Yesterday an interview with the former Families Minister Sarah Teather was published in the Observer. The significant parts of this interview were in regards to her statements about welfare reforms, particularly the benefit cap. The way the mainstream media has treated it would make it seem like a non-event. The way others have treated it suggests otherwise. The main Observer piece online was flooded with comments, a disproportionately large number of which were critical of her. Some were critical of her apparent hypocrisy- she had voiced concerns but very quietly about welfare reform whilst in government. She then abstained from the crucial Commons votes, without actually making it clear whether this was deliberate and even suggesting unconvincingly that there were just scheduling conflicts. These votes were subject to so-called 'three-line whips' where ambitious MPs have their rise threatened and serving ministers almost invariably lose their jobs if they fail to vote with their party. Ministers with seniority even as high as Iain Duncan-Smith are forced to vote against their publicly sworn views on matters when a government risks their reputation on the parliamentary equivalent of an 'all-in' gamble.
|Rockets and robots, one might be better, but both is 'all-in' and hedges all resources on a single success|
However, an apparently greater number of 'spontaneous' online responses were critical of her for expressing such views at all. Leaving aside the suspicious online response resembling orchestration(basically only one of the articles on the website was flooded with comments, showing a link was being followed and these were not from people who were just browsing the Guardian/Observer website), the response from a 'spokesman for Iain Duncan-Smith'(note it was not reported as a 'DWP spokesman' but the Secretary directly) repeated a familiar talking point:
"The criticisms Sarah Teather is levelling against the government's welfare reforms are hugely misinformed and therefore result in needless scaremongering. It's not fair or right that benefits claimants receive higher incomes than hard-working families who are striving to get on in life. Our reforms bring fairness back to the system while ensuring we support the most vulnerable."The spokesman does nothing to actually point out what Teather was factually incorrect about. In fact, this statement implies factual inaccuracy without actually accusing her of it. This is a familiar thing for me and it will be familiar also to other Spartacus contributors, researchers, writers and campaigners from other groups. It's familiar to us because this message is not intended for Sarah Teather nor is it intended for the public.
|What passive-aggression looks like|
In this case the assertions are:
1. The fearful are scaremongering.
2. The fact-users are misinformed.
3. The needy are unfair.
These are outrageous, but it is the narrative that is repeated no matter what critics do. It's ministers way of telling us 'We can say whatever we like, you can argue what you like and pile up how ever many mountains of evidence- no one will question us and no one will listen to you until it is too late'. They started doing it around the time that they realised that even if they lost the fight in Parliament over the Welfare Reform Bill, they could win on technicality by citing the arcane and rarely used function of 'financial privilege' despite it being rather questionable that it was primarily a finance bill. Considering the weight politically they put on the benefits cap which was a very small part of it, and wouldn't save much money at all, it's incredible that they got away with it and they never stop rubbing our faces in it.
|The record always has the final say|
This week I'll try to bring together some examples. If anyone has any, feel free to share them below.