By Phil Burton-Cartledge (at All That Is Solid)
When you’re the head of a department that has meted out cruel and inhumane treatment to disabled people, when you’ve sat in the Commons and nodded through cut after sanction regime after tightened eligibility criteria, at what point do you say enough and call time over your complicity in these proceedings? Does one draw a veil over the old ministerial career by claiming principle and love for the charges you’ve spent six years abusing, or stick the boot in to cause maximum political damage?
Iain Duncan Smith, the so-called quiet man who’s done catastrophic harm to the position of disabled people in this country, has elected to do both. Uncharacteristically, an attempt to fund tax cuts for the well off by taking monies from payments to disabled people has gone down like a cup of cold sick. Which is interesting, considering their previous attacks have gone by with nary a murmur from outside the ranks of disability campaigners, the left, and the labour movement.
Okay, so let’s look at IDS’s “good reason” for resigning – the statement he’s put out himself.
I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self-imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.
Blimey, IDS is lining up with John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn! Almost.
He goes on …
Too often my team and I have been pressured in the immediate run up to a budget or fiscal event to deliver yet more reductions to the working-age benefit bill. There has been too much emphasis on money-saving exercises and not enough awareness from the Treasury, in particular, that the government’s vision of a new welfare-to-work system could not be repeatedly salami-sliced.
To understand where IDS is coming from, one has to step inside his head. It’s scary, so come walk with me. Having previously corresponded with his ministerial office on dozens of occasions, I got the sense that IDS was acting out of ideological zeal. All of his letters would come back extolling the virtues of work, and ironic considering that IDS’s prescription for others is something he’s never really availed himself of. No matter. Work was the route out of poverty. Work was the route to self-respect. Work was the route to good health and mental well being – views typical of someone for whom low-paid drudgery is but a rumour. And IDS knew this better than the medical establishment and disabled people themselves. If only they could be liberated from their can’t-do mindset, hundreds of thousands drawing down disability support could become fully productive citizens. It is a sick joke when you think about the fates of some unfortunate ESA recipients, but IDS absolutely, genuinely believed he was designing a social security system that would “save lives”.
IDS has sat uneasily (to a degree) in Dave’s cabinet. He is an ideologue who takes his twisted principles seriously. Dave and Osborne are a touch more mercurial. They are wedded to broken Tory economics, but are quite willing to ditch principle for expediency. In Wednesday’s budget, Osborne was interested in shoring up a Middle England constituency ahead of the EU referendum as well as making a play for succeeding Dave. As he was prepared to give nice middle class people like me another tax cut and have disabled people pay for it, this clearly was too much for IDS. Just so Osborne was prepared – again – to throw IDS’s life work under a bus, so the Quiet Man has finally returned the favour.
What about the real reason? A little bit has to do with Europe, innit? Exit is another of IDS’s cracked priorities, and again must be frustrated that a number of ambitious Tories – not least the Mekon-like Sajid Javid and other heir-presumptive Theresa May – have dumped principles for position. By strengthening Osborne’s association with attacks on disabled people, he’s calculated that the chancellor will not pass the work capability assessment for Tory leader and the way be open to someone who’s either a bit more ideological, or will allow him space for his continued misadventures in social security. If only there was an unprincipled, opportunist celebrity chancer in the running for the leadership who fits the bill.
To be sure, IDS’s resignation is the biggest blow yet to Dave’s leadership and the his hopes of keeping the Number 10 sofa warm for Osborne. Long may this internal warfare continue.
Tariq Ali : Plenty of Books, little grasp of socialist a-b-c’s
I have no idea who the author of this letter, published in the present issue of the London Review Of Books, is, but he puts that self-important buffoon Tariq Ali in his place good and proper with a few home truths about the inevitable consequences of Brexit:
In or Out?
Tariq Ali, discussing the forthcoming referendum, remarks that ‘Brexit (which I support for good socialist reasons) can’t restore sovereignty (LRB, 3 March). The conclusion is certainly true, but the opinion in brackets puzzled me. A vote to leave the EU would put the right wing of the Conservative Party in the ascendency, not to mention being a huge boost to and the like, unleashing all manner of chauvinistic, jingoistic, racist ‘Little Englander’ sentiment. In the process, the Labour Party would appear to suffer yet another demoralising ‘defeat’, which would undermine its broader appeal even further. The Scots would, quite understandably, part company with the UK after their next referendum and the rump of GB Ltd would probably be left with a long-term right-wing majority and government. The fact that Tariq Ali had joined Gove, Farage, Johnson and the like to vote ‘Out’, but in his case for ‘good socialist reasons’, would not cut a lot of ice in those circumstances. However you dress it up, such an outcome would issue in any form of progressive politics, and certainly won’t aid the long march to socialism.
Carl Gardner, London EC1
‘Trade Unionists Against the EU’ allies with Tory right … and ‘Campaign Against Euro Federalism’ allies with UKIP
Sheppard and Lyon of Vote Leave protest at the the CBI conference
On Monday of this week David Cameron addressed the CBI conference in London, and was mildly heckled by two posh young men from the Vote Leave campaign.
For those who don’t follow the intricacies of anti-European factionalism in the UK, Vote Leave is an outgrowth of Business for Britain and Conservatives for Britain, both set up by long-standing Tory anti-Europeans Matthew Elliott (founder of the Taxpayer’s Alliance) and Dominic Cummings (former special adviser to Michael Gove), which for years have been pressurising Cameron and the Tory leadership for a harder line against the EU, and have now come out for withdrawal. Vote Leave claims to be a “cross party” campaign, but is overwhelmingly made up of right wing Tories with just Douglas Carswell of Ukip, Kate Hoey and a handful of Labour right-wingers, mavericks and millionaire donors, plus the Green’s eccentric Baroness Jenny Jones, giving the outfit the excuse to call itself “cross party.”
What was interesting about Monday’s protest was that while the two posh boys were protesting inside the hall, outside a small gaggle of aging Stalinist little-Englanders calling themselves Trade Unionists Against The EU, held a simultaneous protest. The two protests were quite obviously co-ordinated, and indeed, the Morning Star (Nov 10) quoted one Robert Oxley (who turns out to be Vote Leave’s Head of Media) as saying: “we will be working together closely during the campaign to do more of these protests – particularly at the AGMs of big companies who try to scare the British people into voting to remain.”
The Morning Star seems to have interviewed the two posh boys as it named them as Phil Sheppard and Peter Lyon, and quoted Mr Lyon as describing their experience as “terrifying” but “worthwhile.”
This is all a bit odd, because back in June of this year, the Morning Star carried an editorial (“Left reasons to ditch the EU“) denouncing Conservatives for Britain and Business for Britain (ie the two main constituent parts of Vote Leave) as “neoliberal and nationalist extremists” and called on trade unions, the Labour Party and the left to “develop an independent position of their own, one which represents the real interests of workers and the mass of the people across Scotland, England and Wales.”
Yet now we have the Morning Star giving sympathetic coverage to Vote Leave, and frequent Star contributor (and CPB member) Brian Denny co-ordinating the activities of Trade Unions Against the EU (of which he is, apparently, an Organiser) with Vote Leave.
But even stranger is the position of the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, which is to all intents and purposes, Mr Denny and a few of his friends like the ultra-nationalist little Englander (and fellow Morning Star contributor) John Boyd, just wearing different hats: the website of the other main anti-EU campaign, Leave.EU (presently battling it out with Vote Leave, for recognition as the official anti-EU campaign), set up by wealthy Ukip backer Arron Banks and virtually a front organisation for Nigel Farage and Ukip, carries the following endorsement:
“As a well-established Eurosceptic Labour movement organisation operating for nearly 30 years, CAEF is pleased to join an organisation that seeks to represent people from all walks of life and defend national democracy, which is clearly under threat from a corporate-dominated European Union that is accruing evermore powers at the expensive of member states. No country can truly decide its own future democratically without the sovereign power to make its own laws and run its own economy in the interests of its citizens free from outside interference”, Brian Denny
Perhaps the least prescient line from the script. pic.twitter.com/xrXZ3tsaW3
From Adam Bienkov at politics.co.uk
The prime minister has suppressed a report on EU migration after it found overwhelming evidence that immigration has been good for the British economy.
The report, commissioned by Theresa May, was due to be published at the end of last year but was shelved “indefinitely” by David Cameron after it failed to find evidence to support cutting immigration.
Officials say they were inundated with evidence from experts and businesses arguing that EU migration has been positive for the UK.
“They can’t bring themselves to publish the report before the European elections because they would have to admit that freedom of movement is a good thing,” one official told the Financial Times.
Civil servants complained that the central claims of the report were not backed up by the evidence within it.
Conservative sources also pointed the finger at the Liberal Democrats for trying to block the report.
The revelation follows an intervention by the Office for Budget Responsibility yesterday claiming that the coalition’s immigration cap would make it much harder to cut Britain’s budget deficit.
“Because [immigrants] are more likely to be working age, they’re more likely to be paying taxes and less likely to have relatively large sums of money spent on them for education, for long-term care, for healthcare, for pension expenditure,” OBR chairman Robert Chote told MPs.
Higher net migration allowed a “more beneficial picture” for public finances than would otherwise be the case, he added.
The revelation also comes as chancellor George Osborne addresses eurosceptic groups within his party, who are putting pressure on the government to restrict free movement within the EU.
“The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn’t come from those who want reform and renegotiation,” he will tell the Fresh Start group of MPs.
“It comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said the government’s report on the impact of EU migration was “ongoing”.
“We will publish it when it is ready,” they added.
Today’s Times carries an obituary of Peter Griffiths, who died on November 20th, aged 85. I was astonished to learn that this vile creature lived until so recently, and though he lost his Smethwick seat in 1966, returned as an MP (for Portsmouth North) from 1979 until 1997. Presumably, he remained a Tory to the end. I reproduce the obituary for the benefit, in particular, of readers unfamiliar with the 1964 Smethwick election and the events that followed:
Above: Peter Griffiths at the time of the Smethwick election
In a parliamentary row that galvanised Westminster in in the opening days of the return of Labour to office in 1964 after 13 years in opposition, the newly elected Conservative MP for Smethwick, Peter Griffiths was branded a “parliamentary leper” by the incoming Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. It happened in an astonishing series of exchanges that prefigured the violent language of the race debate conducted by Enoch Powell later in the decade.
Wilson was furious that his intended Foreign Secretary, the scholarly and liberal-minded Patrick Gordon Walker, had been defeated in his Smethwick constituency after a campaign in which Griffiths had shrewdly exploited local tensions over immigration and the housing shortage in the West Midlands.
Griffiths always denied ever using the electioneering slogan “If you want a n***** for a neighbour, Vote Labour”. It was pointed out that he had done nothing to repudiate, much less ban, placards carried by his supporters bearing the offensive electioneering slogan.
In Parliament, in some of the most extraordinary scenes ever witnessed during a Queen’s Speech debate, the Prime Minister upbraided the leader of the Opposition, Sir Alec Douglas-Home, for refusing to disown Griffiths. Castigating the new MP for having run an “utterly squalid” campaign, Wilson told the House: “If Sir Alec does not take what I am sure is the right course, Smethwick Conservatives will have the satisfaction of having sent a member who, until another election returns him to oblivion, will serve his time as a parliamentary leper.”
There was uproar. The Speaker, Sir Harry Hylton-Foster, was urged by the opposition benches to make the Prime Minister retract his remarks. Hylton-Foster declined to do so, although admitting that he deplored Wilson’s comments. Uproar continued for ten minutes and a score of Tory MPs had walked out of the chamber before order was restored.
In the event, Wilson was prescient. At the general election in 1966 Griffiths lost his Smethwick seat to the actor and Labour candidate Andrew Faulds. He did not return to Parliament until 1979, at Portsmouth North. He was never to be such a conspicuous figure in Parliament again.
Griffiths did not count himself among far Right Tories. Yet he supported Smethwick council, of which he had been a member since 1955, when it tried to buy up a row of houses to let exclusively to white families. The purchase was blocked by the Labour Housing Minister Richard Crossman.
After his defeat at Smethwick in 1966, Griffiths returned to teaching. He had been head-master of a primary school, Hall Green Road, West Bromwich, at the time of the election. In 1967 he became a lecturer in economics at Portsmouth College of Technology where he spent the next dozen years. In the meantime he had published A Question of Colour? (1966) in which he claimed “no colour prejudice”. The book blamed the spread of disease on immigrants and praised South Africa as a “model of democracy”.
Griffiths unsuccessfully contested Portsmouth North in the February 1974 election which returned a minority Labour administration to office.
In the general election of 1979 which propelled the Tories back to power under Margaret Thatcher, Griffiths captured the seat with a large majority. For the next 18 years he was an assiduous backbencher, making his opposition clear to his constituents and the government on such issues as defence cuts as they might affect Portsmouth Dockyard. In the general election of 1997 which brought Labour to power under Tony Blair he lost his seat.
We don’t, as they say, have a dog in this fight…
…but we can’t improve on the following. Which is odd, because:
1/ It’s by Mehdi Hasan (not our favourite pundit)
2/ He wrote it in in December 2012.
But note Mehdi’s words:
“Might Mitchell now be able return to government in the next reshuffle? It could be difficult: he did, after all, admit to swearing at the police, plus it was Downing Street that seems to have orchestrated his apology – and resignation.”
Above: Tory scum in foreground; corrupt, lying cops in background
Amusing to see how the Tories are falling over each other to declare their shock and horror – shock! horror! – that the police might not be the paragons of virtue, probity and honesty that they have always assumed them to be. Shocked Tory MPs should, perhaps, have a word with the victims of Hillsborough and the family of Jean Charles de Menezes…
“The row between the Conservatives and the police over Andrew Mitchell deepened yesterday when MPs questioned the credibility of the officers’ log at the centre of the “Plebgate” saga.
“David Davis, a senior Tory MP, said that the official record of the former Chief Whip’s brush with police officers in Downing Street contained a falsehood that would not stand up in court. The account was tainted because CCTV footage challenged its assertion that there were shocked witnesses, he added.
“The Tories also seized on the timing of a now discredited e-mail that helped to bring down Mr Mitchell as pointing to police collusion. The e-mail was sent by an officer posing as a passer-by before the police claims that Mr Mitchell had called them “f***ing plebs” became public.
“… Scotland Yard suggested that the 30 officers conducting a “large scale and complex investigation” would take well into the new year before they reached conclusions.”
Might Mitchell now be able return to government in the next reshuffle? It could be difficult: he did, after all, admit to swearing at the police, plus it was Downing Street that seems to have orchestrated his apology – and resignation.
Then again, if expenses cheat David Laws can come back, anyone can come back…
Shiraz Socialist‘s crack team of high-price legal eagles tell me I have to be careful about what I write about Lynton Crosby, David Cameron and tobacco packaging.
So I’ll start by simply welcoming Andrew Marr back to our screens:
Marr asks Cameron about Crosby at 06.15
For months Cameron has been evading questions about Crosby’s influence over tobacco policy, repeating the mantra that he’s never been “lobbied” by Crosby. On the Marr show on 21 July (above) he continues the evasion, repeatedly refusing to say whether he’s discussed plain cigarette packaging with Crosby, instead denying that Crosby had “intervened” on tobacco policy.
On Monday Sheila Gunn, John Major’s former press secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, “Lynton’s job is to go through all different policies with David Cameron and advise him whether or [not] they are going to be vote winners or losers … But the choice of verb ‘intervene’ – just like at prime minister’s question time last week he said he hadn’t been lobbied by Lynton on this. The fact that he wouldn’t expand on whether or not they’d talked about it and his body language – he just looked very uncomfortable.”
On Tuesday Crosby himself issued a statement denying that he had ever “discussed” tobacco packaging with Cameron – a word (“discussed”) that Cameron had spent months avoiding using.
Then, immediately following Crosby’s statement, Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood, rejecting Ed Miliband’s call for an enquiry, stated that the Conservative Party had drawn up “principles of engagement” with Crosby: “Against this background I do not see what purpose would be served by the enquiry that you propose,” Heyward wrote to Miliband.
But it turns out that the “principles of engagement” is an undated document that has simply appeared out of the blue sans provenance, just as the heat is being turned up on Cameron. Jon Trickett, Labour’s Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office has now written a searching letter to Heywood, politely but firmly asking for some answers:
Dear Sir Jeremy,
Thank you for your letter of 23 July in response to letters from me and from Ed Miliband, which I think you will acknowledge leaves a number of questions unanswered. It is notable that you have chosen not to give your own judgement on any of the substantive issues raised with you.
Significantly, you do not say – just as the Prime Minister has not said – that the tobacco lobbyist Lynton Crosby has had no discussions with the Prime Minister about tobacco policy. Nor do you say that there is no conflict of interests between Mr Crosby’s role advising the Conservative Party and his role advising a number of commercial organisations who have an interest in Government policy.
Thank you also for passing on “the principles of engagement between Lynton Crosby and the Conservative Party” – which are undated. The journalist Michael Crick has quoted a Conservative Party source as saying “The principles of engagement capture what was agreed at the time Lynton was hired… verbal agreement on the principles of engagement was made at the time Lynton was hired. This was written down in the last couple of days and published today.” It therefore appears that this was not properly drawn up by civil servants in order to avoid conflicts of interest in Government, but hastily cobbled together after Mr Crosby had become a political embarrassment to the Conservative Party.
In addition, there remains a significant lack of clarity over who Lynton Crosby’s clients are, and whether either the Government or the Conservative Party have any idea who they are.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman reportedly “said that he had been unaware that Mr Crosby’s British company had Philip Morris Ltd, whose brands include Marlboro, as a client” (The Times, 13 July 2013). And on BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme last Wednesday, the Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said that “It is a matter for Lynton Crosby who his clients within the company are”. Yet on BBC 2’s Newsnight last Tuesday, the Health Secretary suggested that he was privy to details of Mr Crosby’s clients when he said that public health was an area Lynton Crosby never advised the Prime Minister on “because his company has clients in that area”.
Clearly, if the Prime Minister and the Conservative Party are unaware of who Mr Crosby’s clients are – which is what the Chairman of the Conservative Party says is the case – then you will agree that the principles of engagement are unenforceable and worthless. In the interests of transparency Mr Crosby’s company’s full client list should be published immediately.
I would be grateful if you would answer the questions below.
• Were you or any civil servants involved in any way in the drawing up of the terms of engagement published yesterday?
• Did you know that the principles of engagement which you sent me had only been “written down in the last couple of days”?
• Did you know about them before this week, and when did you first see them?
• Do you have any evidence at all that these principles have been followed?
• Are you personally satisfied that Lynton Crosby has had no discussions with the Prime Minister or other Ministers about tobacco policy, alcohol policy, NHS policy or fracking policy?
• Are you personally satisfied that there is no possibility of a conflict of interests between Mr Crosby’s roles as an adviser to the Conservative Party and an adviser to commercial organisations?
• Do you know who Mr Crosby’s commercial clients are, and in the interests of transparency will you ensure that a full list is published immediately?
Given the continued public interest in these matters I am releasing this letter to the press.
Jon Trickett MP
Readers will notice that I’ve completed this post without once using the word “liar.” Our legal eagles should be proud of me – JD
On the day that Cameron finally capitulated to the little Englanders, xenophobes and closet racists of the anti-EU movement (within and without the Tory Party), and promised them the “in-out” referendum that they believe will take Britain out once and for all, we examine his stated position – achieving some sort of semi-autonomous EU membership.
The incoherence and sheer pointlessness of Cameron’s stance was excellently explained in a recent Times article by Matthew Parris. Now I am well aware that Parris is a former Tory MP and no friend of the working class. His article is written from a bourgeois perspective that Shiraz Socialist self-evidently does not share. Neverthelss, it’s a brilliant demolition of Cameron’s position and might just give pause for thought to some of those on the “left” who think there’s something “progressive” about campaigning against the EU. The article has been edited by me – JD:
As a hard light shines on the Eurosceptics’ glib prospectus of an association with the EU from which we get all the benefits but none of the costs, the conjecture will be revealed as the Never Never Land it always was.
Consider how easily the case against second-tier membership is made: “I don’t think it’s right”‘ David Cameron said earlier this month, “to aim for a status like Norway or Switzerland, where basically you have to obay the rules of the single market but you don’t have a say over what they are.” This is a strong argument and — just as important — it sounds like a strong argument…
…British Euosceptics believe that our present EU membership imposes big burdens on British business. If that’s true, then seeking a new kind of membership would involve lifting those burdens. And if that’s true, then British business would acquire a significant advantage over its continental competitors. And if that’s what we demand, why won’t the rest of Europe reply that a single market means a level playing field, so we must accept the same rules for our businesses as they impose on theirs?
Ask any fair-minded person to assess the following request: “We British want unimpeded and tariff-free access for our widget exports to your widget-buying customers — but, oh, by the way, we’re not going to impose on our employers the employment laws, the product specifications, the limited working week, the workers’ rights, that you impose on yours.”
We’re on to a loser here. How well I remember, from when I was an MP, the fury of British producers and unions at what they felt was “unfair competition” from abroad. We’d be mad to think that the French (for example) woud resist behaving similarly.
There’s only one possible Eurosceptic answer to this. “In logic,” they could say (and do), “you may be right. But Europe needs access to our market even more than we do theirs. We’d have them over a barrel.”
I don’t quite share that confidence: one should never underestimate people’s propensity to cut off noses to spite faces. But let’s say it’s true, and we really do have continental Europe over a barrel. In which case why mess about with any kind of EU membership at all? We could quit completely and say: “Right: give us access to your market in return for access to ours.”
The problem with the case for joining a European Economic Area-style “second tier” is that it is too strong. If we really do have the clout to name our terms of trade with our European neighbours, we don’t need to be in any club. The case for second-class membership (with burdens and costs) becomes, a fortiori, the case for quitting.
It was instructive to follow online responses recently to a Times report on “second class” EU status. A great many readers took the view that despite that pejorative terminology, associate membership sounded like a helpful suggestion. So, I notice, did the arch-Eurosceptic Tory MP John Redwood in his blog: a response I think he’ll come to revise. The balance of The Daily Telegraph‘s online response was more hostile, a common view being that Britain shouldn’t waste time with second-tier membership, but simply quit. I predict that the bulk of British Eurosceptic opinion will in time swing behind the Telegraph readers’ view.
For that, I predict, will be the final effect of proposals for the middle way of a “trade only” second-class membership. Examined in detail, it will lose its allure. Before the next geneal electon, therefore, the debate will polarise towards a simple choice between staying as a full member and leaving.
The new deal that Mr Cameron negotiates will be prety thin and won’t satisfy or evn calm his anti-European critics. Nevertheless, when e holds his referendum he will win it, so long as Labour, too, recommends acceptance. I honestly don’t know which way I would vote in an in-out referendum.
But Eurosceptics will not accept the result and will switch from having urged the PM to stop ducking a referendum to complaining that he held it too early while the eurozone was in the middle of vast internal changes; and so the referendum result won’t count; it will be only interim.
Which of course will be true. But so long as Germany wants us, we’ll carry on as a full member, grumbling and dragging our feet; and old Eurosceptics will die and new ones will be born. And only this is certain — Mr Cameron’s speech will settle nothing. Hey ho.
-Matthew Parris, The Times, Jan 5, 2012.