Tag Archives: Parliament

Labour Party Putsch: The Traitors’ Dilemma – by Rob Atkinson

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Jeremy Corbyn – serenely immovable

This article was previously published in the Huffington Post

The die is cast, the ringleaders are known, their motives are nakedly obvious for all to see. The Parliamentary Labour Party coup, conceived months ago to be hatched when the timing was right, has not gone well so far. Firstly, several previous anticipated opportunities have failed to materialise. Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour was fancied to lose the Oldham by-election, but it held the seat and the plotters, poised quivering and eager to pounce, had to slink frustrated back into the undergrowth.

Then, the Local Council elections. Again, there looked to be an opportunity, with the ever-obliging BBC prematurely reporting a night of disaster for Corbyn’s troops, only to be embarrassed as things turned out annoyingly well, with Labour emerging as the largest party. The EU Referendum was Last Chance Saloon – the final opportunity before the publication of the Chilcot Report, with all of its possible nasty ramifications for the Blairites of the PLP.

So, the script was written before the results were known, in line with furtive early preparations elsewhere pre-dating overt action. But yet again, the figures have not stacked up as desired. In the face of a brutal and mendacious Leave campaign, Corbyn’s Labour members voted almost two to one to remain – a highly respectable figure given the fertile territory the likes of UKIP and Farage have found among the disaffected and marginalised poor. Labour’s remain vote was only a percentage point or two short of that of the SNP – and nobody’s calling Nicola Sturgeon a referendum failure.

All of the pretexts upon which the anti-Corbyn movement hoped to base their rebellion have turned out to be duds. Despite their own professed agenda and the complaisant backing of the media, their motives are paper-thin and full of holes. But there’s that pesky Chilcot thing in the offing, and it’s imperative to get rid of Corbyn before he can use a damning report to start inflicting some long overdue justice. So, for the traitors, it’s realistically now or never.

But there’s another problem. The leadership challenge as such is probably not such a good idea. The incumbent leader would be on the ballot paper as of right, and looks set fair to trounce any and all opposition, possibly by a wider margin than even last September’s historic landslide. If Corbyn could be persuaded to stand down, that’d be a different matter. He’d then need to secure enough PLP backing to be nominated for a leadership election – which would of course be relatively unlikely, as demonstrated by the constitutionally impotent no-confidence motion. So a Corbyn resignation is decidedly the way to go. But Jeremy steadfastly refuses to budge, citing the enormous mandate he was given only nine months ago.

Hence the current impasse. The unedifying spectacle now playing out is a bitterly ironic one of deeply dishonourable men and women calling upon a decent man – that rarity in politics – to “do the honourable thing”, and resign. They seem eager to give him extra increments of time, hoping against hope he’ll “see sense”. The right-wing press throng the touchlines, oafishly cheering on these turncoats. But Corbyn knows that resignation would not be the honourable course. It would be highly convenient, for the would-be usurpers, but honourable? No way. So he carries serenely on, under immense strain, while his detractors seethe helplessly.

This is the classic Traitors’ Dilemma – act recklessly, or perform a humiliating retreat?. What are they to do now, if this inconveniently honourable and determined man refuses to fall on his sword? Skulk away again, with Chilcot waiting to explode in their faces? Hardly. Launch a challenge anyway then, and damn the consequences? Well, to be the means by which Corbyn increases his already massive authority in the Labour Party as a whole – that’s hardly the sort of history your average Blairite wants to be making.

Angela Eagle, who has shed tears of pure crocodile in the past few days, together with the rest of the opportunists thirsting for the kill, all of them are faced with the Devil’s Alternative. Whichever way they decide to act, they’re likely to plummet into an abyss of obscurity and ridicule. It really is a very problematic situation. But it’s one, let us not forget, entirely of their own making.

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Snouts In The Trough – But It’s Time Those Living High On The Hog Picked Up The Tab

The Three-Party System

The Three-Party System

The thing about politicians is – if they’re not talking, or furiously thinking of a way out of their latest web of deceit, or maybe sleeping (a swift forty winks on the backbenches, the ultimate power nap), then they’re most likely at some or other official function, stuffing their faces with the finest of freebie food and drink.

Now, I’m not making a party political point here. I said “politicians”, and I meant the whole unsavoury crew of them, be they high-powered cabinet members, lobby fodder rank-and-file MP’s, or even your humble Joe Bloggs, Mavis Dogood or Tarquin FitzHerbert-Smythe in the local Council chambers. They all have the same basic bodily need for nourishment as us mere mortals. The difference is, they will quite often fill up to the Plimsoll line at the taxpayer’s expense. Is this fair or appropriate in these straitened times?

At a veritable crisis point of global financial meltdown, when our national debt is so high that even Wayne Rooney would need to ask for an extra week or two to pay it off, I find myself wondering: what’s the accumulated value of all the state and civic banquets, dinners, receptions, working lunches and other freebie jamborees that take place every day, all over the country? It must come to a good few bob. We’re not, after all, talking a few limp ham sandwiches, curling up at the edges and accompanied by motley shreds of anaemic lettuce. No, Sir. These people do not skimp; they do themselves well, very well indeed. There’s proper, grown-up, posh food on heavily-laden and groaning tables – and it must be highly debatable how much productive thinking is left in those bloated plutocrats, after the desserts have been and gone, and the port, nuts and cigars are passed around.

Of course, piling into the snap at the highest levels of power is nothing new. It’s been pretty much de rigueur ever since Henry I wolfed down half-a-dozen too many eels, and expired before he could gasp “surfeit of lampreys”. Kings, Queens, and assorted courtiers and other hangers-on have always been notable for their over-indulgence on rich food and fine wine. It sort of went with the territory in those far-off times, but it strikes a more discordant note these days when essential services – the culmination of the whole process of civilisation and enlightenment since before Henry I – are being cut left, right and centre. And yet still the state and political chomping goes on apace.

It’s only a matter of a few weeks since MP’s of all parties were calling for a 32% pay rise, despite their broad consensus that the rest of us should be grinning bravely and tightening our belts. Just what sort of message does that send out, when so much of their weekly calorific intake is provided and paid for, as part of their remit as legislators of our country? And the same applies at least in some degree to our business leaders – no subsidised canteen serving scrummy beans on toast with a poached egg on top for them – it’s Marco-Pierre White catering at the very least – and waiter, send that bill to Accounts, there’s a good chap.

What if – bear with me here – what if MP’s, ponderous boardroom types, and indeed power-brokers everywhere were to embrace a novel concept, and actually pay for some of the scrumptious fare that comes their way so often, and gratis at that? If this were the general principle, multiplied across all the many thousands of vastly expensive official meals and banquets that take place in this over-stretched nation every week, what would be the saving to the national purse? I’m struggling to work that out on my fingers and in my head, but it’s a big, big number, make no mistake. It’s not as if the people we’re talking about are exactly impoverished – are they now? And what do the rest of us do when it’s time for lunch at work? Not everyone has even the subsidised canteen; many of us are away down to the high street for a cheese roll, which we’re – quite reasonably – expected to fund out of our own pockets.

It’s about time we all woke up to the fact that – on a grand scale – we’re being made right mugs out of, you and me. Every time there’s a new cost-cutting measure, or another idea for a wage freeze, you can bet your life it’s been hatched over the smoked-salmon canapés and the pâté de foie gras. And what’s more, we’re the simple souls paying for it. Could that money not be used much more productively, elsewhere?

Just think about that, the next time you’re counting the pennies at the end of the month, and wondering whether you can delay the big shop till after the weekend. Then again, it might even act as an appetite suppressant. Just thinking of all those banquets, all that luxury food, and above all, where the bill’s heading – might just actually make you sick.

“Loadsamoney” Cameron in “Tasteless and Ignorant Flash Git” Row

ImagePrime Minister David Cameron has had his judgement called into question yet again after a “date-night” meal out with his wife on Friday at a pizza restaurant in Soho.  Having enjoyed a simple repast of pizza and lasagne, accompanied by dough balls and a bottle of red – amounting to a bill of around £45 – the Premier stunned onlookers by airily leaving his delighted waiter a tip of £50.  One diner, struggling to find a reason for this munificent largesse, later wondered in a baffled tweet whether Mr Cameron was perhaps feeling flush after saving some money on his order by using a discount coupon.  Others have speculated that a tendency to be a heavy tipper could be compensatory behaviour given his history as a former member of the notorious Bullingdon Club, an exclusive society at Oxford University noted for its habit of smashing up restaurants and paying up on the spot for damage caused.  But Cameron has not always been so generous, once failing to leave a tip at all for a waitress who, not recognising the PM, said she was too busy to carry his coffee order to his table.

Whatever Mr Cameron’s motivation – and let’s not forget there’s a very happy waiter at the centre of this story – such extravagant actions are always open to criticism for a man so very much in the glare of public scrutiny.  Given that, and allowing also for his government’s implacable stance on its much-criticised austerity programme, it may be felt in some quarters that a £50 tip on a bill of rather less than that sends out all the wrong messages.  It’s an action, some may well carp, that can easily be related to the archetypal “flash git” yuppie of the eighties, so memorably portrayed by Harry Enfield as his “Loadsamoney” character, who would flaunt his wealth ostentatiously, waving wads of cash and lighting cigars with twenty pound notes.  This was of course satire, which is at the very cutting-edge of good comedy, and rightly so.  But all the best satire has that kernel of truth which validates its message, and the “Loadsamoney” image had many parallels in real life.  In casually handing over £50 to an incredulous waiter, Mr Cameron surely risks criticism from those who will say this shows the extent to which he is out of touch with millions nationwide to whom £50 would represent a weekly family shopping budget.

It’s not so long ago that Cameron’s blundering Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, unwisely raised his head above the parapet with a claim that he’d be able to live on £53 a week, only to have to duck it down again hastily when a massively-supported public petition called on him to do just that.  The Coalition government seem a little damage-prone in terms of such tactical own-goals, and whatever message they are trying to get across about the need for everyone to tighten the belt, grin bravely and get on with it, is continually undermined by examples of individual ministers piteously whining that their lot is not a happy one.

The Tory MP for Mid Derbyshire, Pauline Latham, recently described how she was “left in tears” after clashing with officials from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) over the matter of her security enhancements and just who is expected to pay the £9000 bill.  That’s a story which many will find less than heart-rending when so many pensioners face the “heat or eat” dilemma.  MP’s of all parties have agitated for a while now for salary increases of up to 32% at a time when public pay is frozen.  Failed bankers and incompetent Chief Executives are still routinely walking away from the disasters they have created with severance packages well into seven figures, whilst the poorest of the poor face a struggle to find the weekly bedroom tax bill, a struggle that has in several tragic cases terminated in suicide.

It is doubtful whether Cameron, replete with pizza, dough balls, wine and relaxed, chilled-out bonhomie, will have had any of this to the forefront of his mind when he grandly tipped his waiter before heading off back to work at the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland, where all his food and hospitality will be funded by grateful taxpayers.  The point is though, surely, that he should be aware of all of these issues, all of the time, and that this awareness should advise his every move.  To expose himself and by extension his government, to such ridicule and criticism over what was quite probably a sincere enough gesture (assuming that the tip really was from the PM’s own back pocket), shows a want of understanding and a failure to appreciate just how such public generosity, on a scale out of the reach of 98% of the population, will resonate with those who are struggling to make ends meet.  The lack of political awareness in a man elevated to Cameron’s high office is more than a little worrying.  If the tip had to be given, could it – should it – have been made in a less public way?  At least then, even if the story had come out, the effect would have been diluted by relative subtlety instead of appearing so crass and opportunistic.

The sad fact is that many in the Tory party, or even in the coalition government as a whole, will tend to dismiss an item of news like this as “pointless and frivolous” or a “storm in a teacup”.  But they would miss the point in so doing.  Because the incident is in the public arena, it has to be viewed in the context of the times, and that is very much a picture of so many people suffering and struggling due to our rulers’ insistence – against the better judgement of such bodies as the International Monetary Fund – on cutting, cutting and cutting again, cutting to the bone at the lower end of society where any further cuts are likely to lead to collapse.  And while this is going on, the PM is out on the town, taking in a show, heading off to a politicians’ junket with the finest of freebie food and drink, and casually, arrogantly chucking 50 quid at a waiter as if to say, “There you go, my good man.  It’s nothing to me.”

Mr Cameron, really.  It is time to give your head a shake, re-awaken whatever political awareness you ever had, and start to think about what you say and do.  Some of us out here would just love to have a chat with you about Real Life.

After Thatcher – What Does Her Death and Her Legacy Mean To Us Now?

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Thatcher: 1925 – 2013

I’ve left it nearly a week after the death of the former Leaderene to chip in with my two penn’orth on her demise, and on the legacy she’s left behind. In that time, I’ve read many and varied accounts of what Margaret Hilda Thatcher’s death means to us, here and now – given that her term of office ended nearly 23 years ago. Those accounts have encompassed widely varying points of view, and have ranged from vitriolic hatred with a joyous celebration of the fact that she’s gone, to real grief arising out of sheer adulation and an evident belief that she was some sort of Messiah for our country.

My own position lies at neither extreme, but somewhere in between – though I will freely admit that I lean significantly towards that end of the scale where people do not have much positive to say about the late former Prime Minister. For what it’s worth, I feel that she was a divisive and damaging influence on the country; indeed such a massive effect did she have on the political and economic landscape, that we simply no longer have the options – in terms of achieving increased fairness in society – that we potentially had before she entered Number 10. She greatly reduced – in fact almost destroyed – the manufacturing industry in this country, advancing the cause of financial services and speculative banking to take its place as the main means of wealth creation. She sold off a large proportion of the social housing stock and failed to invest in construction to replenish it, thus creating a shortage of homes for the less well-off at reasonable rent levels, and forcing a greater reliance on private landlords, with rent levels being set by the market. The long term consequence of THAT was an exponential growth in the Housing Benefits bill, which has led in turn (in these times of austerity) to the perceived need for the Government’s unpopular “Bedroom Tax”. Even though it’s nearly 23 years since Thatcher left Number 10 for the last time as PM, tear-stained but defiant, her legacy affects us to this day, regardless of what they might say who would defend her with the specious “Well, it was all a long time ago.”

Those who still idolise her seem to do so for reasons which would appear not unadjacent to self-interest. Former footballer Paul Parker has blogged:

“Personally, I don’t see why football shouldn’t pay respect to Thatcher. She should be given a minute’s silence at football grounds because without Margaret Thatcher my mum and dad would have never been able to buy a house.”

Presumably, Parker is including in his rationale thousands of others besides his mum and dad, who were also given the opportunity to buy their council houses, many at hefty discounts. But the theme of “well, she was wonderful because, hey – look what she did for me” is a recurrent one among those who remember her most fondly. Parker goes on to say:

“At the end of the day, she was the Primer (sic) Minister of Great Britain so there should be a minute’s silence as far as I’m concerned.”

He doesn’t elaborate on his views as to whether or not Heath, Wilson or Callaghan should have been so honoured (they weren’t) – but I suspect his devotion is to The Lady alone – and good defender though he might have been, Parker is clearly not a cerebral heavyweight.

The other end of the scale is represented (at its extreme) by people who felt moved to dance in the streets in celebration, and contribute to a surge up the music charts for “Ding Dong, The Witch is Dead” by Judy Garland. Yes, I bought it too. Sue me. Rather than simply bemoaning human nature for these displays of jubilation at the death of a bewildered old woman, it would perhaps serve us better to re-examine some other factors lying behind such hatred.

Quite apart from the policies I’ve referred to above, it’s also possible to find fault in what might be termed Thatcher’s unfortunate personal style. Early in her long stint as leader of the Tories, she was taking elocution lessons to modulate her slightly shrill voice, but the effect was of suburban faux gentility, with a teeth-grindingly patronising edge, rather than anything persuasive or statesmanlike. She was ironically at her most effective when she became strident, as she often did when faced with anything other than unquestioning agreement and obedience; then, she simply blew everything but the most determined opposition clear out of the water, terrifying male colleagues with smaller, less hairy balls than hers, and encouraging cowed Soviets to dub her the “Iron Lady”. She was also referred to as “The Iron Chicken” and “Attila the Hen”.

Still others who remember her less than fondly will recall that she was in very real danger of becoming just another one-term PM, and the least popular ever at that, when an opportune military conflict with Argentina cropped up in 1982. The summer of ’81 had seen a wave of riots as her policies saw unemployment rise sharply, seemingly a price her government was willing to pay for the economic direction it was so rigidly set on. Thatcher was in trouble at this point, trailing massively in the polls, but as a result of the “Falklands Factor” she won a landslide in 1983. Then the miners were unwise enough to take her on in the middle of the decade, pronouncing themselves determined to bring her government down. But Thatcher was wise to them; she had learned from Edward Heath’s mistakes in the early 70’s and had stockpiled enough coal to, in effect, starve the pit-men back to work – albeit with much human suffering and collateral damage, not least on the picket-lines at Orgreave and elsewhere. It was a humiliating defeat for miners’ leader Arthur Scargill, but – whatever you may think about him – his prediction that the Tories were out to kill the mining industry, along with its close-knit and long-standing communities, proved to be spot-on. Relatively fresh from subduing Scargill and his followers, Thatcher won again in 1987, and would eventually occupy the office of PM for over eleven years. In the end, it took her own colleagues to remove her in a coup that she ever after thought of as the basest treachery. But the fact remains that she clung on to power despite profound levels of unpopularity, aided in her latter two election victories by what many still see as naked opportunism and the survival instincts of a mongoose.

Some would seek to defend her place in history as the first – and to date only – female Prime Minister. Even I might be tempted to support a historical achievement such as that – if she had done more for women whilst in power. But she didn’t. Her Cabinet composition remained predominantly male, and you can search throughout her record for anything of note to ameliorate the lot of women in society, but you will search in vain. Glenda Jackson, speaking in the so-called “Tribute Debate” two days after Thatcher’s death, conceded the fact that Thatcher was Britain’s first female Premier but added: ‘A woman? Not on my terms.’

When push comes to shove, I would argue that Thatcher’s legacy is an almost wholly negative one; her Premiership saw a massive rise in unemployment, the decimation of manufacturing industry, a bizarre promotion of greed and acquisitiveness as hideously acceptable virtues, a decrease in growth relative to the previous thirty-four years since Clement Attlee became Prime Minister in 1945, a widening of the gap between richest and poorest where that gap had been narrowing somewhat and of course the selling-off of “the family jewels” in the shape of any nationalised industry she could lay her hands on, without sufficient regard to what would happen come the next rainy day. And there have been many rainy days since, but none rainier than the one we’re living through right now, and nothing to fall back on.

Against that, we have the perceived rise in the stock of the UK in the eyes of the rest of the world; she “made Britain great again” – some say. This presumably refers to her determination in recovering a few large pebbles in the South Atlantic at the cost of many young lives, including those of conscript Argentinians who drowned when the General Belgrano was torpedoed as it sailed away from the combat zone. “Gotcha!” crowed the Sun, while mothers of sons on both sides wept. I have to say, I don’t value an enhanced international reputation or the approval of jingoistic nations like the USA – not at that price.

And now we have to pay the cost of her funeral, having already shelled out many thousands in expenses for a one-off recall of Parliament only five days before a new session was due to start anyway. Funeral cost estimates vary between £8m and £14m depending on who you listen to, and how much her successful arms-dealer son Mark is prepared to stump up. He should really be generous – she helped him a hell of a lot. All this furore over money, at a time also when we hear her £6m London town house will not incur any inheritance duty as its actual ownership appears to be vested in an offshore company. Companies, of course, don’t die – and so don’t pay inheritance tax. These are murky waters, and it becomes ever easier to see exactly why so many regard her, and the goings-on around her in life and afterwards, with feelings of antipathy amounting to loathing.

For myself, I’ll be glad when her funeral is over and paid for, and we can all move on – and refocus on the urgent need to get rid of the current shoddy lot. Thatcher is dead; but we’re still living with a society that, in a lot of its negative characteristics can be traced back to the sea-changes she ushered in post-1979. It’s no defence against vilification to say that she left office in 1990, and can’t be blamed for what’s happened since. She created the conditions whereby what has happened since could happen, and she took away a lot of the more benign possibilities that a more sympathetic and caring attitude to investment, social care and collective responsibility in society might have realised. For that, I blame her and her alone.

Ding dong.

Anger and Resentment – an anti-Tory Rant

Come; let us fulminate a little against hypocrisy, callous cruelty and double standards.

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Apples & pears – stairs. Jeremy Hunt – MP

It has been announced today that Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Rhyming Slang, will introduce measures requiring trainee nurses who wish to be funded by the NHS, first to work for a year as a healthcare assistant or support worker. The move comes amid claims that many trainee nurses, educated to degree level, consider themselves “too posh to wash a patient”. Mr Hunt’s stated aim is “to improve compassion in the NHS”.

Other innovations to be put in place following the report into 1200 “needless deaths” at Stafford Hospital will include:

  • A new chief inspector of hospitals to oversee an inspection system modelled on Ofsted, the schools watchdog
  • A statutory ‘duty of candour’ on hospitals and GP surgeries to stop them concealing mistakes
  • A ban on gagging clauses preventing NHS whistleblowers from speaking out
  • An ‘elderly care tsar’ to protect the interests of older people in care homes
  • A new criminal offence to prevent managers fiddling figures such as waiting times and death rates

Without wishing to be critical of every element of this raft of proposals – there are actually one or two surprisingly worthy notions in there – the idea of a Tory minister introducing rules and regulations to “improve compassion” does rather take the breath away. This is especially the case at a time when the Tory-led government is acting savagely to reduce the income of many of the poorest and most vulnerable members of society, whilst aiming to protect the rights of bankers and their like to receive bonuses amounting to multiples of their already-massive yearly salaries.

There are also many voices being raised in protest at the so-called “Bedroom Tax” which, it is being claimed, will end up costing the country more in evictions and consequent re-housing than it hopes to save in Housing Benefits. The Benefits Cap too has come under heavy fire. This was introduced with the sound bite of shift workers leaving home early in the morning, and seeing drawn blinds next door behind which snore feckless benefit claimants living a life of luxury at the taxpayers’ expense. It has been pointed out, however, that many claiming benefits are in low-paid or part-time work, that being all that is available, and need state benefits to top up their miserably low wages; hardly an endorsement of the Workers and Shirkers theory. There’s really not a whole hell of a lot of compassion shining through any of these policies, so a charge of double standards is hard for Jeremy, Gideon and their incompetent friends to evade. But this government does not acknowledge or admit to misconceived ideas or mistakes. Perhaps a “statutory duty of candour” would be a good idea for ministers too, then?

It does in any event rather raise my hackles when some ex-Charterhouse Head Boy like Hunt starts lecturing nurses and other dedicated professionals about coming across as too posh to get their hands dirty. Pot, kettle, grimy-arse. And it’s not even as if Mr Hunt has always managed to keep his own well-manicured paws all that clean – but it’s the mud of scandal that’s allegedly contaminated them, rather than the results of honest hard work in a hospital sluice.

In 2009, Jeremy officially came to the notice of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, after allowing his political agent to lodge in his taxpayer-funded home, and failing to reduce his claims on Additional Costs Allowance – although he was found guilty of nothing more than a “misinterpretation of the rules”. But how much confidence does that inspire in a man who tilts at high office? Jeremy did pay the money back though. Well – half of it, anyway.

In 2010, it was Jeremy’s mouth getting him into bother, now that his hands were out of the till. He suggested that football hooliganism played a part in the death of 96 football fans in the Hillsborough disaster; when in reality lack of police control and the presence of terraces and perimeter fences were established as the causes of the tragedy. This necessitated a humiliating climb-down and a grovelling apology.

Then in April 2012, hard on the heels of David Cameron’s vow not to associate himself with anyone involved in aggressive tax avoidance, Jeremy was outed by the Telegraph as having reduced his own tax bill to the tune of £100,000 by receiving dividends from Hotcourses in the form of property which was promptly leased back to the company. The dividend in specie was paid just before a 10% rise in dividend tax and Hunt was not required to pay stamp duty on the property. Naughty, naughty, Jeremy.

As usual then, or so it seems to those of us who suspect that the government’s stance on a wide range of issues is not unadjacent to hypocrisy, these latest mealy-mouthings from a Tory minister reek of double standards and bitter irony. Why is so much of their rhetoric aimed at people who are dedicated and professional, struggling against the odds and against government cutbacks to do a massively difficult job in almost impossible circumstances? Why must every official report into some awful tragedy – and the Stafford Hospital deaths were nothing less – result in a scapegoating of the people at the sharp end, doing the real work, when instead or at least also we should be looking at management and policy-makers? And just what the hell is an “unnecessary death” anyway? Or should I be asking for a definition of a necessary one? Couldn’t we talk instead about “avoidable and unavoidable deaths” and then move on from there to see who is really responsible for the avoidable ones not being avoided?

The attitude of government towards low-paid professionals in essential services has always troubled me, simply because of the fundamental difference in terminology – depending on which end of the scale is being discussed. It’s been the case for most of last century that nurses – for example – have been referred to in radically different terms as compared to bankers – for example. It’s still the case today, folks, and it goes like this:

Nursing is a vocation. People at the bottom have a vocation, you see, which means it’d be a shame to spoil something so pure and unselfish by doing anything as sordid as paying them properly. If they have this vocation, what else do they need, after all? Meanwhile, bankers – lacking anything quite so splendid as a vocation – need “incentives” to keep them here to ruin our economy, and at all costs stop them fleeing abroad (to ruin someone else’s.) It’s been seen as very important by successive governments that we get this distinction and know our place. So, remember. At the bottom: vocation (low wages). At the top: incentive (huge bonuses). It’s the Tory way.

As long as we keep accepting the sheer hypocrisy and double standards that are being routinely shoved down our all-too-receptive throats, then quite frankly we deserve the government we get, though saddling ourselves with this shower seems positively masochistic – oh, but I forgot – we didn’t actually elect them, did we? But while this sort of crap continues to be so meekly accepted, the likes of Jeremy Hunt, and his fellow born-with-a-silver-spoon-in-their-mouths cronies in the Cabinet, will continue to get away with policies and actions that seem set to drive more and more people out of their homes, off to the nearest food bank and maybe even over the brink of despair into suicide. A Scottish writer took his own life the other day, leaving a benefits decision notice in lieu of a suicide note. A Birmingham Coroner has noted that he officiated at five inquests into self-hangings in one day recently, and that the trend of suicides is way up. This is the human cost of this government’s policies, and meanwhile they’re blithely having a go at hard-working, dedicated people like nurses. “Too Posh To Wash”. Doesn’t the sheer, arrogant smugness of it just make your blood boil?

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Gideon Osborne

Meanwhile, Gideon Osborne (pictured) was in Europe recently, arguing against proposals to cap bankers’ bonuses at 100% of salary, or 200% if shareholders approve. Generous enough, you’d have thought. And guess who found himself in a 1 to 26 minority? Yep, it was our Gideon, bravely standing alone while everybody else saw sense – doubtless though, his heart was bleeding at the thought of impoverished City types trying to figure out which was the gas oven and which the dishwasher, prior to sticking their heads in and – down to their last measly 10 million – ending it all.

I honestly think that the Tories, heedless of the plight of their poodle partners in the coalition, those hapless, treacherous and doomed Liberals, have given up any realistic hope of re-election in 2015, and are set on accomplishing as much of their malign agenda as possible in this Parliament. Surely this is the only explanation for the tidal wave of malicious policies that flow from them, like a torrent of sewage from a long sea outfall pipe. They seem set on victimising massive, and massively vulnerable, swathes of society; the type of people that are not going to vote Tory anyway, and who therefore seem to be classified as expendable. And with the other hand, they’re equally determined to protect their natural friends and allies from the icy blast of austerity that is making this prolonged winter seem even colder and more hostile than the weather alone can manage. Don’t forget, it’s only a few more sleeps now until those in the million-a-year class get their £100,000 a year present from Gideon, an annual reduction in tax for each of them that could pay the salaries of four newly-qualified teachers. How do you like them apples, chaps? That’s what you get for being “One Of Us”, don’t you know.

And so, seemingly, it will go on, right up to the bitter end in just over two years – assuming, that is, that They don’t decide to do away with elections altogether, or maybe instigate a small but popular war somewhere – there is a precedent for saving an evil and despised government this way. How are the Argies fixed these days for a bit of a scrap, I wonder? We’ve heard the sound of sabres rattling already.

But if democracy does survive, what sort of a country will we be living in by 2015? What will be the death toll of benefit reform and austerity, whether it be from suicide, starvation or hypothermia? How will the rich have used their quarter of a million pound tax windfall? Not to create jobs, not with Workfare providing slave labour in defiance of the courts and circumventing that inconvenient minimum wage legislation. No need, old fellow.

We’ll need to take stock then at the next General Election; those of us who are still here. And we’ll need to go to the ballots in overwhelming numbers, sending out a message to those who have stomped all over us since 2010 that they’re out, and that they won’t be back until and unless they’ve learned a little humanity.

Above all, we’ll be charged with the massive responsibility for making sure that we get it right next time. We simply can’t afford another mistake like this one.

Gideon’s Bible – The Budget 2013

Imagine you’re a talented young TV screenwriter, looking for a smart new idea for a satirical comedy lampooning incompetent and uncaring politicians.  You’re looking for a main character, ideally in high office and making decisions on a daily basis that shape policy.  You’re probably going to make him a Tory because – let’s face it – that’s where the laughs are at when it comes to making fun of MPs for their comic nastiness value.  The best comedy contains a kernel of truth too, so you need to be careful about such matters as your character’s political affiliation, personal background, appearance and history; all of these are potentially rich sources of laughter, whilst at the same time making your audience nod knowingly and say “Yes, I know that guy.”  But beware: don’t make your creation too similar to, or identifiable with, any real-life public figure.  That’s overkill; and anyway you’re probably better off going for an amalgam of several well-known public figures – more versatility of character there, and so more potential for laughs.

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Gideon Oliver Osborne

Until relatively recently, you could have done a lot worse than adopt the following pattern: your fictional man is pictured (right) – note the superficial resemblance to Rowan Atkinson’s “Mr Bean” character; the rubber-faced grin, the eyes that appear to betray barely a glimmer of intelligence.  Perfect.  This would not be a cuddly, genial chap though – he’d be an heir to some minor aristocratic title and the beneficiary of inherited wealth.  He’d have been born with a silly name, which he’d later change for something he felt sounded more straightforward.  His socialist mother would agree with him about this, if not about much else.  Educated at a public school, he’d have progressed to Oxford, and followed the well-trodden path to power familiar to many Tories born to privilege and destined to inherit a fortune through no effort on their own part.  Despite these advantages he would be an outspoken critic of what, with no apparent sense of irony, he’d term “a something for nothing culture”.  On being handed control of the country’s purse strings, he’d set about tackling national debt by cutting everything in sight that benefits the poor and vulnerable, whilst ensuring that his banker mates in the City should continue to enjoy seven-figure bonuses and a reduced rate of tax for the highest earners.  Lots and lots of scope for poking fun at clueless, selfish, old-school-tie politicians there.

Well – forget it.  Think again.  Back to the drawing board.  Your ideal, fictional, made-up Tory Twit is a non-starter – because sadly he’s all too real.  And really, it was looking so good – the model outlined above seems too stereo-typically an example of Tory Boy grown up and wreaking havoc for there to be any real risk of him actually existing.  But step forward Gideon Oliver Osborne, who decided at the age of 13 to be George after his war-hero grandfather.  Whether he considered ridding himself of the initials GOO is not recorded, but in keeping with its stance on authenticity and veracity, this blog will refer to Mr O. as Gideon – besides which, he just looks like a Gideon – there’s not any real bluff, honest George quality there.

Gideon is due to present his latest budget tomorrow and you can bet any last few coins you might have left – if you’re a victim of Tory/Coalition policies since 2010 – that there won’t be any good news for those of us “all in it together” at the bottom of the economic pile.  On the other hand, you might like to wager a goodly chunk of your forthcoming £100,000 a year tax-cut – if you’re one of those “all in it together” in the million-a-year bracket – that you and your kind will be protected from the chill wind of austerity blowing through the real-life parts of our nation.

Gideon’s actions might confuse those who expect their politicians to practice what they preach (i.e. “The Gullible”).  He stands four-square behind his opposition to those who have to live on benefit having a spare bedroom – even if, for reasons of disability, there are sound reasons why two adults might not be able to share a room.  Gideon feels that this is an unfair burden on the tax purse, and he displays a characteristic insouciance about the bulk of evidence which points to devastating effects on the lives of those affected.  Yet strangely, his attitude to his own housing situation displays rather less regard for the nation’s tax-payers than it does for the wealth and comfort of one Gideon Oliver Osborne Esq.  His actions in respect of “flipping” his second home allowance onto a constituency property with an increased mortgage attracted some criticism, which must have been very hurtful for not-so-poor Gideon.  This property was later sold for an estimated £400,000 profit.  Very nice, squire, very nice indeed.

Gideon may not look too clever in his picture, but he’s certainly managed to do alright for himself since leaving Oxford.  There were brief forays into the world of employment during which he acted as a data entry clerk, putting the details of the recently-deceased onto an NHS database, and he also worked for a week at Selfridges, during which he was responsible for folding some towels.  Perhaps the seeds of future greatness were sown at the NHS, and indeed Gideon has continued to make his contribution to death statistics via his enlightened policies in respect of public expenditure cuts.  Some say that it was in his towel-folding retail days that he truly found his métier, there being comparatively little scope for screwing up.  For someone who has recently been reported as telling colleagues that his main aim is “to avoid fucking up the Budget”, towel-folding would seem a comparatively safe occupation – for himself and, indeed, for the rest of us.

So, what is my final advice to you, the aspirant TV writer?  Well, I’d be tempted to wait a while yet, and see what else Gideon gets up to before putting pen to paper.  It’d be a pity after all to fall prey to criticism that the fiction has failed to live up to the fact, and there may well be depths of ridiculous and callous policy-making that our esteemed Chancellor has yet to plumb whilst continuing, somehow, to make sure that his own inherited nest remains nicely feathered.

Watch this space.

Fox In The Running?

Q: When is a Fox not a fox?

A: When it’s a sacrificial lamb.

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Liam Fox

The Fox in question – Liam of that ilk – is due to make a speech containing radical proposals exceeding in scope and intent anything the Coalition Government has so far contemplated. His true motives for this are unclear. He may just possibly be unaware of his potential status as patsy-in-waiting for the Tory Party’s increasingly Machiavellian convolutions, as it attempts to portray itself as a party of government beyond the next election. Then again, perhaps the cunning Fox genuinely feels that he really can rally the Conservative right wing with a view to becoming the anointed leader if and when David Cameron falls on his sword, or is stabbed in the back by the Men in Grey Suits, depending on how the last scene of the Coalition melodrama plays out.

Whatever the case, the scenario of an increasingly unpopular political party showing determination to plough its chosen furrow – despite a radical call-to-arms from the loony fringes – is hardly new. Labour gave us a glimpse of a few left-wing skeletons in their briefly-opened closet of horrors in the early eighties, and some feel that this paved the way for that party’s subsequent re-branding of itself as New Labour and the eventual Blair-Brown axis. Liam Fox might of course be entirely serious about making an early move to be seen as prospective leader material – if the reaction of the Tories, post coalition break-up, were to be a lurch to the Right. But it’s also tiresomely probable that he’s simply providing the necessary scare story, which can then be shot down by the incumbent PM, so that Cameron’s rigid position on his chosen course of austerity might be seen as more palatable relative to What Might Have Been.

Fox has in fact found it necessary to push back the boundaries of what is really credible, in his attempts to find depths of draconian savagery which even the Tory party might not plumb. Against a background of the demonisation of a whole sector of society – encompassing the poor, low-paid workers and the disabled – with swingeing cuts to the disposable income of all these people justified by portraying them as society-sapping freeloaders, it’s not easy to contemplate even more vindictive measures. Add to that the fact that tax changes in April will see a group of previously impoverished millionaires benefiting from tax reductions of £100,000 a year, and one can easily understand how difficult it is these days to appear truly loony in the context of all things Conservative. But Liam, bless him, appears to have managed it.

In point of fact, Mr Fox’s speech to the Institute of Economic Affairs next Monday is likely to break new ground right in the heart of right wing Tory dreamland “Rob the Poor to Feed the Rich” territory. Voicing what other extreme Conservatives hardly dare think – save only in their most secret and grandiose fantasies – Fox is tipped to call for a five year freeze on public spending, with no protective ring-fencing for schools, foreign aid or the NHS. That’s the poor robbed, but on an even more lavish scale than the current government are managing. And Fox will, according to the Times, also propose that there should be a thorough rethink of earnings and savings taxation, including a Capital Gains Tax holiday “to breathe life into the ailing economy”. The Times also reports that the former Defence secretary will say:

“I believe that in leaving money in people’s pockets, economic activity will follow. People will buy houses, invest for their future or just go shopping.

“Whichever is the case, it’s creating a society that is sustainable for the future in the way that our current – welfare-dependent and debt-ridden – economy is not.

“We should gradually move towards the reduction – or even abolition – of the taxes where the state not only taxes the same money on multiple occasions but discourages the very behaviour that would lead to a more responsible society.”

So that’s the rich fed, and there is likely to be much salivating in the Tory Shires at the prospect – however unlikely it is to actually materialise – of such a juicy package. It is of course a fact that, in order to leave money in people’s pockets, that money has to be there in the first place. But the poor are incidental to this speech, whether it’s a serious attempt to influence policy, or just a scare tactic to deflect criticism of the current programme. The poor are unlikely to vote Tory (although it’s increasingly probable they might vote UKIP), and they are perceived, as a body, to be more of an unwanted expense than any potential source of economic growth. It is the already rich to whom Liam Fox is seeking to appeal; those on the right of the parliamentary party and of the Conservative movement nationally. It is there that he will find his natural support if any ambitions of leadership are ever to come to fruition.

Whatever the thinking behind Fox’s forthcoming speech, he is not the only predatory scavenger circling the beleaguered Prime Minister. MP Sarah Wollaston has warned the Premier, in a series of tweets, about the need to tackle problems with his inner circle of immediate colleagues, consisting as it does of the “posh, male & white”. Wollaston is a known Cameron acolyte, but her words will be encouraging to Home Secretary Theresa May, who has recently broken cover with her own finely-drafted proposals covering a number of governmental departments, and – again – tailored to appeal to the Tory right.

Most worrying of all perhaps, is a vote of confidence from Baroness Warsi, who stated that Cameron has the support of “large parts” of his party, and that “he is doing a very difficult job in very difficult circumstances.” Such a very qualified endorsement is likely to be cold comfort to the Prime Minister as he studies the minute details of the Liam Fox speech, and Cameron may well reflect on the experience of football managers since time immemorial; that the vote of confidence is frequently a precursor to a frogmarch up the scaffold steps and the ceremonial fall of the axe. Unless, of course, friend Liam does the merciful thing, and slides the knife into his ribs before any organised coup.

Et tu, Foxy.

Snouts In The Trough – But It’s Time Those Living High On The Hog Picked Up The Tab

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The thing about politicians is – if they’re not talking, or furiously thinking of a way out of their latest web of deceit, or maybe sleeping (a swift forty winks on the backbenches, the ultimate power nap), then they’re most likely at some or other official function, stuffing their faces with the finest of freebie food and drink.

Now, I’m not making a party political point here. I said “politicians”, and I meant the whole unsavoury crew of them, be they high-powered cabinet members, lobby fodder rank-and-file MP’s, or even your humble Joe Bloggs, Mavis Dogood or Tarquin FitzHerbert-Smythe in the local Council chambers. They all have the same basic bodily need for nutrition as us mere mortals. The difference is, they will quite often fill up to the Plimsoll line at the taxpayer’s expense. Is this fair or appropriate in these straitened times?

At a veritable crisis point of global financial meltdown, when our national debt is so high that even Wayne Rooney would need to ask for an extra week or two to pay it off, I find myself wondering: what’s the accumulated value of all the state and civic banquets, dinners, receptions, working lunches and other freebie jamborees that take place every day, all over the country? It must come to a good few bob. We’re not, after all, talking a few limp ham sandwiches, curling up at the edges and accompanied by motley shreds of anaemic lettuce. No, sir. These people do not skimp; they do themselves well, very well indeed. There’s proper, grown-up, posh food on heavily-laden and groaning tables – and it must be highly debatable how much productive thinking is left in those bloated plutocrats, after the desserts have been and gone, and the port, nuts and cigars pass around.

Of course, piling into the scran at the highest levels of power is nothing new. It’s been pretty much de rigueur ever since Henry I wolfed down half-a-dozen too many eels, and expired before he could gasp “surfeit of lampreys”. Kings, Queens, and assorted courtiers and other hangers-on have always been notable for their over-indulgence on rich food and fine wine. It sort of went with the territory in those far-off times, but it strikes a more discordant note these days when essential services – the culmination of the whole process of civilisation and enlightenment since before Henry I – are being cut left, right and centre. And yet still the state and political chomping goes on apace.

It’s only a matter of a couple of weeks since MP’s of all parties were calling for a 32% pay rise, despite their broad consensus that the rest of us should be grinning bravely and tightening our belts. Just what sort of message does that send out, when so much of their weekly calorific intake is provided and paid for, as part of their remit as legislators of our country? And the same applies at least in some degree to our business leaders – no subsidised canteen serving scrummy beans on toast with a poached egg on top for them – it’s Marco-Pierre White catering at the very least, no error – and waiter, send that bill to Accounts, there’s a good chap.

What if – bear with me here – what if MP’s, ponderous boardroom types, and indeed power-brokers everywhere were to embrace a novel concept, and actually pay for some of the scrumptious fare that comes their way so often, and gratis at that?  If this were the general principle, multiplied across all the many thousands of vastly expensive official meals and banquets that take place in this over-stretched nation every week, what would be the saving to the national purse?  I’m struggling to work that out on my fingers and in my head, but it’s a big, big number, make no mistake. It’s not as if the people we’re talking about are exactly impoverished – are they now? And what do the rest of us do when it’s time for lunch at work? Not everyone has even the subsidised canteen; many of us are away down to the high street for a cheese roll, which we’re – quite reasonably – expected to fund out of our own pockets.

It’s about time we all woke up to the fact that, on a grand scale, we’re being made right mugs out of, you and me. Every time there’s a new cost-cutting measure, or another idea for a wage freeze, you can bet your life it’s been hatched over the smoked-salmon canapés and the pâté de foie gras. And what’s more, we’re the simple souls paying for it. Could that money not be used much more productively, elsewhere?

Just think about that, the next time you’re counting the pennies at the end of the month, and wondering whether you can delay the big shop till after the weekend. Then again, that might even act as an appetite suppressant. Just thinking of all those banquets, all that luxury food, and above all, where the bill’s heading – might just actually make you sick.