Category: Political ideology

The self-declared ‘most transparent government in history’ is editing history

A general view of the main entrance of the National Archives in Kew, London

In 2013, The Guardian revealed that Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) had illegally withheld 1.2 million (later revised to 600,000) historic documents from the public, in flagrant breach of the UK Public Records Act. The documents – which include the desk diary of Soviet spy Donald Maclean; case files from Nazi persecution compensation claims; and masses of material removed from Hong Kong – were being held at Hanslope Parka secret, high-security compound in Buckinghamshire that the FCO shares with intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6.

Now documents concerning the Falklands war, Northern Ireland’s ‘Troubles’ and the infamous Zinoviev letter – in which MI6 officers plotted to bring about the downfall of the first Labour government – are all said to have been ‘misplaced’, too.

The Conservatives do like their purges. Back in 2013, they travelled beyond the acceptable into an Orwellian realm and wiped a decade of speeches from the internet, rewriting their own history.

It seems an entire file on the Zinoviev letter scandal is claimed to have been ‘lost’ after Home Office civil servants ‘took it away’. The Home Office declined to say why it was taken or when or how it was lost. Nor would its say whether any copies had been made.

Not to worry, though. In 2015 I made a copy of the Zinoviev letter in full, here.

Other missing files include those concerning the controversial British colonial administration in Palestine, tests on polio vaccines and long-running territorial disputes between the UK and Argentina.

Almost 1,000 files, each thought to contain dozens of papers, are claimed to be ‘lost’. In most cases, the entire file is said to have been ‘mislaid’ after being removed from public view at the archives and taken back to Whitehall.

In other cases, papers from within files have been carefully selected and taken away.

For example, Foreign Office officials removed a few papers in 2015 from a file concerning the 1978 murder of Georgi Markov, a dissident Bulgarian journalist who died after being shot in the leg with a tiny pellet containing ricin while crossing Waterloo Bridge in central London. The Foreign Office subsequently told the National Archives that the papers taken were nowhere to be found.

After being questioned by the Guardian, Foreign Office said it had managed to locate most of the papers and return them to the archives. A couple, however, are still missing. The Foreign Office declined to say why it had taken the papers, or whether it had copies.

Other files the National Archives has listed as ‘misplaced while on loan to government department’ include one concerning the activities of the Communist party of Great Britain at the height of the cold war; another detailing the way in which the British government took possession of Russian government funds held in British banks after the 1917 revolution; an assessment for government ministers on the security situation in Northern Ireland in the early 1970s; and three files about defence agreements between the UK and newly independent Malaya in the late 1950s, shortly before the two countries went to war with Indonesia.

The disappearances of these documents highlights the ease with which government departments can commandeer official papers long after they have been declassified and made available to historians and the public at the archives at Kew, south-west London.

A Freedom of Information Act request in 2014 showed that 9,308 files were returned to government departments in this way in 2011. The following year 7,122 files were loaned out, and 7,468 in 2013. The National Archives says Whitehall departments are strongly encouraged to promptly return them, but apparently, they are not under any obligation to do so.

A spokesperson said “The National Archives regularly sends lists to government departments of files that they have out on loan. If we are notified that a file is missing, we do ask what actions have been done and what action is being taken to find the file.”

Some historians have been particularly distrustful of the Foreign Office since 2013, following the Guardian disclosure that the department had been unlawfully hoarding 1.2m historical files at the high-security compound near Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.

The hoard came to light during high court proceedings brought by a group of elderly Kenyans who were detained and abused during the Mau Mau insurgency in 1950s Kenya, when the Foreign Office admitted it had withheld thousands of colonial-era files.

A few years earlier, the Ministry of Defence refused to consider a number of files for release under the Freedom of Information Act on the grounds that they ‘may have been exposed to asbestos’.

The files concerned such matters as arms sales to Saudi Arabia, UK special forces operations against Indonesia and interrogation techniques. The Ministry of Defense denied it was using the presence of asbestos in an old archive building as an excuse to suppress the documents.

Dr Tristram Hunt MP, the historian and MP who sits on the all–party Parliamentary group on archives and history, said: “To have areas of the national memory erased like this is worrying.” He plans to table written questions to Lord McNally, the Justice Minister with responsibility for The National Archives, to ask about the documents.

He said: “I’m hopeful it’s a temporary aberration. These things do get lost and come back to life.

“History is an asset in this country. It’s a natural resource, like oil. We have a lot of it and we need to take care of it.”

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett said: “The ‘loss’ of documents about controversial periods in history is unacceptable.

“The British people deserve to know what the Government has done in their name and their loss will only fuel accusations of a cover up.

“These important historical documents may be a great loss to history – and their disappearance must urgently be investigated.”

With a straight face, a Government spokesman said: “This is the most transparent Government in history and we are committed to making public as many records as possible, while balancing the need to protect the small amount of information that remains sensitive.

“Last year 95 per cent of government records that were transferred to the National Archives were made public and since 2013 the Government has doubled the amount of material it reviews and releases each year, as we honour our commitment of releasing documents after 20 years.”

However, the record number of files withheld from release to the National Archives, along with those apparently ‘disappeared’ ought to raise serious concerns about the government’s approach to democratic accountability and transparency. 

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. However you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.


DonatenowButton

Advertisements

Tory MP David Morris denies citizens accounts of the devastating impact of Tory policies

This is part of the second of two special reports. ITV Granada Correspondent Daniel Hewitt investigates the rise of in-work poverty in the North West of England. You can watch the first report here.

The Conservatives have, on more than one occasion, tried to pass off evidence regarding the negative impacts of their policies as ‘anecdotal’ or as politically ‘biased’.  

Conservative MP David Morris has attempted to deny the accounts of rickets and  children going hungry because of poverty, saying claims are from schools ‘with links to leftwing group Momentum.’

Of course this approach also entails attempting to discredit dedicated public servants and constituents who dare to criticise government policies that are causing harm. 

A report by ITV earlier this week showed teachers at more than one school explaining that they had to wash their pupils’ uniforms because their families couldn’t afford to pay the electricity bills. The report was very widely shared on social media.  

West End primary school reported that teachers sometimes gave coats and shoes to pupils whose parents could not provide them.

Meanwhile, a local GP spoke of treating children for rickets, a condition not seen commonly in the UK since before the development of the welfare state.

It’s clear that welfare provision is no longer adequate in alleviating absolute poverty, which is usually seen in only in developing countries. The welfare ‘reforms’ have systematically reduced the amounts provided for people to meet their basic living costs, such as for food, fuel, clothing and shelter. 

However, Morris, who is the MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, responded to the reports by posting a call for social services to investigate on Facebook. He wrote: “These claims are not those being experienced by myself or the jobcentre in the area and I would urge anyone affected to book an appointment with the staff at Morecambe jobcentre to assess if they are receiving all of the benefits they are entitled to.” 

Morris added that the claims “always seem to emanate from the same primary schools and Ash Trees surgery in Carnforth”.

Dr David Wrigley of Ash Trees Surgery issued this comment on Twitter: 

“As a senior GP partner at Ash Trees Surgery (mentioned by my own MP Mr Morris in his statement) I can categorically state we have NO links to Momentum as he has stated. I would ask Mr Morris to provide solid evidence of this accusation or withdraw his remark.”

The Morecambe and Lunesdale Labour party said in a statement that Morris “does not see what is happening on his own watch because on the rare occasions he is here, he refuses to engage with the community and attacks teachers and doctors for being ‘politicised’.”

A spokeswoman for the party said: “In the age of the internet, MPs should use social media to establish meaningful dialogues with their constituents.

“For a long time now, Morris has blocked and banned from his Facebook page those who voice their concerns regarding things that happen in our constituency and speak out about the government’s policies, which he supports. However, Mr Morris has gone beyond blocking and banning his aggrieved constituents and now frequently accuses those who criticise him of being trolls or part of coordinated campaigns against him, often using parliamentary privilege to do so.”

The spokeswoman added that Morris was “yet to provide a shred of evidence to back up his accusations and continues to refuse to acknowledge the genuine concerns of his constituents”.

Morris later told ITV: “I’ve not got issues with the report that you’ve run, I’m just questioning the validity of it … [the schools featured] have very strong links to Momentum, and to be quite frank, all the indicators from Ofsted say that the child poverty at that school is absolutely no different to any other in the country.”

Actually, that last part should worry him, because it indicates a widespread problem at a national level. 

As for ‘questioning the validity of it’, well the Conservatives do that with every single piece of research that shows their policy in an unfavorable light. Yet study after study have found pretty much the same thing: that people don’t have enough money to meet their most fundamental needs, including many of those in work

The Conservatives have closed many Sure Start centres, despite the fact that the Sure Start programme was a groundbreaking success. A commitment to supporting families in the early years of their children’s development shouldn’t have been revolutionary, but it was. When the Labour government announced Sure Start in 1998, the programme was targeted at the poorest 20% of wards in England. From there it grew into a network of 4,000 children’s centres across the country, each dedicated to improving the life chances of young children and the wellbeing of families. 

The children’s centres offered employment support, health advice, childcare, parenting help – unified service delivery designed to prevent isolation and, ultimately, to reduce the gaps between rich and poor children which, as a growing body of evidence shows, often go on to define lives.

Now, after almost 7 years of Tory government, it’s hard to imagine what it would feel like were a prime minister to announce a new, universal service designed to reduce poverty and inequality. Instead, the current government seems happy to reverse the social progress made by the Sure Start programme.

By April of last year, nearly a quarter of all Sure Start children’s centres had closed; 156 centres closed in 2015 – almost twice as many as in the previous year. This is unforgivable and tragic because Sure Start worked. A study by Oxford University revealed by the Department for Education just before Christmas was the most detailed ever conducted on the impact of children’s centres – and it found the centres benefited parents and families who regularly attended classes in poorer areas, contributing to less disruptive home lives, better maternal mental health, and improved social skills among children and adults.

Just 4 months ago, Learndirect, the UK’s largest adult training provider, blamed the government’s austerity programme for its failure to meet the education regulator’s minimum quality standards.

Morris claims that “all the indicators from Ofsted say that the child poverty at that school is absolutely no different to any other in the country.” However, Ofsted don’t provide evidence of variations in levels of poverty in their annual report at all. The only comment made by Ofsted relating to poverty was an acknowledgement that schools under-performed and had some difficulty improving their educational standards in areas with acknowledged high levels of deprivation.

It was noted that there is a correlation between high levels of deprivation and educational under-performance, but there was no comparison undertaken between the levels of deprivation in each Local Authority area. So Morris’s reasoning there is fundamentally flawed.

In fact the National Education Union commented on the latest Ofsted report – produced this month – saying: “[…] Ofsted as the Chief Inspector of Education should take Government to task over this. Teachers can do what they can do within schools but it is Government that is missing child poverty reduction targets, presiding over increases in  poverty and failing to produce a decent industrial strategy. 

Conservative ministers wanted to remove a statutory duty to publish levels of UK household income as part of the welfare reform, since 2013, but have been forced to accept, after a battle last year with the House of Lords, that the material deprivation measures should remain protected. The Conservatives had cynically argued for changing the criteria of childhood poverty targets in a way that did not relate to family income. However, poverty IS related to a lack of income that is necessary to meet basic needs.

The government wanted assessments which reflected traditional Conservative prejudices. They wanted to include ‘the number of households with parents in long-term relationships and households where parents were addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling for example.’ Yet research shows that substance misuse is not correlated with poverty.

The government suffered a defeat in the Lords after peers pushed through an amendment forcing the Conservatives to retain four established indicators, including income, which use official statistics to track and monitor relative and absolute poverty.

It’s difficult not to see the Conservatives’ original proposed changes to what was an anticipation of worsening child poverty figures as a cynical move. It was at the time widely perceived as an attempt to mask the impact of equally widely anticipated cuts to tax credits and to other forms of essential welfare support. 

Poverty and social exclusion: social immobility 

The government has attempted to defend its commitment to improving social mobility for the most disadvantaged people, despite the recent resignation of the entire social mobility commission board, but when pressed, Conservative ministers struggled to name any proposals recommended by the body that had been adopted in the past year. The Conservatives have consistently failed to acknowledge, despite all their rhetoric about ‘meritocracy’, that social mobility is a product of favorable and accommodating economic and social structures. The austerity programme that was aimed disproportionately at the poorest citizens has not facilitated social mobility. Instead it has extended inequality of opportunities, as well as widening material inequality.

In his resignation letter, Alan Milburn says:

“The need for political leadership in this area [social mobility] has never been more pressing. Social mobility is one of the biggest challenges facing our country today. It is not just the poorest in society who are losing out. Whole communities and parts of Britain are being left behind economically and hollowed out socially. The growing sense that we have become an “us and them” society is deeply corrosive of our cohesion as a nation. As the commission’s work has demonstrated, the 20th-century expectation that each generation would do better than the last is no longer being met. At a time when more and more people are feeling that Britain is becoming more unfair, rather than less, social mobility matters more than ever.

While the government seems unable to devote the necessary energy and focus to the social mobility agenda, I have been heartened that others in civil society – from local councils to major employers – are actively embracing it. So I will be establishing a new social mobility institute, independent of the government and political parties, to take forward the practical work that is needed to make a reality of my belief in a fairer, more open, more mobile society in Britain.”

As an emblem of this government’s antipathy to genuinely improving opportunity, it is forecast that record levels of  child poverty will be reached on its watch; the inevitable product of savage cuts in support for low-income working families by around a thousands of pounds a year and those cuts made to people out of work, including disabled people – the cuts that are funding expensive tax cuts which benefit the most affluent.

Many charities have complained they have been silenced from criticising Conservative social policy despite the fact they are hugely damaging. 

Increasing authoritarianism

The Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill – a controversial legislation introduced in 2014 – heavily restricts charities and other organisations from intervening on policy during an election period. However, the legislation has been used to effectively stifle legitimate criticism of damaging policies.

Earlier this year, for example, the Prime Minister launched an attack at the British Red Cross after its chief executive claimed his organisation was responding to a ‘humanitarian crisis’ in hospitals and ambulance services. Theresa May accused the organisation of making comments that were ‘irresponsible and overblown.’ Yet the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Physicians and Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England, had all issued warnings about the increasing pressures on health services.

It’s not the only time the Conservatives have tried to gag charities for highlighting the dire impacts of their policies. In 2014, Conservative MPs reported Oxfam to the Charity Watchdog for campaigning against poverty. I guess the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had better watch it, too. What next, will they be reporting the NSPCC for campaigning for children’s welfare?

The Oxfam campaign that sent the Conservatives into an indignant rage and to the charity watchdog to complain was an appeal to ALL political parties to address growing poverty. Oxfam cited some of the causes of growing poverty in the UK, identified through meticulous research.

'Lifting the lid on austerity Britain reveals a perfect storm - and it's forcing more and more people into poverty' tweeted Oxfam

The Oxfam poster that caused a storm among the Conservatives

Conservative MP Priti Patel must have felt that the Conservatives are exempt from this appeal, due to being the architects of the policies that have led to a growth in poverty and inequality, when she said: “With this Tweet they have shown their true colours and are now nothing more than a mouthpiece for left-wing propaganda.”

I’m wondering when concern for poverty and the welfare of citizens became the sole concern of ‘the left-wing’. That comment alone speaks volumes about the indifference and prejudices of the Conservatives. 

Another  Conservative, MP, Charlie Elphicke, branded the campaign post as a: “shameful abuse of taxpayers’ money,” while Priti Patel went on to accuse Oxfam of “behaving disgracefully.

Therese Coffey, used a favorite Conservative response and accused Oxfam of using: “anecdote to create alarmist generalisations.” Since when is empirical evidence ‘anecdotal’? The increasingly remote Conservative government also label everyone who challenges their ideology and spin on policy as ‘scaremongers’.  

It’s impossible to discuss poverty without reference to its root cause, and that invariably involves reference to government policies. 

Ben Phillips, Oxfam campaigns and policy director, responded:

“Oxfam is a resolutely non-party political organisation – we have a duty to draw attention to the hardship suffered by poor people we work with in the UK.

Fighting poverty should not be a party political issue – successive governments have presided over a tide of rising inequality and created a situation where food banks and other providers provided 20 million meals last year to people who could not afford to feed themselves.”

“This is an unacceptable situation in one of the world’s largest economies and politicians of all stripes have a responsibility to tackle it.”

Oxfam are far from alone in their concern about the rise of absolute poverty in the UK. Around the same time, medical experts wrote an open letter to David Cameron condemning the rise in food poverty under this government, stating that families “are not earning enough money to meet their most basic nutritional needs” and that “the welfare system is increasingly failing to provide a robust line of defence against hunger.” There have been further cuts to welfare, including both in-work and out-of-work support since 2014, which means that the situation can only have got worse.

Many charities have said that the UK government has violated the Human Right to food.  Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, clothing and housing. The UK has signed and ratified the Covenant, and in so doing is legally bound by the ICESCR, in particular, the human right to adequate food.

According to the Just Fair Consortium report, welfare reforms, benefit delays and the cost of living crisis have pushed an unprecedented number of people into a state of hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity in the UK.

Further research by Oxfam has revealed the extent of poverty among British children, with poor families taking drastic measures to survive. What kind of government is concerned only about stifling critical discussion of its policies, and not about the plight of the citizens it is meant to serve? This is a government that attempts to discredit the accounts of people’s experience of the suffering that is directly caused by this government.

By blaming the casualities of government policy, by imposing coercive ‘behavioural change’ programmes on the poorest citizens – which indicates the government has loaded the responsibility for poverty on individual citizens – and by trying to discredit anyone that champions the rights of the most vulnerable people, the government has abdicated its responsibility to ensure citizens can meet their basic living needs. Their survival needs

Malnutrition is becoming commonplace

In 2014, I wrote an article about the rise in hospital admissions relating to malnutrition. Diseases associated with poverty, which were common during the Victorian era had almost vanished with the advent of the welfare state. Now we are seeing them again. 

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

Scurvy is a disease associated with pirates who have been stuck at sea for long periods – it has increased by 31 per cent in England since 2010. This is caused by a lack of vitamin C and is usually due to an inadequate diet without enough fresh fruit and vegetables.

Figures from January 2014 from the NHS indicate that there were 833 hospital admissions for children suffering from Rickets – a condition which is caused by a lack of Vitamin D, from 2012-13. Ten years ago, the figure was just 190. 

The disease, which causes softening of the bones and permanent deformities, was common in 19th century Britain but was almost eradicated by improvements in nutrition. The body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun, but it’s clear that adequate diet plays an important role, too, since the decline of Rickets happened at a time when we saw an improvement in the diets of the nation as a whole.

It is thought that malnutrition is the main cause, children are most at risk if their diet doesn’t include sufficient levels of vitamin D.

Low incomes, unemployment and benefit delays have combined to trigger increased demand for food banks among the UK’s poorest families, according to a report commissioned by the government and released in 2014.

The report directly contradicts the claim from a government minister that the rise in the use of food banks is linked to the fact that there are now more of them. It says people turn to charity food as a last resort following a crisis such as the loss of a job, or problems accessing social security benefits, or through benefit sanctions.

The review emerged as the government comes under pressure from church leaders and charities to address increasing prevalence of food poverty caused by welfare cuts. 

The report was written by food policy experts from the University of Warwick, and it was passed to ministers in June 2013 but had remained undisclosed until February 2014, creating reasonable speculation that the government suppressed its findings.

Examining the effect of welfare changes on food bank use was not a specific part of its remit, and the report is understood to have undergone a number of revisions since early summer, ordered by the Department for Food and Agriculture and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The researchers found that a combination of rising food prices, ever-shrinking incomes, low pay, increasing personal debt, and benefit payment problems meant an increasing number of families could not afford to buy sufficient food.

In a letter to the British Medical Journal, a group of doctors and senior academics from the Medical Research Council and two leading universities said that the effect of Government policies on vulnerable people’s ability to afford food needed to be urgently monitored.

The group of academics and professionals said that the surge in the number of people requiring emergency food aid, a decrease in the amount of calories consumed by British families, and a doubling of the number of malnutrition cases seen at English hospitals represent “all the signs of a public health emergency that could go unrecognised until it is too late to take preventative action”.

The health specialists also said:“Access to an adequate food supply is the most basic of human needs and rights”.

The authors of the letter, who include Dr David Taylor-Robinson and Professor Margaret Whitehead of Liverpool University’s Department of Public Health, say that they have serious concerns that malnutrition can have a long-lasting impact on health, particularly among children.

Public spending in food stores fell for the first time on record in July 2014, putting the UK recovery in doubt at the time. Such a worrying, unprecedented record fall in food sales indicates that many consumers evidently had not felt the benefit of the so-called recovery.

Yet Conservative ministers have repeatedly insisted that there is no “robust link” between the welfare reforms and rising food bank use, while the welfare minister at the time, David Freud, claimed the rise in food bank use was because there were more food banks and because the food was free.

The Department of Health figures showed that the number of ‘bed days’ accounted for by someone with a primary or secondary diagnosis of malnutrition rose from 128,361 in 2010-11, the year the coalition came to power, to 184,528 last year – a 61% rise over five years.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence classes someone as malnourished if they have a body mass index of less than 18.5, have suffered the unintentional loss of more than 10% of their weight over the last three to six months, or if they have a BMI under 20 and have unintentionally seen their weight drop by more than 5% over the previous three to six months.

Worryingly, four out of five people who needed inpatient hospital care because of malnutrition were admitted as an emergency, which suggests their health had deteriorated significantly in the days before they were taken into hospital.

Not enough health and social care professionals have the time or knowledge to correctly identify malnutrition.

Stephen Dalton, the chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents hospitals, said: “Our members take malnutrition seriously. Good nutrition is a fundamental human right our citizens can expect, and vulnerable, particularly older, people are most at risk of serious consequences if denied basic compassionate care. At a time of unprecedented demand on health and social care we need to be alert and will take seriously any reliable evidence of basic care not being delivered.”

Time and time again, when challenged and confronted with overwhelming empirical evidence of the terrible harm that their austerity policies and welfare ‘reforms’ are inflicting on citizens, the government simply deny any ‘causal link’. They say that the increase in absolute poverty, malnutrition and hunger, deaths and distress are unrelated to their policies, which they also quite ludicrously claim to be ‘working’. Anyone who tries to raise debate on the matter is labeled a ‘scaremonger’ or a ‘marxist’.

With no sign that the government are going to emerge from behind their basic defence mechanism of collective denial – nor are the Conservatives remotely interested in investigating a clear correlation between their blatant attacks on the poorest citizens via their draconian policies and the terrible hardships people are suffering –  we do have to wonder what the real intention is underpinning their intentionally targeted austerity programme. 

In a very wealthy first-world  democracy, it is absolutely unacceptable that anyone is left hungry, malnourished and in absolute poverty. 

Increasing numbers of people are living in absolute poverty. This is because of the governments’ austerity programme, depressed wages and the steep rise in the cost of living over the last few years.

Disgraceful Conservative MPs that continue to deny this in the face of consistent and overwhelming empirical evidence from a wide array of sources for the past five years at least, are not fit to represent their constituents, nor are the Conservatives, with their crib sheet strategies of denial and dismissal, and techniques of neutralisation, fit to run this country. 

If the government refuse to listen to citizens and to prioritise the basic living conditions and needs of the public, it really is time for it to go. 

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

 

 

Atos’s PR company director wants me to phone him about one of my articles

Image result for atos healthcare controversy

Atos don’t provide medical assessments for disabled people needing to claim support: they provide ‘functional’ assessments, as ‘disability analysts’, who ‘focus on what you can do, rather than what you can’t.’

I wrote an article recently, which was published by Welfare Weekly, about the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments. 

The editor of Welfare Weekly, Steven Preece, forwarded an email to me regarding my article, marked ‘high importance’. It said:

Subject: Atos FAO Sue Jones
Importance: High

Hi there, 

Please could you ask Sue Jones to give me a quick ring on 0141 221 0707 re the article in the link below. We represent Atos and I’d like to have a quick chat about a couple of point in the article which are inaccurate.

http://www.welfareweekly.com/thousands-of-disability-benefit-assessments-deemed-unacceptable-by-the-governments-own-quality-audits/ 

Apologies for the email but I couldn’t find any numbers to call Sue directly. 

Regards

Lindsay McGarvie

Firstly, having been through 3 Atos assessments and a subsequent tribunal, I think it’s absolutely priceless to be lectured about ‘inaccuracies’ from a ‘representative’ of Atos. 

Secondly, I never ring people I don’t know, regardless of the reasons they may give me to do so. I did some research regarding who the person that wants to contact me actually is.

The email was from someone working with a PR company called 3X1. Atos are one of their clientsLindsay McGarvie was political editor at the Sunday Mail, and reporter for the Daily Mail, before moving into PR in 2005. He’s now a director of 3X1.

So, the director of Atos’s PR company wants to discuss my articles that are critical of Atos. The one in question was written while I watched the work and pensions select committee’s evidence session, then I read two articles in the Mirror. I wonder if Mr McGarvie has contacted the Mirror, too. After all, their two articles on the inquiry combined said pretty much the same as mine.

According to his LinkedIn profile, McGarvie’s specialisms include:

– Strategic public affairs counsel
– Reputation management
– Devising and implementing proactive PR and public affairs campaigns
– Media Training
– Digital communications

PR practitioners build and protect the reputation of their clients, whether they are individuals or organisations. Companies whose profits or reputation have been damaged can claim for ‘defamation’. Non-trading corporations can also claim where they can prove that their fiscal situation has been affected, or their property damaged. However, Atos’s reputation was damaged long before my article was written. That is because of  widespread  criticism of their ethics, standards and performance, not because of writers such as me.

3X1 is not the only PR company referring visitors to read my articles.

PR is concerned with persuasion, selling products, persons, governments and policies, corporations, and other institutions. In addition to marketing products, PR has been variously used to attract investments, influence legislation, raise companies’ public profiles, put a positive spin on policies, disasters, undermine citizens campaigns, gain public support for conducting warfare, and to change the public perception of repressive regimes.

Edelman Intelligence and Westbourne, for example, are engaged in rebuttal campaigns and multimedia astroturfing projects to protect corporate interests:

“Monitoring of opposition groups is common: one lobbyist from agency Edelman talks of the need for “360-degree monitoring” of the internet, complete with online “listening posts … so they can pick up the first warning signals” of activist activity. “The person making a lot of noise is probably not the influential one, you’ve got to find the influential one,” he says. Rebuttal campaigns are frequently employed: “exhausting, but crucial,” says Westbourne.” From The truth about lobbying: 10 ways big business controls government

Edelman Intelligence is among the world’s largest PR companies and either their staff or their clients have been quietly visiting my own WordPress site over this last year, the link shows they were referred to my site from Edelman’s own social media monitoring command centre. I’ve contacted the company to ask why, but have yet to receive a response. I’m not a paying client so it’s highly unlikely that the visits are in connection with promoting my best interests.

Cision are another PR company that provide social media ‘monitoring’ and I have had visits to my site from theirs. The company offers three web-based packages: the ‘CisionMarketing Suite’, the ‘Public Relations Suite’ and a ‘Government Relations and Political Action Committee Suite’. The Cision ‘Public Relations Suite’ allows users to distribute press releases, access a database of bloggers and journalists, and monitor and analyze news and social media sites. Designing responses to influential critical voices and general ‘image management’ is one of the things that PR is all about. 

The company’s ‘Government Relations Suite’ manages government contacts, analyzes lobbying activity, facilitates communication with elected officials and provides PAC compliance software for filing reports to the FEC and state elections commissions (US).

Some PR organisations claim that critical bloggers are ‘bullies’

“I often wonder what it is about social media that makes people anti-social. Perhaps the empty dialogue box creates a discomfort similar to silence in a crowded room. Maybe it is the need for instant gratification and peer recognition that comes from outing a company’s poor service. Or, it could be that the Internet provides a safe venue for bullies to vent with minimal repercussions. Whatever the reason, people talking badly about companies create a lot of drama and headaches for corporate leaders.”

As a public interest writer with a strong interest in social justice, equality, imbalances of power relationships, policy, human rights and as a strong advocate of democracy, I believe that ‘outing’ a company’s poor service is necessary to prevent citizens from suffering distress and harm and to hold those with power to account. I’m not motivated by profit – I don’t earn anything from my work. However, I’m motivated by a strong sense of ethical duty and solidarity with my fellow citizens. I want to see big businesses (and governments, for that matter) act in a socially responsible manner. I think it’s a reasonable public expectation that companies actually earn their profits by providing a service which does not cause harm to anyone.

My experience of ‘bullying’ comes from the other direction, from the top down – from powerful business groups and organisations that simply want to silence lone critical voices. Now THAT is bullying. Furthermore, our responses to being bullied are also being micromanaged.

Calling critics ‘bullies’ is a PR stunt in itself.

It’s an oppressive tactic commonly used (by bullies) over recent years by those in positions of power, from the top down. 

I won’t apologise for writing critical articles or holding my informed opinions. I always research and produce evidence throughout the articles I write. That’s not to say I never make mistakes. However, if there is an injustice being done, I will say so.

And I will keep on saying so. 

I have written more than one critical article about government policy aimed at cutting the lifeline support of disabled people, and of Atos, who are employed by the state to implement the cuts via the Work Capability Assessment. Because there is a significant and catastrophically damaging injustice being done to disabled people.

Last year, the United Nations verified that the UK  government have systematically violated the rights of disabled people. Resistance to the injustice of austerity cuts that are targeted at disabled people disproportionately – and among them, at some of our most vulnerable citizens – begins at the raw, weary and often fearful front lines of those impacted first and impacted the hardest: disabled people. 

Disabled people have been forced to pay nine times more than the average citizen to reduce the budget deficit and people with high or complex support needs have been forced to pay 19 times more. From the despotic Bedroom Tax, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance and the closing of the Independent Living Fund, it has been a relentless political assault on one of the most disadvantaged social groups.

The government have contracted private companies to deliver the cuts.

The UK has become the first country in the world to use the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities to be investigated forgrave and systemic violations’ of disabled peoples’ rights and it is telling that the government has since denied the findings of the inquiry, refused to make public the findings and refused to listen to the accounts of disabled citizens.

I was among those involved in contacting the United Nations in 2012 and have submitted evidence regularly since, regarding the impact of government policies on disabled people. 

Atos have played a part in these events and have made a hefty profit from their role. No amount of PR work will convince me that Atos have disabled people’s best interests at heart. I have experienced 3 assessments delivered by Atos, myself. I was told I was ‘fit for work’ after I had taken the painful decision to leave a profession that I loved because I was much too unwell to work. I then had to face a Tribunal. The stress of that exacerbated my illness. I won the appeal. However within 3 months of the successful Tribunal I was sent by the Department for Work and Pensions for another Atos assessment. I collapsed during the interview. It’s very difficult to believe that this kind of ordeal is unintended.

People have died within a short time after being told they are fit for work. They clearly weren’t. My friend and fellow campaigner Karen Sherlock is among those people who are simultaneously ‘fit for work’ and dead. She died in fear and despair because the system failed her – because a cruel government refused to listen and powerful men and women refused to act. My friend Lottie Ryan had a brain tumour. The Department for Work and Pensions sent her a letter demanding that she attend a work related interview or face having her lifeline support cut. She couldn’t even feed herself at this point in time because of the advanced stage of her cancer. She was dying, but that didn’t stop the government from trying to coerce her into work. Now THAT is more than bullying. It’s despotic, savage persecution.

There are many more disabled citizens’ accounts like these.

I don’t need repressive tactics or ‘reputation management’ strategies flung at me. My aim (and that of many other fellow campaigners) is to ensure that people recognise the systematic political oppression of some social groups in the UK. It’s real. Disabled people are living in fear of a bureacratic brown envelope arriving through their letterbox. They live in fear every time the government claims they want to ‘help’ them by cutting their lifeline support even further. 

So, I will continue to criticise. I will continue to speak out and to do my best to raise public awareness of what is happening in what was once a civilised and democratic society. 

I’m far from alone. Atos have been the subject of widespread criticism in the media, among campaign groups, charities, the National Audit Office, Atos ex-employees and whistle blowers, and opposition MPs. Must be hard work having to contact all of those people about ‘inaccuracies’. 

If I’ve made a couple of points that are ‘inaccurate’, then there is a comments section beneath the article in question to accommodate some transparent debate and dialogue. Leave your comment and evidence there, Mr McGarvie. 

My phone number is reserved for my friends, family and people who I trust not to intimidate me.  

Update

I have had four visits to my site today originating from Edelman Intelligence. I know this because on my site’s stats page, referrers are listed, such as Facebook, Twitter, search engines and so on. You can click on the link provided and it shows you were site visitors have come from

Additionally, a listed app called meltwater showed up. Outside Insight is Meltwater’s  Media Intelligence and Social Media Monitoring tool. Their site describes this service: ‘PR professionals lean on Meltwater’s product suite to help them boost their brand’s position and demonstrate their ROI (Return on Investment).

One of the most valuable things that legitimate criticism tells companies is that they have an audience that cares. The worst outcome in public relations isn’t mismanaging criticism or anger; it’s apathy and indifference. Criticism tells you that something is wrong, if you have enough visibility to warrant feedback.

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that PR is located within local, social, political, cultural, economic and historical contexts. PR approaches often lack critical thinking and analysis needed to improve ethics and societal impact.  

Companies need to understand and listen to audiences as well as evaluate the results of campaigns, in order to identify more ethical, sustainable and socially beneficial ways of practising public relations. However, in the UK, there are few regulations that govern PR firms. That is why public feedback is so important.

In democracies, publics need and demand information about what companies, organisations and governments are doing. Inequities in power and influence, lack of transparency, or negative or harmful societal impacts affect every citizen, potentially.

However, provided it is conducted ethically, public relations may be a legitimate part of free speech which fosters diversity of viewpoints and facilitates democratic dialogue in society.

In short, PR companies and their clients need to listen to ordinary citizens like you and me, rather than refusing to accept a viewpoint. One of the most oppressive tactics that has arisen this past few years is the now habitual political dismissal of citizens’ experiences and accounts, as ‘anecdotal evidence’ of the harm that government policies are inflicting on people. Instead of denying the experiences of others, and engaging in techniques of neutralisation, the corporate sector and government need to engage with us using an open and dialogic approach to resolving the growing conflict of interest presented by the private sector profit incentive and the need for ensuring public safety and democratic inclusion.

Related

Reputation launderers: the London PR firms with their own image problems

What you need to know about Atos assessments

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help if you like, by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

DonatenowButton

 

 

 

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

Conservative MP Wendy Morton says Universal Credit ‘helps’ people into work and criticises opposition MPs for ‘scaremongering.’ However, the new benefit has pushed people into debt and rent arrears, with some forced to rely on food banks to survive. It’s difficult to see precisely how a social security benefit that creates those circumstances could possibly help people into work.

The introduction of Universal Credit was aimed at ‘incentivising’ people into work and to work longer hours, by ensuring that for those needing to claim welfare support, the experience was as uncomfortable as possible. Under the Conservatives, social security has been transformed into a system that metes out discipline,  coercing citizens into compliance with state-defined economic outcomes, rather than serving as a national insurance-funded provision to meet people’s basic necessities, should they need it – which was the original intention behind the welfare state. 

The introduction of ordeals and harsh conditionality in the process of welfare administration was designed to ensure that no-one felt secure or ‘entitled’ to claim support. The Conservatives believe provision for meeting people’s basic survival needs when they experience financial disadvantage somehow produces ‘perverse incentives’ that make being out of work a more favourable option than looking for work.

However, much research – both historic and recent – has indicated that unless people are secure in being able to meet their basic needs – which requires having sufficient resources to cover the cost of fundamental necessities such as food, fuel and shelter consistently – then it is highly unlikely they will be able to fulfil higher level psychosocial needs, including looking for work. In short, absolute poverty limits human potential. It’s therefore simply not possible to  punish people out of being poor.  The problem of poverty is structural and material, it doesn’t arise because of some kind of moral, character or behavioural deficit on the part of poor people.

We learned this through the consequences of the punitive 1834 Poor Law, the research of Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree and the later work of Peter Townsend. Rowntree’s discovery was that poverty arises as the result of low wages, which went against the traditionally held view that poor people were somehow responsible for their own circumstances. The Conservatives view is a regressive one. 

The Government has claimed that disciplinary sanctions are a method of enforcing “cultural and behavioural change” of people claiming both in-work and out-of-work social security. This of course assumes that people’s behaviours are a problem in the first place.

Sanctions don’t address the decision-making of employers – who are ultimately responsible for establishing rates of pay and the hours of work for employees – nor do they address exploitation or structural problems, such as political decision-making that results in inequality, poverty, reduced access to opportunity and resources and a deregulated labour market that creates constraints for those looking for work.

Sanctions are one of the government’s draconian methods of ‘making work pay’. This is what Conservatives like Morton mean by ‘helping people into work. She means that people are being systematically punished into increasing their economic productivity, regardless of whether that actually ‘pays’ for them and alleviates poverty. It means that the Government has abdicated responsibility for the consequences of its own policy and decision-making regarding the UK’s socioeconomic organisation, choosing instead to scapegoat the casualties of those policies and decisions.

Furthermore, contrary to the government’s claims, international research has shown that generous welfare provision actually increases the likelihood that people will have a stronger work ethic and be much more willing and able to look for work. 

The Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS) carried out an independent study of Universal Credit and have estimated that the government’s social security reform will cut welfare spending by £2.7bn a year, and will hit working people on low incomes particularly hard. Single parents who work and two-parent households where both work are most likely to lose out, the study found. 

Robert Joyce, an associate director at the IFS and one of the report’s authors, said the long-run effect of the introduction of universal credit would be “to reduce benefits for working families on average – a reversal of the original [stated] intention”.

The Department for Work and Pensions claimed that Universal Credit was “transforming lives across the country, with claimants moving into work significantly faster and earning more than under the old system”. Universal credit would be in all jobcentres by the spring and once fully rolled out it would generate £6.7bn in economic benefit every year.”

It’s certainly changing lives. But not in the way it’s claimed to.

The government have never hidden the fact that they aim to make big savings through their systematic welfare ‘reforms’ (a word that has become a Conservative euphemism for cuts).

The road to tyranny

Last month, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, was accused by senior Conservatives MPs of paving the way for tyranny, after the government whipped its MPs to abstain on a Labour motion on universal credit. Labour’s motion  passed unanimously despite the concerns of several Conservative rebels, but some Tory MPs were infuriated at being urged by their own party to ignore it.

Leadsom faced criticism from some Conservative MPs because she said the government was not bound by the resolution, which called for the rollout of the controversial welfare changes to be paused.

Valerie Vaz, the shadow leader of the house, pressed Leadsom on the government’s response. She said: “This is where we make the law. This is not a school debating chamber. This is a disorganised government, disrespectful to the house.”

“I know the government didn’t want to hear about people in rent arrears struggling to feed their families when they’re in work, but that’s the reality when government policy is failing.”

Conservative MP Heidi Allen broke down in the House of Commons during the emotional Labour-led debate on Universal Credit on Tuesday, where the government conceded it would finally release the ‘confidential’ reports into the impact of the welfare reform’s rollout. 

The debate came as the government pledged it will make universal credit reports from between 2012 and 2015 available to the select committee in a concession to Labour, but work and pensions secretary David Gauke said they should not be made public. A ruling in August was made by the information commissioner that five of the government’s reports should be released to campaigners because their publication would be in the public interest.

The Government have said they would continue to challenge the reports being released to the public, even though the reports will be given to the committee, after Labour used a parliamentary device called a ‘humble address’ to the Queen, requesting ministers release project assessment reviews conducted into the welfare reform. 

The Information Commissioner’s Office has already said the papers should be published publicly and in full.

Mind you, we are still waiting for the public release of the Health and Social Care risk register, and have been since 2012.

Perish the thought that the Government should value democratic transparency and accountability. Or that it should face the consequences of its own policies and decision-making.

Field had intervened to give Allen a chance to compose herself, saying: “I’m just amazed for the first time I’ve been able to report those events publicly without weeping. 

I’m so affected by them, I’m affected as she is. That’s the debate we’re really having – how do we represent here the desperateness of many of our constituents when many of us feel we can’t offer them hope,” he said.

Earlier Field had said, remarkably, that his constituents were being hit by the cumulative impact of reforms under both Labour and Conservative governments.

He said: “On my last surgery Friday, for the first time ever a gentleman rose after we had spoken, I had tried to persuade him not to commit suicide, such was the desperateness that he saw the future for himself, and I realised the hand that shook my hand was wet. He’d been crying. And the hand that shook my hand was the hand that wiped away those tears.” 

Field also recounted how a charity in his constituency had helped a family who brought in a child that was “crying with hunger”.

The family were so short of money that they had been invited to a funeral by their neighbours so that they could finish the food left by other guests.

Field said: “This is the background of growing destitution that I see in my constituency and against which we have to judge Universal Credit and the debate we’re having today.” 

Labour and some Conservative MPs have repeatedly voiced concern about the long wait faced by fresh claimants to be paid benefits once they apply for universal credit, originally six weeks but reduced to five in last month’s budget.

The concerns about Universal Credit arose because of the harrowing accounts of experiences that MPs have heard directly from their constituents. Charities have also fedback to MPs about the distress and hardship they have witnessed from people going through the system. For example, the Trussell Trust, a charity which provides food banks, said demand had risen in areas where Universal Credit was introduced.

It said at the House of Commons inquiry into Universal Credit: “In 2016-17 food banks in areas of full Universal Credit rollout saw a 16.85% average increase in referrals for emergency food, more than double the national average of 6.64%.” 

Newcastle Council have also said during the House of Commons inquiry: “We think that Universal Credit can place some vulnerable residents at risk of destitution and homelessness.” And the body which manages Newcastle’s council houses said Universal Credit claimants were more than £1 million in arrears on their rent.

Liverpool City Council reported “an increasing number of citizens contacting the service for assistance through local welfare provision, to provide funds for food and other essentials”. 

The council, already dealing with funding cuts, said it was “encountering significant financial losses” because it was having to provide temporary accommodation for people who had been made homeless.

The debate on Tuesday happened because some citizens are experiencing extreme distress and hardship and have reported their circumstances to their MPs. This is, after all, how a democracy works. MPs represent their constituents.

Now more than one Conservative MP has dismissed those citizens’ accounts as ‘scaremongering,’ which is an attempt to deny that those experiences are true, while also denying culpability.

Morton (Conservative MP for Aldridge Brownhills) said Universal Credit, which ‘replaces’ a range of existing benefits including Housing Benefit, was ‘helping’ people find work. However, Universal Credit doesn’t entirely replace the amount that the range of benefits provided to meet people’s basic needs. 

Speaking in the Commons debate about Universal Credit, she said: “It is this Government who are helping people, which is why I am disappointed to have sat through a lot of this debate and heard scaremongering stories from Opposition Members.

I flinch when I hear the government say they are going to ‘help’ people, especially when that ‘help’ is directed at marginalised social groups. Who among us really needs that draconian and Dickensian brand of help?

The Conservatives seem to think that their strictly class-based and ‘helpful’ punishment is somehow in people’s’ best interests. They claim with a straight face that the system of punishing sanctions being inflicted on the poorest citizens is ‘fair’. There isn’t a system in place that punishes people fairly who hoard their wealth offshore, however, causing such damage to the economy that the Government say they were somehow forced to impose austerity on the poorest citizens so the nation could ‘live within its means’. Well, some of the nation. For many don’t have the means to live, now.

It’s not poor people who need to change their behaviours. It is a Government that is happy to preside over growing inequality, increasing absolute poverty and social injustice. It is those very wealthy people who feel they are not obliged to contribute to a society that they have taken so much from. 

The Department for Work and Pensions has said no claimant needed to wait that long without funds, saying emergency payments to cover the period can be requested and received within three days and paid back over 12 months.

Speaking in the debate, Gauke also accused Labour politicians and the media of ‘scaremongering’, which he said was leading families to believe they had no way of accessing help.

However, they don’t have any way of accessing help.

Gauke spoke the language of despots fluently when he said that he was granting the request on an ‘exceptional basis’ and said the reports would only give a partial picture of the policy’s impact, given how it had subsequently ‘been revised.’ He also said he would consider redacting certain information, such as that which is ‘commercially sensitive’, while the documents were being handed over in exceptional circumstances and did not ‘set a precedent.’ 

Field was clearly uneasy about the condition that his committee keep the reports confidential, and said that he would seek guidance from Commons Speaker John Bercow  about “what sense of secrecy or of honour binds us” when the committee finally do get the documents.

A few words about trickle down economics

Related image
Trickle down economics is a form of laissez-faire capitalism in general and more specifically, it is a form of supply side economics. Whereas general supply side theory favours lowering taxes overall, trickle down advocates prefer targeting the very wealthy for lower taxes. Trickle down theory is implicit in neoliberal discourse. As such, it’s become politically normalised. It’s become a form of tacit knowledge. 

However, the term trickle down originated as a joke by humorist Will Rogers and it is often used to criticise economic policies based on a justification of  ‘competitive individualism’ and ‘meritocracy’, which strongly favour and reward the wealthy and privileged, while being framed as ‘good’ for the average citizen. This of course is political hocus pocus and snake oil economics. The government has been pulling at supply side economic levers which, for some time, have been attached to nothing.

The economic ‘success’ of governments has increasingly been measured by an aggregated data set that fails to take into account actual wealth distribution, merit, social contribution, inequality, poverty, or even the welfare and health of public they claim to represent. This kind of economics has become overarching and totalising, sucking in the social realm of human relationships and transforming them into hierarchies of economic (and political) worth.

Democracy is shrinking with the economy, as more and more money, political power and influence is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. 

The richest 1% of people in the UK own almost a quarter of the country’s wealth. The huge levels of inequality in the UK were revealed in a detailed assessment by Credit Suisse last year, that also showed the richest 5% of people in the country own 44% of all wealth. 

Commenting on the report, Sally Copley, the charity’s Head of UK Policy Programmes and Campaigns, said: “The wealthiest one percent of the population – who own nearly a quarter of all the country’s wealth – continue to do well whilst so many people in Britain are just about managing to stay above the poverty line.

“Globally, the richest one percent own more wealth than the rest of the world put together. This huge gap between rich and poor is undermining economies, destabilising societies and holding back the fight against poverty.” 

As we have recently learned, the wealth accumulated among the richest 1%, through the systematic dispossession of the rest of the population, is rather more likely to trickle offshore and to be hoarded than finding its way to the Treasury and then redistributed to ordinary citizens, rewarding them with a long awaited break from the futile, self-defeating consequences of neoliberalism: austerity, increasing poverty and inequality.

There is an expanding and gaping hole in the economy as more and more money is funnelled off by the government to hand out to the wealthy, while increasing numbers of other citizens are now teetering on the brink of the chasm without an adequate social safety net or political lifeline.

What remains of our public services are now also in private hands, serving the private interests of vulture profit seekers. 

Multiple studies have found a correlation between trickle down economics and reduced economic growth. Conservatives since Thatcher and Reagan, however, have insisted on imposing it, despite recessions, and the resulting social damage caused by rising inequality and poverty. When neoliberalism fails, the Conservative answer is to simply apply more aggressive neoliberal policies and increasing authoritarianism. 

According to the economist John Kenneth Galbraith, trickle down theory was once called the rather less elegant “horse and sparrow” theory, a couple of centuries back, which goes something like this: You feed the big horse all of the oats and the wee birds can feed in its wake.

Which is fine only if you happen to like a diet of horse sh*t. 

The US Chief Correspondent and Editor-at-Large of Mashable, tech expert, social media commentator, amateur cartoonist and robotics fan, has this to say:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, text


I don’t make any money from my work.You can support Politics and Insights and contribute if you like by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

top 100 blogs

A defence of “political correctness”

Related image

The left believe that in order to address prejudice and discrimination, it’s important to address the language we use as a society, changing it to reflect an increasingly diverse society, where everyone feels at safe, included and one in which citizens attempt to avoid giving needless offence to one another.

By ensuring terms that reflect prejudice are not part of our everyday language habits, it is hoped that as a society, we can cultivate and extend tolerance and basic principles of courtesy, equality and decency to our fellow human beings, reflecting a healthy pluralism. 

However, the right see a conspiracy in “political correctness”. The phrase is used by Conservatives and the far right in a derogatory way that implies hidden and powerful forces determined to suppress inconvenient truths by the policing of language and thought. For the right, political correctness is an hegemonic, stifling and Stalinist-styled orthodoxy, that pressures us into a fashionable conformity. The right see political correctness as a means of closing down debate, not that they particularly favour candour more generally. Just the sort of “speaking one’s mind” that involves directing stigma at historically marginalised groups.

Apparently, open, civil discourse need not be civil, prefigurative and inclusive. Or open, for that matter. 

The fact that Western civilization has been inherently unfair to ethnic minorities, women, disabled people, poor people and homosexuals has always been at the centre of politically correct thinking. Historically and internationally, support for affirmative action grew to achieve goals such as bridging inequalities in employment and pay, increasing access to education, promoting diversity, and redressing historical wrongs, harms, or hindrances. Affirmative action is intended to promote the opportunities of defined minority groups within a society to give them equal access to that of the majority population, and to address disadvantage.

In the UK, affirmative action is illegal, we have a history of “positive action”, which is more about focusing on ensuring equal opportunity and, for example, targeted advertising campaigns to encourage ethnic minority candidates to join the police force.

Any discrimination, quotas or favouritism due to sex, race and ethnicity among other “protected characteristics” is generally illegal for any reason in education, employment, during commercial transactions, in a private club or association, and while using public services.

The Equality Act 2010 (established by the Labour government, amended, reduced and implemented by the Conservative-led coalition) established the principles of equality and their implementation in the UK.

Specific exemptions include:

Part of the Northern Ireland Peace Process, the Good Friday Agreement and the resulting Patten report required the Police Service of Northern Ireland to recruit 50% of numbers from the Catholic community and 50% from the Protestant and other communities, in order to reduce any possible bias towards Protestants. This was later referred to as the “50:50” measure. (See also Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland.)

It’s fair that all social groups are able to participate in all provided opportunities including educational, employment, promotional and training opportunities, surely. The right claim to cherish the notion of a meritocracy, after all. A genuine meritocracy would alienate no-one.

Political correctness arose to help compensate for past discrimination, persecution or exploitation by the ruling class of a culture, and to address existing discrimination, which ultimately strengthens social cohesion – something else that traditional Conservatives claimed to cherish. Political correctness is about universal human rights. It’s about inclusion and democracy. 

Instead, however, political correctness is seen by many on the right as a some kind of dictatorship of virtue. The left are often ridiculously accused of “virtue signalling” and being “do-gooders” by the right. I’ve often wondered what the ideal alternative to a “do-gooder” would be, for those making this simultaneously slapstick and surreal accusation.

The right abandon the principles of political science, democracy, civil debate, diplomacy and inclusion and simply assail the characters of their critics. They get personal. They can’t seem to disagree without being disagreeable. They prefer to simply “crush the saboteurs”, rather than engage in rational dialogue. But without dialogue and the basic principles and mechanisms of exchange, we don’t have a healthy, pluralist democracy. Instead, we have a group of people imposing their narrow worldview, language, thoughts and personal prejudices upon a population. Using political narratives that focus on outgrouping already marginalised citizens according to their economic status – which is in turn created by a process of outgrouping – is not “telling it like it is”. It’s telling us how it is going to be.

It’s not just that the right resent political correctness for what they see as a mechanism for suppressing their own traditional prejudices. They use carefully calibrated undemocratic language to argue against the very idea of a carefully calibrated language that came about to simply extend principles of fairness, equality and democratic inclusion. Ultimately, political correctness is about democracy and a fair model of socioeconomic organisation.

The right don’t like political correctness because they don’t like the very idea that all human lives have equal worth. They prefer hierarchical ranking and hierarchical socioeconomic organisation. That’s what the Conservative notion of “competition” means. It’s not real competition of course, because without a degree of “political correctness”, there is no level playing field to compete from.

Some social groups simply don’t have access to opportunities to “compete” fairly for even a basic share of wealth and power. “Telling it like it is”, and “speaking your mind” is actually rather more about stating which social groups are allowed to participate as citizens in a society, and which groups aren’t. 

A homo… what?

Politics reduced to homophily is also a politics without a shred of democracy. By interacting only with others who are like themselves, anything that government ministers experience as a result of their position, influence and power simply gets reinforced. It comes to typify “people like us” and demarcates “people like them”. It’s the basis of a political othering process.

Homophily – which is basically a tendency to associate only with those like yourself –  also shapes the “old-boys network” and the revolving door of power between politicians and corporate entities: a politics in which a handful of people who went to the same public school or university use their positions of  power and influence to mutually benefit each other. It’s a movement of personnel between roles as legislators and the industries potentially affected by legislation and regulation. The result is that legislation and deregulation happens which benefits only those included in the revolving door interaction. That’s not a large proportion of the population at all. 

I think this is what Conservatives mean when they say we live in a “meritocracy”. This is clearly not compatible with democracy.

Nudging privilege and kicking the poor

Then of course there are the academics who support Conservative neoliberalism, such as the “libertarian paternalists”, for example, who have found their way into the very heart of the Conservatives’ political decision-making process regarding policy. Nudge is comprised of a very lucrative set of theories that have the added value of simply propping up the status quo. Nudge is mostly aimed at “improving the decisions” of poor people, who, it is claimed, are poor because of their “faulty” cognitive processes and behaviours.

The behavioural economists at the heart of the technocratic Nudge Unit, which is at the very heart of the cabinet office, claim they are “scientific”, as they use a scientific methodology – randomised control trials – to “verify” their various hypotheses. However, by isolating and exploring what they perceive as basic causal relationships in experimental circumstances, they effectively screen out context and other potential variables – such as the structural and historical causes of poverty, brought about by political decision-making, for example – and so such “experiments” effectively screen their own ideological commitments from view. The hypotheses being tested are without context and history, they are superficial and highlight all of the flaws of old school positivism very well.

Furthermore, libertarian paternalism reduces society in all of its complexity to a basic system of “incentives” and responses. The government frequently dismiss citizens’ accounts and qualitative experiences as “anecdotal”, and claim that any criticism of Conservative policies isn’t valid because individual cases don’t establish a “causal link” between policies and the citizens’ stated consequences of policies.

An example of this is the many cases of harm and high number of deaths that have been raised which correlate with the Conservative welfare “reforms” and austerity. However, policies are designed to have consequences. The government simply isn’t interested in monitoring those, evidently.

Nor is it interested in the empirical evidence that citizens have provided. The representation of social reality produced by positivism was always inherently and artificially Conservative, maintaining the status quo. At the very least, Conservatives would do well to consider that correlation often implies causality, even though it isn’t quite the same thing. As such, established correlation invites further inquiry, not point-blank political denials.

The welfare “reforms” are strongly correlated with an increase in premature deaths and suicides. A democratic government would be concerned with those consequences and would be open to at least exploring the possibility that those consequences are causally linked with their draconian policies. 

If you are one of those people who think political correctness is a detriment to politically vibrant debates, you have it all back to front: People who use politically correct language aren’t trying to stifle insensitive speech, or moify freedom of expression. They’re simply trying to out-compete that speech in a free and open exchange. Those who oppose political correctness – with its very emphasis being on the ability to include and articulate varied and opposing viewpoints – are the ones who are trying to close debate down.

It’s not a coincidence that many people who despise political correctness are also strongly anti-intellectual, too.

When “freedom of speech” is just an excuse for narratives of hate

Related image

The right quite often seem to use the freedom of speech plea to justify their prejudice. They say they have a right to express their thoughts. But speech is an intentional ACT. Hate speech is intended to do harm – it’s used purposefully to intimidate and exclude vulnerable groups. Hate speech does not “democratise” speech, it tends to monopolise it. Nor is it based on reason, critical thinking or open to debate. Prejudice is a crass parody of opinion and free speech. Bigots are conformists – they tend not to have independent thought. Instead they have prejudice and groupthink.

Being inequitable, petty or prejudiced isn’t “telling it like it is” – a claim which has become a common tactic for the right, and particularly UKIP – it’s just being inequitable, petty or prejudiced. Some things are not worth saying. Really. We may well have an equal right to express an opinion, but not all opinions are of equal worth. And UKIP do frequently dally with hate speech. Hate speech generally is any speech that attacks a person or group on the basis of their characteristics, for example, because of their race, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. 

In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group. Critics have argued that the term “hate speech” is a contemporary example of Newspeak, used to silence critics of social policies that have been poorly implemented in order to appear politically correct. 

However, the term “political correctness” was adopted by US Conservatives as a pejorative for all manner of attempts to promote multiculturalism and identity politics, particularly, attempts to introduce new terms that sought to leave behind discriminatory baggage attached to older ones, and conversely, to try to make older ones taboo.

It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that “political correctness” arose originally from attempts at making language more culturally inclusive. Critics of political correctness show a curious blindness when it comes to examples of Conservative correctness. Most often, the case is entirely ignored or censorship of the left is justified as a positive virtue. Perhaps the key argument supporting this form of linguistic and conceptual inclusion is that we still need it, unfortunately. We live in a country ruled by a right-wing logocracy, creating pseudo-reality by prejudicial narratives and words. We are witnessing that narrative being embedded in extremely oppressive policies and in justifications for such oppressive policies.

The negative impacts of hate speech cannot be mitigated by the responses of third-party observers, as hate speech aims at two goals. Firstly, it is an attempt to tell bigots that they are not alone. It validates and reinforces prejudice. It extends a “permission” for social prejudice, discrimination and hatred.

The second purpose of hate speech is to intimidate a targeted minority, leading them to question whether their dignity and social status is secure. Furthermore, hate speech is a gateway to harassment and violence. (See Allport’s scale of prejudice, which shows clearly how the Nazis used “freedom of speech” to incite social prejudice, discrimination, hatred and then to incite and justify genocide.)

Image result for allports ladder of prejudice

As Gordon Allport’s scale of social prejudice indicates, hate speech and incitement to genocide start from often subtle expressions of prejudice. The dignity, worth and equality of every individual is the axiom of international human rights. International law condemns statements which deny the equality of all human beings.

Article 20(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR) requires states to prohibit hate speech. Hate speech is prohibited by international and national laws, not because it is offensive, but rather, because it amounts to the intentional degradation and repression of groups that have been historically oppressed.

The most effective way to diffuse prejudice is an early preventative approach via dialogue: education and debate. Our schools, media and public figures have a vital part to play in positive role-modelling, in challenging bigotry, encouraging social solidarity, respect for diversity and in helping to promote understanding and empathy with others.

Hate speech categories are NOT about “disagreement” or even offence. Hate speech doesn’t invite debate. It’s about using speech to intentionally oppress others. It escalates when permitted, into harassment and violence. We learned this from history, and formulated human rights as a consequence. The far right in particular would have us unlearn the lessons of the Holocaust so that people can say “I’m not being  racist, but…” or “It’s not wrong to say immigrants should be sent home…” and so on.

The UK was once proudly multicultural, pluralist, democratic, rich and diverse, it was one that had learned from history and evolved. It was founded on genuine progress and civil rights movements, reflecting the past battles of historically oppressed groups fought and won – which gave us hard-earned freedoms to be who we are without fear. 

Now, we have a government that has ushered in a post-civil-rights era. One that is fine with radically reducing our social security so that it no longer provides support that is sufficient to meet basic survival needs, just so that exploited and poorly paid workers can feel a little better about being so poorly paid and exploited. It’s a government that is comfortable with displacing responsibility for the hardships that many are suffering because of the failure of neoliberal policy, by blaming multiculturalism and political correctness.

Of course it’s not the intentional slashing of public services, welfare, healthcare, legal aid, accessible social housing, lowered taxes for the wealthy, union busting, privatisation and outsourcing that are the causes of our problems. It is those foreign “others”. Nothing to do with political priorities, decision-making and ideology. Of course not. 

Recently, in response to anger regarding the recent Paradise Papers leak, Tory MP Justine Greening said on BBC’s Question Time that tax avoidance isn’t “illegal”. She also claimed we have a “culture” of tax avoidance, and said “it isn’t just wealthy people who don’t pay their taxes.”  

However, it’s not illegal to claim social security, either, but ordinary people going through difficult circumstances have been vilified and politically persecuted whilst very wealthy tax avoiders are free to enjoy their culture of entitlement. The government have themselves loudly promoted the ideal of a “low tax, low welfare society”, to fit in with their rigid neoliberal ideological framework.

It’s worth watching this particular Question Time (below), because it highlights the huge discrepancies between Conservative rhetoric (and their use of statistics) and the reality that ordinary citizens actually experience. Aditya Chakrabortty raised the issue of Conservatives’ policies sending disabled people to their deaths, and a Conservative representative shouted out from the audience that this is “rubbish” and “disgusting”, closing down the debate before it had even started. As someone who researches and writes extensively about the impact of public policies, I can say categorically that Chakrabortty is right. I write about those people who have been sent to their deaths because of Conservative policies. There are many such catastrophic cases discussed on this site alone.

BBC Question Time from Croydon – 9th of November 2017

“Paying down the deficit” is the sole responsibility of the poorest, evidently. Those of us who need the public services and protections that we have already paid into have seen our standard of living plummet into conditions of absolute poverty over the past 7 years, while the minority of wealthy people enjoy a politically endorsed accumulation of even more wealth and hoard it offshore, leaving a black hole in the economy, and at our substantial expense. No amount of political narrating can render this “fair” or even remotely democratic. 

With its overseas territories, the UK dominates the map of tax havens. Britain is one of the world’s largest tax havens. Within the European Union (EU), the British government has  been slowing down the EU’s fight against tax avoidance and money laundering for the last few years. 

Related image

It’s a government that is all about lowering living standards, and crucially, our expectations, and our regard of each other. So much mean-spirited resentment has been kindled and perpetuated by the Conservatives, amongst the oppressed, aimed at the oppressed. It’s nothing more than diversion tactic to maintain the status quo. It’s an old trick: the powerful encourage the much less powerful to vent their rage and fear against those who may have been their allies, and to delude themselves into thinking that they have been liberated. It costs the powerful nothing; but it pays frightful dividends. 

All forms of prejudice – racism, sexism, ablism, ageism and so on – are both fundamental expressions and the cause of an unequal distribution of power and  wealth. The UK has regressed this past 7 years, with discrimination becoming normalised again via Conservative policies. 

The prejudice comes from the top down. It’s institutionalised via policies, political rhetoric, behaviours and is amplified by the media. And negative role modelling from those in positions of power. Just take a look at the collective behaviours of the current government. It speaks volumes about their traditional prejudices and attitudes, and it also imposes a narrow frame of reference for attitudes and behaviours towards others on the nation.

Furthermore, the tactic of scapegoating is used to justify discrimination, responsibility and political accountability. Scapegoating a process where a group is made to bear the blame for the actions of others and to suffer in their place. Scapegoats become the objects of irrational hostility, and the process of scapegoating fosters deep divisions within a society. 

The real tyranny was never political correctness. We are not “taking” anything back, we are witnessing the shaping a frightening future. Such divide and rule politicking is a deadly strategy calculated to circumvent political correctness, and reflects the Conservatives’ strongly authoritarian impulses. It sets in place a social race to the bottom, and ultimately, leaves us with only the rungs of Allport’s ladder of social prejudice within our reach to climb.  

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

top 100 blogs

 

Jeremy Corbyn’s greatest success is the discrediting of neoliberalism

Jeremy Corbyn Labour conference speech in full (2017)

One of Corbyn’s most important achievements is in extending national debate beyond the limits of neoliberal ideology and challenging the hegemony imposed by Margaret Thatcher. The sell by date was last century, it expired in Pinochet’s Chile. Yet the Tories continue to flog a dead horse, selling England by the pound, while selling the public very short indeed.

The Tories have frequently shrieked, with vindictive and borderline hysterical relish, that Labour’s pro-social economic policies reflect “fiscal irresponsibility”, but that doesn’t resonate with the government’s calamitous economic record over the past seven years. Nor does it fit with historic facts and accuracy. 

The Labour party were in power when the global crash happened. The recession in 2007/8 in the UK was not one that happened as a direct consequence of Labour’s policies. The seeds of The Great Recession were sown in the 80s and 90s. The global crisis of 2008 was the result of the financialization process: of the massive creation of fictitious financial capital and the hegemony of a reactionary ideology, neoliberalism, which is based on the assumption that markets are self-regulating and efficient. 

The New Right argued that competition and unrestrained selfishness was of benefit to the whole society in capitalist societies. It asserted that as a nation gets wealthier the wealth will “trickle down” to the poorest citizens, because it is invested and spent thereby creating jobs and prosperity. In fact the global financial crisis has demonstrated only too well that financial markets provide opportunities for investment that extend relatively few extra jobs and that feed a precarious type of prosperity that can be obliterated in just a matter of days. 

Neoliberalism: the social sins and economic incompetence of the New Right

The financial deregulation promoted by the New Right permitted the financial institutions to dictate government policy and allowed wealth to be channelled into speculative investments, exacerbating the volatility of share and housing markets. Neoliberal theories were embraced and cherished by big business because they provided a legitimation for their pursuit of self-interest, personal profit and ample avenues for business expansion.  

Private companies supported the argument that government regulation interfered with business and undermined “enterprise culture”.  In this view, government intervention in the management of the economy is unnecessary and unwise because the market is a “self-correcting” mechanism. There was also certain appeal in free market ideology for governments too, in that it absolved them of responsibility for economic performance and living standards of the population. Government functions were and continue to be consigned to profit-seeking private companies,.

The New Right advocated policies that aided the accumulation of profits and wealth in fewer hands with the argument that it would promote investment, thereby creating more jobs and more prosperity for all. As neoliberal policies were implemented around the world inequalities in wealth and income increased, there were health inequalities and poverty increased, contradicting neoliberal theories that by increasing the wealth at the top, everyone would become more affluent. Public funds were simply funnelled away into private hands.

Neoliberal politics were shaped by the decisions and policy activities of Reagan and Thatcher, the architects of deregulation, privatisation, competition, the somewhat mysterious “market forces”, reduced public spending, austerity and trickle-down economics.

The changes pushed through in the US and the UK in the 80s removed constraints on bankers, made finance more important at the expense of manufacturing and reduced the power of unions, making it difficult for employees to secure as big a share of the national economic wealth as they had in previous decades.

The flipside of rising corporate profits and higher rewards for the top 1% of earners was stagnating wages for ordinary citizens, and of course a higher propensity to get into debt.

The Conservatives have a historical record of economic incompetence, and of ignoring empirical evidence that runs counter to their ideological stance. Margaret Thatcher’s failed neoliberal experiment resulted in a crashed economy in 1980-1, which had devastating consequences for communities and many individuals.

Neoliberalism gives economic goals and profiteering an elevated priority over social goals. Many of the social gains made as a result of our post-war settlement have been unravelled since the 1980s, and this process accelerated from 2010, under the guise of austerity.  Rather than arising as a response to an economic need, austerity is central to neoliberal economic strategy. 

While free market advocates claim that neoliberalism promotes a democratic, minimal state, in practice, the neoliberal state has consistently demonstrated quite the opposite tendency, requiring authoritarianism and extensive, all pervasive ideological apparatus to implement an anti-social economic doctrine. As David Harvey says in A Brief History of Neoliberalismthe neoliberals’ economic ideals suffer from inevitable contradictions that require a state structure to regulate them.

If the citzens were free to make decisions about their own lives democratically, perhaps the first thing they would choose to undertake is interference with the property rights of the ruling elite, therefore posing an existential threat to the neoliberal experiment. Whether these popular aspirations take the form of drives towards  progressive taxation, unionisation or pushing for social policies that require the redistribution of resources, the “minimal state” cannot be so minimal that it is unable to respond to and crush the democratic demands of citizens. 

Any state method that seeks to subvert the democratic demands of citizens, whether it’s through force, coercion, ideology and propaganda or social engineering, is authoritarian.

Following Thatcher’s reluctant but necessary resignation, John Major’s government became responsible for British exit from the ERM after Black Wednesday on 16 September 1992. This led to a loss of confidence in Conservative economic policies and Major was never able to achieve a lead in opinion polls again. The disaster of Black Wednesday left the government’s economic credibility irreparably damaged. It’s a pity that the public tend to forget such historical facts subsequently, at election time.

The abiding consequences of Thatcher’s domestic policies from the 1980s and her policy template and legacy set in motion the fallout from the global neoliberal crisis. We are witnessing the terrible social costs of the current government’s perpetual attempts to fix the terminal problems of neoliberalism with more neoliberalism. 

Under the fraying blue banner, the public are now seeing the incongruence between political narrative and reality; there’s an irreconcilable gap between their own lived experiences of neoliberal policies, and what the government are telling them their experiences are.  

“Ten years after the global financial crash the Tories still believe in the same dogmatic mantra – deregulate, privatize, cut taxes for the wealthy, weaken rights at work, delivering profits for a few, and debt for the many.

[…] We are now the political mainstream. Our manifesto and our policies are popular because that is what most people in our country actually want, not what they’re told they should want.” Jeremy Corbyn.

What is the point of a socioeconomic system that benefits only a minority proportion of citizens? It hardly reflects a functioning democracy.  

Ideology is a linked set of ideas and beliefs that act to uphold and justify an existing or desired arrangement of power, authority, wealth and status in a society. Ideological hegemony arises where a particular ideology, such as neoliberalism, is pervasively reflected throughout a society in all principal social institutions and permeates cultural ideas and social relationships. It’s very difficult to “stand outside” of such a system of belief to challenge it, because it has become normalised, taking on the mantle of “common sense”.

Corbyn has talked about forging a “new common sense” during the Conference season. It’s one that has increasingly resonated with the wider public. If there were a general election tomorrow, Labour would win comfortably. In Jeremy Corbyn’s own words, “a new consensus is emerging.” 

However, neoliberal policies are insidious machinations controlled by the capitalist ruling class, in the context of a historic class struggle, to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class. One of the key conditions for this to work is public compliance. Such compliance is garnered through an increasingly authoritarian and repressive state.

Of course, as previous discussed, this is one of the biggest inherent ideologic contradictions within neoliberalism: it demands a lean and small state, austerity, and the dismantling of support mechanisms that ensure the quality of life for all citizens, on the one hand, but requires an authoritarian state that is focussed primarily on public conformity and compliance in order to impose a mode of socioeconomic organisation that benefits so few, and lowers the standard of living for so many.

Neoliberalism was never the way forward: it only went backwards

Conservatives would be better named “Regressives”. They’re elitist and really are nasty authoritarians, who have chosen to impose a socioeconomic model that fails most people, destroys all of our public services, extends exploitation of labour, creates massive inequality and absolute poverty, damages the environment, eats away at public funds while shifting them to private bank accounts. Then the need exists to manufacture political justification narratives to cover the devastating social damage inficted, which stigmatises and blames everyone who is failed by this failing system for being failed.

If the public had known all along what neoliberalism really is, and what its consequences are, they would never have wanted it. People are dying and other people are buying the planned and prepared bent rationale and political denials.

Apparently, there is “no causal link between punitive “behavioural change” policies and distress”, apparently. Examples of hardship, harm, suicide and death are simply “anecdotal”. Critics of policies and government decision-making are “scaremongering”, “extremists”, “enemies of the state”,  “deluded commies” and so on. Yet most of us are simply advicates of social democracy and justice. 

If you ever wondered how genocide happens, and how a nation come to somehow accept the terrible deeds of despots, well it starts much like this. It unfolds in barely perceptible stages: it starts with prejudiced language, divisive narratives, the promotion of the work ethic, exclusion, media propaganda, widening political prejudice, scapegoating, outgrouping and stigmatisation, acts of violence, and then extermination.

Our moral boundaries are being pushed incrementally. Before you know it, you hate the “workshy”, you believe that disabled people are shirkers who place an unacceptable burden on the state, you see all refugees and migrants as potential thieves, fraudsters and terrorists, and poor people are simply choosing the easy option. When political role models permit the public to hate, directing anger and fear at marginalised social grups, it isn’t long before the once unacceptable becomes thinkable.

The public conforms to changing norms. We become habituated. It’s difficult to believe a state may intentionally inflict harm on citizens. Our own government is guilty of “grave and systematic” abuses of the human rights of disabled people. A government capable of targeting such punitive policies at disabled people is capable of anything.

Conservatives think that civilised society requires imposed order, top down control and clearly defined classes, with each person aware of their rigidly defined “place” in the social order. Conservatism is a gate-keeping exercise geared towards economic discrimination and preventing social mobility for the vast majority.

David Cameron’s Conservative party got into Office by riding on the shockwaves of the 2008 global banking crisis: by sheer opportunism, dishonesty and by extensively editing the narrative about cause of that crisis. The Conservatives shamefully blamed it on “the big state” and “too much state spending.”

They have raided and devastated the public services and social security that citizens have paid for via taxes and national insurance. Support provision for citizens has been cut to the bone. And then unforgivably, they blamed the victims of those savage, ideologically-directed cuts for the suffering imposed on them by the Conservative Party, using the media to amplify their despicable, vicious scapegoating narratives. 

Setting up competition between social groups for resources just means everyone loses except for the very wealthy and powerful. This last 7 years we have witnessed the dehumanisation of refugees and migrants, of disabled people, of unemployed people, of young people, of the elderly and those on low pay. We have also witnessed the unearned contempt for and subsequent deprofessionalisation of doctors, economists, social scientists, academics, teachers, and experts of every hue in order to silence valid and democratic challenges and criticism of destructive government policies and ideology.

Many of us have pointed out that intent behind austerity has nothing to do with economic necessity, nor is it of any benefit to the economy. It’s simply to redistribute public wealth to private (and often offshore) bank accounts. The many deaths correlated with the Conservative’s punitive policies were considered and dismissed as acceptable “collateral damage”. The government constructed a lie about the economic “need” for people “living within our means” but at the same time as imposing cruel cuts on the poorest citizens, George Osborne awarded an obscene handout in the form of a tax cut of £107, 000 each per year to the millionaires.

Neoliberalism has transformed public funds into the disposible income of the very rich. Disabled people are suffering, and some are dying in poverty, unable to meet their basic needs so that wealthy people can hoard a little more wealth. Since 2010, very wealthy people have enjoyed other fiscally rewarding policy whilst the poorest have endured harsh austerity and seen their living standards deteriorate steadily. We have witnessed the return of absolute poverty – where people cannot meet the costs of their basic survival needs, such as for food, fuel and shelter –  as a direct consequence of the diminished welfare state since 2010. 

The current political and cultural narrative was carefully constructed to hide the truth from the wider population, ensuring that responsibility for individual people’s circumstances was relocated from the state to within those harmed by state actions: those ministers doing the harming via policies simply deny any empirical evidence of harm that they are presented, often clinging to psychological explanations of “mental illness” rather than acknowledging the wider role of adverse socioeconomic circumstances and political decision-making in the increasing number of people ending their own life, for example. Cases are despicably and callously dismissed as mere “anecdotal” accounts.

The harm being inflicted on disabled people in order to snatch back their lifeline support cannot be passed off as being the “unintentional consequences” of policies. The government clearly knew in advance what harm such draconian policies would result in. I say this because the evidence is that planning and preparation went into a comprehensive programme of reducing living conditions, public expectation, civil liberties and human rights. Or at least ignoring human rights legal frameworks. The right to redress and remedy has also been removed.

For example, the withdrawing of legal aid – particularly for welfare and medical negligence cases – preparing in advance for a UN inquiry; the political use of denial, behaviourism and pseudoscience to stifle public criticism; the introduction of mandatory reviews to deter appeals for wrongful Department for Work and Pesions (DWP) decisions; the devastating cuts to every support available to the poorest; the deprofessionalising of GPs and medical professionals; the claims that work is the only route out of poverty (when wages are intentionally depressed and many working people live in poverty) despite, evidence to the contrary, and our national insurance and tax system; the framework of psychological and material coercion inflicted on people claiming any form of welfare, forcing them to accept ANY work, thus pushing wages down further, since that completely removes any chance of wage bargaining; further destroying the unions; the passing of controversial and harmful policies by using statutory instruments, which reduces scope for scrutiny and objection in parliament; re-writing policies, legal rulings and changing the law to accommodate Conservative ideological criteria; shaping media “striver/scrounger” narratives and so on – all of these political deeds indicate a government that was well aware of the harmful consequences of their policies in advance of passing them into law, and that planned ahead, taking measures to stifle the potential for a public backlash.

Jeremy Corbyn’s apparently ‘improbable’ success in promoting a politics of social democracy, justice and integrity has matured, and realigned its centre with national sentiment. The Labour party have succeeded in breaking the neoliberal grip on intellectual thought in the UK, at last.

“For a long period of time, all economic thought has been dominated by trickle down economics, where if you issue tax cuts to corporations and the rich, the money will somehow filter down the rest of society,” John McDonnell says. 

“Well that’s significantly been proven wrong in this recent political debate, and we can see it, whether it’s people queuing up at food banks, housing shortages, millions of children living in poverty, two thirds of those families with someone in work. People all around are realising that this economic theory has failed, and what we’re trying to do is offer them an alternative. That’s what our manifesto was all about.”

A paradigm change is long overdue – by which I mean a substantial shift in the accepted way of thinking about the economy.  It may well be imminent. 

By the end of the second world war, the Keynesian revolution was sufficiently advanced for the Labour party to offer a comprehensive new approach to economic policymaking. Similarly, in 1979, the Conservative party was able to present the main elements of neoliberal thinking as the solution to the economic problems that blighted the economy in the 1970s. Up until recently, there was nothing comparable for the opponents of neoliberalism to latch on to.

New Labour continued with the neoliberal project, though they did temper this with a focus on ensuring adequate social provision to mitigate the worst ravages of untrammelled free market capitalism.

May recently felt the need to defend free market capitalism itself, which is a measure of how terrified the Tories are by Labour’s rise. yet the Conservative manifesto had drawn on left wing rhetoric, in order to appeal. It didn’t, however, because no-one believes the Conservatives’ “progressive” claims any more.

Laughably, the Conservative manifesto claimed: “We do not believe in untrammeled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism. We abhor social division, injustice, unfairness and inequality.”

It’s a pretty desperate improvisation by the Tories as they try to respond to angry citizens and mass concerns about social issues like inequality and growing poverty. However, the Conservatives have never been a “savior” of the working people, as their dismantling of Trade Union power demonstrates all too well. The Tories’ savage cuts to spending on public services belied May’s phoney redistributionist rhetoric. May’s hysterical left-wing posturing against the inequality and social division created by Conservatives has simply confirmed that the Anglo-American neoliberal revolution of the 1980s is over.

Corbyn’s Labour party has built a consensus for change. Such change is essential to ensure that the toothmarks of necessity – the bite of absolute poverty, and the social disarray caused by over 35 years of culminating neoliberalism – are eased, soothed and healed in much the same way that the post-war Keynesian consensus era – which brought with it legal aid, social housing, the NHS and welfare – healed our society following the devastating consequences of a world war. 

McDonnell has also articulated his vision for what he terms a “political renaissance”, where people aren’t limited by existing ideas and structures and have the space to come up with ideas that the party can debate and discuss. This is participatory politics and democracy in action. 

He says: “We’re trying to open up every avenue we possibly can for people to get engaged. It’s about asking people what are you interested in, how do you think it works better, what ideas have you got? It just overcomes some of the staleness we might have had in past years.”

This is a welcomed, long overdue and such a refreshing contrast to Conservatism, which is defined by its opposition to social progressivism. Neoliberals have tried to persuade us that there is no alternative to neoliberalism. They lied. A lot. Now they are dazed and confused because the establishment were so certain that Corbyn’s rise wasn’t supposed to happen. It couldn’t, the media informed us. Over and over.

But it has. It was inevitable. The Labour party had an ace up their sleeve: public interest and democratic accountability. Two sides of the same card.

It’s about time someone lit the way for us, enabling us to find the way out of the dark neoliberal torture dungeon. And once we’ve escaped, we really ought to jail our jailers.

At the very least, neoliberalism should be confined to the dustbin of history.

Looney Tunes.
Illustration by Andrew Rae

 

I don’t make any money from my work. But you can support Politics and Insights and contribute by making a donation which will help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated, and helps to keep my articles free and accessible to all – thank you. 

DonatenowButton

top 100 blogs