo. Don’t fall for it.

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Filed under Conservative Party, General Election 2015, Government & politics, Liberal Democrats, Public spending

Right-wing clichés (#5) “Our ‘generous’ benefits system”

As if telling us there’s no poverty in Britain wasn’t enough (or, alternatively, poverty is a ‘left-wing conspiracy’), the right never tire of telling us how ‘generous’ the benefits system is. Of course it isn’t generous at all and if you compare Britain’s out of  work benefits to those in the rest of Europe, you will see that people in France, Germany or even Ireland (where you get a Christmas bonus) get enough money to live on, while in Britain it is impossible to sustain oneself and pay bills on a paltry £74 a week.

Of course, the worst part of this narrative is the way the right seeks to justify its disdain for EU immigrants and others, by telling us there is something called ‘benefit tourism’, where hordes of Bulgarians, Romanians and Albanians pour into the UK to live on less than a subsistence wage.  You’d have to be really stupid to think Britain is the place to come to claim benefits – but that’s the right for you. Like a dog returning to its own vomit, the right returns to the same lies and myths again and again and again.

Hysterical and delusional the right is incapable of grasping the fact that not a single jobless person can survive long on benefits without getting into serious debt. Worse still, is the right’s constant message of “making work pay”, when wages have been stagnating for the better part of 15 years.  Then there’s the “work lifts people out of poverty” myth. Low paid work actually keeps people in poverty. As thinking goes, the right’s thinking is full of gaps. I’d be surprised if these people could tie their own shoelaces without nanny or a servant to do it for them.

Here’s the choice for most workers: live on payday loans or go hungry and cold. Either way, you’re fucked. The payday loans companies, owned mainly by hedge funds, appear to have a compact with the Tories. They want wages to stay low so that they and their bloodsucking pals in the credit card companies can keep people economically enslaved. Friedrich von  Hayek’s book The Road to Serfdom made the bold claim that a socialist economy would lead to serfdom, it seems he was talking out of his arse. The system that he so loved is the one that’s returning people to the days of feudalism.

It’s time to agitate for a Citizen’s Income.  Now who’s with me?

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In the national interest

When the Tories and Lib Dems came together to form the coalition, they told us that they did it in “the national interest”. In 1931, the National Government was formed between Baldwin’s Tories, the Simonite faction of the Liberal Party and the scumbag faction of the Labour Party led by Ramsay MacDonald. They told the people that they formed this coalition in “the national interest”.

Then, as now, the National Government’s solution to the ever-deepening economic depression was to have no solution. The “Invisible Hand of the Market”, they believed, would magically come to their aid. It never did. Today’s Tories think the “Invisible Hand” will rescue them and the crocked economy. It won’t. Instead, the lessons of history are arrogantly ignored to promote such fallacies as The Laffer Curve.

Politicians in the 1930s were treated as demi-gods: they were practically untouchable. The press fawned over them and it was more or less forbidden to mock them in print or on stage.

These days, we know our politicians are human. The trouble is that some politicians – especially the Tories – believe themselves to be superior to the rest of us. This is demonstrated to us on a near-daily basis by the numbers of Tory MPs who accuse the unemployed of choosing to live on benefits as a lifestyle choice. These people have never had to claim dole or work in a low-paid job. None of them have had to make the choice between paying their heating bill and eating.

Nick Clegg (see this excellent blog by The Mambo) is fond of saying how he formed the coalition with the Tories in “the national interest”. He repeats this mantra as often as anyone will listen. The trouble for him is that none of us are listening because we’ve heard enough. Clegg hates dissent… that’s because he’s never dissented in his life. Without dissent, we’d still have slavery and women would not have the vote. Clegg thinks that we should all shut up and let the coalition carry on destroying lives. The Cat has news for him: we dissenters won’t go away.

The national interest is just another way of saying “self-interest”. If these people were really working in “the national interest”, then they would be working hard to improve the economy. They would be working overtime to create jobs. They wouldn’t be punishing the unemployed and disabled for the crimes of the feral rich. Handing out tax cuts to millionaires is not working in “the national interest”, it’s working to shore up and extend the interests of your class.

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Lib Dems: delusional, dumb and still in power

Nick Clegg: he isn’t sorry at all

The Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton had an air of denial about it. On the platform, there was speech after speech from government ministers praising their supposed achievements in government and telling their members  how well they were doing and how they were “holding the Tories to account”. But this is a party in decline. This is a party that cannot see the writing on the wall because its leadership is so totally blinded by the sudden rush of power that it can’t see the skerries and reefs ahead of it.  What’s worse for the Lib Dems is that Captain Clegg, drunk on power and at the helm, is steering his ship of fools into the rocks and there’s no sign of a mutiny. Indeed, no one in the party wants to take on the role of Fletcher Christian to Clegg’s William Bligh. Even though Twinkletoes Cable is seen as a potential successor, he toes the line, popping up every now and again with a soundbite to rile his Tory partners. Then, as soon as he’s out of his box, he’s back in it again.

The Lib Dems front bench reads like a list of crooks and nobodies. Next to the liar and embezzler, David Laws, Danny Alexander is probably one of the worst. Looking like a rabbit caught in a headlight’s beam, the timorous Alexander can’t make a speech for toffee and resembles a boy whose mother has just told him off for playing with himself in public. Then there’s Home Office Minister, Jeremy Browne with his über-posh accent. Like the rest of them, whenever he is asked a specific question relating to his brief, he falls back on “the last Labour government” as his get-out clause. But it’s much worse than that: he never has any answers, is desperately lacking a clue and comes across as unspeakably dim.

The recently-promoted Jo Swinson is another one of those Lib Dems who’s full of clichés,  soundbites and platitudes. This is from the BBC News website,

Drawing on her own experience of work in a fast-food restaurant and with an “enforced perma-smile” at the Disney Store, Ms Swinson said she knew she was at her “most productive, creative and effective when I have relished going to work”.

Please, show me someone who “relishes” going to a job that they hate; a job that offers no prospects and doesn’t pay enough to cover one’s outgoings and I’ll show you a caring Conservative.

So what about Nick Clegg, the captain of this rotting hulk of a vessel? Well, last week he  claimed to have apologised for his party’s position on tuition fees (among other things) but no one believed him and if his conference speech was anything to go by, we can safely say that anything that comes out of his mouth is going to be insincere. The fact that his ‘apology’ was given the autotune remix treatment and entered  the charts says more about the Lib Dems public relations department than it does the public’s judgement of taste.

Finally, this video with Steve Bell at the Lib Dem conference sums it up beautifully. Bell notes that Clegg’s hair is in “bad condition”. So is his party.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/video/2012/sep/26/lib-dems-steve-bell-conference-video

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The reshuffle: business as usual

Like other observers of the Westminster Circus, The Cat believes today’s cabinet reshuffle represents little change in government policy in spite of the rearrangement of faces in the various ministries and departments.  One thing is for certain, the reshuffle is a combination of political manoeuvring and blatant arrogance. It’s the government’s great big two fingers up to the people.

A few changes have indeed caught my eye. One move, in particular, was telegraphed to us a couple of weeks ago: David ‘I didn’t do anything wrong’ Laws is back, not as Chief Secretary to the Treasury but as Schools Minister under Michael ‘Pob’ Gove. It’s a perfect match. One is a pathological liar and the other is a pathological liar and a cheat. I’m certain that the privately-educated Laws will fully support Gove’s messianic zeal in smashing the state education system.

Jezza Rhyming-Slang, the government’s equivalent of Catch-22’s Major Major, is now the Health Secretary. Here he is in action.

Wags have already suggested that Jezza may offer Murdoch an NHS franchise. Dr.  Eoin Clarke reminds us that Hunt was  co-author of a book with Dan Hannan, which advocates, among other things,  the abolition of the NHS. Hunt is also involved with Hannan and Carswell’s Direct Democracy think-tank, which was founded in 2010. Here’s what the Lyin’ King said at the time,

Douglas Carswell and I are starting a new campaign: Direct Democracy. Its principles will be familiar to readers of this blog: decentralisation, the direct election of public officials, self-financing councils, devolved welfare, parliamentary control of foreign policy, elected sheriffs, a clean-up of Westminster, lots and lots of referendums – starting with a vote on EU membership.

The last paragraph is the clincher

Direct Democracy is open to anyone who wants to shift power from Brussels to Westminster, from Whitehall to town halls, from state to citizen. Now who will stand on either hand and keep the bridge with me?

My bold. As predictable as clockwork, the auld EU obsession rears its ugly head. You can’t fault the guy’s dedication but blimey, it gets tedious.

I’ve tried finding a website for “Direct Democracy” but every single link is broken. There is their Facebook page.  It has 535 “likes”.

The “Direct democracy” that is being talked about here is something along the lines of a Swiss style system that’s laced with night-watchman state. Think of it as a sort of Victorian wonderland  for the 21st century that’s run for the benefit of oligarchs and those with inherited wealth.

Anyway, I digress, the reshuffle… yeah, dead interesting. The Hush Puppy-wearing Big Beast of the party has been moved from the Justice Ministry and given nothing.  That’s right, he’s now a minister without portfolio. He’s now no more than a long-running soap character who’s marking time without a story-line. Clarke has been replaced by Chris Grayling, a man with no legal experience… like, he’s not a lawyer.  I know, I know, surely a legal qualification  is an absolute prerequisite for anyone who is supposed to be the minister of state responsible for,er, justice? Not in the mind of Lord Snooty! The previous incumbents were barristers. Grayling is a former media producer. What does that tell you?

Maria ‘Killer’ Miller has been moved to Culture, Media and Sport. It’s likely she’s there because she watches the occasional play, is fond of the History Channel and takes in a bit of polo. Being a mad slasher, The Killer will no doubt whip out her chainsaw and get stuck into the arts as she did with the disabled. She’s also Minister for Women and Equality. Yeah, I’m falling off my seat with laughter as I’m typing this.

Over at Transport, Justine Greening was shunted into the International Development sidings. She can’t make too much noise about a proposed third runway at Heathrow while she’s jet-setting about the globe selling arms to friendly dictators. In her stead comes former miner and scab, Patrick McLoughlin.

Grant Shapps, the notorious sockpuppeteer, spiv and rat-faced bastard, has been elevated to the chairmanship of the Conservative Party displacing Sayeeda Warsi. This should please Moonie (did I tell you Sun Myung Moon is dead by the way?) Nile Gardiner, who, among other things, has called for Lord Snooty to ditch her. Gardiner won’t admit to it, but let’s put it this way: his antipathy towards her had less to do with her incompetence than it did her religion and skin colour.

Predictably enough, there are no changes at the top. Gid stays where he is. The Lib Dem contingent remains pretty much intact.  I read a tweet earlier that said, “They’ve replaced shit with shite”. I can’t argue with that.

Finally, have a laugh at Gid being booed at yesterday’s Paralympics.

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Sir John Simon lays his ghostly hand on Clegg’s shoulder

220px-Sir_John_Simon_1-3-16

Sir John Simon

I wonder if Nick Clegg would recognize the photo of the man above? If he doesn’t, then he should familiarize himself with it. Sir John Simon took his faction of the Liberal Party into the National Government in 1931. Simon’s reasoning was similar to Clegg’s: he was acting in the national interest. In order to understand how things got this way for the party we need to go back a little further to the end of the First World War.

The  so-called “Coupon” election saw Andrew Bonar law’s Coalition Conservatives come in first place with Lloyd George’s Coalition Liberals in second place.  The National Coalition, which had governed during the war, was thus returned in a landslide.  But there was simmering discontent among the Tories who formed the largest group within the coalition.  The Conservatives managed to prove that Lloyd George’s had been selling knighthoods and peerages (quite possibly one of the biggest open secrets of its time).  There was also anger among many Tories and Unionists over the creation of the Irish Free State. Other events added to the mess, the coalition collapsed and an election was called.

There had been a division among the Liberals that stemmed from 1918 when many of their MPs rejected the coalition coupon (we could, of course, go back to the split over Home Rule but let’s leave that for another time). This group was led by Herbert Asquith, whom Lloyd George had replaced as party leader in 1916. Deep cracks had developed within the Liberal Party during the years of the coalition and matters came to a head when coalition ministers were shouted down and heckled during the 1920 Liberal conference.  Lloyd George formed his own party, the National Liberals, to contest the election. The 1922 election saw the Lloyd George’s party split the vote while Asquith was pushed into third place by the ascendant Labour Party. The Conservatives under  Andrew Bonar Law were returned with an overall majority. But this was not to last. In 1923 another election was called when Law resigned due to ill-health. Stanley Baldwin replaced him and although he held a decent majority, he called an election. The result was a hung parliament and the Liberals, newly reunited under Asquith, won 158 seats and were in third place.

The following year, another election was called, ostensibly on the issue of tariffs. Baldwin fared better. Nonetheless Labour increased its share of the vote, which led to a realignment of the political poles. The tension was now between the Conservatives and Labour with the Liberals officially becoming the third party. 1924 was a disaster for Asquith, as well as losing his seat, the party’s 158 seats were reduced to 40. Baldwin didn’t have enough seats to command an overall majority and declined to form a government and a confidence and supply arrangement was negotiated between Asquith’s Liberals and Ramsay MacDonald, while Lloyd George was left to smoulder on the backbenches.This put the Labour Party into power for the first time as a minority government. But this didn’t last, thanks in part to the Campbell Case, the infamous Zinoviev Letter and some latent anti-socialist feeling that had been whipped up by the Tory press (plus ça change).

The 1929 election was fought against the backdrop of the 1926 General Strike and resulted in a hung parliament, with Labour forming a minority government.  In 1926,  Lloyd George replaced Asquith for the second time and the party took 13 more seats but it was all over for the Liberals as a major force in British politics. Decades of divisions, splits and tensions had finally reduced them to a parliamentary rump.

Labour were split over their response to the Depression with prominent members of the cabinet, such as Arthur Henderson, threatening to resign. MacDonald was urged to form a National Government and when the general election was called in 1931, Baldwin’s Tories formed the largest party in the Commons. Lloyd George fell ill and de facto leadership of the party fell to Herbert Samuel, whose report in 1926 had partly led to the General Strike and was tasked with leading the party in the election. Ironically, Samuel had been a  supporter of Asquith. Liberals were divided over support for the National Government and Samuel’s party split into three factions: the Liberal Nationals who supported the National Government, Lloyd George’s Independent Liberals and the mainstream liberals led by Samuel. They never really recovered.

Sir John Simon – a cold fish of a man by all accounts – took the bulk of the party (the Simonites) and joined the government, while Samuel took the rest (the Samuelites) and,  in 1935, crossed the floor to oppose the government. But it was hopeless, in the General Election that year, Samuel lost his seat and the number of Liberal MPs was cut by a third when they lost 12 seats. Simon’s Liberal National party was virtually indistinguishable from the Conservative Party and in those constituencies where the party stood candidates with a healthy majority, they were unopposed by the Tories. In 1935 they held onto most of their seats and lost only 2.

After the war, the mainstream Liberal Party under Archibald Sinclair won 12 seats. The Liberal Nationals won 11 seats. But the writing was on the wall for both liberal parties. The Woolton-Teviot Agreement between the Liberal Nationals and the Conservatives merged the two parties at the constituency level in 1947. They even changed their name to the National Liberals but they were nothing more than a Tory-owned brand name. In 1950 they won 16 seats, while the mainstream Liberals’ number of seats dropped from 12 to 9. By the time of the 1951 general election, this number had fallen to a mere 6. The Liberal Party’s number of seats never broke through into double figures until the elections of 1974 and, even then, the party could only win 14 seats under ill-fated Jeremy Thorpe.

Nick Clegg was elected as an MP in 2005 after serving as an MEP,from 1999 to 2004 but he had plotted to take control of the party a year earlier. Lib Dem leader, Charles Kennedy, had done much to improve the Lib Dems fortunes and the party held 62 seats. Clegg was given the job of the party’s spokesman on European affairs and was being tipped as a future party leader. This seems to have gone to his head because later in the same year, he was one of the signatories to a letter demanding Kennedy’s resignation. Kennedy was forced to resign and Sir Menzies Campbell became caretaker leader. Campbell was then rudely pushed aside by Clegg and Huhne, whose supporters declared him to be “too old”. Clegg and Huhne distanced themselves from the ageist comments but there’s little doubt that they played a part in Campbell’s departure from the leadership contest. Et tu Nick? Et tu Chris?

Nick Clegg has never faced a split in his party but like Simon, he believed that he was acting in the national interest.  He inherited a party that was in much better shape than when Paddy Ashdown had been leader. Clegg effectively squandered the good work that was done by Kennedy by dragging his party, first to the right and then into the arms of the coalition. If he’d have done the sensible thing, he’d have taken the option of a confidence and supply arrangement with a Tory minority government. Instead his miscalculations and lust for power are likely to cost the Lib Dems badly in the next general election. The public will not forget the Lib Dems behaviour over tuition fees, the NHS, benefit caps and the EMA.

So far, Clegg has kept an iron grip on the parliamentary party but the constituency parties are more restive with numerous defections from the Liberal Democrats to Labour in local councils across the country. Even so, Clegg seems to have  marginalized any opposition. Even Charles Kennedy sounds as though he’s on-side these days!

The Lib Dems have two choices: they can split or they can stay together and be slaughtered at the ballot box. There is another way: they can dump Clegg but how easy is that? If that happens, the Lib Dems are likely to see a repeat of 1935 and we know how that movie ends.

So what happened to Simon? He was Home Secretary under Baldwin and Churchill kicked him upstairs in 1940, but he did not sit in the War Cabinet.  He was a Tory in all but name. And Clegg? What will become of him? Well, a similar fate awaits him: he will lose his seat and will be elevated to the Lords. That’s what happens to toerags: they’re rewarded with ermine robes and a seat on the red benches.

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So who will speak up for the unemployed?

Have you ever noticed that when politicians – and I include Labour here as well as the Tories and Lib Dems – talk about the unemployed, they do so only to speak ill of them? If they aren’t speaking ill of them, then they’re telling us how they’re all too lazy to “find work”. We’ve also had a newly coined expression enter the Tory vocabulary: “job snob”. This government is great at formulating new insults but not so great when it comes to policies.

Politicians like Iain Duncan Smith and Liam Byrne tend to use the unemployed for target practice.  Why? Because they’re easy to attack. They have no political voice inside Westminster Palace. Yet none of those politicians who guardedly speak of the unemployed as “scum” think of them as people;  real people or as voters. I would wager that there are a large number of politicians, Tories especially, who would deny full citizenship to the unemployed if they could get away with it. Whereas Labour simply offers the same Tory approach but couched in different language.

Being unemployed in Britain is no picnic. I know. I’ve been there. You get £67.50 a week and Housing and Council Benefit – if you’re lucky.  The benefits system, far from what is commonly claimed by the right-wing press, is less than generous. The process by which you claim benefits is dehumanizing. You’re stigmatized and excluded. Some local authorities will do their utmost to ensure that benefit payments are delayed and Jobcentres will trick people into losing their Jobseekers Allowance to meet targets.

The current government is doing all it can to make sure that the unemployed pay for the economic crisis. The benefit cap and The Quiet Man’s Universal Credit are two means by which the unemployed will be further punished. The Tories’ allies on Fleet Street do the  rest by producing a near endless stream of stories about “dole cheats”.

When this government took power in 2010, they immediately signalled their intention to wage war on the unemployed.  Ministers like IDS, Grayling and Gove told us how unemployed people were living the life of luxury at the expense of the taxpayer. They told us how these people were living in “expensive houses” and even produced sets of figures that were designed to impress us. But it is all a massive distortion. The real villains continue to enjoy special privileges under this coalition. And the Tories wants them to continue to enjoy these privileges at our expense.

Ministers have told us how they want to “cut red tape” in order to “stimulate” the economy.  What they’re really saying is how they want people to work more hours and for nothing. They also want to remove any workplace legislation that protects workers – so that companies will be absolved of any responsibility to provide hazard-free working conditions – safe in the knowledge that the Health & Safety Act no longer applies to them.

To date, not a single politician from the 3 main parties has said how unreasonable it is for the unemployed to exist on less than £68 a week and how this needs to change. Of course not. They would rather use the jobless as a scapegoat. Furthermore there isn’t a single MP on the government benches or the opposition benches who has been unemployed, therefore they will never understand what it’s like to scrape by. They will never be able to comprehend what it’s like to be stigmatized and excluded; to live without dignity. Unemployment for these people is “God’s punishment” or something like it. It was the same in the 19th century and little has changed in the minds of our political leaders, who continue to circulate the same stale ideas ad infinitum.

Benefits for the unemployed need to be increased. It’s as simple as that. The cost of even the most basic of foodstuffs has increased exponentially in the last year. Rents have increased and travel costs, which are the highest in Europe, are prohibitively expensive.  Many unemployed people cannot afford the fares and are tempted to dodge, for example, train fares. So not only are the unemployed being scapegoated, they are often forced into criminality. This suits the government narrative of a mass body of unemployed ‘parasites’ who are draining an otherwise healthy, virile country of its life-force.

Even if you are lucky to have a job, the chances are it is not one that pays enough for you to live comfortably. Wages have remained stagnant for the best part of 25 years, while the cost of living has spiralled. People are encouraged to supplement their income by taking on debt through credit cards and loans (in some cases, many people have to resort to using loan sharks). None of this matters to those in the Tory Party who are, without exception, well-off. I mean, have you ever encountered a Tory politician who didn’t have independent wealth that comes from either a trust fund, dividends, shares or rents? No, I haven’t either. They don’t need to supplement their income with credit card debt, they just ratchet up their rents and get their tenants to subsidize their income.

IDS told us that he wanted to “make work pay”. I can’t see that happening either for the unemployed or for those who work. If this government wants to make work pay, perhaps they should introduce a living wage and consider price-capping. But we know that won’t happen. This government wants to wind the clock back to 1862 and the mythical age of classical liberalism.

Given that the 3 main parties continue to regard the unemployed as beneath them, I would suggest that the jobless move their votes to a party that is prepared to speak up for them. The Socialist Party, for example. There are others too.

The Tories complained that”left-wing militants” and “Trotskyites” have derailed their “work experience” scheme. But this denies the fact that the government’s scheme was a sham from the start and most sensible people could see that making people work for nothing was nothing more than a form of slave labour. Furthermore, such a scheme has the effect of undercutting wages and those who perform menial tasks for the minimum wage could find themselves eventually joining the dole queue.

In 1986, Tory MP and former National Democratic Party member, Piers Merchant spent a week on the dole to “see what it was like”.   Yes,  just a week [rolls eyes].  These days,  no Tory MP, let alone a Labour MP, would dream of doing such a thing. They’re far too used to their comforts for that.

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My Coalition verdict: What a shower

The title of this blog is borrowed from a series of similar blog titles in yesterday’s  Torygraph.  As you’d expect, all of them heap praise on their Tory brethren and pour scorn on their Lib Dem coalition partners. None of them claim that the coalition is a “shower”, though clearly many of them wish the Tories had an unassailable majority. But we don’t always get what we want in life, do we? The coalition has been in place for one year and in that year, it has waged war on the poor, the unemployed, the low-waged, the disabled, students and anyone who does not fit into their vision of the perfect society. In fact the word “society” has been absent from their minds as they pursue an ideologically-driven agenda of cuts.

The way in which the coalition parties have used the excuse of the structural deficit to push through cuts has been dishonest. In fact, this coalition government finds it difficult to be consistent. First, it talks about the national debt, then it talks about budget and structural deficits and tries to erroneously compare these things – as Thatcher did – with household finances. They tell us that “Britain’s credit card is maxed out” . Rubbish. The country doesn’t have a “credit card” and it can still raise money on the international bond markets. In spite of what the Con-Dem government and their allies tell us, Britain is far from being broke. There is money in this country but it’s all concentrated in the hands of a small number of people.

The sad truth is that the vast majority of the public haven’t got a clue when it comes to deficits and debts and the government use this ignorance to their advantage. This dishonesty is reproduced by the Telegraph’s bloggers, who are all keen to impress upon us the need to accept reductions in public spending, which the government tries to present as either ‘localism’ or ’empowerment’.

If they want to talk about household finances, perhaps they could start dealing with stagnating wages and the ever-rising cost of living. Britain’s household debt is higher than it’s ever been, yet the government seems quite happy for this situation to continue. At the beginning of this year, the rate of VAT was increased from 17.5% to 20%, which has meant that many things have increased in price – including food which, although free of VAT, is subject to VAT through production and distribution costs.

Education has been area where the Tories have sought to make their mark.  While paying lip service to the idea of education for all, they’ve been pushing forward their divisive idea for free schools. Free schools, in spite of what their supporters and this government tells us, sucks funding away from existing schools.  In Further and Higher Education, they’ve caused the biggest stink by scrapping the Educational Maintenance Allowance and imposing swingeing cuts on universities, which has prompted many universities to raise their tuition fees to the higher level of £9,000 per annum. The curriculum is also about to be colonized by ideology.  The subject of history is going to be rewritten to serve the narrow interests of the state. The revisionist historian, Niall Ferguson has been asked to devise a new history syllabus that will focus on such things as the greatness of empire. In many of the post-1992 universities, arts, humanities and social science courses are being cut because they are seen to be ‘soft’. However the real reason for cutting social sciences and humanities courses is because they teach critical thinking. Say hello to “by-rote” learning.

The Tories have also been keen to misrepresent social housing in their efforts to claim that

  1. All social tenants are  ‘scroungers’
  2. Council housing is a drain on the nation’s finances
  3.  Social housing is “state” housing and
  4. It’s a form of welfare.

Their flagship councils, who have been emboldened by having their party in government, have each made attacks on council tenants.  Westminster City Council wants to raise tenants’ rents if their incomes increase. Hammersmith and Fulham Council have threatened West Kensington and the Gibbs Green estates with bulldozers as part of their ‘redevelopment’ plans for the area around the Earl’s Court complex. The Queen Caroline Estate in the Broadway ward has also been targeted. The word that is often used in conjunction with these plans is “vulnerable”. These two councils claim, as the government does, that social housing should be for the “most vulnerable”. So who qualifies as “vulnerable” and what happens to those people once they have ceased to be “vulnerable”? Will they be evicted after a couple of years?

Let’s look at another of the more common misrepresentations.  Early in their administration, the Tories claimed that there were millions lost through “widespread benefit overpayments”. It turned out that the numbers had been vastly inflated and the amount of money was only dwarfed by the amount lost to the exchequer through tax evasion and avoidance. While those of us on lower incomes have no choice but to pay tax, those people who earn the most find ways to wriggle out of paying it.

It’s time for a look at some of those Telegraph blogs. Here’s one from the Great Lord of Darkness that’s titled  “My Coalition verdict: Iain Duncan Smith scores high, Vince Cable scores low”

The once respected Vince Cable, now an object of derision, scores zero, while Ed Miliband gets 2 out of 10 and must work harder.

There’s only one problem: Miliband isn’t in the coalition, so why mention him?

Ed West also has a pop at Cable.

Biggest loser: Either of the two leading rattle-throwers, Vince Cable and Chris Huhne, who are going to destroy their party because they overestimate the size of their political constituency. “Progressives” comprise a fairly small portion of the British public, and even within the Left are outnumbered by Blue Labour social conservatives and Jack Straw-style authoritarians. They could probably all fit inside Chris Huhne’s living rooms.

Super-Catholic, Cristina Odone can’t resist the sitting duck either.

Biggest Loser: Vince Cable. Energy Minister Chris Huhne may resign from government, but no one really liked him much in the first place. Vince, instead, was the nation’s darling for his purported knowledge of the economy (his book The Storm was a best seller), charmingly romantic Desert Island disc performance, and his fancy footwork on Strictly Come Dancing. Then he  blew it, boasting about his importance to the Coalition. He now looks like a foolish, self-important old man who seems as out of touch with his colleagues as with the public that once cherished him. Sad.

I won’t bother quoting the rest because they all plough the same dull furrow.

The coalition started badly. In the space of 15 days it suffered its first ministerial scandal and resignation when crypto-Tory, David Laws was forced to hand his portfolio to the equally worthless, Danny Alexander.  Today, Laws has been suspended from the Commons for breaching parliamentary rules. He won’t be returning to government any time soon.

The Telegraph says,

He is expected to be ordered to apologise to Parliament and pay back tens of thousands of pounds after an investigation that resulted from a Daily Telegraph report last year.

It is the most serious punishment imposed on any parliamentarian by fellow MPs following the expenses scandal and is likely to block any return to government for Mr Laws.

The Prime Minister had hoped that Mr Laws, who was popular among Conservatives as well as Liberal Democrats, would return to the cabinet soon, but this has now been ruled out.

Ironically it was the Telegraph that broke the Laws expenses story. For someone with a great deal of personal wealth, why did he feel the need to cheat the taxpayer out of over £40,000? One word: arrogance.

It’s hard to see how this coalition can last another 4 years when the Conservatives are trying to find ways to divorce their partners. The Tories’ allies,  the bloggers and commentators at the Torygraph,  spend a great deal of time sticking pins into their Lib Dem voodoo dolls. With these kinds of tensions, it is only a matter of time before the coalition collapses and in the aftermath of the Lib Dems drubbing in the English local elections and their obliteration in Scotland, this can’t come soon enough.

Paddy Power is offering the following odds on the year of the next general election:

2011                  7/2

2012                  5/2

2013                   10/3

2014                   5/1

2015 or later  6/4

Those look like pretty good odds.  I’m almost tempted to have a punt.

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Postcards from the Barricades (Part 7)

Pink stormtrooper has a chat with a protester

I always manage to set off late to the demos. Before I leave, BBC News are reporting on this afternoon’s vote in the Commons. The overall message that comes from the Beeb is “Students won’t get what they want”. But what the BBC and the other news outlets continues to ignore is that the protests are about more tan just tuition fees, they’re about the cuts to education and the public sector as well as the scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).  The news media would do well to report the whole story and not just part of it.

I emerge from Leicester Square tube station into the December sun. It’s a good day for a march. It’s a little milder than it has been in recent days. Charing Cross Road is eerily quiet. I see that Bill Bailey’s show Dandelion Mind is on at Wyndhams Theatre. There are a couple of British Transport police hanging around outside the tube station. I walk towards Trafalgar Square. I can see a few protesters and some confused tourists wandering about in a near-daze.

At Trafalgar Square, I notice that the convenience store on the corner near Whitehall is boarded up. The Pret a Manger next door is not. I wonder what’s going on? A bit of an overreaction on the part of the shopkeepers perhaps? I can also see that Whitehall is blocked by a line of police. In fact, they surround the square except for Admiralty Arch. What’s going on? I do some circulating. I walk past some cops who  are talking about “protecting Cowley Square”. Cowley Square, soon to be renamed Cowardly Square is home to the Lib Dems. A big cheer goes up as a banner from the RMT appears on the Strand. I make my way towards there. As I do so, I spot a former work colleague, His mate has a sound system on a bike that’s blaring out loud dub music. Yeah, this is just like Carnival!

As we walk down The Strand, the TSG  move quickly along our right flank. They’re up for a ruck. I can see it in their body language.  There’s a line of cops blocking the Strand. We head back around the corner and back towards Trafalgar Square and regroup.

Suddenly all of us move towards Admiralty Arch and down the Mall. The TSG are in hot pursuit but they’ve been caught on the hop. Further down the Mall, another line of police. Ah, so that’s where they are. The TSG try desperately to outflank us. They don’t look very fit. The speed of the march moves at an incredible pace down Horseguards Road. The TSG look puffed and confused. I move around them. Sirens.  I can see small convoy of police vans full of reinforcements. This is going to be interesting. I climb over the barrier and down Great George Street.  I can see Big Ben in the distance. I’ve cycled down here many times and although it is an official cycle route, it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Parliament Square. There are loads of police. The square itself is totally screened off. That won’t last long. From behind me, I can hear someone shout “mind your backs”! A line of TSG moves past somewhat aggressively. I shout back to them “no need to be aggressive”. They ignore me. These guys are spoiling for a fight. I can see one of those police ‘medics’. Surely an oxymoron?

I wander around the square. I can see tabloid news types on hair-trigger. I walk down into the subway, Westminster tube station is closed. “Station’s closed” says the cop. I walk up to the south side of Parliament Street, where Portcullis House squats. More police in full riot gear. No baseball caps this time. No pretence.

Police line across Bridge Street

Party aides and researchers are gawping out the windows of Portcullis House. Some are taking photos. There’s a Sky News reporter trying to do a live news feed. It isn’t working for him. He’s picked a bad spot. The sheer numbers are overwhelming. Never mind, there’s probably another Sky scumbag around the other side of Parliament Square filling in a few gaps for the viewers.

There are loads of photo-journalists swarming about, looking for a good

Protesters on top of container.

‘story’.  A small group of protesters who have climbed on top of a roadworks container are setting fire to some placards. They now have a story.  I tell them this.

There’s a bit of noise. The screens have gone down. I head back towards Parliament Square and brush past Kurt Barling of BBC London News. It’s like a carnival here. There are drummers. A group of people have shown up with a tea urn. Good thinking!  At the other side of square opposite Westminster Abbey, a man handing out flyers compliments me on my headgear. We have a quick chat. He’s an engineering student from Reading University. He’s also a member of the National Shop Stewards Network. He tells me that his uni is building luxury student accommodation at a staggering cost.   He says that only rich students will be able to afford the rents. I agree. What is Reading Uni thinking? I take a flyer and he goes off. There are fires burning. There’s a particularly large one to the north of the square.

I listen to a couple of speeches from Socialist Party members. One speaker, an

RIP Education

Irishman who came here in 1968, tells us how he marched against the Vietnam War and has been on every march ever since. I move back towards the square where I see the coffin from UEL. I hang around with Marija from my PhD course who is with a few others from the Docklands campus. A Star Wars stormtrooper in pink moves across my field of vision. I excuse myself and rush off to take some pictures. As I finish snapping, I turn around and notice a surge is taking place on Victoria Street. The cops look completely overhwhelmed, then the surge subsides. I see Kurt Barling again. We exchange smiles. Maybe he thinks I’m a reporter. I have a journalist’s notebook after all. I even have a pen jammed into my hat. I sort of look the part. My hands are getting cold, it’s difficult trying to write in gloves but it’s even harder to write with cold hands.

Another attempt is being made to break through the police line, There’s a stand-off.  It’s starting to get dark. I decide to try and find a way through the lines of police. I notice what looks like a couple of tourists, maybe they’re workers. I pretend to be with them. I follow them up Great George Street. The cops aren’t letting them through. I walk back around the corner to the gap between the Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre and Methodist Central Hall. Again, they won’t let us through. I decide that the best course of action is to really lay on the American accent. I go to the line of riot cops on Parliament Street and tell them that I need to get out because I “have a doctor’s appointment”. The cop asks “Are you on the protest”? I tell him “no” and he believes me. I head up Whitehall and pop into the Wetherspoon’s pub to use the loo. There are quite a few protesters there drinking and chatting. A little while later, I’m walking past the Prince of Wales pub on Villiers Street and look through the window. The punters are watching Murdoch News. The scrolling bar says that a policeman has been “seriously injured”. This is just what the right wing media wants to see.  Though it is unclear how this policeman was injured. One tweet says that this is the inspector who punched a protester in the face at the second demo. It’s hard to know.

Sitting at home the live news feed from the Beeb is pretty predictable. Ben Brown talks about the “dangerous” Whitechapel Anarchists Group. Oh, please. Sky News is even worse.  A retweet that I receive from Brian Moylan to markthomasinfo reads “Kay Burley describes students as ‘insurgents’ but still not quite as outrageous as describing herself as a ‘journalist'”.  Yeah, Kay Burley.  She’s pretty shit.

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Filed under ConDem Budget 2010, Conservative Party, Education, Government & politics, Liberal Democrats, London, Student protests