Second Independent Review of Personal Independence Payment assessment

 

 

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Any policy that is implemented with the expressed aim of “targeting those most in need” is invariably about cost cutting and reducing eligibility criteria for entitlement. The government were explicit in their statement of the original policy intent of Personal Independence Payment. The government has already considered ways of reducing eligibility criteria for the daily living component of Personal Independence Payment by narrowing definitions of aids and appliances, earlier this year.

In July, the Department for Work and Pensions appointed Paul Gray CB to undertake the second “independent review” of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment. This is the second independent review as required by Section 89 of the Welfare Reform Act 2012.

This review includes a call for evidence of the PIP assessment. It seeks information about how the PIP assessment is “working.” The consultation includes all stages of the PIP process, with a particular focus on the use of further evidence in the claim process, data sharing and the claimant experience. 

However, I’m just wondering where the ever-reductive targeting quest for the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” will end. The evidence that a policy “working” is usually related to the stated original aim. In this case, PIP isn’t a policy aimed at meeting the needs of disabled people. It’s a policy that is ultimately aimed at cutting support for ill and disabled people.

We have already witnessed a shrinking of eligibility criteria for people formerly claiming Disability Living Allowance, a marked increase in the number of reassessments required, and a limiting of the number of successful claims. Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced.

Any “review” will therefore be framed by the original intent of the policy. However, that does not mean we should not respond to reviews and submit evidence, as a review provides us with an opportunity to flag up concerns regarding inadequacies experienced by those the policy is meant to support, too. The policy is not meant to serve the government, who are on an ideological crusade to dismantle all welfare support, by the way.

Disability benefits were originally designed to help sick and disabled people meet their needs, additional living costs and support people sufficiently to allow  a degree of dignity and independent living. You would be mistaken in thinking, however, that Personal Independent Payment was designed for that. It seems to have been designed to be the  Treasury’s ever-increasing pocket money. Or as profits for private providers who constantly assess, monitor, coerce and attempt to “incentivise” those people being systematically impoverished by the state to make “behaviour changes” by taking any low paid, insecure and poor quality work, regardless of how suitable or appropriate that is.

Apparently, that is the Conservative psychobabble “cure” for “worklessness,” which, regardless of market conditions, health, socioeconomic circumstances and poor political decision-making, is always down to an individual’s “bad behavioural choices.” The government regard work as a “health outcome.” I expect that soon, work coaches will replace doctors, and the Department for Work, health and Pensions will subsume the NHS.

For what it’s worth, Paul Gray will use evidence from the second review to inform his report to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The second review will be laid before Parliament by April 2017.

Individuals and organisations are invited to submit evidence to help inform the review by answering the following questions. Where the Department for Work and Pensions use the word “condition” in these questions they mean disabilities, health conditions and impairments. They use “condition” for short.

Your responses can only be taken into account if you press submit at the end of the survey form, if you send a submission using that method.

The deadline for submissions is 5pm on 16 September 2016.

Your privacy
The note on privacy: “By providing personal information for the purposes of this call for evidence, it is understood that you consent to its disclosure and publication. If you want the information in your response to be confidential, please explain why and we will endeavour to do so. However we cannot guarantee to do this.”

 

Ways to respond

Respond online

or

Email: pip.independentreview@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

Write to:
PIP Independent Review Team
                 Department for Work and Pensions                  
                 Floor 4  
                 Caxton House 
                 Tothill Street 
                 London    
                 SW1H 9NA

Related

“Consideration of the ability of a claimant to carry out an activity safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period is key to the PIP assessment. We recognise that these ‘reliability criteria’ and the rules setting out how fluctuating conditions should be considered are an important protection for claimants, and these are enshrined in legislation” – Government’s second response to the first Independent Review of the Personal Independence Payment Assessment

Consultation as government seek to limit disabled people’s eligibility for Personal Independence Payment

Request For Evidence – PIP: mobility Criterion

PIP and the Tory monolgue

The Tory British Bill of Rights: ‘be the short change you want to see’

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The politics of regression

The UK has passed a lot of posts over the last five years. We are now a post-European, post-welfare, post-consensus, post-progressive, post-rational, post-democratic, post-first world, post-liberal, post-inclusive, post-diverse, post-equality, post-freedom, post-rights, post-protest, post-truth society. We managed all of this by travelling backwards as a society, not forwards.

The clocks stopped when the Conservatives took office in 2010. Now we are losing a decade a day.

This week, the government have confirmed they still plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a so-called British Bill of Rights. This will break the formal link between the European Court of Human Rights and British law. Any judgement from Europe would  be treated as “advisory” only, rather than legally binding, and would need to be “approved” by parliament. Such a Bill would definitely short change UK citizens in terms of balancing responsibilities, obligations and rights. It would profoundly disempower citizens because it will shift the balance of democracy, placing power almost entirely in the hands of the state.

The citizen rights protected by Labour’s flagship Human Rights Act are quite basic. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right NOT to be given the death penalty; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against.

Over their time in office, the Tories have systematically contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as a mere bureaucratic inconvenience, to be simply brushed aside. In October 2014, I was one of the very first independent writers to report the United Nations’ inquiry into the government’s gross breaches of the rights of disabled people. Writers and researchers like me and organised groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) have been submitting evidence regarding the dehumanising impacts of the Conservative welfare “reforms” to the UN since 2012.

Theresa May has previously expressed strong support for controversial constitutional change. She stated in 2014, that she would like to see the UK withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, echoing David Cameron.

In a speech earlier this year, she said: “This is Great Britain, the country of Magna Carta, parliamentary democracy and the fairest courts in the world.

And we can protect human rights ourselves in a way that doesn’t jeopardise national security or bind the hands of parliament.

A true British bill of rights, decided by parliament and amended by parliament, would protect not only the rights set out in the convention, but could include traditional British rights not protected by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) such as the right to trial by jury.”

However, May’s comment about the need for a Bill of rights that doesn’t “bind the hands of parliament” is worrying, since human rights were designed originally to protect citizens from despotic states and authoritarian governments like this one.

Her comment that the ECHR does not provide for the right to trial by jury is also misleading. Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights is a provision  which protects the right to a fair trial and access to justice. In criminal law cases and cases to determine civil rights, it protects the right to a public hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal within reasonable time, the presumption of innocence, and other basic rights for those charged in a criminal case (such as adequate time and facilities to prepare their defence, access to legal representation, the right to examine witnesses against them or have them examined, the right to the free assistance of an interpreter).

The Effective Criminal Defence in Europe report identified that the UK already needs to address issues regarding inadequate disclosure to suspects during investigation stage and that a more effective judicial oversight of bail and arrest are needed. Cuts to legal aid are also problematic in terms of ensuring the right of equal access to justice. Chris Grayling has already tried to take legal aid from the poorest citizens, in a move that is so clearly contrary to the very principle of equality under the law. He turned legal aid into an instrument of discrimination. He has also tried to dismantle another vital legal protection  – judicial review – which has been used to stop him abusing political power on several occasions. I don’t think this is a government that has indicated so far that it has the needs and wellbeing of citizens as a main priority.

Liz Truss, the justice secretary, dismissed reports that that the Government was abandoning the policy, which was included in the Conservative manifesto in 2015, to avoid a conflict with the Scottish Government 

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday morning: “We are committed to that. That is a manifesto commitment. 

I’m looking very closely at the details but we have a manifesto commitment to deliver that.”

However, last year, Amnesty UK commissioned a poll that indicated the British public are not particularly willing to see any change to existing Human Rights legislation, with only one in 10 people in the UK (11%) believing that scrapping the Human Rights Act should be a government priority.

 

Kate Allen, Amnesty International (UK) director, said:

“The British people clearly want the Government to get on with their proper business of the day-to-day running of the country, and abandon these destructive plans.

“It’s quite right that it shouldn’t be up to governments to pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and select who they deem worthy of them. It took ordinary people a very long time to claim these rights and we mustn’t let politicians take them away with the stroke of a pen.

“It’s great to have it confirmed that British people think that rights and protections must apply to everyone equally in order to work at all.”

David Cameron pledged to explore ways to leave the ECHR in the wake of the departure of his most senior legal advisor, Dominic Grieve. 

Ken Clarke said: “It is unthinkable for Britain to leave the European Convention on Human Rights,” he was also a departing cabinet minister. Cameron is believed to have wanted rid of the Attorney General Grieve because he was supportive of Britain’s continued ECHR membership.

Labour dubbed the cabinet reshuffle “the massacre of the moderates”, pointing to the departure of pro-Europe and “one nation” Tories such as David Willetts, Nick Hurd and Oliver Heald.

It’s long been the case that the Tories and the right wing press have deliberately blurred the boundaries between the European Union and the European Council of Human Rights, which are of course completely different organisations. This was a misdirection ploy.

However it is the case that the member states of the EU agreed that no state would be admitted to membership of the EU unless it accepted the fundamental principles of the European Convention on Human Rights and agreed to declare itself bound by it. I also think that conservatives, who regard both institutions as “interfering”, do see the Union and the Council as the same in terms of both being international frameworks requiring the British government to have a degree of democratic accountability at an international level.

In his parting interview, Clarke, who has held office in every Conservative government since 1972 and is also the party’s most prominent Europhile, said the debate was “absurd”.

“I personally think it’s unthinkable we should leave the European Convention on Human Rights; it was drafted by British lawyers after the Second World War in order to protect the values for which we fought the War for.” He’s right, of course.

The years immediately after the second world war marked a turning point in the history of human rights, as the world reeled in horror at the rise of fascism and the Nazi concentration camps, there came an important realisation that although fundamental rights should be respected as a matter of course, without formal protection, human rights concepts are of little use and consolation to those facing persecution.

So in response to the atrocities committed during the war, the international community sought to define the rights and freedoms necessary to secure the dignity and worth of each individual. In 1948 the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), one of the most important agreements in world history.

Shortly afterwards another newly formed international body, the Council of Europe, set about giving effect to the UDHR in a European context. The resulting European Convention on Human Rights was signed in 1950 and ratified by the United Kingdom, one of the first countries to do so, in 1951. At the time there were only ten members of the Council of Europe. Now 47 member countries subscribe to the European Convention, and in 1998 the Human Rights Act was passed by the Labour Party in order to “give further effect” to the European Convention in British law.

Previously, along with the Liberal Democrats, Grieve was able to thwart attempts to reform the ECHR, and opposed pulling out altogether. The plan to reform it is being led by the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling but Grieve has pledged to continue to fight for Britain’s membership from the backbenchers. Though Clegg had agreed to a British Bill of Rights, he was strongly opposed to withdrawing from the ECHR.

Grieve understood that ECHR is about the fundamental rights of the citizen and ought to be cherished in the same way as the Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus are. But as we know, this is not a typical view amongst Conservatives, who frequently cite the same examples of “foreign criminals” being allowed to stay in the country as evidence it is “not working”.

The prime minister’s spokesman said that the sacking of Grieve had not led to a change in government’s policy. However he pledged action if the Conservatives are elected next year without the Liberal Democrats: “If you are asking me about party manifestos, the prime minister has previously said that he wants to look at all the ways that we can ensure we are able to deport those who have committed criminal offences.”

Grieve said he would defend human rights legislation from the back benches to “contribute to rationality and discourse”.

“If we send out a sign that human rights don’t matter, that is likely to be picked up in other countries which are also signatory states such as Russia.”

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The marked loss of transparency and democratic accountability

In the original Conservative proposals to scrap our existing human rights framework, and replace it with their own, one sentence from the misleadingly titled document  –Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”

Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute or universally applied – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. And discrimination. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.

The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.

Many people have said that the Conservatives won’t escape accountability if they repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with something less comprehensive, because we are still signatories to a number of broader international treaties on human rights. 

However, last year I wrote about how the government has quietly edited the ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement at all. The code sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers. The latest version of the code is missing a key element regarding complicity with international law. 

The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

The new version of the code has been edited to say only that there is an“overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.

Conservative party policy document had revealed that the ministerial code will be rewritten in the context of the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. In order to help achieve these aims the document says:

“We will amend the ministerial code to remove any ambiguity in the current rules about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the UK.”

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch, an organisation which works to hold the government to account, said:

“This amendment to the ministerial code is deeply concerning. It shows a marked shift in the attitude and commitment of the UK government towards its international legal obligations.”

Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous. Especially such an authoritarian government.

Implications for democracy

Democracy is one of the universal core values and principles of the United Nations. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the principle of holding periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage are essential elements of democracy. These values are embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and further developed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies.

The Rule of Law and Democracy Unit stands as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) focal point for democracy activities. The Unit works to develop concepts and operational strategies to enhance democracy and provide guidance and support to democratic institutions through technical cooperation activities and partnership with the relevant parts of the UN, notably the UN Democracy Fund, the Department of Political Affairs and the newly established UN Working Group on Democracy. Legal and expert advice are provided as required to OHCHR field operations on relevant issues such as respect for participatory rights in the context of free and fair elections, draft legislation on national referenda and training activities.

The strong link between democracy and human rights is captured in article 21(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

“The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” 

The link is further developed in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which enshrines a host of political rights and civil liberties underpinning meaningful democracies. The rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and subsequent human rights instruments covering group rights (e.g.indigenous peoples, minorities, people with disabilities) are equally essential for democracy as they ensure inclusivity for all groups, including equality and equity in respect of access to civil and political rights.

More recently, in March 2012, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution titled “Human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” which reaffirmed that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms were interdependent and mutually reinforcing.

The Council called upon States to make continuous efforts to strengthen the rule of law and promote democracy through a wide range of measures. It also requested the OHCHR, in consultation with states, national human rights institutions, civil society, relevant inter-governmental bodies and international organizations, to draft a study on challenges, lessons learned and best practices in securing democracy and the rule of law from a human rights perspective.

Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are core values of the European Union, too. Embedded in its founding treaty, they were reinforced when the EU adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights in 2000, and strengthened still further when the Charter became legally binding with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009.

A legally binding human rights framework must be applied universally, and implemented without the “interpretation” and interference from individual governments. Furthermore, the State must fund the means of contract enforcement and free and fair trial legal costs, for those who cannot afford it. If the State fails to fulfil this contingent function, then citizens simply cease to be free.

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I wrote another in-depth analysis of the implications of a British Bill of Rights earlier this year, which includes some of the constitutional implications – The British Bill Of Frights: We Need To Ask What Could Possibly Go Right?

 


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Dead cat conditioning, attention deficit and the social order

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Last week I wrote about hundreds of people dying of malnutrition in the UK over this past twelve months alone, as a consequence of government policies. I wrote about how our universities are no longer permitting free speech and critical thinking, and how dissenting academics have taken to blogging, using pseudonyms and writing anonymous letters because of the repressive political developments in the UK.  I am now about to write another piece on how our Human Rights Act is to be scrapped and replaced by a Conservative Bill of Frights.

The Labour party needs to be collectively opposing the government and addressing these pressing, socially calamitous issues, raising public awareness regarding the profound damage that this authoritarian government are inflicting on our society and drafting remedial policy outlines which extend social justice and equality. 

In the Labour Party Forum – a Facebook group for party members – I was told that my post about the implications of the Government Higher Education white paper, along with an analysis of the illogic of neoliberalism and its consequences is “irrelevant” to the Labour party.

There is a problem with that. 

If the Labour party is to reach out and persuade the electorate that they have an alternative which is better than the current government, they will need to recognise and to fully understand issues that are affecting the wider public. In the Labour Party forum, every single post (except mine) is about about the leadership debate. But being engaged with what is culturally popular isn’t always in our best interests.

The comments from members are dripping with bad feeling, oozing impotent anger and bleeding bitterness. The party infighting is clearly visible on every thread, the hostility is palpable, and all of this in a group that was once united in fighting the real enemy of ordinary people: the Tories. The old, easy camaraderie among members has seeped away.  Cooperation has plummeted sickeningly down the chasms of division. Fallen socialist values, lying broken. Many who claim they are fighting for a “socialist party” seem to have forgotten to practice what they preach. 

I do understand the anger that many feel in the face of a neoliberal, right wing establishment openly demonstrating a hegemonic stranglehold via the media, with endless streams of poisonous propaganda. We witness overt claims, subtexts and a level of perpetual subliminal messaging about who is fit to lead our country and who isn’t. The attacks on Corbyn in particular highlight just how the powers that be in the UK  have ensured that alternatives to the status quo never become established as a part of our mainstream conceptual and linguistic universe. The media write them out. There is a war going on, for sure. But this is nothing new.

The roots of our current crisis of democracy and class warfare go back a long way, and many of these have been embedded deeply in the changes to Britain’s sociopolitical economy since the Thatcher era. Neoliberalism is a doxa, it didn’t come into being as a means of social and economic organisation because it works: it became mainstreamed “common sense” because the establishment won. 

I gave an interview last year to Phil, who is a very public sociologist on the All That Is Solid site, outlining my own position on developments within the Labour party. Since then, I have written just two articles about party ideology, values and the leadership issues. I do write regularly about ideology, propaganda and the techniques of persuasion that are used by the establishment and media to maintain the status quo. This is an issue that extends well beyond the arising claustrophobic parochialism of Labour party disunity, leadership battles and current disarray. 

The media is the message

Social control is maintained in part by the use of a strategy of distraction, which is designed to divert public attention from important issues and changes determined by the political and economic elites, using a technique of flooding continuous diversions and insignificant information. Distraction strategy is also used to prevent public interest in essential knowledge that is then used to exercise control, whilst ensuring those being controlled are also completely disarmed.  The media maintain public attention, and divert it away from real social and economic problems. The public become an audience captivated by matters of no real importance. I’m probably loosely paraphrasing Noam Chomsky, here. 

From within the Westminster playpen, originating from the likes of Conservative babysitter, Lynton Crosby, the dead cat strategy is basically deployed as a major distraction tactic, usually entailing insulting diversion from a government’s political controversies and failings. So when, for example, the government are investigated by the United Nations for contravening basic human rights, they will scream that the opposition leader is somehow a threat to our national security. 

Everyone will gasp, clutch their brand of indignation and moral panic, and bang on about that for the rest of the week. The fact that democracy is gone for a burton, or human rights are being sidestepped and people are dying because of austerity policies is buried under a pile of furry corpses piling up on the allegoric political table, whilst commentators across the land discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s tweed jacket and beard. 

Then there is the age-old strategy of dīvide et īmpera. Every person on the left of the political spectrum knows what “divide and rule” means. It refers to a strategy that breaks up existing power structures, undermines democracy, and especially prevents smaller power groups from organising, collaborating, cooperating and forming alliances, by creating rivalries, fostering discord, distrust and enmity among the groups. Hello.

Thing is, despite these strategies being common knowledge, this hasn’t stopped many Labour party supporters using the disgracefully unreliable and establishment-collaborative media to present their own personal preferences. The Labour Pary Forum is filled with trivial articles about Owen Smith, this, Jeremy Corbyn, that and Tom Watson, the other, the comment threads full of screaming  indignation and neatly blinkered participants.

Socialist politics is supposed to be conscientious, and rather more about the social, not the personal.

This week, we see  the Independent, the Spectator, the Mirror, the Huffington Post, Politics Home, the London Economic, Channel four, amongst many others, report an audience booing the mention of a perceived political rival at a rally comprised of his opponent’s supporters. I’m all for freedom of speech, but for crying out loud, why and how is this by now mind-numbing tittle tattle considered to be NEWS? And even more importantly, why do social media campaigners think it is?

Don’t look away now

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Only a matter of weeks ago, a Labour MP was murdered by a far right fanatic, because of her political work, and because we are a distracted society that permits a right wing authoritarian othering and outgrouping demagoguery.

But now there are no ripples on the pond.

How can so many people seemingly forget such a horror? It’s almost as if this outrageous, politically motivated murder was a normal event, expected and accepted. Why are we allowing an ideology-driven and opportunistic establishment to divide our society into hierarchies of human worth and value? There’s an underpinning message in policies and political rhetoric that some lives are worth more than others; it’s has crept in unchecked, almost unnoticed, and we have allowed that to happen because we look the other way. In fact many of us seem quite determined to look the other way.

It’s not only migrants that are being politically and socially outgrouped. Disabled people are experiencing an unprecedented increase in hate crime and people are dying of malnutrition in the 5th wealthiest nation of the world. People are dying because of a government’s policies here in the UK. Prejudices are flourishing, violence growing. This is the kind of society we have become. Yet many people are still not paying attention. We are being conditioned not to look and not to see.

Whilst so many people are so happily distracted and so easily diverted by the most trivial details, our democracy is being quietly dismantled, the social gains of our post-war settlement have been almost erased from history, our human rights are being sidelined and re-written to shift the balance of obligation and responsibility from the state to the individual. Such profoundly damaging developments with such dire and toxic implications for our country ought to be recognised and challenged. Citizens are dying prematurely because of class contingent Conservative policies in a post-welfare, low waged Britain.

Those of us who reject austerity and neoliberalism are not “Trot entryists” , “revolutionaries” , “militants” or “extremists”. We are simply people who see beyond prejudiced ideologies and doxas. We recognise neoliberalism only works for 1% of the population. Furthermore, I am certain that in a world where people paid attention, instead of being distracted by mainstreamed, dominant narratives and  the mind-numbingly mediocre, homogenenised X factor culture, almost everyone else would recognise this, too.

I support Corbyn. Not because I invest in a superficial cult of personality type of politics. Not because I see a Corbyn-led Labour party as an end in itself. I have always maintained that a Labour government would simply mark a viable starting point  – the means – for a concerted campaign for social justice and equality.

I support Corbyn because I object to the destruction of people’s lives and the dismantling of protective civilised and civilising social structures because of a neoliberal and social Darwinist politics that invariably creates, through class contingent policies, inequality and social injustice – a few winners and many losers, the latter are then blamed by the state for the faults that are actually intrinsic to the system and extended by the state. I believe that in democracies, governments are elected to meet public needs, we don’t elect them to manipulate public perceptions and nudge us into meeting political and narrow, economic needs. I also believe that progress won’t happen unless we actively participate in democratic processes and work to extend them. Democracy (rather like intelligence) isn’t something we have: it’s something we must DO.

 The current infighting will kill the Labour movement. Vote for Corbyn, (or don’t), but there’s no need for the endless and insular justifications of your voting choice. Let’s keep some perspective and deal with what we NEED to – the  much bigger picture –  instead of impotently bickering among ourselves about a single issue. Socialism is surely all about a vision of the kind of society that is just and fair for the majority; it’s not about personal preferences and narrowly individualist perspectives.

Right now, the establishment have got us exactly where they want us. Their corporate media mouthpieces have made sure of that. The infighting, meanwhile, is destroying the Labour movement from within. 

But we can resist dead cats, Conservative bouncing bomb propaganda and such blatant techniques of persuasion… really, we can do so much better than this.

We won’t do so if we ignore the wider social realities and policy impacts being shaped by an authoritarian government.

sociologyexchangecouk-shared-resource-5-728It’s time to fight back

 

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The new neoliberal witch prickers and Academics Anonymous

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In February 2015, the characteristically intemperate David Cameron said that the Conservatives are waging an all-out war on mediocrity” in schools. In higher education, there is a drive to quantify the humanities and make them achievement-oriented instead of collaborative and intellectual.

This is a government that has already proposed a retrogressive, enforced segregation of pupils based on ability, setting inclusion policy back at least 30 years. This is also an attack on the very principle of inclusion. Conservative policies have always tended to establish and perpetuate social hierarchies, ranking and outgrouping. 

Neoliberalism has turned our society into one that seems to value only reductionist, deterministic, technocratic and instrumental modes of thought and methods that simply entail quantification and reduction of the diversity of human experiences. The humanities, social sciences and arts have been politically sidelined. Funding is being cut in universities. 

This jeopardises public awareness, stifles debate about issues of social justice and other important sociocultural concerns in education. It devalues subjective experiences, meaning, insight, understanding, interpretation, intention and a wide range of other qualities that make up what it is to be human. It’s a profoundly dehumanising economic framework.

In May, the government’s Higher Education White Paper, Success as a Knowledge Economy, set out a rigidly economistic perspective, stating that “progress is found via choice and competition”, indicating the political aim to complete the process of neoliberalising our universities.

Will Davies describes the awful jargon in the document as “empty sloganeering” and “euphemisms for destruction” in his excellent article for The Sociological Review, in July. He also quotes Andrew McGettigan, who says: 

“This is a document that bristles with resentment towards the established university sector. One wants to ask: why do you hate universities so much? What exactly is the problem? It is sad to imagine the task faced by its anonymous Whitehall authors, almost certainly university-educated, perhaps in their late 20s or 30s with memories of university life still relatively clear.

Perhaps they chose a civil service career over more lucrative alternatives because they’d long been interested in politics or were attracted to the quirks and traditions of public office. The authors of this document would know that what they’ve written is bullshit.”

There’s more than a whiff of technocratic idealism peppered throughout the paper, with phrases like: “perfectly calibrated ‘satisfaction’ and fees, where every ‘incentive’ is ‘aligned’.”

As Stefan Collini has observed:

“It is the application of this [neoliberal market] model to universities that produces the curious spectacle of a right-wing government championing students. Traditionally, of course, students have been understood by such governments, at least from the 1960s onwards, as part of the problem. They “sponged off” society when they weren’t “disrupting” it.

But now, students have come to be regarded as a disruptive force in a different sense, the shock-troops of market forces, storming those bastions of pre-commercial values, the universities. If students will set aside vague, old-fashioned notions of getting an education, and focus instead on finding the least expensive course that will get them the highest-paying job, then the government wants them to know that it will go to bat for them.”

You can see clearly that the government regards universities as some sort of neoliberal sorting mechanism. It’s all part of the regressive positivist service: relentless measurement, rating and monitoring.

As Davies points out, “teaching” has been reduced: it’s just one more euphemism, like “provider” or “stakeholder.” He’s right. “Knowledge” is reduced to the status of commodity. Intelligence becomes private equity. Students are reduced to consumers. They are buying a neoliberal outcome: a possibility of more a comfortable place in a social Darwinist food chain. Pedagogy has been replaced by econometrics. In the government white paper, the word “competition” makes 47 appearances, “critical thinking” just the  one (and only as a “soft skill attractive to employers.”) It seems the humanities, arts and social sciences are missing in action.

The White Paper outlines that “we need to confront the possibility of some institutions choosing (or needing) to exit the market. This is a crucial part of a healthy, competitive and well-functioning market.” Every institution will need “a student protection plan in place to prepare for the event of closure. In other words, it’s a Conservative neoliberal utopia of “creative destruction” through competition, nudging the exit of the “underperforming.” In other words, the Conservatives are telling us here that some universities will have to go. 

Anti-intellectualism

Michael Gove’s assertion that “people in this country have had enough of experts” indicates a virulent authoritarian strain of anti-intellectualism, marking the triumph of the irrational over the rational, prejudice over theoretical framework and hypothesis, and techniques of persuasion over empirical evidence. It’s prevalent in political discourse. Reactionary anti-expert sentiments arise most often whenever political dogma is exposed and challenged by experts and research evidence. What we are left with is the tyranny of ideology and the political anecdote. In this context the only objective truths that matters are the (almost supernatural) “market forces,” power and money. 

It’s crucial that there is an organised challenge to the corporate managerialists who have seized universities and subverted their purpose, transforming them into homogenous, subdued, and above all, controversy-free, managed enclosures.

Intellectuals should play a role in informing opinion and shaping debate, but those who have the most to contribute, especially to political debates and to shaping policy, come from those departments that are now on the danger list in many universities. This is partly because they don’t bring in huge amounts of money in research grants.

The government prefers a technocratic approach to public policy, founded on a pseudo-intellectualism that is concerned only with the escalating illogic of neoliberalism and narrow, dehumanising economic outcomes. Social psychology and public policy are replaced with private, cost-effective, experience-shrinking nudge, the diversity of the social sciences and any democratic dialogue with the public are increasingly submerged because of a prejudice for Conservative neo-positivism in social research and a narrow instrumentalist approach to economic outcomes, for example. These simply serve to fuel the circulatory, self-confirming neoliberal idiom of belief from within.

“Fascism combats […] not intelligence, but intellectualism  which is  a sickness of the intellect […] not a consequence of its abuse, because the intellect cannot be used too much. It derives from the false belief that one can segregate oneself from life.” – Giovanni Gentile, addressing a Congress of Fascist Culture, Bologna, 30 March 1925

Authoritarians (including fascists) often use anti-intellectual propaganda and public sentiment to oppress political dissent. It’s used to maintain political stability and a rigid social order. During the 1970s in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, people were killed simply for being academics or even for merely wearing glasses (as it suggested literacy) in the Killing Fields.

In the Spanish Civil War and the following dictatorship, General Francisco Franco’s civilian repression, the White Terror campaign, killed an estimated 200,000 civilians, heavily targeting writers, artists, teachers and professors. In Brazil, the liberational and radical educator, Paulo Freire, was first imprisoned, then exiled for “being ignorant”,  he was an “international subversive” and a “traitor to Christ and the people of Brazil” according to the organisers of the coup d’ Etat.

O
n 16 November, 1989, the Jesuit rector of the Universidad Centroamericana in El Salvador, the Rev. Ignacio Ellacuría, was dragged from his bed in the middle of the night and shot point-blank in his garden by an elite military squad. Five other Jesuit priests and educators, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were ordered to lie face down on the lawn and were brutally executed.

The Rev. Ignacio Martín-Baró was a liberational social psychologist whose research focused on the psychic conditions of living in a context of structural violence. The Rev. Segundo Montes taught anthropology with a view to the effects of social stratification and the displaced victims of the civil war. The Rev. Amando López Quintana was the chairman of the philosophy department but worked weekends as a parish priest and championed a mass-literacy campaign, like Paulo Freire. This is because literacy was a prerequisite for voting. These were rare heroes, champions of liberation, equality and social justice, who died because their beliefs and practices challenged the established order and power structure.

Those who value education really should read Freire’s Pedagogy Of The Oppressed.

Here in the UK, we are witnessing a different, much less directly brutal kind of political silencing. It’s more of a psychic war. There is a diminishment of critical thought and counter-narrative, involving the undermining of intellectual standards within learning and public discourse which tends to trivialise meaningful information, culture and academic standards. Such a “dumbing down” disguises the intellectual complexity of issues, controversies, perspectives in a debate and arguments presented, reducing controversy to oversimplistic soundbites, at the expense of factual accuracy, meaningful depth and rationality.

It’s difficult to see how the government can make any claim to “extending choices” for students in such a repressive and ever-shrinking context.

There is diminishing political support for the arts, cultural studies, literature, social sciences, politics, philosophy and history in a neoliberal context. Yet many of these subjects incubate fertile and radical critique and conceptually frame crucial public debates. Radical voices are being silenced, alternative narratives are being erased, intellectuals are being ostracised. In a functioning democracy, scrutiny, critique and debate regarding the state is essential. Without these, we become at best a managed democracy; its mechanisms and processes a mere facade.

Being Conservative with the truth

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”.  Issac Asimov 

 Anti-intellectualism has always performed a strategic Conservative ideological function – which is to shield the status quo from systematic criticism. 

Edmund Burke, the philosophical founder of modern Conservatism, favoured an anti-intellectualism which succeeded as a strategy of deterrence against radicalism; it became  the basis of a hegemonic strategy for the British elite establishment to strengthen and maintain their position. It’s been on the Conservative ideological cheat sheet ever since.

Burke’s ideology of anti-theory and “common sense” has been enormously successful. It’s become somewhat ingrained in our national character, yet his plea and his deep suspicion of theory and the abstract was nothing more than part of his philosophical defence of the ruling order. If anything, the last five years ought to have taught those of us with a commitment to progressive politics that we should steer well clear of sloganised rhetoric and the discourse of “common sense,” with its empty but glittering generalities. 

Of course Burke was a leading skeptic with respect to democracy. Although he admitted that theoretically, in “some cases” it might be desirable, he insisted a democratic government in Britain in his day would not only be inept, but also (strangely) oppressive. He opposed democracy for a couple of basic reasons. Firstly, he believed that government required a degree of intelligence, skill and knowledge of the sort that occurred rarely among the public. So, he was certainly an elitist on more than one level.

Secondly, he thought that if they had the vote, common people had “dangerous and angry passions” that could be aroused easily by demagoguery; he feared that the authoritarian impulses that could be harnessed by these passions would undermine the cherished traditions of Conservatism and established religion, leading to revolution and confiscation of property. Historically, the Conservatives have managed to make political dissent seem alien to the national psyche. The steep power and privilege structure in the UK is almost invisible to us, and difficult to question, precisely because it has become so normalised. Similarly, more recently, neoliberalism has become a doxa; it’s presented as a fait accompli – as common sense; the only possible way of political, social and economic organisation.

Justine Greening meet Paulo Friere. You know you really should.

Freire recognised that emphasis on individual characteristics are a result of social relations, and to view such individualistically de-emphasises the role of social structure and is responsible for the incorrect attribution of sociopolitical problems to the individual. Liberation education and psychology address this by re-orienting the focus from an individualistic to a social one. Using this framework, the behaviour of oppressed people is conceptualised not through intra-psychic processes, but as a result of an alienating environment.

Freire advocated authentic dialogue-based learning, where the role of the student shifts from object to active, critical subject. Freire heavily endorsed students’ ability to think critically about their education situation, this way of thinking allows them to recognise connections between their individual problems and experiences and the social contexts in which they are embedded.

Realising one’s consciousness is the first step of praxis, which is defined as the power and know-how to take action against oppression, whilst stressing the importance of liberating education. Praxis involves engaging in a cycle of theory, application, evaluation, reflection, and then referring back to theory. Social transformation is possible through praxis at the collective level.

The key concept of liberation education and psychology is concientización: critical consciousness – a recognition of the intrinsic connectedness of the person’s experience and the sociopolitical structure. Freire believed education to be a political act that could not be divorced from pedagogy. Freire defined this as a main tenet of his critical “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” Teachers and students must become aware of the politics that surround education. The way students are taught and what they are taught serves a political agenda. Teachers themselves have political notions that they bring into the classroom.

Freire attacked what he called the “banking” concept of education, in which the student was viewed as a passive participant – empty accounts to be “filled” by the teacher. He notes that “it transforms students into receiving objects. It attempts to control thinking and action, leads men and women to adjust to the world, and inhibits their creative power.” 

In 1999, PAULO, a National Training Organisation named in honour of Freire, was established in the United Kingdom. This agency was approved by the New Labour Government to represent some 300,000 community-based education practitioners working across the UK (myself included). It was a platform also, perhaps surprisingly, for Blair’s re-democratising democracy programme, based on a dialogic democracy, and a recognition of the centrality of life politics.

PAULO was given formal responsibility for setting the occupational training standards for people working in this field, and was based on a revolutionary anarchist/Marxist model of critical education. Even outside of that political context, Freire’s collective works, and especially Pedagogy of the Oppressedhas huge value and merit as a direction for an approach to teaching which is based on self awareness, community awareness, political awareness, responsibility, critical thinking, creativity, dialogue and social solidarity, and not on manipulation and oppression.

The Tories, however, are unrelentingly authoritarian, and this is reflected in their notions of “education”, which are: “Raising standards (through “setting” and taking those segregated off record: the “disappeared”)… and restoring discipline – so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

So nothing at all there about developing human potential, personal development, social development or even building the fundamental capacity for critical thinking.

A person who has not had opportunities to think critically about social and political reality, but simply accepts it is thereby participating in the world in a way that has been organised and designed for him/her by others.

If being human means exercising choice and freedom, then such uncritical, passive acceptance means being less than human.

But Tories prefer us that way. They don’t like to extend equal opportunities.

Meet the new professional witch prickers

The following letter was originally published in the Guardian on 8 August, 2014. It describes the high and dry wind that blew in metricised competition, a mythology of pure instrumentalism, to be administered by a billowing, neologistic managerial bureaucracy

Dear leaders,

I address you as “leaders” because, for some reason (perhaps manager comes too close to rhyming with janitor for your liking), you’ve increasingly taken to styling yourselves in this way. How grand. How imposing. How spurious.

Leaders are followed. The capacity and willingness to drive people along with the use of the pitchfork of threatened redundancy or the flaming torch of disciplinary action does not make a leader and the mere fact that you so brazenly call yourselves leaders is evidence of the malaise that prompts me to write.

For the record, if you’re not Alexander, Napoleon, Monty or the modern equivalent you’re not really a leader. Be neither managers nor leaders. Be provosts, masters, principals, vice-chancellors, rectors, deans, registrars, bursars. How quaint. How medieval. How refreshing.

Some problems

I know you think I ought to feel insignificant, as a mere teaching and research drone. My saying any of this is, of course, in forlorn hope. You listen to us all, and ignore us all: very egalitarian; very democratic.

Dictators (elected or not) always ignore everyone who’s not a member of the ruling clique. You’re not collegial just because you go around addressing people as colleagues all the time. Actually, there’s an inverse relationship. The more you say it, the more you show that you don’t really believe it. You simply want secure fiefdoms for the members of your cliques at the expense of making others into vassals with even fewer rights than hitherto.

Everything is directed towards that end. You break your own rules and make it up as you go along to suit yourselves. There is no genuine collegiality, no trust, no sense of equality in a republic of ideas.

So, whether you’re elected leaders (as in older universities such as mine) or appointed, your currency is the same: ill-conceived change to entrench the interests of your cliques and for the sake of being seen to do something. It’s a simple truth, but lost on people who “lead”, that all progress requires change but not all change constitutes progress. There is such a thing as change for the worse and that’s what you’re presiding over. Take three examples:

  • Instead of standing up for the idea of the university against the league tablers you prefer riding the tail of that tiger – taking the credit when an institution’s on the up and making sure we catch the blame when it’s falling.
  • Seemingly, there’s never enough money… except when there’s more for new administrative staff: courtiers for the ruling clique.
  • And, of course, there’s money to pay for rebranding. (But don’t you realise that the only thing any branding consultant ever sells is him- or herself? They persuade the shallow-minded to think in their terms and sell the idea that they can unerringly influence others as well.)

Some solutions

1) Defend what we do against governments and other external interests with vigour and courage.

2) Don’t change for the sake of being seen to do something and don’t confuse change with progress.

3) Accept that the university is a community made up of all those who serve it, not your plaything; nobody can be sacrificed in your name.

4) Stay involved, but don’t interfere. (Although there’s more science in scientology than management science.)

5) Trust academics to do good work. (Almost all of them do.)

6) Favour principles, not rules, but follow the rules you have and stop letting power win over truth and reason.

7) Remember that culture trumps system.

8) Stop thinking and speaking in the terms given by the deadly triumvirate: pseudo-intellectuals, neo-liberals and technofuturists.

9) Never again use the word strategy: with whom are you at war?

10) Stop calling people colleagues until you’ve learned to mean it.

Yours,

Homo Academicus

PS. I’m sorry if I’ve written this in something too much like English for your liking, not enough “going forwards”, “high level vision statements” and so forth, but I still use words to reveal, not to obscure.

PPS. Are you remotely troubled that so many academics are resorting to anonymous writing/blogging to say these things?

Ren? Magritte, Golconde, 1953, Restored by Shimon D. Yanowitz, 2009  øðä îàâøéè, âåì÷åðã, 1953, øñèåøöéä ò"é ùîòåï éðåáéõ, 2009

Golconda – René Magritte

This anonymous academic is a professor in the arts and has taught in universities and colleges in Scotland, England and Ireland.

If you’d like to contribute an anonymous piece about the trials and tribulations of university life, contact claire.shaw@theguardian.com.

 —

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Cases of malnutrition continue to soar in the UK

Minnes

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) have released figures that show 391 people died from malnutrition in 2015. There were 746 hospital admissions for malnutrition in just 12 months. The statistics also show two people in the UK are admitted to hospital with the condition every day in what campaigners have called a “national scandal.” 

Health minister Nicola Blackwood confirmed the numbers in a written answer in Parliament.

More than six people a month perish from starvation in England, which is one of the richest nations in the world.  The UK’s biggest food bank network, the Trussell Trust, provided more than a million three-day food packages over the past year, including 415,866 to children.What is worrying is that people may only have this support for a maximum of three days and have to be referred by a professional, such as a doctor or social worker.

Chairman Chris Mould said: It’s a scandal that people living in the sixth largest economy in the world are going hungry, which is why we’re working to engage the public, other charities and politicians from all parties to find solutions to the underlying causes of food poverty.

Our food banks support many thousands of people in various states of hunger.

Some people have been missing meals for days at a time; others have been unable to afford certain food groups or have sacrificed quality for long periods of time to keep costs down.

This, no doubt, has a negative effect on their health – and for people at the extreme end of the scale it will lead to malnutrition.

Every day we meet families across the UK who are struggling to put enough nutritious food on the table and hear from parents who go without food so their children have enough to eat.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “We now have record numbers of people in work and wages rising faster than inflation. 

But we need to go further, which is why we’ve committed to increase the National Living Wage, we’re taking the lowest paid out of income tax and our welfare reforms are ensuring it always pays to work.”

However it seems that “making work pay” is a euphemism for punishing those out of work or those in part-time or low-paid work with absolute poverty. In December 2015, I wrote about research from the Child Poverty Action Group, Oxfam, Church of England and the Trussell Trust which found that failures in the social safety net itself are most often the trigger for food bank referrals.

The report said that while money is tight for many reasons, including bereavement, relationship breakdown, illness or job loss, issues such as sanctions, delays in benefits decisions or payments or being declared “fit for work” led people to turn to food banks for support.

  • Around a third of foodbank users in the sample were waiting for a decision on their benefits – and struggling in the meantime
  • Between 20 and 30% more had their household benefits reduced or stopped because of a sanction

Other factors included loss of income due to the “bedroom tax” or the benefit cap. For between half and two-thirds of the people included in this research, the immediate income crisis was linked to the operation of the benefits system (with problems including waiting for benefit payments, sanctions, or reduction in disability benefits) or tax credit payments.

Amongst this group of people are many that are actually in low-paid work, claiming top-up benefits. The remaining number of people needing support from food banks to meet their most basic need are certainly in work, making a complete mockery of the Department for Work and Pension’s statement.

The research used 40 in-depth interviews with food bank users, data from over 900 users at three food banks around the country, and detailed analysis of nearly 200 clients accessing one food bank in Tower Hamlets. Another academic study said the government’s welfare reformsincluding benefit sanctions and the bedroom tax, are a central factor in the explosion in the numbers of impoverished people turning to charity food banks

The study, part of a three-year investigation into emergency food provision, was carried out by Hannah Lambie-Mumford, a Sheffield University researcher who co-authored a recently published government report into the extent of food aid in the UK.

That report concluded there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear causal link between welfare reform and food bank demand in the UK. This is because the government has refused to make that information available by ensuring the reason for food bank referrals are no longer recorded. But Lambie-Mumford’s study says the rise in demand for charity food is a clear signal “of the inadequacy of both social security provision and the processes by which it is delivered”.

In 2015, more than 2,000 cases of patients with malnutrition were recorded by 43 hospital trusts in a single year.

There were 193 “episodes” of malnutrition in 12 months at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust alone, according to new figures.

Freedom of Information (FOI) figures show a rise of 259 between the 43 trusts compared with three years previously.

With the more recent introduction of more stringent in-work conditionality, including the extension of sanctions to those in part-time and low-paid work, the Conservative’s coercive psychopolitical approach to poverty will invariably make it even more difficult for many more to meet their basic survival needs.

At the same time, in 2014,  Community Links published a study called Just about Surviving which revealed that far from encouraging people on benefits to move into work, the draconian welfare cuts have pushed many further from employment. The report said that the state has reduced welfare support to the point where it barely enables people to survive.

Overwhelmingly, the reforms have made people “feel insecure and vulnerable to even small fluctuations in their small income or circumstance; continuing to erode their resilience.”

Furthermore, by forcing people into stressful situations where day-to-day survival becomes a pressing priority, the “reforms” (that are, in reality, simply cuts to people’s benefits), which were hailed by the Conservatives as a system of help and incentives – to “nudge” people into changing their behaviour so that they try harder to find work – are in fact eroding people’s motivation. In other words, the reforms have deincentivised and hindered people looking for employment, achieving the very opposite to the intent claimed by the Tories, to justify their draconian policies.

The report states that people are caught between trying to escape welfare reform through poor employment alternatives and feeling trapped in poverty. They move in and out of low paid work and are extremely susceptible to financial shocks and unprepared for the future.

In 2014, Oxfam’s director of campaigns and policy, Ben Phillips, said: “Britain is becoming a deeply divided nation, with a wealthy elite who are seeing their incomes spiral up, while millions of families are struggling to make ends meet.”

“It’s deeply worrying that these extreme levels of wealth inequality exist in Britain today, where just a handful of people have more money than millions struggling to survive on the breadline.”

Diseases associated with malnutrition, which were very common in the Victorian era in the UK, became rare with the advent of our welfare state and universal healthcare, but they are now making a reappearance because of the rise of numbers of people living in absolute poverty.

NHS statistics indicate that the number of cases of gout and scarlet fever have almost doubled within five years, with a rise in other illnesses such as scurvy, cholera, whooping cough and general malnutrition. People are more susceptible to infectious illness if they are under-nourished.

In 2013/14, more than 86,000 hospital admissions involved patients who were diagnosed with gout – an increase of 78 per cent in five years, and of 16 per cent on the year before. Causes of gout include a lack of vitamin C in the diet of people who are susceptible.

The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) show a 71 per cent increase in hospital admissions among patients suffering from malnutrition – from 3,900 admissions in 2009-10 to 6,690 admissions in 2013-14.

Cases of scarlet fever admitted to hospital doubled, from 403 to 845, while the number of hospital patients found to be suffering from scurvy also rose, with 72 cases in 2009/10 rising to 94 cases last year.

The figures also show a steep rise in cases diagnosed with cholera, a water-borne disease which was extremely prevalent in the 19th century, causing nearly 40,000 deaths.

The new in-work conditionality regime may eventually apply to around one million more people.

The quantity of food being bought in food stores is also decreasing. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that repressed, stagnant wages and RISING living costs will result in reduced sale volumes. Survation’s research in March 2014 indicates that only four out of every ten of UK workers believe that the country’s economy is recovering.

But we know that the bulk of the Tory austerity cuts were aimed at those least able to afford any cut to their income.

We really must challenge the Conservative’s use of words such as “encourage” and “support” and generally deceptive language use in the context of what are, after all, extremely punitive, coercive  policies. The government intends to continue formulating policies which will punish sick and disabled people, unemployed people, the poorest paid, and part-time workers.

Meanwhile, the collective bargaining traditionally afforded us by trade unions has been systematically undermined by successive Conservative governments, showing clearly how the social risks of the labour market are being personalised and redefined as being solely the economic responsibility of individuals rather than the government and profit-driven big business employers.

 

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Related

Welfare sanctions cannot possibly incentivise people to work

The Coalition are creating poverty via their policies

Welfare sanctions make vulnerable reliant on food banks, says YMCA

Study finds Need For Food Banks IS Caused By Welfare Cuts

It’s absolute poverty, not “market competition” that has led to a drop in food sales.

Welfare reforms, food banks, malnutrition and the return of Victorian diseases are not coincidental, Mr Cameron

The politics of punishment and blame: in-work conditionality

 

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From the Zinoviev letter to the Labour party coup – the real enemy within

incon

Image courtesy of Robert Livingstone 

Last September I wrote about an unusually unbiased BBC World News interview with Crispin Blunt, the (then) Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. The interview highlighted an ongoing crisis of democracy and reflects a broader, longstanding and insidious establishment conflict with the Labour party. Blunt told Stephen Sackur during the interview that the government is not under any obligation to share intelligence information with the (then) new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. 

His comments came just days after a senior serving general, scaremongering anonymously to the Sunday Timessaid Corbyn’s victory had been greeted with “wholesale dismay” in the army. The general said that any plans to scrap Trident, pull out of Nato or announce “any plans to emasculate and shrink the size of the armed forces” will meet fierce opposition. His hint that some in the military planned an illegal seizure of the state if Corbyn wins the next General Election is particularly extraordinary. He said the army would “use whatever means possible, fair or foul to maintain security.”

A coup d’état is an anachronistic and violent method of political engineering that ordinarily happens only in one-party fascist, totalitarian and despotic states, it’s not an event you would expect to see used as a threat in a so-called first world liberal democracy.

Regardless of how far-fetched the threats may seem, that a general feels it’s okay to threaten a coup or “mutiny” against a future left wing government using the mainstream right-wing press as a mouthpiece is a cause for some concern. It’s a symptom of how oppressive the establishment have become, and how apparently acceptable it is to attack, discredit and threaten anyone who presents a challenge and an alternative perspective to the status quo.  

The nameless, gutless and anti-democratic general’s comments reminded me of the Zinoviev letter, and the other subversive plots in the 1960s and 1970s that were engineered by the establishment using the military and intelligence services to destabilise Harold Wilson’s government.

The Labour leader has said that as far as the party is concerned, the UK’s role in Nato is a matter for discussion for the shadow cabinet, the party at large and most importantly, the public. Emily Thornberry announced that there will be a public consultation regarding the value of the UK nuclear deterrent. That is, after all, the democratic thing to do.

The anonymous general claimed that there would be “mass resignations at all levels and you would face the very real prospect of an event which would effectively be a mutiny” if Corbyn became [democratically elected as] prime minister.

The threat, regardless of its authenticity, is undoubtedly part of a broader strategy of tension, designed purposefully to create public alarm – to portray the left as a threat to the well-being of society – and it has continued to reverberate around the media; used as part of an arsenal of pro-establishment, anti-progressive propaganda to discredit Corbyn and the left.  

Mr Blunt told BBC Hardtalk Stephen Sackur that the serving general’s opinion was “inappropriate”, did not reflect the view of the government and that if Jeremy Corbyn were elected prime minister the army like everyone else would have to carry out the instructions of the elected government. 

In the meantime, Blunt said that it was a matter for the government to decide how much access to “privileged information” the leader of the opposition had. There would be no point in passing on such information if it would not “achieve consensus.”

In other words, the government don’t want a critical and democratic dialogue about potential military decisions. They are refusing to include anyone else in crucial political decision-making processes.

Sackur said that as soon as Corbyn was elected, the Conservatives “issued propaganda” suggesting that Corbyn is a threat to national security. He also pointed directly to the government’s fundamental lack of accountability, transparency and democracy in the unprecedented move to refuse to share military and intelligence information, which is conventionally shared with the leader of the opposition.

Blunt simply confirmed Stephen Sackur’s point about the government’s lack of democracy, accountability and transparency.

Sackur exposed the rank hypocrisy of a government that claims to be democratic, yet does not tolerate parties with differing views, nor does it invite or engage in dialogue and critical debate, choosing instead to exercise totalitarian control over what ought to be democratic decision-making, the will and thoughts of others, including the public that a government is meant to serve.

Perhaps a coup in the event of a left wing win in 2020 isn’t so far-fetched in the current oppressive political climate.

You can see the Hardtalk interview here, which is still up on the BBC iPlayer: http://bbc.in/1WgxmXF

From the Zinoviev letter to GBH and Spycatcher: the real enemy within

A scene from Alan Bleasdale’s perceptive GBH, a much misunderstood, darkly comedic series from 1991. Some commentators in the mainstream media at the time portrayed GBH as an indication that Bleasdale had shifted to the right, claiming that he was attempting to discredit the militant left. Many drew purposeful and convenient parallels with Derek Hatton and one of the central characters, Michael Murray.

However, for me there was a deeper, important and far more sinister message, which was not part of the mainstream conversation. Bleasdale’s central theme is an infiltation of the Labour party by MI5, ordered by the Conservative government at the time. Their aim was to recruit, manipulate and indoctrinate local “young bulls” with quasi left wing ideology to have them assist, unknowingly, in destablising and discrediting the Labour party in its entirety.

It’s certainly true that the far right, racism and social conflict always bloom and flourish under Conservative governments.

Fueling social tensions, MI5 agents provocateurs were prepared to use the ethnic communities to foster social division, in the hope of causing riots and ultimately, the hardened right wing thugs (MI5 were eventually revealed as the real thugs here) dismissed the minority groups as collateral damage, a callous, calculated move that was deemed necessary to destroy the Labour party.

MI5 staged a series of violent racist assaults on the city’s ethnic minorities, using hired local hardcases posing as police officers. They “made things happen.” Ultimately to preserve the status quo. In the drama, it’s eventually revealed that the plot to destablise the left involves Britain’s entire intelligence community.

Many felt that Bleasdale was portraying the end of socialism, but if he was, it was ultimately at the hand of the Tories – the real enemy within – not the militant left.

It’s not such a far-fetched “conspiracy theory”, especially in light of other developments, such as Peter Wright’s Spycatcher and Seamas Milne’s work The enemy Within.

The Zinoviev letter – one of the greatest but almost forgotten British political scandals of last century – was forged by a MI6 agent’s source and almost certainly leaked by MI6 or MI5 officers to the Conservative Party, according to an official report published in 1999.

Britain’s most senior security and intelligence officials discussed the smearing of the Labour party just as it was emerging as a major political force according to previously secret documents.

The potential repercussions of attempts by the intelligence agencies to damage the Labour party were debated at length by the little-known Secret Service Committee, later research – now released at the National Archives – shows.

Of course it was not the only time Britain’s intelligence agencies were implicated in attempts to destabilise a Labour government. A group of right wing intelligence officers attempted to destabilise Harold Wilson’s administrations in the 1960s and 70s.

One newly released document at the National Archives is a minute of the Secret Service Committee, dated 11 March 1927. It quotes Sir William Tyrrell, top official at the Foreign Office, referring to a conversation he had with the prime minister, Stanley Baldwin, about politically inspired leaks by the police special branch as well as the security and intelligence agencies.

Baldwin’s main concern, said Tyrrell, was the fear that the political work done at Scotland Yard might at any moment give rise to a scandal, owing to the Labour party obtaining some “plausible pretext to complain that a government department was being employed for party politics.”

On 8 October, 1924, Britain’s first Labour government lost a vote of confidence in the House of Commons. The next day the Foreign Office was evidently sent a copy of a letter, purportedly originally sent from Grigori Zinoviev, the president of Comintern, addressed to the central committee of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The letter urged the party to stir up the British proletariat and the military in preparation for class war.

On 25 October the letter appeared in the heavily Conservative-biased Daily Mail just four days before the election. The political and diplomatic repercussions were immense.

The Daily Mail published a series of sensationalist headlines:

  • Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters
  • Moscow Order to Our Reds
  • Great Plot Disclosed Yesterday
  • Paralyse the Army and Navy
  • Mr. MacDonald Would Lend Russia Our Money

Here is the entire Zinoviev letter:

Very secret

Executive Committee, Third Communist International.

To the Central Committee, British Communist Party.

Presidium, September 15, 1924. Moscow.

Dear Comrades,

The time is approaching for the Parliament of England to consider the Treaty concluded between the Governments of Great Britain and the S.S.S.R. for the purpose of ratification. The fierce campaign raised by the British bourgeoisie around the question shows that the majority of the same, together with reactionary circles, are against the Treaty for the purpose of breaking off an agreement consolidating the ties between the proletariats of the two countries leading to the restoration of normal relations between England and the S.S.S.R.

The proletariat of Great Britain, which pronounced its weighty word when danger threatened of a break-off of the past negotiations, and compelled the Government of MacDonald to conclude the treaty, must show the greatest possible energy in the further struggle for ratification and against the endeavours of British capitalists to compel Parliament to annul it.

It is indispensable to stir up the masses of the British proletariat to bring into movement the army of unemployed proletarians whose position can be improved only after a loan has been granted to the S.S.S.R. for the restoration of her economics and when business collaboration between the British and Russian proletariats has been put in order. It is imperative that the group in the Labour Party sympathising with the Treaty should bring increased pressure to bear upon the Government and Parliamentary circles in favour of the ratification of the Treaty.

Keep close observation over the leaders of the Labour Party, because these may easily be found in the leading strings of the bourgeoisie. The foreign policy of the Labour Party as it is, already represents an inferior copy of the policy of the Curzon Government. Organize a campaign of disclosure of the foreign policy of MacDonald.

The I.K.K.I. (Executive Committee, Third [Communist] International) will willingly place at your disposal the wide material in its possession regarding the activities of British Imperialism in the Middle and Far East. In the meanwhile, however, strain every nerve in the struggle for the ratification of the Treaty, in favour of a continuation of negotiations regarding the regulation of relations between the S.S.S.R. and England.

A settlement of relations between the two countries will assist in the revolutionising of the international and British proletariat not less than a successful rising in any of the working districts of England, as the establishment of close contact between the British and Russian proletariat, the exchange of delegations and workers, etc., will make it possible for us to extend and develop the propaganda of ideas of Leninism in England and the Colonies.

Armed warfare must be preceded by a struggle against the inclinations to compromise which are embedded among the majority of British workmen, against the ideas of evolution and peaceful extermination of capitalism. Only then will it be possible to count upon complete success of an armed insurrection. In Ireland and the Colonies the case is different; there is a national question, and this represents too great a factor for success for us to waste time on a prolonged preparation of the working class.

But even in England, as other countries, where the workers are politically developed, events themselves may more rapidly revolutionise the working masses than propaganda. For instance, a strike movement, repressions by the Government etc.

From your last report it is evident that agitation-propaganda work in the army is weak, in the navy a very little better. Your explanation that the quality of the members attracted justifies the quantity is right in principle, nevertheless it would be desirable to have cells in all the units of the troops, particularly among those quartered in the large centres of the country, and also among factories working on munitions and at military store depots. We request that the most particular attention be paid to these latter.

In the event of danger of war, with the aid of the latter and in contact with the transport workers, it is possible to paralyse all the military preparations of the bourgeoisie, and make a start in turning an imperialist war into a class war. Now more than ever we should be on our guard.

Attempts at intervention in China show that world imperialism is still full of vigour and is once more making endeavours to restore its shaken position and cause a new war, which as its final objective is to bring about the break-up of the Russian Proletariat and the suppression of the budding world revolution, and further would lead to the enslavement of the colonial peoples. ‘Danger of War’, ‘The Bourgeoisie seek War’, ‘Capital fresh Markets’ – these are the slogans which you must familiarise the masses with, with which you must go to work into the mass of the proletariat. These slogans will open to you the doors of comprehension of the masses, will help you to capture them and march under the banner of Communism.

The Military Section of the British Communist Party, so far as we are aware, further suffers from a lack of specialists, the future directors of the British Red Army.

It is time you thought of forming such a group, which together with the leaders, might be in the event of an outbreak of active strife, the brain of the military organisation of the party.

Go attentively through the lists of the military ‘cells’ detailing from them the more energetic and capable men, turn attention to the more talented military specialists who have for one reason or another, left the Service and hold Socialist views. Attract them into the ranks of the Communist Party if they desire honestly to serve the proletariat and desire in the future to direct not the blind mechanical forces in the service of the bourgeoisie, but a national army.

Form a directing operative head of the Military Section.

Do not put this off to a future moment, which may be pregnant with events and catch you unprepared.

Desiring you all success, both in organisation and in your struggle.

With Communist Greetings,

President of the Presidium of the I.K.K.I.

ZINOVIEV

Member of the Presidium: McMANUS

Secretary: KUUSINEN

Some historians say that the letter aided the Conservative party in hastening the collapse of the Liberal party which led to a decisive Conservative victory. Curiously, a now familiar tactic.

Others say the letter was an example of Conservative deceit, which in 1924, enabled Britain’s Conservative party to cheat their way to a general election victory. Personally, I’m inclined to believe the latter. It’s not as if the Conservatives have a history of democratic engagement, transparency, accountability and honesty, after all.

The letter came at a sensitive time in relations between Britain and the Soviet Union, due to the Conservative opposition to the parliamentary ratification of the Anglo-Soviet trade agreement of 8 August 1924.

The publication of the letter was severely embarrassing to Prime Minister James Ramsay MacDonald and his Labour party. The chance of a victory was dashed as the spectre of internal revolution and a government oblivious to the “red peril” dominated the public consciousness, via the media.

MacDonald’s attempts to establish doubt regarding the authenticity of the letter were catastrophically in vain, hampered by the document’s widespread acceptance amongst Tory government officials. MacDonald told his Cabinet he “felt like a man sewn in a sack and thrown into the sea.”

New light on the scandal which triggered the fall of the first Labour government in 1924 is shed in a study by Gill Bennett, chief historian at the Foreign Office, commissioned by Robin Cook in 1998.

Bennett’s investigation implicates Desmond Morton, an MI6 officer and close friend of Churchill who appointed him personal assistant during the second world war, and also points to Major Joseph Ball, an MI5 officer who joined Conservative Central Office in 1926. Ball later went on to be one of the earliest spin doctors – for the Tories.

The exact route of the forged letter to the Daily Mail will probably never be known. There were other possible conduits, including Stewart Menzies, a future head of MI6 who, according to MI6 files, admitted sending a copy to the Mail.

In summary, the letter was purported to be from Grigori Zinoviev, president of the Comintern, the internal communist organisation, called on British communists to mobilise “sympathetic forces” in the Labour party to support an Anglo-Soviet treaty (including a loan to the Bolshevik government) and to encourage “agitation-propaganda” in the armed forces.

As stated, on 25 October, 1924, just four days before the election, the Mail splashed headlines across its front page claiming: Civil War Plot by Socialists’ Masters: Moscow Orders To Our Reds; Great Plot Disclosed. Labour lost the election by a landslide.

Bennett said the letter “probably was leaked from SIS [the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6] by somebody to the Conservative Party Central Office.” She named Major Ball and Mr Morton, who was responsible for assessing agents’ reports.

“I have my doubts as to whether he thought it was genuine but [Morton] treated it as if it was,” she said.

She described MI6 as being at the centre of the scandal, although it was impossible to say whether the head of MI6, Admiral Hugh Sinclair, was involved.

Bennett also said there was “no evidence of a conspiracy” in what she called “the institutional sense.”

But there was no evidence that refuted such a conspiracy either. The security and intelligence community at the time consisted of a “very, very incestuous circle, an elite network” who went to school together. Their allegiances, she says in her report, “lay firmly in the Conservative camp.”

Bennett had full access to secret files held by MI6 (though some have been destroyed) and MI5. She also saw Soviet archives in Moscow before writing her 128-page study. The files show the forged Zinoviev letter was widely circulated, including to senior army officers, to inflict maximum damage on the Labour government.

She found no evidence to identify the name of the forger. The report says there is no hard evidence that MI6 agents in Riga were directly responsible – though it is known they had close contacts with White Russians – or that the letter was commissioned in response to British intelligence services’ “uneasiness about its prospects under a re-elected Labour government.”

The report does not tie up loose ends. But by putting a huge amount of material into the public domain, it at least allows people to make up their own minds. Important questions remain, and may always go unanswered – such as who actually forged the letter.

However, if Bennett is right in her suggestion that MI6 chiefs did not set up the forgery, her report claims that MI6 deceived the Foreign Office by asserting it did know who the source was – a deception it used to insist, wrongly, that the Zinoviev letter was genuine.

Bennett claims that we cannot conclude the scandal brought down Ramsay Macdonald’s government, which had already lost a confidence vote and Liberal support on which it depended was disappearing.

“In electoral terms,” she says, “the impact of the Zinoviev letter on Labour was more psychological than measurable.”

I don’t agree.

Firstly, I think that it’s a fairly safe and balanced conclusion that the Intelligence Services lack diversity, with a strong tendency to recruit staunch establishmentarians. The impact was calculated to be measurable. Secondly, the media has always exercised enormously heavy influence on voters, I find it a little odd that such a connection was deemed insignificant. Especially given the wide use of black propaganda, very evident at the time.

Besides, this isn’t an isolated event, and there does appear to be an established relationship between Conservative governments and the secret services staging persistent attempts at “destabilising,” discrediting and smearing the left. And the media.

Fast-forward to more recent events, and low and behold, the mainstream media are still feeding us the fear-mongering and pseudo-warnings of an “evil Communist threat.” Last year we heard how the late Ralph Miliband “influenced” his son, “Red Ed,”  with the media claiming that the then Labour leader’s policies are founded on a “legacy of evil” and a “poisonous creed.” That’s once again according to the very pro-establishment, corrupt Daily Mail, of course. (See also: Tory Fascist Lie Machine The Daily Mail Has Met Its Match.) Same old tactics.

Miliband had established the International Anti-Austerity Alliance to challenge the neoliberal consensus, his progressive tax proposals and promise to implement the Leveson recommendations chafed the establishment’s ass.

The Comintern and Soviet government vehemently and consistently denied the authenticity of the document. Grigori Zinoviev issued a denial on 27 October 1924 (two days before the election), which was finally published in the December 1924 issue of The Communist Review, considerably well after the MacDonald government had fallen.

Zinoviev declared:

“The letter of 15th September, 1924, which has been attributed to me, is from the first to the last word, a forgery. Let us take the heading. The organisation of which I am the president never describes itself officially as the “Executive Committee of the Third Communist International”; the official name is “Executive Committee of the Communist International.” Equally incorrect is the signature, “The Chairman of the Presidium.” The forger has shown himself to be very stupid in his choice of the date. On the 15th of September, 1924, I was taking a holiday in Kislovodsk, and, therefore, could not have signed any official letter. […]

It is not difficult to understand why some of the leaders of the Liberal-Conservative bloc had recourse to such methods as the forging of documents. Apparently they seriously thought they would be able, at the last minute before the elections, to create confusion in the ranks of those electors who sincerely sympathise with the Treaty between England and the Soviet Union. It is much more difficult to understand why the English Foreign Office, which is still under the control of the Prime Minister, MacDonald, did not refrain from making use of such a white-guardist forgery.”

Peter Wright, a former MI5 officer, showed in Spycatcher – a candid autobiography – how elements in his agency worked against the Wilson government in the 1970s.

Despite the Thatcher government’s attempts to prevent publication, the book gained worldwide attention. MI5’s own archives have shown there was a “permanent file” on the Labour leader throughout his time in office. He is the only serving prime minister to have a permanent Secret Service file.

MI5 opened the dossier in 1945 when Mr Wilson became an MP after communist civil servants suggested he had similar “political sympathies.”

His file was so secret that he was given the pseudonym Norman John Worthington.

Sir Michael Hanley, MI5 director general from 1972, went to even greater lengths to conceal its existence by removing it from the central index, meaning any search would result in a “no trace.”

Personal permission from Sir Michael was required to access it.

This is backed up by corroborating interviews with senior figures at the time.

These events unfolded at a time when the establishment, from the intelligence services down to parts of Fleet Street, were paranoid about the “threat of communism.” So paranoid it seems they were prepared to believe a prime minister of Britain was an active Soviet spy.

At a time of continuing Cold War tensions, industrial unrest was rife, the country had suffered power cuts and a three-day working week and in 1975 the government was being warned privately that the consequences would be severe if it could not curb inflation.

Whilst some on the hard left believed revolution was imminent, former military figures, angry at the extent of union control, were building private armies, in preparation for the coming conflict, according to the then BBC investigative journalist Barrie Penrose. (Penrose co-authored The Pencourt File with another journalist, Roger Courtiour.)

Meetings with Wilson were secretly recorded in 1976 by both the journalists (Penrose and Courtiour) weeks after his shock departure from Number 10.

“Wilson spoke darkly of two military coups which he said had been planned to overthrow his government in the late 1960s and in the mid 1970s,” Penrose writes.

Wilson told the journalists they “should investigate the forces that are threatening democratic countries like Britain.”

In his book, Peter Wright also tells of a plot to force Wilson’s resignation by MI5 agents who were convinced he was a Communist spy. Wright’s account is often dismissed as an exaggeration, but fresh evidence of plots surfaced in 2006.

Penrose says that witnesses confirm such plotting “wasn’t in the fevered imagination of an embittered ex-PM.”

Writing about the drama documentary The Plot Against Harold Wilson, shown on BBC Two at 21:00 on Thursday 16 March, 2006, Penrose concludes:

“You may ask, at the end of the programme, how much of it can be believed. My view now, as it was then, is that Wilson was right in his fears…. in answer to the question ‘how close did we come to a military government’ I can only say – closer than we’d ever be content to think.”


Harold Wilson, Aneurin Bevan, Ian Mikardo, Tom Driberg and Barbara Castle of the Keep Left Group (1951)

Chris Mullins, a former Foreign Office minister and author, writes:

“By the time A Very British Coup was published, in 1982, the political climate was even more propitious. Prompted by the imminent arrival of cruise missiles, CND demonstrations were attracting crowds in excess of 200,000. The establishment was getting so twitchy that, as we later learned, Michael Heseltine had set up a special unit in the Ministry of Defence to counter the impact of CND.

The US was getting twitchy too. When A Very British Coup was published I was editor of the political weekly Tribune, and we were selling the book by mail order through the paper. A few days after the first advert appeared we were intrigued to receive an order from the US embassy. We duly dispatched a copy and waited to see what would happen next. We did not have to wait long.

An invitation arrived to lunch with the minister, the most important man at the embassy after the ambassador. He even sent his bullet-proof Cadillac to Tribune’s modest headquarters in Gray’s Inn Road to convey me to his mansion in Kensington.

At first I assumed that I was one of a number of guests, but no: there was just the minister, two of his colleagues, an Asian butler and myself.

“Why are you interested in a minnow like me?” I inquired.

“I reckon,” he drawled, “that you are among the top 1,000 opinion formers in the country.”

“Well, I must be about number 999.”

“The other 999 have been here too.”

A year or two later I received from an anonymous source an envelope posted in Brussels. It contained an internal US state department memorandum addressed to US diplomats in London listing a number of questions they were to put to “authorised contacts” in London regarding the balance of power within the Labour party and opinion regarding the US bases in general and the impending arrival of cruise missiles in particular. Although, in retrospect, we can see they had no cause for concern, there is no doubt that alarm bells were ringing in Washington.

A Very British Coup attracted attention elsewhere too. It was helpfully denounced in the correspondence columns of the Times, and as a result sales in Hatchards of Piccadilly almost matched those at the leftwing bookshop Collets. (When it comes to selling books, a high-profile denunciation is worth half a dozen friendly reviews and I have always done my best to organise one).

Thereafter interest might have faded, but for events conspiring to make it topical. In August 1985 the Observer revealed that an MI5 officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stoneham, was to be found in room 105 at Broadcasting House. His job? Stamping upturned Christmas trees on the personnel files of BBC employees he deemed to be unsuitable for promotion. Students of A Very British Coup will know that my head of MI5, Sir Peregrine Craddock, was also vetting BBC employees. What’s more, he also had a spy on the general council of CND – and in due course the MI5 defector Cathy Massiter revealed that there had indeed been such a spy. His name was Harry Newton.

Finally, in 1987 Peter Wright, a retired MI5 officer, caused a sensation with his claim that he and a group of MI5 colleagues had plotted to undermine the Wilson government. Suddenly the possibility that the British establishment might conspire with its friends across the Atlantic to destabilise the elected government could no longer be dismissed as leftwing paranoia.”

The Enemy Within

Margaret Thatcher branded Arthur Scargill and the other leaders of the 1984-5 miners’ strike the enemy within. With the publication of Seumas Milne’s bestselling book a decade later, the full irony of that accusation became clear. There was an enemy within. But it was not the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that was out to subvert liberty. It was the secret services of the British state – operating inside the NUM itself.

Seumas Milne reveals the astonishing lengths to which the government and its intelligence machine were prepared to go to destroy the power of Britain’s miners’ union. Using phoney bank deposits, staged cash drops, forged documents, agents provocateurs and unrelenting surveillance, MI5 and police Special Branch set out to discredit Scargill and other miners’ leaders.

Now we know that the Tory prime minister intended to extend the charge of seditious insurrection, not only to left wing Labour councils in Liverpool and London resisting cuts in services, but against the Labour party as a whole.

Planted tales of corruption were seized on by the media and both Tory and Labour politicians in what became an unprecedentedly savage smear campaign. This is one of the UK’s most important post-war class confrontations. We are currently facing another in the form of a battle for the heart and soul of the Labour party – Corbyn has come to represent for many among the working classes that very heart and soul, still beating strongly under a gangrened body of neoliberal apologists and class traitors.. 

Milne has highlighted the continuing threat posed by the security services to democracy today.

Milne describes the Conservative government’s systematic resort to anti-democratic measures to break the resistance of Britain’s most powerful union: from the use of the police and security services to infiltrate and undermine the miners’ union to the manipulation of the courts and media to discredit and tie the hands of its leaders.

He says:

“A decade after the strike, I called the book I wrote about that secret war against the miners “The Enemy Within”, because the phrase turned out to have multiple layers of meaning. As the evidence has piled up with each new edition, the charge that Thatcher laid at the door of the National Union of Mineworkers can in fact be seen to fit her own government’s use of the secret state far better.

It wasn’t just the militarised police occupation of the coalfields; the 11,000 arrests, deaths, police assaults, mass jailings and sackings; the roadblocks, fitups and false prosecutions – most infamously at the Orgreave coking plant where an orgy of police violence in June 1984 was followed by a failed attempt to prosecute 95 miners for riot on the basis of false evidence.

It’s that under the prime minister’s guidance, MI5, police Special Branch, GCHQ and the NSA were mobilised not only to spy on the NUM on an industrial scale, but to employ agents provocateurs at the highest level of the union, dirty tricks, slush funds, false allegations, forgeries, phoney cash deposits and multiple secretly sponsored legal actions to break the defence of the mining communities.

In the years since, Thatcher and her former ministers and intelligence mandarins have defended such covert action by insisting the NUM leaders were “subversive” because they wanted to bring down the government. Which of course they did – but “legitimately,” as Scargill remarked recently, by bringing about a general election – as took place in the wake of the successful coal strike of 1974.

In reality, as 50 MPs declared when some of these revelations first surfaced, Thatcher’s government and its security apparatus were themselves guilty of the mass “subversion of democratic liberties”. And, as the large-scale malpractices of police undercover units have driven home in the past couple of years, their successors are still at it today.”


The insidious threat to democracy is still very real, hidden in plain view. And plain clothes.

File:MI5 crest and logo.png

See also:

Wilson, MI5 and the rise of Thatcher – Lobster

Bugger – Adam Curtis

How Covert Agents Infiltrate the Internet to Manipulate, Deceive, and Destroy Reputations – Glenn Greenwald

Controversial GCHQ Unit Engaged in Domestic Law Enforcement, Online Propaganda, Psychology Research – Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman

Think the idea of UK leftie movements being infiltrated is all a conspiracy theory? Here are some of the times it’s actually happened – Raphael Schlembach


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UK government is trialing the use of virtual food voucher-styled currency as social security payments

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Smart Cards entered our collective consciousness during autumn 2012, as Iain Duncan Smith declared his intention to discipline Britain’s “troubled” families. In unveiling his proposals at the Conservative Conference back in October 2012, Duncan Smith attempted to frame the cards as better value for taxpayers’ money, implying that poor people don’t pay taxes, (when the poorest actually pay proportionally more) and his rhetoric was extremely stigmatising.

He said: I am looking […] at ways in which we could ensure that money we give [benefit claimants] to support their lives is not used to support a certain lifestyle.”  [Boldings mine.]

Then MP Alex Shelbrooke presented his private member’s bill in December 2012, providing us with yet another shuddering glimpse into the underlying Tory moral outrage, prejudice and punitive attitudes towards people claiming benefits. He argued for a “welfare cash card” to limit spending to absolute basics. Isn’t welfare provision as it is just enough to cover the absolute basics for survival? It’s calculated to meet the cost of food, fuel and shelter only.

Despite his scapegoating narrative about addressing “idleness”, Shelbrooke’s proposal  was intended to apply to those in work, who claim benefits such as tax credits and housing benefit, penalising and outgrouping those on a minimum or low wage, also. The plan was to restrict the goods that people claiming benefits could buy with their cards. Not so much offering a “nudge” or “incentive”, but rather, a bludgeoning enforcement. 

Government proposals: virtual food vouchers and automated nudge

Earlier this year, the government set out proposals in a report regarding how Blockchain Technologies’ distributed ledger technology which provides “efficient and transparent” digital records of cryptocurrency transactions, could be used for public services. In their report called Distributed Ledger Technology: Beyond block chain, the government’s scientific advisor says:

“Distributed ledger technology (DLTs) offer significant challenges to established orthodoxy and assumptions of best practice, far beyond the recording of transactions and ledgers. These potentially revolutionary organisational structures and practices should be experimentally trialed — perhaps in the form of technical and non-technical demonstrator projects — so that practical, legal and policy implications can be explored.”

“Areas where we believe work could be taken forward include the protection of national infrastructure, reducing market friction for SMEs [Small and medium-sized enterprises] and the distribution of funds from Department for Work and Pensions and other government departments.” [Boldings mine.]

A distributed ledger is a database that can record financial, physical or electronic assets for sharing across a network through what is claimed to be entirely transparent updates of information.

Its first incarnation was Blockchain in 2008, which underpinned digital cash systems such as Bitcoin. The technology has now evolved into a variety of models that may be applied to different business problems.

Speaking at Payments Innovation Conference earlier this month, Lord Freud, one of the main architects of the welfare “reforms” said:

“Claimants are using an app on their phones through which they are receiving and spending their benefit payments. With their consent, their transactions are being recorded on a distributed ledger to support their financial management.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been working withBarclays, Npower, University College London and a UK-based distributed ledger platform startup called GovCoin to create an app which tracks people’s benefit spending

The ongoing trial which, is designed to demonstrate “the practical applications of the technology,” began in June. It’s another Conservative experiment on people claiming social security.

Jeremy Wilson, the vice chairman of corporate banking at Barclays, said: “This initiative focuses on adding an additional layer of richer data and identity onto payments, so that a deeper and more effective relationship can be established between the government and claimants.”

I wonder exactly what that “effective relationship” will entail? I bet it’s not one based on mutual respect and democratic dialogue. I also wonder if the Department for Work and Pensions will be issuing people who have no income with Smart phones. 

How will the collected information on spending be used? Are we going to see people claiming social security being named and shamed for buying Mars bars, a bottle of wine or a book? Or birthday and Christmas presents for their children? Will the state be sanctioning people that make purchases which the government deems “unnecessary”? 

He added: “We are keen to see how the positive potential of this service develops and adds to our wider efforts to explore the uses of distributed ledger technology.”

Distributed ledger technology was identified as a way of potentially “saving billions of pounds a year from welfare fraud and overpayment errors.“

Oh, that whoppingly over-inflated  0.7% of claimants again. Just imagine how many trillions we would save if we used technology to get a grip of tax avoidance. 

The technology is hoped to provide a cheap and easy way of getting welfare claimants without bank accounts into the system as well as verifying their identities, and would also provide a “transparent account of how public money was spent, transform the delivery of public services and boost productivity,” the government’s chief science adviser, Sir Mark Walport, said in a report last January. Those same words are used every time vulture capitalists are circling a public service.

Walport said: “Distributed ledger technology has the potential to transform the delivery of public and private services.” More words from the vulture capitalist crib sheet of glittering generalities.

“It has the potential to redefine the relationship between government and the citizen in terms of data sharing, transparency and trust and make a leading contribution to the government’s digital transformation plan.”

The government distributes £3.8bn in payments every day. However, there are some concerns over how protection of data and privacy with the technology will be “managed.”

The Open Data Institute welcomed the findings on the whole. However, it warned that the government must be wary of the challenges involved in blockchain technology and apply it in an effective way. They say: “We agree that blockchains could be used to build confidence in government services, through public auditability, and could also be used for widely distributed data collection and publishing, such as supply chain information. Smart contracts also hold great potential; what if your train tickets were smart contracts that meant you paid less for delayed trains?” 

Smart cards and smart contracts, the more things change, the more the Tories stay the same.

Further: “However, in our research we have seen cases where people are trying to bolt old, failed or impossible policy and business ideas onto the new technology or to unnecessarily reinvent things that work perfectly well.”

The institute also warned of the privacy issues raised by incorporating private data and suggested the government better develop and solve these challenges by focusing on industry specific groups such as the finance or healthcare sectors.

Having failed in introducing the punitive smart card more than once, the Conservatives are now resorting to a stealthy introduction of a variation to curtail the freedom of poor people claiming social security, using cryptocurrency, state regulation and an unprecedented, Orwellian level of state monitoring and control of what people who are struggling to make ends meet are buying. 

Some further thoughts

Conservatives claim to endorse personal responsibility, limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and deregulation, amongst other things. They believe the role of government should be to provide people the freedom necessary to pursue their own goals. Conservatives claim their policies generally emphasise “empowerment of the individual to solve problems”. So how does any of this tally with harsh welfare cuts, public service cuts, restrictions on the right to by certain goods, the removal of access to legal aid, limiting housing options for the poorest, bedroom tax, numerous human rights contraventions, psychocompulsion through increasingly stringent welfare “conditionality” and  the draconian sanction regime, for example?

Limiting “consumer choice” and spending flies in the face of the Tories’ own free market dogma. Furthermore, as it stands legally, the government cannot currently stipulate how people claiming benefits spend their money.

The Tory definition of “troubled family” conflates poverty, ill health, unemployment and criminality. Iain Duncan Smith claims to be targeting substance abusers (“drug addicts” and “alcoholics”) but it’s clear that the government’s definition means he’s referring largely to the poor and disabled people. His proposal to deal with people who don’t buy their children food because they’re “drug addicted” would actually target people who don’t buy food because they can’t afford it.

 

 

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This was taken from a longer article: State-regulated cryptocurrency and micro-managing people claiming welfare

 



This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.