Daily Archives: 01/04/2013

Iain Duncan-Smith: Anyone Can Live On £7 A Day

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Iain Duncan-Git

Iain Duncan-Smith could live on £53 a week I reckon, just as most of us could feel quite excited about the prospect of going on a survival course or boot camp or something similar. He’d think of it as a change, something exciting, a sort of toff’s challenge. It’d be a thing for him to do, and something he’d be able to drone on about having done at his club, or whilst having a snifter at the 19th or whatever. He could do it – say for a week or a fortnight, or even a month, and then write a book about it and we’d never hear the last of it.

So make the bastard do it for a year with no get-outs, cut him off from his well-stocked freezer and cocktail cabinet and his fat wallet and bank account, and dump him in a three-bedroomed flat on a sink estate, complete with 25% bedroom tax. See how he fancies that.

Not one little bit, is my guess.  But I’d love to see him try.

Leeds United Back at the Crossroads

Bye bye, Colin

As the final whistle blew after Leeds United’s most recent defeat at home to Derby County, in many ways it just seemed like business as usual. The team had huffed and puffed, flattered to deceive, taken the lead through a goal of genuine quality and then finally – as seems all too normal – frittered away a fragile advantage to end up with nothing. It could be a metaphor for the entire season, or even for the whole three year period since United dragged itself back, by the skin of its teeth, to the second tier of English football which represents the very minimum acceptable status for a great old club. It’s been three years of hollow promises, screwed-up priorities, bizarre transfer activities and chronic instability.

The last point – that lack of stability – has been felt even more acutely than ever these last few weeks. Ever since Neil Warnock made his first wistful noises about wanting to be in Cornwall with his family and his Massey-Ferguson, the alarm bells have been ringing. The one thing above all that any sports team needs is a high degree of certainty as to where it is going and how it proposes to get there. Take away the certainty, the sense of direction and leadership, and – try though the individual team members might – the fine edge will be taken off that team’s performance. In a game of fine margins, as any game is at a high professional level, the lack of that edge makes all the difference.

It’s actually been worse even than that for Leeds. Rumours of a second takeover won’t go away, and memories are returning of the long and drawn-out saga of last summer, with all the disruption that entailed for any planning and preparation for the season ahead. Those rumours have gathered pace, and have come to a head at about the same time Warnock made it clear he was sidling towards the exit door. So not only does the team itself lack for leadership and the security of knowing who’s calling the shots on the football side – the whole club is embroiled once again in a fever of speculation as to who will own it, or various discrete chunks of it, by the time the next transfer window opens, and the all-important work has to start in order to ready us for a tilt at promotion next time around.

The past week has seen 10% of the club sold off to a “strategic investor”, but there is no clarity as to what this might mean for team-building. Is it any wonder that the mood among fans, despite reduced admission prices, is one of apathy at best? Now it has been confirmed that Neil Warnock has indeed parted company with Leeds United, so a club in a state of anguished flux must seek the right appointment at a time when it’s difficult to see any credible candidate being tempted to take up the challenge of restoring direction to a once-mighty ship, now seemingly rudderless and hopelessly adrift.

So we find ourselves speculating on two fronts, as this season sputters to an uninspiring close – always supposing that we don’t get dragged into an unseemly scrap to avoid relegation. Fans are bound to speculate after all – it’s in the nature of passionate support that we will be preoccupied by what, if anything, the future holds. But at Leeds United, more than at most clubs, that speculation is undertaken in an information vacuum and in almost complete darkness in terms of what’s going on behind the doors.

What we can and should do, with some degree of self-righteousness, is point out that the changes taking place now regarding team management might more usefully have been accomplished weeks ago, when there was still a realistic chance of making the play-offs, and when the introduction of a degree of certainty might have paid dividends. The points so carelessly tossed away in recent weeks as Warnock has yearned for his tractor from afar, taking his eye right off the ball, would have seen Leeds bang in contention. Last minute equalisers conceded at Wolves and Leicester, silly home defeats to Huddersfield and Derby, awful beatings at Ipswich and Barnsley, all these avoidable calamities add up in terms of points we could and should have taken. A Mick McCarthy at the helm, or maybe a Nigel Adkins or – dare I say it – a Simon Grayson, and I’m convinced a good proportion of those points could have been snapped up, and we might yet have found ourselves occupying a play-off berth right now. The club, the new owners, have let a golden opportunity slip through their fingers, from the moment those alarm bells started to ring.

Now, they simply have to get it right. There’s been a bit of talk around the city this last few days – wouldn’t it be strange if the Leeds Rhinos and Leeds United both had a winger called Ryan Hall, and a coach called Brian McDermott. Maybe that could now come to pass, and I for one wouldn’t object – as Mr McDermott has done a genuinely competent job at Reading, and was possibly unlucky to get the sack there. But whoever we get, he has to be installed, made to feel happy and welcome, and backed financially to undertake the surgery the squad still undeniably needs. The right appointment would still get the crowd back onside, as would some definitive statement of intent from the current owners about their plans. It has to happen, and it has to happen soon, or we can write off another season in the long-term quest to return to the top flight – it will now be a minimum of ten years out of the Premier League and a club like Leeds simply has to aim to be there in order to have any chance of fulfilling the potential that its still-devoted fans and its global profile afford it. A return to the top, then, is now a matter of increasing urgency.

So here we are again, at yet another crossroads, between managers and with everything up in the air for the umpteenth time. Situation normal. But it can’t go on. Whatever happens between now and August, one thing we know beyond doubt is that we certainly can’t afford another season like this one.

Tories Need to Learn That Carrots Sometimes Work Better Than Sticks

Peter Lilley

Ex-Cabinet minister Peter Lilley has unwittingly put his finger on a possible answer to the “spare bedrooms” issue, which has been used to justify the iniquitous Bedroom Tax. Interviewed on BBC Radio Five Live, the former Social Security Secretary attempted to defend savage cuts to Housing Benefit by remarking that his constituents are always complaining that they’re overcrowded in their one-bedroom social housing units. Why then, argued Lilley, is it fair for other tenants to “under-occupy”, and have one or two “spare bedrooms”?

The problem is, of course, that as in all its dealings with the poorer end of society, the Coalition has decided that the bludgeon is the most effective instrument of Government. Hence the rightly-hated Bedroom Tax; ill-conceived, improperly thought-out, poorly presented and unfair to the nth degree. No account is taken of whether there is a genuine option for people affected to move to smaller properties, nor of whether the cost of this undertaking is feasible for them. Any consideration of the distinct needs of the disabled, which may medically justify the use of separate bedrooms for couples, has been specifically ruled out.

A possible answer – a fair, practicable answer at that – lies within the rhetoric of Lilley’s attempted justification of the unjustifiable. If, as he says, there is still a big problem of people suffering from overcrowding, and being in need of larger properties currently under-occupied by smaller families – then why not simply engineer some means whereby these two groups can be made aware of each other and thereby facilitate property swaps? A large part of the reason why the “under-occupiers” won’t be moving is the lack of availability of smaller properties. If “swaps” could be facilitated, on a large enough scale, then we could have a mutually satisfactory solution to the problems of both groups. It would be necessary of course to incentivise such a plan – perhaps a transitional payment and/or financial assistance with removal costs and other formalities. It’s a question of square pegs in square holes – the solution should be neat and simple. But the Government don’t see it that way, because they’re instinctively suspicious of the motives of the poor, who they see as wishing to hang on to their “something for nothing” at all costs, and they are therefore determined to hammer these unfortunates who have no scope to either move on, or pay the rent arising out of the imposed cuts in Housing Benefit.

The whole issue comes down to this Government’s pathological preference for the stick over the carrot. They are bolstered in this instinct by the leanings of their natural supporters, Mail readers and the like, who wish to see “the smack of firm government” applied to anyone who has been sufficiently demonised by a press that seems intent on disseminating Tory propaganda. The ultimate aims of the Bedroom Tax haven’t been all that well clarified either. We hear about the “unfairness” of under-occupation, but it’s being acknowledged that a primary goal is to save on the Housing Benefit bill, with half a billion pounds being mooted as a first year economy. How does this help get larger families into larger properties? Cutting the income of the “under-occupiers” is hardly the best way of persuading them to incur removal costs to move to a smaller property, possibly in the private sector at a higher rent – because all the over-crowded families are in the one-bedroom social housing properties. It’s a real mess, round pegs in square holes, square pegs in round holes, and no strategy to facilitate any sort of reversal to mutual advantage.

Iain Duncan-Smith

Ministers right now are in a full state of alert, ready at the drop of a hat to respond to annoying and inconvenient criticism from the likes of church organisations, fully primed to do their best to defend the indefensible, as Peter Lilley was clumsily attempting to do. To this end, they are prepared to come out, bare-faced with the most unconscionable rubbish. Iain Duncan-Smith, a man who recently claimed £39 expenses for one breakfast, has asserted that he would be able to live on benefit subsistence levels of £53 weekly. Utter nonsense, of course, but this is a symptom of desperation in the face of a tidal wave of opposition, for a government that will brook no alternative. The problem these ministers have is that they are increasingly aware the measures they’re being asked to speak up for are bad policies, and – much, much worse for any mid-term government – bad politics. The current administration are wide-open to charges of callousness, misrepresenting salient facts about poverty and an abject failure, indeed refusal, to listen to any source – however well-informed – that doesn’t unswervingly endorse their chosen path. That’s the kind of leadership that got Thatcher removed – and David Cameron, if he hasn’t already given up hope of winning the next election, increasingly looks in dire need of a Plan B.

Practically, I believe that what I might be tempted to term “The Lilley Plan”, allied to sensible investment in the construction industry, could go a long way towards solving the conflicting issues of over-crowding and under-occupancy – as long as it would be properly funded and incentivised. It’s still a matter of trying to get people to move out of homes they may have lived in for years after all; which is still uncomfortably close to social engineering. But if carrots are tried, for once – instead of the endless battalions of Tories wielding sticks – then maybe some progress could be made, and there would be benefits too for the wider economy of more investment in construction; jobs, taxes raised, housing options created, growth – that sort of thing. They’re all distant and unattainable dreams for the Coalition at the moment, but maybe, just maybe, a little more of an imaginative approach to government might reap some reward.

But it is the Tories we’re dealing with here, and they’re brought up from the nursery to think they know best so – you know – don’t hold your breath.

The Waste Land (A Land Laid Waste by Gideon’s “Reforms”)

The Waste Land

A paraphrased adaptation – with apologies to T S Eliot.

This variation was written to coincide with the first day of the UK Coalition Government’s so-called “Welfare Reforms” which will savagely cut into the income of the very poorest, at a time when millionaires will benefit from massive tax cuts. April 1st, the starting date of Gideon Osborne’s main assault on the most vulnerable members of society, quite aptly also marks All Fools’ Day.

The Waste Land

April is the cruellest month, raising
Bedroom tax out of the disabled, mixing
Malice and discrimination, stirring
Tory hearts with millionaires’ tax cuts.

Winter kept us cold, covering
Doormats with higher fuel bills, feeding
A few of the poor from distant food banks.
And we were frightened.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this Tory rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken promises, while the Sun bleats,
And the Coalition gives no shelter, the government no relief,
And Parliament no sound of explanation. Only
There is despair under this evil regime,
(Come and feel the despair under this evil regime),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of “reforms”.

Shantih, shantih, shantih.