Benefit sanctions and Jeremy Clarkson – the hell of Thatcher’s creation

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.

Unite day of action against benefit sanctions

From Unite the Union:

Day of action against sanctions“More and more people are facing benefit sanctions. Over 2 million people have had their money stopped in the past 2 years.

That’s 2 million people, many of whom have been plunged into poverty, unable to heat their homes or even eat. How is this meant to help prepare people for work?

Benefit sanctions must be fought against

These sanctions are cruel and handed out for ridiculous reasons such as:

Arriving minutes late to a meeting
Not applying for jobs when waiting to start a new job!
Missing an appointment on the day of the funeral of a close family member.

This has to stop

Up and down the country on Thursday 19 March we will be protesting against the cruel use of sanctions.”
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Relentless attacks on the poor are inviting a social explosion

class-warDisgusting does not describe the latest offering from Channel 5 – On Benefits And Proud – which aired for the first time this week.

In the show various benefit claimants – code for the undeserving poor – are tracked down by deserving taxpayers with the object of illustrating how these benefit junkies are ripping us all off – ‘us’ being those for whom poverty is just another word in the dictionary.

The sheer savagery of deriving entertainment from the plight of the poor – many of whom, yes, are uneducated, unrefined, and suffering one or more of the plethora of social maladies which flow from poverty – is compounded by recent figures released by The Trussell Trust,Britain’s largest operator of foodbanks, that the number of foodbanks has trebled and that over 350,000 people have had to rely on food handouts since April. It is further compounded by the most recent Sunday Times Rich List, revealing that the collective wealth of the 1000 richest people in Britain reached a record level of £450 billion, up £35.4 billion from 2012, in the midst of the worst recession since the 1930s and with poverty at an all time high.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, energy companies announcing a price hike just in time for winter is quite literally a death sentence for many poor pensioners, for whom survival will now no longer be possible.

The only conclusion to be drawn from all this is that the objective of society is now the eradication of the poor rather than poverty, beginning with the demonisation and dehumanisation of those daring to claim the pittance in benefits which the government and its supporters has deemed an act of theft against hard pressed taxpayers and those in work.

It is class war by any other name, made worse by the undeniable truth of the success of the Right in pitting members of the same class against one another – i.e. low wage workers against unemployed workers, the able bodied against the disabled, non immigrant against immigrant, and so on.

Karl Marx stated in his Communist Manifesto that the class struggle is ‘sometimes open sometimes hidden’. A trip to the local Jobcentre or Magistrates/Sheriff Court on any given day is where you will find it wide open and in full sway.

In the former, the poor are bullied, harassed, hounded, while in the latter they are punished for crimes in the main connected inextricably to their poverty. Indeed and increasingly it has become harder to differentiate between a Jobcentre and a courtroom, such has been the level of attacks on benefit claimants, wherein the relationship between your average Jobseekers Adviser and claimant resembles that between a parole officer and convicted criminal.

The fact that the vast majority of those working in Jobcentres are union members provides conclusive proof that class consciousness is at an all time low in twenty first century Britain.

The human despair that is afflicting more and more people up and down the country – men, woman, and children – as a result of the Government’s addiction to austerity hasn’t been this prevalent since Charles Dickens was documenting it in his classic works at the end of the nineteenth century. Over a hundred years on we have come full circle with the normalisation of extreme poverty and extreme wealth sitting side by side, with human worth measured by both.

The status quo cannot hold. Something has to give. Indeed, the surprise is that it hasn’t given already in the form of riots and a social explosion. These unrelenting attacks on the most economically vulnerable people in society are redolent of children trapping a bumble bee in a jar and shaking it up and down to watch the bee in distress. It really is this savage, inviting a savage response on the part of its victims.

The rich, the smug middle classes, working people who’ve bought into the lie that their problems are the fault of those below them in the income scale rather than those above them, are playing with fire. People will not go quietly to their own destruction. All it takes is a spark for the present despair and its paralysing effect to turn to rage and an eruption the like of which this country has never seen.

With no mainstream political party standing four square on the side of the poor, such as the Labour Party once did, members of the political class who exist in a bubble of moral superiority from which they like to pontificate about fairness, hardworking families, shirkers and strivers, should take note that this is not a game.

None other than he ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle understood this. When he opined that “Poverty is the parent of revolution and crime” he could have been describing British society in 2013.

We already know what crime looks like. It is published in the pages of the Sunday Times Rich List year after year. It comes in the shape of the Bedroom Tax, food banks, zero hour contracts, the sanctioning, withdrawal, and cutting of Jobseekers Allowance, Disability Benefits, and Housing Benefit.

Yes, we already know what crime looks like.

We have yet to see revolution.

Bedroom Tax lies in tatters

Raquel Rolnikby Tommy Sheridan

The vile Tory bedroom tax was already on the ropes and barely standing under the blows from campaigners, legal judgements, moral outrage and media assaults from papers like the Daily Record. Now a stunning knockout blow has landed in the shape of the United Nation’s Special rapporteur demand that the unfair tax be abolished.

Make no mistake the UN conclusion is a huge embarrassment to the Tories but actually shames the LibDems. The body charged with upholding human rights across the world has investigated the bedroom tax and condemned it as inconsistent with the basic right to housing. When it comes to war crimes we are lectured by Governments about the requirement to respect human rights. Well now we demand this Tory Government and its LibDem poodles respect the human rights judgement which condemns their despised bedroom tax.

The UN report highlights poor and disabled victims of the bedroom tax are trapped in poverty with nowhere to turn. Already on the breadline they can’t afford to pay bedroom tax but smaller homes to move into don’t exist either. Think about the situation in South Lanarkshire alone to highlight the reality of this callous policy. 5,300 poor and disabled people in South Lanarkshire are affected by the bedroom tax but only 40 smaller homes are available. And of those 40 only 13 are one bedroom homes. Non-payment of bedroom tax is not a choice it is unavoidable for those already on means tested housing benefit. We wouldn’t encourage a starving man to eat less so why would we expect poor people to spend less on food, fuel, clothing or anything else to pay the Tory bedroom tax?

The Labour Party must now commit to bedroom tax abolition and the SNP has to change the Housing (Scotland) Act 2001 to outlaw bedroom tax evictions and lift the real fear of losing their homes from thousands of poor and disabled households.

The Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation organised a lobby of the LibDem’s UK Conference at the SECC on Saturday 14 September. We were there from 11am to embarrass this bunch of spineless cowards who prefer Ministerial portfolios to principled opposition to brutal policies like bedroom tax. There are now 323,684 homes across the UK valued in excess of £1 million. A very moderate Mansion Tax of £50 a week, £200 a month would raise well over £700 million a year for public services. It would be a fairer and more practical tax. That’s why on Saturday we were chanting loudly: AXE, AXE THE BEDROOM TAX…BRING IN A MANSION TAX!

Tommy Sheridan is the Chair of the Scottish Anti-Bedroom Tax Federation





‘Dog whistle’ politics in Tower Hamlets

This is a guest post from Bob Pitt, who runs the important Islamophobia Watch site

Tower Hamlets demonstration against the EDLContrary to the right-wing myth that it is being transformed into ‘Britain’s Islamic Republic‘, the east London borough of Tower Hamlets is in reality a highly diverse place. Residents of Bangladeshi heritage comprise 32% of the total population according to the 2011 census, only slightly more than those describing themselves as “White British”, who make up 31.2% of the borough’s population, while those in the third largest category, “White Other”, account for a further 12.4%. Muslims are the largest religious group, but at 35% of the population they are heavily outnumbered by people of other faiths and none.

In a referendum three years ago the people of Tower Hamlets voted to adopt a system of local government based on a directly elected executive mayor, and Lutfur Rahman decisively won the ballot to select the Labour Party’s mayoral candidate. However, the party’s national executive then overturned the result on the basis of allegations of vote-rigging (later revealed to be without substance), and imposed one of Lutfur’s defeated rivals in his place. In a move that had obvious parallels with Ken Livingstone’s response to an earlier selection stitch-up back in 2000, Lutfur defied the party leadership and contested the October 2010 Tower Hamlets mayoral election as an independent, achieving an emphatic victory with 52% of the vote, in part on the back of public resentment at Labour’s contemptuous attitude to democracy. As a result, he was expelled from the Labour Party.
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‘Austerity’ is the controlled demolition of the welfare state

This is a fantastic post by Scriptonite Daily, a site that contains an excellent range of articles that aim to challenge the neoliberal status quo. This article is re-posted with permission. Follow @scriptonite on Twitter.

Austerity: Cameron & Tories demolishing the welfare stateThe breadth and depth of cuts in public sector jobs, pay and frontline services might lead some to believe that austerity exists and public spending is being reduced. However, public spending is actually 4% higher today that in 2010. We are not experiencing short term disruption to balance the books, we are experiencing the controlled demolition of the welfare state – transferring the UK from a social democracy to a corporate state.


Successive governments have dissolved the model of state owned schools, staffed by public sector employees. Today, our children largely attend privately owned schools, where the majority of services in the schools are delivered by private sector staff. The results have seen costs soar and quality plummet.

Academy Schools are publicly funded independent state schools (limited companies)– this means they receive their funding from central government and are accountable directly to central government, rather than their Local Authority. Contrary to the ‘Localism Agenda’ lauded by both mainstream parties, the trend is towards centralising control in Westminster. The schools are also able to make changes to staff pay and conditions, that is pay less.

Austerity: Private EducationDuring thirteen years of New Labour government, 203 state schools were turned into Academies. In just three years of the Coalition – this has risen more than twelve fold, to more than 2,600 (with a further 500 in the pipeline). This might suggest the programme was so successful it called for rapid national roll out. But it doesn’t.

A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee, the parliamentary select committee responsible for ensuring value for money for the tax payer, condemned the programme as ‘complex and inefficient’, leading to more than £1bn over spending. This £1bn had to be met by the budgets for other non-academy schools.

The report does not mince words and reports major issues across the programme including: poor cost control, a lack of transparency over expenditure, a governance and compliance framework prone to failure (exacerbated by significant staff cuts at the Department for Education), and confusion over roles, responsibilities and accountability.

Yet the programme continues apace.
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Link: David Cameron stinks of defeat

Cracking writing from Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror:

David Cameron’s fundamental problem is the stench of a loser.

The Prime Minister stinks of defeat, a weak Conservative leader on skid row. The overpowering smell of failure, incompetence and chaos is suffocating. Cameron’s difficulties started when he failed to win outright three years ago in what were good times for the Tories. The U-turns and incompetence, compromises of ConDem coalition, have drained away his authority.

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EU: Referendum is about Tories & Ukip, not Europe

The issue of Europe certainly makes strange bedfellows, and the cockles of Nigel Farage’s heart will have been warmed by Bob Crow’s statement yesterday:

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

“RMT’s position is clear, not only should there be an early in/out referendum but also we are calling unequivocally for British withdrawal.

“Across Europe, and specifically in Spain and Greece which are at the eye of the storm, it is the working class who are suffering the most as democracy is ripped apart and the EU and the central bank demand cuts to jobs, wages and pensions and wholesale privatisation of public assets.

“RMT will not sit back and allow this debate to be dominated by UKIP and the right wing of the Tory Party. Ministers like Michael Gove are now only raising the issue of withdrawal out of pure political opportunism. He could not care less about the rates of youth unemployment across Europe, the only concern of these Tory “Johnny Come Lately’s” is saving their own political skins.

“RMT will continue to set out the left wing, pro-worker case for British withdrawal from the EU that puts jobs, standards of living, democracy and public services centre stage. The truth is that you cannot be pro-EU and anti-austerity when the whole structure of the European project is dominated by the interests of bankers and big business, the driving forces behind the imposition of austerity measures across the Continent.”

It is disingenuous for RMT to believe that a small union, however charismatic their General Secretary, can shape a debate which is being driven by rifts in the Conservative Party. Indeed the headline in Benedict Brogan’s Telegraph blog sums it up well: “The Tory party’s gone crazy over Europe, and it’s Cameron’s fault

Ignore those who boast that at least this time it’s merely about tactics, not policy. They would like you to conclude that because the Tory party at Westminster favours an in/out referendum, the current spat is a mere bagatelle. They are wrong, in the same way that any Tory politician who justifies attacking the leadership in public in the name of ideological rectitude should not be trusted with the electoral spoons. The party is divided on an issue that scarcely one in 10 voters lists as a priority. The electorate will respond accordingly if this continues.

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The Battle for History in the Wake of Thatcher’s Death


What are we to make of Tony Blair’s recent criticisms of Ed Miliband’s leadership and the current state of the Labour Party in his recent New Statesman article? And what significance should be attached to the timing of his comments, coming as they do in a week in which the establishment has sought to beatify Margaret Thatcher and in the process has engaged in the kind of revisionism that is an insult to the collective intelligence of the nation?

The sickening ritual of tribute to Thatcher which took place in parliament on 11 April, on the back of its unprecedented emergency recall by David Cameron, demonstrates the extent of the disconnect that exists between the political class and a significant section of the population in this country. Ed Miliband’s failure to contest Cameron’s request for a recall was evidence of weakness in the face of the unrelenting propaganda campaign unleashed by the Tories and their acolytes in the media in the wake of the former prime minister’s death. The objective of this campaign has not merely been to eulogize the woman, but also to burnish the political creed, Thatcherism, which bears her name. At a time when the most vicious Tory government since the one led by Thatcher is in the process of rolling back the frontiers of the welfare state, allowing the aforementioned to go unchallenged was a grievous mistake on the part of the Labour leadership.

Now we have Blair, supported by Mandelson and Alan Milburn, reminding us that Blairite’s don’t die, or even fade away after they’ve had their time in the political sun; they instead lurk in the background waiting for the opportunity to remind the nation of a time when Labour was the party of aspiration, enterprise, and business. Ed Miliband’s rebuke of Blair’s admonition that “Labour must keep out of its “comfort zone but on a centre ground that is ultimately both more satisfying and more productive for party and country” was at least welcome, but no one should be in any doubt that Blair’s intervention was timed to coincide with the deification of Thatcher as a moderniser and Thatcherism as a progressive antidote to the ‘bad old days’.
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