Daily Archives: 28/04/2013

Duncan-Smith Appeals Politely To Finer Instincts of “Rich Pensioners”

Duncan-Smith:  "Polite"

Duncan-Smith: “Polite”

Iain Duncan-Smith, having pandered for so long to the Daily Mail-reading citizens of leafy suburbia, gladdening their hearts with his continual broadsides aimed at “shirkers” or those allegedly living the high life on munificent benefits may just have made a tactical error, thereby rousing the ire of the comfortably-off grey vote. Perhaps encouraged by the willing acceptance by the rich elderly of the picture he has so assiduously painted of a benefits dependency culture, IDS has finally dared to think the unthinkable, hinted at just possibly touching the untouchable – even if, as it turns out, this would be consensual touching.

The suggestion of the beleaguered Work and Pensions Secretary seems, on the face of it, quite mild – especially when compared to his scathing rhetoric directed with such concentrated fire at the unemployed, the disabled and other “benefit dependents” (especially if they dare to have – horror of unjustifiable horrors – a spare bedroom!) He has only said, in a really quite wheedling, come-on-now-you-chaps sort of tone, that the “wealthy elderly” might like to do their bit and return some of the universal freebies currently available on grounds of age alone – and regardless of what might be piled up in the bank. He would, he offered, “encourage” people who do not need this type of financial help to “hand it back.” Not exactly, on the face of it, a draconian move – but it seems likely that certain Disgusted of Cheltenham types will feel betrayed by the Minister, despite his carefully-couched and indeed almost pleading remarks.

The coalition government have, up to now, been fastidiously careful not to rattle the cage of a section of society well-known for its mainly Conservative leanings. It seems likely that any dent in this traditional groundswell of support could have disastrous consequences for the Tory Party’s chances of remaining on the political map come 2015 and election time. Even now, with this hesitant suggestion of self-sacrifice for the old and rich, IDS has been quick to provide reassurance that there are no plans to introduce a means-test to exclude wealthier pensioners. What Duncan-Smith is appealing to is the theoretically noble spirit of the rich: come on, guys, let’s play our part and show those nasty little oiks down at the bottom of the pile just what the Dunkirk Spirit is all about. The thing is, he may have misjudged the mood.

I only heard one caller to a late-night BBC Five Live chat show debating this story. That was largely because this one chap was so irate, so indignant, that it proved extremely difficult to shut him up long enough to cut him off without appearing terribly rude to a nice old man. The level of animosity generated by this single outraged pensioner was a marvel to behold – it was only radio, but you could almost hear the veins in his temple throb. I was quite worried for his health, and the presenter seemed loath to provoke him further, lest he should bring on apoplexy. If that caller was in any way representative of his wealthy co-recipients of government largesse, then it could turn out that IDS has had another Bad Idea. It may be an old and fairly wizened tiger he has by the tail, but the teeth and the claws would appear to be in full working order and ready to turn on the hand that’s been feeding them.

The worrying thing (as far as this citizen is concerned) is the marked contrast in tone and approach, depending on whether IDS is imposing swingeing cuts on people whose incomes are already stretched to snapping point, or making sweetly suggestive noises about how noble it would be to forego the £300 winter fuel allowance when you have £150k in the bank. And really, the contrast could hardly be more marked, and therefore it could hardly be more repellently disgusting. The clear implication behind such radically different ways of dealing with different sectors of society is that the government view of those disparate groups is polarised to such an extent that one might almost doubt we are talking about members of the same species. The rich are to retain a choice over whether their income should remain at a level far in excess of their needs – even if a proportion of that income comes from an over-stretched welfare budget that is already pushing people – working people – into reliance on food banks. The poor have no such choice. Stringent measures are being taken, and the Untermensch at the bottom of Society’s league table can like it or lump it. There is a nasty assumption going on in Tory heads that they can trust “our sort of people”, but that the peasants have to be kept in line; give them an inch and they’ll take a bally mile, old boy.

This attitude pervades our current national mindset; even to the extent of sparing the rich the visitations of Justice when they’ve been naughty – if they happen to be well enough placed to make reparations. If two people are caught out in the same level of benefit fraud – for instance – and one can afford to repay the whole amount they’ve diddled out of the state, but the other can’t; guess what happens. It is open for the decision makers to spare the person who can repay any actual prosecution and probable criminal record. The one who can’t repay within the time limit stipulated – it’s off to court with you, and a blot on your record that will dog you for years – and you still have to pay the money back, out of whatever pittance you have left. And yet the crime is identical. That’s the only definition you’ll ever need of unfair, unjust and a travesty of the equity of treatment that should be any government’s minimum aim. It’s happened under successive administrations of whatever persuasion, and it’s a blot on our notion of fairness.

It may well be that IDS has committed a gaffe here, but equally it’s possible that, on sober reflection, the elderly rich will decide that they aren’t after all being threatened with imminent penury. And unwilling as I am to give much credit to a Minister with such an appalling record on his treatment of those who can’t fight back, I actually think this is something of a tiny step in the right direction. It is time the wealthy did more to show that they share the responsibility we all have to get out of this mess. I just wish that there wasn’t so much carrot on the one hand, and so much stick on the other.

Get Bates RIGHT OUT – That Would be Leeds United’s Fresh Start

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The back end of a season with nothing left but pride to play for is an eerily uninspiring time for any set of fans.  It’s much more the case for the long-suffering band of faithful supporters attached to the ailing giant that is Leeds United.  The last decade has been 90% nightmare, 5% unfulfilled hope and possibly 5% consolation-prize high spots.  You won’t run out of fingers counting up the good times.  A clutch of decent cup wins, including one spectacular success at The Theatre of Hollow Myths when we beat a Man U side in one of their champions incarnations.  We did it, what’s more, as a third tier side – and we should have had three as well.  Then there was promotion from that shameful third tier, secured with a glorious win over Bristol Rovers.  Read that again: “glorious win” in the same sentence as “over Bristol Rovers”.  That’s how far we had fallen.

Since returning to the Championship, the league fare has been meagre at best.  We have mostly flattered to deceive with an under-powered team lacking in quality; a clear product of the club’s inadequate approach to investment.  There have been some frankly dreadful low times, the kind of performances especially at one-time fortress Elland Road which would have the most committed Leeds nutter wondering if Saturday afternoon shopping with ‘er indoors might not be that bad after all.  4-1 up to Preston and lost 4-6.  An abysmal 3-7 tonking by the nauseatingly nicknamed Tricky Trees of Nottingham Forest.  1-6 at home to Watford’s take on the Italian “B” International side.  We’ve done OK at times, but nothing spectacular – and the general report would have to sum us up as “nowhere near good enough.”

Any Leeds fan worth his or her salt will have constructive opinions as to how progress may best be made towards the top end of this league, and they will likely have firm options identified for changes on and off the field.  I’m no different, and I strongly believe that the off-field scenario is still in as urgent need for revolution as is the patchy and ineffective first team squad.  The first thing I would do is give the whole place the air of a spring-clean, with added fumigation and fresh coat of paint.  This could be achieved in one fell swoop by telling Mr Kenneth Bates that his services are no longer required in any capacity; that he will not be retained in any position whereby he might be seen as representing Leeds United AFC, and that he should proceed – without passing “Go” or collecting £200 – to his Monaco tax haven, returning (if at all) only after purchasing a match-day ticket.

Ken Bates has had enough exposure on the back of Leeds United.  We’ve heard enough about how he’s “saved” us, a novel definition of that concept which includes taking us to the brink of ruin, costing us oodles of money in the funding of his endless court battles, presiding over relegation, administration and a points-deduction saga that was a complex and migraine-inducing mess.  Against this backdrop, you have the man himself, abrasive of personality, coarse in self-expression, using intimidation as his weapon of choice with threats of court action against anyone who upset him – and lastly but not leastly his endearing habit of summing up those loyal and faithful fans who happen not to agree with his philosophy on life as “morons.”

The fresh start that Leeds United require is only one official, Leeds United headed-stationery printed letter away:  Dear Ken, we regret to inform you…. etc.  The position of Life President is for a man of dignity, a man who has supported the club all his life, a man who is content to see his name on the official roll whilst keeping his own counsel unless asked for it.  A man like the late lamented Earl of Harewood, the quintessence of decency and class, a figurehead any club would love to carve for their own.  Ken Bates is to Earl Harewood as water is unto wine, and we should not have to put up with such a profound and precipitous drop in standards.

Get Ken out – RIGHT out – and it’s a start.  There would still be much to do, but it could be done in an improved atmosphere; many thousands of fans would feel instantly better about the club they love, a nasty taste would be gone from our collective mouths, a leaden weight from our tired shoulders.  We might at last be able to March On Together in the truest sense with this corrosive influence gone from the club.  Please – whoever has the power to bring this about – make it happen and make it happen SOON.   Then let’s get on with rebuilding our Leeds United.