Monday, 19 November 2012

The Record Has A Pro-Welfare Bias

There are two posts I wish to make(doesn't mean I'll succeed) and they are partly a response to events over the weekend. 

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
It's intended for us. It's meant to bully us, quite intentionally. Ministers aren't the slightest bit scared of the likes of Sarah Teather who are easily dealt with by the rent-a-mobs that have responded online. The most significant political damage has been done by people who's daily lives are often decided by when and where they poo. To be beaten by the best is one thing, you can bow out gracefully. But to be badly beaten and then only to win on technicality, time and time again, by the likes of us who fall to pieces with the slightest upset; it's terrible. Politicians can survive being hated, they rarely survive being made to look ridiculous and that is what the real opposition to government welfare plans have done. So the government responds with constant passive-aggression, dog-whistles and defamation of critics. Assertions, which seem to turn normality upside down, accusations that the victim is to blame.

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
I'm resigned to the despair that it will be far too late before it is widely accepted what the government has actually done, knowing full-well what the consequences would be. The record however still stands. Declan Gaffney pointed out yesterday that the central factual assertion in the spokesman's response is an utter distortion of reality. The re-occurring theme is that almost every claim, argument and prediction made by critics of the welfare reforms has been right even when the evidence was unclear or it was too early for all but the most careless of pundits to make a call. Each and every time the response from the government, directly or indirectly, has been to repeat the same thing- the fearful are scaremongering, the fact-users are misinformed and the needy are unfair to everyone else. They don't change and they don't cough up the contrary evidence, even when they have the means to cherry-pick and skew research.

This week I'll try to bring together some examples. If anyone has any, feel free to share them below.


  1. I cannot find the consultation that the DWP had in February about support for mortgage interest (as far as I am aware they have not responded to the consultation) but from my response maybe gleaned the very tactics that you state
    Do you think payments for support for mortgage interest should be recouped from claimants who are in receipt of help on a long term basis?

    No.As the new targetted group are Carers(who save far more than receive);not expected to work but are working if they can;ESA recipients who at best have limited capability for work at worst not expected to work and pensioners the whole basis of "work incentives" is beyond parody.
    Despite the propaganda,it is not a lifestyle choice to become sick/disabled and/or a Carer.Nor is the situation temporary.Support should be maintained as the circumstance remains.Having already adjusted by dint of disability/illness and or caring responsibilities to such a loss of income to be entitled to IS;it is again beyond parody and wholly misanthropic to suggest that financial responsibility has been lost.
    To encourage the view that "it is unfair to the taxpayers,many of whom are struggling to service their own mortgage or cannot afford to get a mortgage" is a misanthropic trope and as such makes any decent person ashamed that their Government opines in such a way.Totally irresponsible.
    I am biased I am a Carer.I used to be proud of my Country.I have saved many hundreds of thousands of pounds for the NHS alone .I am not alone.A disgraceful act of betrayal,falsely economic,based on misanthropy and ideology.To even suggest it is a civilised suggestion is beyond the pale for all decent people.NO.

  2. Just to add that "responsibilty" or supposed lack of it may be applied to all three "assertions"-

  3. Regarding despair-my mum recounts that even as a small child that if I felt something was unjust,no amount of disuasion,explanation would placate me,it would cause me angst that others did not feel the same way;I base my views on my morality and if a line has been crossed I feel sick and sleepless nights ensue.Two such examples in my view;one recent the other (despairingly never ###king mentioned)The usage by IDS of the epithet "dysfunctional" in relation to the possible beneficiaries of the"watersure scheme" eg. home haemodialysis patients and the inclusion of receivers of Carers Allowance in the "cap".I will never understand why it was thought it was even contemplated to be stated/appropriate and that genuinely causes me much despair;despair ever more amplified by the lack of people feeling the same way as me.

  4. Personally I'm just wallowing in a pit of despair and loathing for the British people that voted these shysters into power. The people voted for an American style economic and welfare package.

    Now they're getting it.

    But until it is their hip operation they have to sell the house to pay for, until it is their mother that is getting battered in a festering care-home, and until they are routinely robbed and assaulted by the thousands of homeless mentally ill and mentally disabled, they just won't give a fuck.

  5. I often get angry with the public to the point where I suspect I might be a fascist, but for their voting patterns at the last general election I can't blame them.

    The choice was the incumbent Labour government with two major burdens- the first being Iraq, now with the added weight of much more hindsight than in 2005. The second being Gordon Brown who was the most unpopular Prime Minister of modern times, though I don't think it was his fault. The other choice was the Conservative Party and I repeat that to the public's credit- the 17 point lead they had in 2009 was reduced to just under 2 in just six months leading up to the election, a correlation matching George Osbourne saying what he was actually going to do in power after previously saying a Conservative government would match Labour's pre-2008 spending plans.

    The public reacted, Nick Clegg suddenly got a surge. The largest movement of tactical voting in UK election history happened- the public pushed for a hung Parliament. It wasn't a bad idea at the time- no one wanted radicals like what we got. The message was that no party was worthy of an overall majority and mandate to govern as they pleased. The public wanted a short-term caretaker government to be sensible and then call another election as soon as the worst was over.

    The problem was that the politicians knew this is what the public indicated they wanted, which is why they orchestrated the outcome to be the exact opposite. The public had lost faith in politicians, but not in the system itself. They can't be blamed for it that it was rigged.