Unite the Union have organised a national day of action against benefit sanctions on 19 March. They deserve great credit for doing so, though given the suffering and despair this particularly vile practice inflicts on some of the most vulnerable in society, it is disappointing that this is not considered important enough to warrant a TUC demonstration with the full participation of every trade union in the country.
I have written about this issue before and make no apologies for doing so again when it involves, on a daily basis in Jobcentres up and down the country, human beings having the paltry amount of money they receive to feed, clothe, and heat themselves taken away for often the flimsiest of reasons at the instigation of a man or woman sitting across the other side of a desk.
With foodbanks creaking at the seams, largely in response the spike in demand placed on them by the increased use of benefit sanctions – amounting to a brutal and callous attack on the poor by a government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich – there is no conceivable reason or justification available to exculpate those sitting across the other side of that desk delivering people into a pit of despair for infractions that include being minutes late for an interview, or cancelling a scheduled meeting in order to attend a funeral. In life you have a choice between doing the right thing and the wrong thing. Either choice has consequences, both personal and social, and every Jobseekers Adviser who sanctions already desperate and poverty-stricken people, and can do so without being ripped apart with torment and anguish, is a person who has had their humanity surgically removed.
Making this choice even more inexplicable, in the context of the government’s brutal and punitive benefits regime, is the fact that many of those who are tasked with implementing it are members of a trade union, the PCS, which up to now has distinguished itself in wringing its hands, offering next to no resistance and thereby confounding the fundamental principle and ethos of solidarity that lies at the very heart of trade unionism.
An added layer of grotesque is added when we consider that this same union is currently campaigning for a wage rise for its members, including those who are engaged in delivering said benefit claimants into the arms of destitution on a regular basis. It is proof that Thatcher’s objective of turning working people against each other has been well and truly met. All that can be said, with this in mind, is that if the word ‘solidarity’ does appear on PCS campaign leaflets, it does so as parody rather than principle
One man who will never see the inside of a Jobcentre, despite his recent quip to the media to the contrary, is of course Jeremy Clarkson. The looks-to-be-former Top Gear presenter is on suspension by the BBC for allegedly assaulting a producer on the show over a peppercorn steak – or lack thereof.
Controversy follows Clarkson around like an old and faithful friend. When he isn’t bandying racist, homophobic, and sexist doggerel about the place, he’s being chased out of countries like Argentina for engaging in jingoistic acts of provocation. The four million people who’ve signed a petition calling for the presenter to be reinstated by the BBC, not to mention a Prime Minister who felt minded to voice his public support for his fellow Tory and friend, reveal a propensity for living vicariously through the exploits and schtick of an unreconstructed wanker in a Barbour jacket.
Clearly we are living in an age when being in possession of a reactionary worldview is enough to warrant fame and fortune. The image of Jeremy Clarkson spending his evenings working his way through the Life On Mars Box Set in a pair of Al Garnett underpants is hard to escape. He is the nation’s poster boy for Tory values, the hero of every white middle aged bloke with a paunch, a fake Rolex, and a year’s supply of moody viagra. What’s more, it is a position and status he quite obviously relishes.
Benefit sanctions and Jeremy Clarkson. What more evidence do we need that Britain in 2015 is the hell of Thatcher’s creation? As she lies a-mouldering in her grave, the Iron Lady can take satisfaction in the knowledge she did her job well.