Category: Political ideology

Grenfell is a horrific consequence of a Conservative ‘leaner and more efficient state’


Hayley Dixon write in the Telegraph today: “A litany of failings in building regulation and safety rules have left residents in tower blocks vulnerable for decades. Despite constant warnings from fire experts, nothing was done to improve fire-proofing standards, or even review the current situation.” They present eight times that the victims of Grenfell Tower were let down.” 

These were:

Until 1986 all buildings in London fell under the London Building Acts which ensured that external walls must have at least one hour of fire resistance to prevent flames from spreading between flats or entering inside.

But under Margaret Thatcher’s government, those rules were replaced by the National Buildings Regulations and the crucial time stipulation was scrapped.

Instead, materials used on the outside of buildings now only had to meet ‘Class O’ regulations and show that they did not add to the heat or intensity of a fire. But crucially they did not have to be non-combustible. For the past three decades fire safety experts have warned that the ‘Class O’ designation was based on small-scale tests conducted in laboratory conditions and did not properly evaluate cladding in a live fire. A recent London Fire Brigade investigation into the fire at a tower block fire at Shepherd Court in West London in August 2016 found that external cladding had helped the fire to spread.

They found that when exposed to high flames the metal sheet of the cladding had melted away, setting the inner polystyrene foam on fire and allowing ‘flaming droplets’ to fall onto lower floors while helping flames to spread higher up. Fire chiefs wrote to every council in London to warn them of the dangers but no action was taken.

Dangerous cladding

A leading fire safety expert warned Government advisors three years ago that a tragedy like the Grenfell Tower inferno would happen unless they changed rules to ban cheap, flammable insulation used on the outside of buildings.

Arnold Turling said the Grenfell blaze was “entirely avoidable” and that a gap between the panels acted as a ‘wind tunnel’, fanning the flames, and allowing the fire to spread to upper levels.

Turling, a member of the Association of Specialist Fire Protection, said: “Any burning material falls down the gaps and the fire spreads up very rapidly – it acts as its own chimney.”

White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower
White cladding pictured on the right of Grenfell Tower CREDIT: EPA

Three years ago Tarling, a chartered surveyor, addressed the British Standards Institute’s seventh annual fire conference in London, at which government fire safety advisor Brian Martin was present.

“I said we will have this type of cladding fire in this country and it will lead to large numbers of deaths,” he said.

It emerged last night that the United States had banned the type of cladding thought to have been used on Grenfell Tower. 

The material used on Grenfell Tower was sold under the brand Reynobond which comes in three different varieties: one with a flammable plastic core and two with fire-resistant cores and the cheaper, more combustible, version was banned in the United States in buildings taller than 40 feet. 

It is thought that Grenfell’s exterior cladding, added in 2015, had a polyethylene – or plastic – core but conforms to UK standards.

Reynobond’s fire-resistant panel sells for £24 per square metre; £2 more expensive than the standard version.

Following the Shepherd Court fire, insurer RSA wrote a report warning that flammable material in insulation panels “melts and ignites relatively easily”, and can cause “extremely rapid fire spread and the release of large volumes of toxic smoke”.

They concluded: “This allows extensive and violent fire to spread, and makes fire fighting almost impossible.”

Architect and fire safety expert Sam Webb said there was a “conflict” between fire safety and the materials that are used to make buildings more energy efficient.

However Harley Curtain Wall Ltd said that it had installed cladding, with polyisocyanurate inside, a material which is “better than most at resisting fire in tests.”

No government review  

After six people died in the Lakanal House fire in south London in 2009, the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety and Rescue Group called for a major government review of building regulations. Sucessive ministers since 2013 have said they are still looking at it.

They argued that 4,000 tower blocks across London were at risk because of a lack of fire risk assessments, and panels on the outside walls not providing the necessary fire resistance.

The coroner on the Lakanal House inquest also recommended the government simplify regulations relating to fire safety so they were easier for landlords to understand.

Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London
Concerns have been raised about many more tower blocks across London. CREDIT: GETTY

In 2013, then communities secretary Eric Pickles responded to the coroner’s recommendations and promised a review with an updated version of building regulations published in 2016/17.

However, four years on and no review has been completed despite assurances from former housing minister Gavin Barwell, who is now Theresa May’s chief of staff.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said the work is “ongoing” and would not give a date for when the updated regulations will be published.

A single staircase

Residents in Grenfell Tower made repeated warnings that a single staircase was their only means of escaping the building.

Despite safety concerns of experts, tower blocks in Britain still only have to have one staircase, leaving Britain out of step with other countries in the world.

Russ Timpson, of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network, said his “foreign colleagues are staggered” that there is no requirement for a second staircase as he called on the Government to look again at fire safety regulations.

Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower
Firefighters struggled to reach the upper levels of Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: EPA

Residents fleeing in Tuesday night’s blaze complained that stairways were blocked, full of smoke and had no sprinkler systems fitted. Firefighters also struggled to get to the upper levels.

Ronnie King, secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group, said: “The staircase should have been protected route for firefighters and people escaping but it was clear that it wasn’t.”

The flats had recently been refitted and fire experts warned that gaps in the walls where new pipes were installed could have allowed flames and smoke to spread quickly through the communal areas.

Missing sprinklers

There was no central sprinkler system at Glenfell which members of the Fire Protection Association said would have “undoubtedly” saved lives.

MPs from All-Party Parliamentary Group Fire Safety & Rescue Group also said that MPs had been calling for sprinklers to be fitted on the outside of tall buildings for years, but said their calls have been ignored.

Currently, sprinklers only need to be fitted up to 30 metres, but in tall buildings like Grenfell it is impossible for fire hoses to reach the upper heights, leaving the top floors without any protection.

An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower
An automated hose sprays water onto Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: AFP

The Fire Protection Association said more sprinklers would “undoubtedly” have saved lives.

 

“Whether they’d have stopped that fire spreading at the speed it did up the outside of that building is another matter,” Jon O’Neill of the FPA said.

“But to have had sprinklers in that building would have created an environment where it would have been easier to rescue people and increase survivability.”

However in 2014 housing minister Brandon Lewis stopped short of forcing building developers to fit sprinklers, over fears it could discourage house building.

He said at Westminster Hall Debate: “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building – something we want to encourage.”

Missing fire doors

London Fire Brigade said claims that doors were not fire-proofed would form part of its ongoing inquiry.

Two separate sources have told The Telegraph that not all the front doors in the tower block were fire-proofed. Official fire brigade advice to stay put in the event of a fire is based on fire doors offering protection to residents told not to leave the building.

Fire doors are designed to stop the fire spreading rapidly through the building rather than being “compartmentalised”.

A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower
A fire action sign is displayed inside a block near the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower. CREDIT: GETTY

Regulations state that all tower blocks being built must have fire doors on the flat, the stairwell and the riser doors, which give access to the pipes.

 

Building regulations are not retrospective, so cannot force the installation of modern equipment on old buildings.

However, Richard Brownlee, Managing Director of Surrey Fire and Safety Ltd, said that it would be expected that fire doors were installed as part of any refurbishment and installation would be recommended as part of any refurbishment.

Inspections

According to information released by Kensington and Chelsea Council under the Freedom of Information Act, the last time that Grenfell Tower was subject to a full Fire Risk Assessment was December 2015.

There is a requirement for every building to have regular fire risk assessments, but the amended regulations do not specify how frequently this should take place. Industry experts say that best practice is every 12 months.

It is also a requirement to have a fire risk assessment carried out if there is a “material change” to the building. The regulations do not specify how soon that inspection must take place.

The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted 'material change' 
The cladding, seen here melted, would have constituted ‘material change’.  CREDIT: JULIAN SIMMONDS

The refurbishment to Grenfell Tower was completed in May 2016 and yet it does not appear that any safety checks were carried out, even though the new cladding work consisted of ‘material change.’  

Firebreaks

Fires on outside of cladded buildings should have been controlled by firebreaks – gaps in the external envelope to prevent the continual burning of material. Under Building Regulations 1991, developers are warned that they must install systems to prevent flames from leaping from floor to floor. 

However the Fire Brigades Union and the Loss Prevention Council and the Buildings Research Establishment have frequently warned more recently that guidance is not adequate in the event of a fire. 

And fire safety experts said it was unlikely that firebreaks would have stopped the conflagration at Grenfell. 

Dr Stuart Smith, a building surveying and fire safety lecturer at Sheffield Hallam university, said: “The rate at which the building was burning suggests that even if the fire breaks were there, they didn’t work. 

“Once the fire had got into the cladding, the rate at which that burns, I’m not sure fire breaks would work anyway.” 

Jeremy Corbyn, who visited the community yesterday, to meet and speak with survivors and angry residents, said: “If you cut local authority expenditure then the price is paid somehow.” He was noting the failure to install a sprinkler system and to overhaul fire safety regulations. 

Residents say they sought to obtain legal advice over safety concerns but were prevented from doing so by cuts to legal aid. Other tower block residents, many of them among London’s poorest, have been anxiously contacting MPs for fear of a similar fate. 

Though fire crews were quick to arrive at the Kensington tower block (engines were there six minutes after being alerted), the effects of cuts were visible. “Put it this way, you’re meant to work on a fire for a maximum of four hours, we’ve been here for 12,” said one firefighter.

The Conservatives’ red tape bonfire

The Conservative’s Cutting Red Tape programme allows Business to tell Government how it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector.”  The Tories boast these “big successes” in getting rid of “unnecessary bureaucracy”:

  • Over 2,400 regulations scrapped through the Red Tape Challenge
  • Saving home builders and councils around £100m by reducing 100s of locally applied housing standards to 5 national standards
  • £90m annual savings to business from Defra reducing environmental guidance by over 80%
  • Businesses with good records have had fire safety inspections reduced from 6 hours to 45 minutes, allowing managers to quickly get back to their day job.
  • Childcare providers now have to read 33 pages of need to know guidance instead of wading through over 1,100 pages.

Apparently, “Cutting Red Tape wants to work with business, for business.”  I don’t see any benefit at all for citizens, or a democratic representation and reflection of public needs. Back in 2015, business Secretary Vince Cable and Business and Enterprise Minister Matthew Hancock announced that “better enforcement of regulation” is saving business more than £40 million every year. What that phrase actually means is not “better enforcement” – it’s deregulation. The Tories are masters of Doublespeak.

The Focus on Enforcement review programme, which asks firms to identify poor “enforcement practices” that “hold them back”, has benefited around one million businesses and boosted growth in 9 vital sectors of the economy from coastal developments to childcare. And building.

This builds on government action to scrap or reform regulatory rules which has saved firms some £10 billion over this parliament. It has also undermined health and safety legislation, consideration of which has a direct impact on the welfare of public.

The government is very “business friendly”, but when it comes to the public sector, the relationship is founded on a longstanding animosity.

Boris Johnson told a Labour opponent to “get stuffed”in 2013 when confronted over devastating fire service cuts.

Theresa May accused the Police Federation of “scaremongering” and “crying wolf”, when she was confronted over more cuts to the police. But the recognition and fear that emergency services can bear no further reductions is now becoming widespread.

And it’s also at last becoming very evident that those who have born the brunt of ideologically driven austerity cuts for the past 7 years, so that very wealthy people can pay less tax, are too often paying an unforgivable price for the savage cuts to our public emergency services, in one of the richest nations in the world.

 


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Theresa May voted against anti-terror legislation, Jeremy Corbyn signed a motion that condemned IRA violence in 1994

The Conservatives have conducted their election campaign with sneering contempt, meaningless soundbites, trivial glittering generalities and barely a veneer of democratic engagement.

The misleading comments, half-truths, out of context one-liners and misquotes that have dominated the Conservatives’ typically authoritarian approach are a disgrace to politics, and the media that has accommodated these deplorable tactics and vapid crib sheet insults without holding the government to account have also played a part in undermining our democracy and distorting the terms of debate.

Any question the Tories are asked that they would prefer not to answer is met with a descent into gossipmongering about Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott. And when pressed, the Conservatives are always conservative with the truth. They are masters at erecting fact proof screens. This shows that the Conservatives have nothing but contempt for our democratic process. 

The corporate media are providing fewer and fewer venues for genuine democratic deliberation of political issues. Ordinary citizens are most often being treated as passive receptacles of “information” provided by media networks. It’s all style over content, though. The media should never be reduced to being a front for Conservative fake news.

Indexing, and media framing means that large organizations authorised to advance a news agenda often take their direction from political elites, and rely on those elite actors as sources of “information.” Media literacy and public democratic debate has little room to thrive in such a media environment. That needs to change. The public’s trust in the media has already been undermined considerably over recent years. The biggest concern is the negative impact that this has on our democracy and on public interest.

The Tories have no decorum, nor do they offer any genuine discussion about the details of Conservative policies whatsoever. Even worse, the Conservatives are so arrogant, they don’t feel they have to discuss their policy intentions or behave in an accountable and transparent manner at all. This is a government that have got their own way for far too long. They have spent their campaign telling the public who they should and should not vote for.  To vote for anyone but the Conservatives, they say, is “dangerous”. 

Not if you happen to be sick and disabled, however. Ask the United Nations.

A strategy of tension and perpetuated myths

Despite what the Conservatives have been saying to the public, Jeremy Corbyn signed a motion in the House of Commons that condemned IRA violence and “extended its sympathy to the relatives of those murdered”. 

He supported an early day motion put forward by Labour MP David Winnick to commemorate the victims of the IRA bombing in Birmingham in 1974. 

The motion was tabled on the 20 year anniversary of the attack that killed 21 people and injured 182 others and was signed by Corbyn in November 1994.  

The motion said: “This House notes that it is 20 years since the mass killings of 21 people in Birmingham as a result of terrorist violence; deplores that such an atrocity occurred and again extends its deepest sympathy to the relatives of those murdered and also to all those injured. And strongly hopes that the present cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland will be permanent and thus ensure that such an atrocity as took place in Birmingham as well as the killings in many other places both in Northern Ireland itself and Great Britain will never occur again.”

Despite the fact the Labour leader has said several times during televised interviews that he condemns “all bombing” that took place during that period, journalists, political editors and correspondents seem to nonetheless feel a need to constantly ask if he will “denounce” IRA terrorism. The Conservatives have been permitted to peddle untruths and manipulate half truths unchecked. It’s almost as if Lynton Crosby, the high priest of divisive politics, dead cats and dog whistles, has widely distributed a crib sheet of a limited range of limited questions to be repeated over and over, such as this one, to divert everyone from any discussion whatsoever about policies or anything remotely meaningful. 

I’m rather disgusted in our so-called “impartial” national media for allowing this to happen without any critical thought or investigation whatsoever. Or genuine facilitation of democratic debate. You know, those things that journalists and such are actually paid to do. 

If someone pressed me over and over to denounce the IRA and to imply that England were entirely blameless in the Troubles, I would have been much less polite than Corbyn. This was an absolutely disgusting manipulation of Corbyn’s integrity.

It is possible to feel sympathy for ALL of those deaths and those family and loved ones left behind, in such a tragic, violent and seemingly relentless ethno-nationalist conflict.

Despite the fact that the British government claimed neutrality and deployed military forces to Northern Ireland simply to “maintain law and order”, the British security forces focused on republican paramilitaries and activists, and the Ballast investigation by the Police Ombudsman confirmed that British forces colluded on several occasions with loyalist paramilitaries, were involved in murder, and furthermore obstructed the course of justice when claims of collusion and murder were investigated. 

The British Army shot dead thirteen unarmed male civilians at a proscribed anti-internment rally in Derry, on 30 January, 1972 (“Bloody Sunday”). A fourteenth man died of his injuries some months later and more than fourteen other civilians were wounded. The march had been organised by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). 

This was one of the most prominent events that occurred during the Northern Irish Conflict as it was recorded as the largest number of people killed in a single incident during the period.

Bloody Sunday greatly increased the hostility of Catholics and Irish nationalists towards the British military and government while significantly elevating tensions during the Northern Irish Conflict. As a result, the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) gained more support, especially through rising numbers of recruits in the local areas.

It’s possible to recognise that those civilian deaths were an outrage and tragic. It’s possible to recognise the pain of their loved ones and families left behind. It’s also possible to condemn the acts of terrorism that left english civilians dead, too. It’s possible to honour ALL of those people who were killed in the conflict. I do.

Human lives are equally precious and have equal worth. It’s a mark of insighfulness, maturity and integrity to recognise this. History has a scattering of despots commiting atrocities and genocide, because they refused to consider all people as human beings. It seems we never learn, though. Holding this perspective does not mean that I cannot also condemn acts of despicable terrorism. 

The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought lasting peace. History actualy showed that Corbyn’s approach was the right one. So we need to ask ourselves why it is that Theresa May, her party, and the media are so fixated on events that happened over 20 years ago. For the record, Margaret Thatcher held secret meetings with the IRA to negotiate peace. John Major also had established links with the IRA for the same reason.

Quite properly so. It’s reasonable to expect our government to explore diplomatic solutions to conflicts in order to keep citizens safe.

It beggars belief that the media have permitted this opportunist political hectoring from the Tories to continue relatively unchallenged. It didn’t take a lot of  research – fact checking – to find this information, yet nobody else seems to have bothered.

It’s against the law for politicians to lie about their opponent’s character, or misrepresent them during an election campaign, by the way. I’m saving up all f those dark ads to send to the Electoral Commission with my complaint.

Just to emphasis how absurd the Conservative election campaign has become, it’s worth considering this:

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And this

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Does Prince Charles have “links with terrorists”?

FT5S-Gerry-Adams-Donald-Trump-Irish-Voice

How about Donald Trump?

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Gosh, I have a strong sense of deja vu

There is a picture of Corbyn circulating in both the mainstream media and on social media that was taken in 1995 with Gerry Adams, (of Sinn Fein), in an attempt to try to link Corbyn with IRA “sympathies”, albeit indirectly. The picture was actually taken after the Downing Street Declaration (an agreement between the UK and Ireland that the Northern Irish people had the right to self-determination) which led to the first IRA ceasefire, under Major’s government. Corbyn contributed to the debate by pushing the IRA to abandon the bombings and sit down to negotiate since the 1980s. He has made it clear that he prefers diplomatic solutions to war. Rightly so. War should only ever be considered as a last resort. Wars do not keep people safe, but sometimes they become necessary, of course.

Voting against Anti-Terrorism Legislation

Jeremy Corbyn has voted against Anti-Terrorism Bills. They are complex pieces of legislation which have sometimes presented human rights conflicts within the details, for example. Theresa May also voted against Anti-Terrorism Legislation in 2005. The Conservatives have certainly been conservative with the truth and misled the public, implying that Corbyn is “soft” on terrorism, but of course Theresa May isn’t. Strong and stable propaganda from the Selfservatives.

Amber Rudd said recently on the televised leader’s debate:“I am shocked that Jeremy Corbyn, just in 2011, ‘boasted’ that he had opposed every piece of anti-terror legislation in his 30 years in office.”

Much to Rudd’s discomfort, Corbyn has replied:

“Can I just remind you that in 2005 Theresa May voted against the anti-terror legislation at that time. She voted against it, as did David Davis, as did a number of people that are now in your cabinet, because they felt that the legislation was giving too much executive power.”  ( Jeremy Corbyn, BBC Election Debate.)

I looked at the voting records to fact check this. Corbyn is right, of course. Here is what I found:

On 28 Feb 2005: Theresa May voted no on the Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Third Reading 

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of New Lords’ Amendment — Sunset Clause

On 9 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Rejection of Lords’ Amendment — Human Rights Obligations

On 10 Mar 2005: Theresa May voted no on Prevention of Terrorism Bill — Insisted Amendment — on Human Rights Obligations 

Source: Theyworkforyou.  

Broadening my search, I also found:

Terrorism Act 2000 – legislation introduced by the Labour government which gave a broad definition of terrorism for the first time. The Act also gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to seven days and created a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

May: Absent from the final vote.

Counter-terrorism Act 2008

This legislation gave powers to the police to question terrorist suspects after they had been charged. It also tried to extend detention without charge to 42 days, but the Labour government abandoned this after being defeated in the House of Lords.

May: Absent from the vote.

Political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and have permitted, fairly uniformly, Conservative propaganda to frame the debates, with the same misquotes, misinformation and misleading and trivial emphasis being repeated over and over. That the government are using such underhand tactics – mostly smear and fearmongering attempts – to win an election, unchallenged, is disgraceful. To witness such illiberal discussion taking place without a shred of concern is actually pretty frightening. We have seen, over the last 7 years, the Conservatives’ authoritarianism embedded in punitive policies, in a failure to observe the basic human rights of some social groups, in their lack of accontability and diffusion of responsibility for the consequences of their draconian policies, and in their lack of democratic engagement with the opposition. Hurling personal insults, sneering and shouting over critics has become normalised by the Tories. People don’t recoil any more from what has often been dreadfully unreasonable hectoring. But they ought to.

Journalists may uphold public interest, they may contribute to the damage of democratic discourse, or they may remain indifferent. They make choices. One day the public will recognise those choices for what they are. The media have permitted a government to run an election campaign on simply telling people who they should not vote for, rather than one which informs people of policy choices, impacts and future political intentions. That is not healthy for democracy, which has been reduced by the Conservatives to gossipmongering, a lack of decorum, misquotes and dark ads and nudging people’s voting decisions.

You can learn such a lot about a person from the tone they use, and by a basic analysis of their language. The unforgettable slips by Iain Duncan Smith recently, when pressed about the triple tax lock and manifesto  – “Look, what we were trying to get away with… er… get away from, rather…” 

Who could forget Cameron’s slip: “We are saving more money for the rich”. A couple of moments of inadvertent truth.

Theresa May says “I will”.  A lot.

Jeremy Corbyn says “WE will”.

Only one of them is democratic and open to genuine dialogue. The other one is Theresa May.

 

Related

The biggest threat to our national security and safety is authoritarian Conservative posturing and their arms deals to despotic states

Theresa May lies about Labour Policy on Question Time 

Theresa May is ‘responsible’ for London terror attack and must resign says top David Cameron aide

I Served In Northern Ireland – And Corbyn’s Understanding Of The Troubles Has Been Proven Right By History

 


 

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Alleged Conservative Twitter account claims poor people are ‘dangerous’ and food bank users spend their money on drugs and alcohol

Tories on poor

A Twitter account claiming to be the Lincolnshire Conservatives has been suspended after complaints were made about some of its tweets which said poor people were “dangerous” and food bank users had “no cooking skills”.

The tweets were posted overnight on June 2  and originate from an account claiming to be to be the official Twitter account for Lincolnshire Conservatives, with a location tag in Grantham. 

Several offensive tweets were posted, including ridiculous with claims that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was “impotent” and “disappoints his wife,” suggesting that he would similarly disappoint voters.

The poster boasted about tweeting from Grantham, the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, and professing to have “never been more confident” about winning the election.

Tweets from the account also said: “The vast majority of people who use food banks have poor budgeting skills and no cooking skills.

“They usually resort to a life crime and then blame the government for their deplorable lifestyle. Corbyn supports those rogues.”

The account also tweeted that “poor people are not “vulnerable”, they are dangerous due to the fact that they are addicted to drugs and have NOTHING to lose.

It’s certainly true that Conservative ministers and peers such as Iain Duncan Smith and Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, have tended to conflate poverty with poor budgeting and cooking skills. Many Tories have implied poverty arises because of “faulty behaviours” and “lifestyle choices” rather than being a consequence of political choices and policies that extend inequality, and an inevitable feature of our “competitive” economic organisation.

This scapegoating approach has been used by the Conservatives to attempt to justify the extremely punitive “behaviour change” policies and austerity programme directed almost exclusively at the poorest citizens. 

Both Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron have previously implied that poverty arises because of “worklessness”, obesity, alcoholism and substance misuse. There is no evidence to support this claim. In fact the available evidence strongly suggests that individuals are more likely to drink regularly and above recommended limits during the week if s/he is a high-income earning managerial/professional worker. 

The tweets, from a fake account or otherwise, certainly capture something of the Conservative mindset, and reflect their traditional prejudices.

Richard Davies, Conservative county councillor for Grantham, North West, told Lincolnshire Reporter: “It’s a fake account.

“We’ve reported it to Twitter for impersonating us and they’ve taken it down.

“Our account is @LincsTories.”

It’s unusual for Conservatives to call themselves “Tories” because of the derogatory connotations of the word – “Tory” derives from the Irish word tóraidhe; modern Irish tóraí; modern Scottish Gaelic Tòraidh: outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. The term was originally a term of abuse, and remains a pejorative.

 

See also: Conservatives, Cruelty and the Collective Unconscious

 


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What I don’t understand about Conservatism

Image result for conservatism uk

I don’t understand Conservatism or the lack of rationale of its supporters.

As an ideology, it lacks coherence and scope. Conservative policies lack an empirical evidence base.

It doesn’t take very much critical scrutiny to understand that it is purely ideology (as opposed to socioeconomic needs) and traditional class-based prejudices and moralising that drive Tory legislation. Conservative rhetoric seems so random and inconsistent to me. We have an extremely regressive and authoritarian government with something of a feudal vision, that clearly has no problem with disregarding and contravening the human rights of some social groups – especially those groups that are deemed “protected”.

The Conservatives have no problem dismantling the progressive social gains of our post-war settlement (for example, legal aid, social housing, the NHS, the welfare state). The same government wants to bring back the ancient and barbaric ritual of fox hunting, yet it has the cheek to claim its opposition will “take us back to the seventies”.  Mind you, they say that about every Labour leader at every general election.

I was recently chatting with a political social psychologist about my lack of understanding about the Conservative’s profoundly antisocial and antidemocatic worldview. He told me that Conservatives have a very different moral worldview to those on the left, based on authority and discipline, (which is why they always tend towards a punitive authoritarianism in power) that lacks the notion of human dignity. As such, they are likely to experience a lower “disgust” response to human rights abuses.

There is a continuing debate on whether cognitive or emotional mechanisms underlie moral judgments, or whether emotional mechanisms actually shape cognitive ones. Recent studies have illustrated that emotions – particularly disgust – play a prominent role in moral reasoning. It seems to have a particularly strong influence on our judgments in the social andpolitical domains, too. We can feel disgust for immoral actions, for people, or for entire social groups. 

Presenting some social groups as “disgusting” by the creation of stereotypes and the use of stigmatising rhetoric can also be used intentionally to create social divisions by manipulating social prejudices. Others find the political act of dehumanising others disgusting. 

Social stigma messages bear certain recognisable attributes: they provide cues to categorize and distinguish people, and to demarcated groups as a discrete social entity; they imply a responsibility and blame for receiving placement within this demarcated outgroup and an associated “moral peril”, and this distinguished group is then associated to physical, social and economic peril.

Stigma messages evoke a variety of emotions – fear, anger and disgust – that motivate people to adopt relevant or related social attitudes. Stigma attitudes encourage the sharing of stigma messages with others in a network, which may, subsequently, bond ingroup members whilst further alienating the outgroup.

Image result for disability stigmatising messages in the newspapers

Media portrayals of disabled people that preempted public sympathy for those most affected by the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms” – a Conservative euphemism for disproportionately targeted and devastating austerity cuts. Political rhetoric framed the cuts in terms of “incentives” to “encourage” sick and disabled people into work, implying that they are simply “workshy” rather than unable to work, and making out that they are an economic burden on “the tax payer”.

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My own observations are that Conservatives are rather more moralising than moral. They create folk devils, and use the media to generate public disgust and disdain to fuel moral panics and maintain  social outgroups. You can always predict where the next round of austerity cuts will be targeted by the group that is being demonised in the media, and by the othering rhetoric of ministers – usually it’s a variation on the “scrounger/striver” dichotomy and the “burden on the tax payer” narrative. 

The Conservatives also reconstruct the world hierarchically – Conservative policies quite clearly generate and sustain inequality. I don’t understand why anyone would think that some lives are more important and worth more than others, but Conservatives really do.

Conservatives also have a strong need to keep a tight control of the world around them, they seem to fear change and make sense of social reality via taxonomies, categories and counts. As a defense mechanism, it’s really rather anally retentive.

They think that inequality is the “natural order” of things, based on notions of “deserving” and “undeserving”, so inevitably, they think some people’s lives are worth less than others. They don’t seperate wealth, power and status from rights, unfortunately, and miss the whole point of universal human rights frameworks. For the New Right neoliberals, the only rights that matter are property rights and the liberty to compete for resources and wealth. However, human rights are all about holding the wealthy and powerful to account, to prevent abuses of power.

Surely any government that has such a blatant disregard for the rights of some citizens is a serious cause for concern in a wealthy, so-called first world democracy. Democracy by its very nature is, after all, supposed to be inclusive.

You can discern a lot about people by looking at their attitude and behaviour towards animals, because that indicates how they will regard and treat people with little power. Killing animals for “sport” is something I find loathsome and abhorrent. I don’t understand why anyone would or could be so cruel.

The Dark Triad

Inflicting acts of intentional animal torture and cruelty is quite often associated with antisocial personality disorders. In particular, it is associated with a triad of specific characteristics of personality – Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy (the malevolent Dark Triad). A 2013 study carried out by Dr. Phillip Kavanagh and his colleagues examined the relationship between the three Dark Triad personality traits and attitudes towards animal abuse and self-reported acts of animal cruelty. The study found that the psychopathy trait especially was related to intentionally hurting or torturing animals, and was also a composite measure of all three Dark Triad traits.

So how does animal cruelty link with how a person regards and treats other people?

I’m not going to argue here that all Conservatives are psychopaths. However, I am going to explore values, behaviours, traits, attitudes and worldviews using a framework of psychology.

So, what makes a Conservative a Conservative?

Some researchers have linked personality traits with political ideology. For example, Robert (Bob) Altemeyer’s right wing authoritarianism (RWA) construct emphasises submission, obedience, conventionalism, and aggression as a result of social learning (Altemeyer, 1998), conformist personality, and danger-themed worldviews. 

An additional authoritarian variable, social dominance orientation (SDO; Pratto, Sidanius, Stallworth, & Malle, 1994), found endorsement of intergroup hierarchies and inequalities resulting from a “tough-minded personality” that prefers inequality among social groups, lacks empathy and holds competitive, individualist worldviews (Duckitt, 2005). 

Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is negatively correlated with empathy, tolerance, communality, and altruism. As I said, Consevatives tend to be quite antisocial.

Some people much prefer wide social inequalities. SDO is conceptualised as a measure of individual differences in levels of group-based discrimination; that is, it is a measure of a person’s preference for status-ranking and hierarchy within society and domination over what are perceived as lower-status outgroups. And animals, whose lives are seen as unimportant and disposable.

See Mass contempt for cruel, unscientific badger culling ignored and:


So Conservatives tend to show a predisposition toward anti-egalitarianism within and between social groups. High scores of SDO predict stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice. SDO also correlates with forms of right wing authoritarianism.

These characteristics and differences may be framed in a theory of basic human values.  

Emotional disgust plays an important role in our ethical outlook more generally. We find certain types of unethical actions disgusting, and this operates to keep us from engaging in them and makes us express disapproval of them. But according to research, psychopaths have extremely high thresholds for disgust. Of course, psychopaths fail to recognise even the most universal social obligations and norms.

Much of the way people make sense of the world is through emotion. It informs our “gut” decisions, it forges and sustains our connections to people and places, our sense of belonging and purpose. It is almost impossible to imagine life without feelings – until you come across a psychopath.

However, psychopaths often cover up their emotional coldness and moral deficit with an above average level of ever-ready charisma and engaging charm. That’s how psychopaths gain power over others and manipulate them ruthlessly, as a means to their own ends. They have a glib and superficial, but usually plausible and cunning charm that obscures their lack of empathy, principles and remorse.  

Psychopaths don’t tend to be socially awkward. They are often of better-than-average intelligence. They do not express true remorse, genuine emotion or a desire to change. Though they are often experts at telling people what they want to hear. 

Social dominance orientation is a personality trait which predicts social and political attitudes, and is a widely used social psychological scale. SDO as a measurable individual difference arose from social dominance theory. Individuals who score high in SDO desire to maintain and, in many cases, increase the differences between social statuses of different groups, as well as individual group members. Typically, they are controlling, manipulative, competitive, aggressive, dominating, tough, and unempathic, uncaring power-seekers.

People scoring high in SDO also prefer strongly hierarchical group orientations. Often, people who score high in SDO have strongly held beliefs in forms of social Darwinism. It has also been found that men are generally higher than women in SDO measures.

Studies have found that SDO has a strong positive relationship with authoritarian, sexist and racist beliefs. With right wing authoritarianism (RWA), it contributes to different forms of prejudice; SDO correlates to higher prejudice against socioeconomically disadvantaged groups, RWA correlates to higher prejudice against threatening groups, while both are associated with increases in prejudice for “dissident” groups. 

SDO is linked with callous affect (which is to be found on the psychopathy sub-scale) – the “polar opposite” of empathy. Research also strongly suggests that those scoring high on SDO proactively avoid scenarios that could prompt them to be more empathetic or tender-minded. This avoidance also decreases concern for the welfare of others.  

SDO also has a direct effect on generalized prejudice, as lack of empathy makes one unable to put oneself in another other person’s shoes, which is also a predictor of prejudice and antidemocratic views. Extensive research has provided evidence that a high social dominance orientation is strongly correlated with Conservative political views, and opposition to policy programmes and policies that aim to promote equality. SDO is also positively and significantly correlated with Dark Triad variables. 

Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy correlated with immigrant threat perceptions and increased prejudice. 

I have a theory that while psychopaths simply lack the capacity for empathy, and can’t learn it, empaths can become desensitised, and unlearn concern for the welfare of others – they can be switched off. Research also suggests this is true. Democratic societies tend to be lower in SDO measures. That’s genuinely democratic societies, which requires the inclusion of all social groups, not just politically defined ingroups. 

Political interventions can shift compassionate left wing people temporarily to the political right. And notably, none of them seem to have anything substantive to do with policy, or with the widely understood political and ideological differences between the left and right. 

Here is a list of five things that can switch off left wing liberals, courtesy of Chris Mooney, an American science and political journalist: 

Distraction. Several studies have shown that “cognitive load” – in other words, requiring people to do something that consumes most or all of their attention, like listening to a piece of music and noting how many tones come before each change in pitch – produces a conservative political shift.

In one study, for instance, left wing and conservative subjects were asked whether government health care should be extended to a hypothetical group of AIDS victims who were responsible for their own fates (they’d contracted the disease while knowing the risks, and having unprotected sex anyway).  

Those on the left of the political spectrum, who were not under load – not distracted – wanted to help such people, despite the fact that they were personally responsible for their plight. But  the left wingers under load were much more like conservatives, appearing to reason using the just world fallacy: that this group of AIDS victims had “gotten what they deserved”. (Cognitive load did not appear to change the view of conservatives in the study.) 

Drunkenness. Alcohol intoxication is not unlike cognitive load, in that it cuts down the capacity for in-depth, nuanced thinking, and privileges economical, quick responses. Sure enough, in a recent study of 85 bar patrons, blood alcohol content was related to increased political conservatism for left wingers and conservatives alike. 

The drinkers still knew whether they were left leaning or conservative, of course. But when asked how much they agreed with a variety of statements of political principles – like, “Production and trade should be free of government interference”—higher blood alcohol content was associated with giving more conservative answers.

Time Pressure. In another study reported in the same paper, participants were asked how much they endorsed a variety of politically tinged words, like “authority” and “civil rights.” In one study condition, they had to see the term and respond to it in about 1.5 seconds; in the other condition, they had 4 seconds to do so. This made a political difference: subjects under time pressure were more likely to endorse conservative terms. 

Cleanliness/Purity. In another fascinating study, subjects who were asked political questions near a hand sanitizer, or asked to use a hand wipe before responding, also showed a rightward shift. In this case, political conservatism was being tied not to distraction, but rather, to disgust sensitivity – an emotional response to preserve bodily purity. 

Fear. After 9/11, public support for President George W. Bush also immediately swelled. In fact, a study showed that Bush’s approval ratings increased whenever terror alert levels were issued by the Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the phenomenon of “liberal hawks” who wanted to attack Iraq was much remarked upon. Why is that? 

The answer seems to involve the amygdala, a region of the emotional brain that conditions our life-preserving responses to danger. Its activity seems to have political implications: When we’re deeply afraid, tough and decisive leaders are more appealing to us. So are militaristic and absolute responses, like going to war and the death penalty; things like civil liberties, meanwhile, matter less to us. 

It is unlikely that all of the phenomena discussed above involve the same cognitive mechanism. For instance, disgust sensitivity is probably operating through a different part of the brain than fear sensitivity. Still, priming people to feel either fear or disgust in this context (the need for “cleanliness”) seems to favor political conservatism, and of course, may be manipulated in favour of politically conservative candidates. 

What all of this suggests in conclusion: Maybe we’ve been thinking about political ideology in very much the wrong way. It seems to be at least partly rooted in things deeper and more primal than the policy issues of the day, and how we individually reason that we ought to handle them. And this can be very easily manipulated. 

Moreover, it is striking that the research literature does not, at least at present, contain such a plethora of ways to bring about a temporary left wing shift – to make conservatives move left. Instead, what these cases seem to reveal are some inherent conservative political advantages, especially at times of deep fear, uncertainty, and stress. (And we’ve seen some of those recently.)

Aristotle famously wrote that “man is by nature a political animal.” Perhaps it’s about time that we pay more attention to what the word “nature” here really means. 

However, the more that a society encourages citizens to cooperate and feel concern for the welfare of others, the lower the SDO is in that culture. High levels of national income and empowerment of women are also associated with low national SDO, whereas more traditional societies with lower income, patriarchal organisation and more closed institutional systems are associated with a higher SDO.  

As neoliberals, the Conservatives see the state as a means to reshape social institutions and social relationships hierarchically, based on a model of a competitive market place. This requires a highly invasive power and mechanisms of persuasion, manifested in an authoritarian turn. Public interests are conflated with narrow economic outcomes. Public behaviours are politically micromanaged and modified. Social groups that don’t conform to ideologically defined economic outcomes and politically defined norms are stigmatised and outgrouped. 

Othering and outgrouping have become common political practices, it seems. 

Rhetoric that draws on dehumanising language may be used to desensitise citizens to the welfare of others, as previously discussed. The media is sometimes used to amplify demogogues – leaders who gain popularity by exploiting prejudice and ignorance among the public, by appealing directly to the emotions of the crowd and shutting down reasoned debate and decorum. Demagogues quite often overturn established customs of political conduct and democracy, and have no empathy for those outgroups that they direct the public’s manipulated prejudices towards. 

The rise of the of the Conservative demagogue and the return of political incorrectness 

As a political idiom, Conservatism seems unlikely to spawn demagogues. However, the rise of the neoliberal New Right marked a radical break with tradition for the Conservatives. 

Demagogues often advocate immediate, forceful action to address a “national crisis” (corresponding with a danger-themed worldview) while accusing moderate and thoughtful opponents of “weakness” or “disloyalty”. Or even “economic incompetence”. Demagogues are skilled at turning power deriving from popular support into a force that undermines the very freedoms and rule of law that democracies are made to protect. 

The most fundamental technique of all demagogues is scapegoating: blaming an ingroup’s problems on an outgroup, usually of a different socioeconomic class, ethnicity or religion. For example, the Conservatives exploited a global economic crisis to begin dismantling the welfare state, unforgivably stigmatising and outgrouping disabled people and others claiming lifeline social security, and targeting them with an extremely disproportionate and punitive burden of austerity cuts, using the media to amplify their construction of folk devils to stir up public moral panic

People who need welfare support were portrayed as “scroungers” and “frauds” (regardless of the fact that this is largely untrue) to desensitise the public regarding the often devastating impacts of the subsequent draconian policy programme. 

Demagogues have often encouraged their supporters to violently intimidate opponents, both to solidify loyalty among their supporters and to discourage or physically prevent people from speaking out or voting against them.

Image result for crush the saboteursMost demagogues make a show of appearing to be down-to-Earth, ordinary citizens just like the people whose votes they seek.

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                      Who are they trying to kid?

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Ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality are the tools that legitimise discrimination. To work, ideologies appear as self-apparent truths, while those that promote them appeal to emotions and prejudice. The use of slogans as a vehicle for emotive messaging is also common among demagogues. 

Like “Taking our country back” , “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” and other political straplines that indicate clearly that the “Big Society” isn’t so big on equality and diversity. However, as history ought to have taught us, nationalist demagogues don’t simply target the group that you may dislike. They move on to other social groups – usually scapegoating those with the least power to divert you from the damage that those with the most power are inflicting on our society.  

Even “Strong and stable leadership”, trotted out over and over, amidst the fourth wave of feminist activism, is coming from a party that is notoriously resistant to structural change through positive discrimination schemes. There is lots of evidence that self declared “strong leaders” (rather than democratic ones) are usually not, and can cause a lot of damage, politically and in the workplace.

“Strong leadership” most often entails the promotion of a compelling vision by such leaders of a totalistic nature; individual consideration, expressed in a “recruitment system” designed to activate a process analogous to conversion; and the promotion of a culture characterized by conformity and the penalising of dissent. This is a feature of neoliberalism rarely discussed: it’s incompatible with democracy and human rights. 

Pinochet promised “strong leadership and economic stability”, following his coup d’état and subsequent neoliberal experiment, aided and abetted by the Chicago boys. Both Pinochet’s Chile and Hitler’s Germany highlight the dangers of self proclaimed “strong leaders” with a liking for positivism, technocratic “solutions” and a disregard for democracy and human rights. Neoliberalism requires an authoritarian government to impose it, as it invariably leads to the repression of the majority of people, and the “economic freedom” of a small, privileged group.

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Demagogues often seem to be incoherent and glib, but it is because they tailor their public messaging to meet the perceptions and attitudes of a variety of groups, aiming at as wide an audience as possible, hoping to appeal to everyone.

However, those peddling right wing “populist” think narratives generally commit intellectual malpractice, as the foundation of their superficial anti-elitism is founded on yet more social oppression, hierarchies, supremicist reasoning, prejudice and constructed categories of social scapegoats. It’s little more than a flimsy sales pitch for more elitism. And welfare chauvinism.  

Many demagogues also focus on the exploitation of national “crises” to push through controversial policies while citizens are too emotionally and physically distracted by disasters, upheavals or wars to mount an effective resistance. Neoliberalism is the ultimate form of such “disaster capitalism”. 

I don’t level the terms “authoritarian”, “demagogue” and “populist” arbitrarily against politicians I don’t like: these are categories that have been academically established following vigorous research, quite independently of my own views. 

Right wing demagogues tend to present a tax paying, beleaguered white middle class of economic “producers,” encouraging them to see themselves as being inexorably squeezed by parasitic groups above and below.

The rage is whipped up and directed upwards against a caricature of the conspiratorial “faceless bureaucrats,” “banksters” and “plutocrats” – rather than challenging an unfair economic system run on behalf of the privileged and powerful wealthy and corporate interests. The attacks and oppression generated by such populist white rage, however, is most painfully felt by those that are scapegoated with perceived lower socioeconomic status and historically. this has always been immigrants, refugees, and other traditionally marginalized groups, such as disabled people, lone parents and those out of work. 

Meanwhile the media is used as a political tool to erect fact proof screens around fundamental truths.

To divert opposition to this process, we have a manufactured and confusing era of “fake news” and “post truth” that suits state agendas. We have extensive state surveilance, and “behaviour change” programmes, which include the online presence of covert astroturfers and psychological operations teams attempting to infiltrate, manipulate, warp and control online discourse and public perception, and in doing so, are compromising the integrity of the internet itself.

The Conservative’s behaviour change agenda is also embedded in public policies that target in particular those who are the casualties of government economic policies, to imply blame in order to stigmatise and punish people, while systematically withdrawing our social security support and public services, and withdrawing the means of redress and remedy – legal aid has gone. Yet the Conservatives know that without equal access to justice, ordinary people simply cease to be free.

The rise of right wing political populists threatens democracy worldwide, says a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) released earlier this month. 

Trump and other populist leaders work from a similar propaganda crib sheet that supports bigotry, prejudice and discrimination; scapegoats immigrants and refugees for economic problems; encourages people to give up their rights in favour of authoritarian rule as a defense against perceived “outside threats”; and foments division between demographics, the report states.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth says: “The rise of populism poses a profound threat to human rights. Trump and various politicians in Europe seek power through appeals to racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and nativism. They all claim that the public accepts violations of human rights as supposedly necessary to secure jobs, avoid cultural change, or prevent terrorist attacks. In fact, disregard for human rights offers the likeliest route to tyranny.”

Roth cited Trump’s campaign promises to curtail women’s and minority rights, deport millions of immigrants, use torture against detainees, and crack down on freedom of the press, as examples of “the politics of intolerance.”

Roth goes on to say: “We forget at our peril the demagogues of the past: the fascists, communists, and their ilk who claimed privileged insight into the majority’s interest but ended up crushing the individual. When populists treat rights as obstacles to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”

He also noted parallel campaigns in Europe that used xenophobia and nationalism to encourage people to vote away their rights, with Brexit being one of the most prominent outcomes.

He’s right. This kind of nationalist and anti-European rhetoric endangers not only economic prosperity, but also democracy. 

Political incorrectness is still incorrect

Back in 2000, Hugo Young wrote an article in the Guardian entitled Enoch Powell was expelled for this kind of demagoguery. Quoting William Hague, he says: “Labour has made this country a soft touch for the organised asylum racketeers who are flooding the country with bogus asylum seekers.” 

“That translates: asylum is ipso facto a racket, aliens are taking over Britain, every one of them is a fraudster until proved otherwise. All that’s missing is the Tiber flowing with blood.

“For we’ve been here before. The only difference between Enoch Powell’s philippic in 1968 against the migrant masses whose numbers were destroying the British nation, and Mr Hague’s demagogic caricature of asylum in 2000, is that whereas Powell was expelled from the shadow cabinet for saying what he said, today’s shadow cabinet has made his political strategy their own.

“Ann Widdecombe, Hague’s blustering ally in this matter, finds it perfectly respectable to list each of the mild pro-immigrant measures Labour has taken since 1997 as part of her anti-asylum indictment, without ever referring to the causes of the increased demand. As far as the Tory party is concerned, the Kosovo war never happened and Balkan, let alone Somali or Rwandan or Nigerian or Colombian, tragedies do not exist – though Rhodesia looks like being an exception.

“A screen of respectability sometimes covers Mr Hague’s own words. There are references to the need to protect “genuine” asylum-seekers from the rest. But here is authentic bogusness, the genuine bogus article, addressed to a party which in its present incarnation shows no interest in asylum-seekers of any kind, the genuine any more than the deceiving.

“Any such refinement would complicate the political message, now delivered into the local elections, that the Tories alone can be relied on to take a harsh line against the flooding influx of racketeering aliens.”

It’s possible to identify an emergent right wing populist theme right here. And an overall strategy for creating scapegoats. I can’t help but wonder how many of those ordinary people who felt that Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech “spoke to them” would feel the same resonance with what he wrote about hospital waiting lists in his book Medicine and Politics:

“It might (!) be thought macabre to observe that if people are on a waiting list long enough, they will die—usually from some cause other than that for which they joined the queue. Short of dying, however, they frequently get bored or better, and vanish.”

Nobody really knows if Powell has ever tried to make a joke, but if he has that passage was not it. It was written, with much more in the same heartless vein, by a man who was once Minister of Health. 

During a meeting with parents of babies that had been born with severe deformities caused by the morning sickness drug thalidomide, he was remarkably unsympathetic to the victims, refusing to meet any with affected babies. He simply said that “anyone who took so much as an aspirin put himself at risk.”

Powell had an unrepentant contempt for popular opinion, despite his apparent rapport with supporters of “ethnic nationalism” and a dark void where his empathy should have been. The Thatcher era Conservatives, fueled the rise far right groups such as the National Front. Cameron’s government fueled the rise of UKIP. It suits their purpose in creating social division and diversion. As for Powell, well he was simply an unrepentant, ruthlessly ambitious capitalist politician.

Powell also refused to launch a public inquiry into the Thalidomide scandal, resisted calls to issue a warning against any left-over thalidomide pills that might remain in people’s medicine cabinets (as US President John F. Kennedy had done), and said “I hope you’re not going to sue the Government…. No one can sue the Government.”

Since Powell, there has always been an easily identifiable racial minority for the Tories to blame for all working class problems and frustrations usually created by the Conservatives.

Many of the socially liberal democratic gains made in the form of our post-war sttlement for the UK citizenry are being dismantled by the Conservatives, and they show no shame in using a “them and us” rhetoric to achieve it. That is, each time they have created a convenient “them” to point to. 

And that’s the thing about fascism and demagoguery. It grows. Fascists don’t just target and punish social groups that you may not like. They add to their repertoire all the time. First it may be “foreigners”, next it may be disabled people and those without jobs, then the elderly.

A fascist is a fascist, regardless of who you are and how safe from prejudice you think you may be. The truth is that no-one who is an ordinary citizen is safe. Prejudice multitasks. The growth of social prejudice, originating from nationalism, has historically led some societies to commit the most terrible and inhumane acts.

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In light of this discussion, I don’t understand Conservatism one bit. I can’t understand why it has persisted. The Conservatives, from Thatcher onwards, have remained disciples of the anec­dotal dictator who thought that the way to eradicate pov­erty in Chile was to kill poor people by slow starvation, and “disappear” his many opponents.

I don’t understand ordinary people who support the Conservatives, because their “long term economic plan” has to be enforced by an authoritarian government. It will entail an incremental closing down of trade union activity, the loss of even basic citizens rights, the prohibition of all political activities and all forms of free expression, including on the internet, which the Conservatives intend to regulate and control.

It will entail the constant division and reduction of our society into further “us and them” categories. It will require the use of cultivated widespread public fear and anxiety as a constant diversion to the growing inequalities, human rights abuses and mass poverty that the government intend to inflict on the UK via the neoliberal policy programme.

I don’t understand how anyone can fail to see that state oppression – repression for the majorities and “economic freedom” for a minority of privileged groups – are two sides of the same Conservative coin drawn from a neoliberal currency. I don’t understand why people cannot see this unfolding now.

I don’t understand why the penny hasn’t yet dropped.


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Fear of losing disability support led a vulnerable man to a horrific suicide

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The government have persistently denied that there is a “causal link” between their welfare “reforms” (a Conservative euphemism for savage cuts) and an increase in suicides, premature deaths, psychological distress and severe hardship. However, a number of researchers and many campaigners have demonstrated a clear correlation that the government have so far refused to investigate further. Correlation quite often implies a causal relationship, and as such, requires further research.

Each case that has been presented to the government as evidence that their policies are causing severe harm has been dismissed as “anecdotal”.

Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the Centre for Welfare Reform said: “It is not enough to just stop introducing new policies to attack the rights and lives of disabled people and the poorest in society. These policies have been in place for six years and many are designed to increase poverty year on year. The Government should apologise for the harm it has caused since 2010, calculate the full impact of cuts that targeted the most disadvantaged and begin a full programme of reparations.”

This is the third harrowing article I have written this week about the devastating impact of the Conservatives’ punitive welfare policies on some of our most vulnerable citizens. I wish with all my heart that this is the last such article.

However, we have a government that has casually and systematically transgressed the human rights of disabled people, and then casually denied that they have done so. 

There will continue to be a need of witnesses like myself and other campaigners until the political denial stops.

Last month, an inquest in Ipswich heard how Peter, a disabled man, struggling to cope with mental health problems, committed suicide by setting himself on fire because of fear that he would lose his lifeline support, following his compulsory re-assessment for Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The government introduced the controversial PIP to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in order to save costs and to “target those most in need” in 2013.  

Peter Sherwood set fire to himself in front of horrified onlookers in Lowestoft town centre on September 4, 2015.  The retired builder died in Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, which has a specialist burns unit, on September 8, 2015, following the horrific incident in Lowestoft town centre four days before.

Peter had received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions, informing him that his DLA was ending and that he needed to reapply for PIP.

He suffered with a recurrent depressive disorder and psychosis. Peter had attempted to take his own life on a number of occasions previously. He also had a condition called tardive dyskinesia, which caused involuntary movements to his mouth and is a known side-effect of anti-psychotic medications.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Lucinda Stapleton, care coordinator from the Waveney Recovery Team, said this had affected Peter’s self-confidence as he was worried people were laughing and staring at him when he left the house.

In a statement read during the hearing, Mr Sherwood’s niece, Sarah Wilby, said: “I knew he was feeling a bit low the last time I saw him, which was two weeks before he died. He held me close on the sofa and told me he loved me.

“He was a loving person and had a great sense of humour.

He was angry at many things in life, but could put a good front on.

“I loved him very much and miss him dreadfully.”

Ms Wilby said she was shocked at the drastic way her uncle took his own life.

She added: “He seemed to want to make some kind of a statement, but I don’t know what.”

During the inquest Ms Wilby said that Peter was claiming Disability Living Allowance but not long before his death he received a letter informing him he needed to reapply for Personal Independence Payment, which she believes contributed to his low mood at that time.

She said: “I personally think quite an underlying cause of his anger was the change in benefits.

“Knowing Peter as we did that would have had a huge impact on him.”

Paul Anderson, a community support worker for the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, said Peter had claimed that the Government was trying to take money off him.

The Coroner, Peter Dean, read statements from witnesses, who described seeing Peter spraying something on the pavement starting with the letter ‘h’ with an aerosol can.

The inquest heard passer-by William Groves asked Peter if he was a street artist, to which he replied “no, I’m a suicide artist”.

Peter then poured liquid over his head and set himself on fire using a lighter.

Members of the public tried to douse the flames by first throwing their jackets onto Peter, and then using a fire extinguisher from a nearby shop.

Police at the scene reported that Peter had muttered the word “humanity” to them a couple of times following the incident.

On September 4, 2015, Peter was visited at home by the community mental health team and he had expressed plans to end his life.

An urgent appointment was made for Peter to see a psychiatrist the following week, but it was tragically too late.

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has since updated its criteria of when patients should be referred to the 24-hour crisis team, following its routine investigation into Peter’s death.

The medical cause of death was given as 75% non-survivable full thickness burns, and mental health concerns.

The coroner’s conclusion was suicide.

If you are experiencing distress and feel suicidal, please don’t suffer in silence. The Samaritans have launched a free telephone national helpline number, 116 123. 

People who are going through a difficult time can access the service round the clock, every single day of the year.

This number is free to call from both landlines and mobiles, including pay-as-you-go mobiles. You do not need to have any credit or call allowance on your plan to call 116 123.

 

Related

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

New discriminatory regulations for PIP come into effect today

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP

Vote Labour to uphold the rights of disabled people – our letter to the Guardian


 

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.

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Raincoat. Age. Die. A guest post by Hubert Huzzah

Hubert

In 2008 there were 700,000 people with dementia in the UK. That number is rising rapidly and is projected to be over 1 million by 2025. One in three people over 65 will end their lives with a form of dementia. In 2008 there were 580,000 people with dementia needing Carers in England.

Not all Dementia Sufferers are home owners. For the age group most likely to suffer Dementia 71.6% (45-75+) of the population do own their own home. The average home is worth £215,847 at 2017 prices. So, of the one million people with dementia by 2025, 716,000 will be sitting on assets worth a total of £154Bn.

Imagine being able to take ownership of £154Bn of assets simply by waiting ten years. That is the Dementia Tax. By 2027 those who are currently suffering from even mild dementia symptoms will have to pay for care as the value of the Home will be taken into account when means testing financial support for social care.

Currently, Carers put £132Bn into the Economy purely through Caring Services. This is the amount of money after all benefits – not just Attendance Allowance or Carers Allowance – are paid out. Carers are, in general, the next generation for Dementia sufferers – the children and grandchildren. In total, the Dementia Tax will be taking £286Bn from people who already pay substantial amounts into the economy and have been doing so for two generations.

That means penalising people until 2050 and it does not even make financial sense.

A report from the London School of Economics and King’s College London commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Society estimated the financial cost of dementia at over £17 billion for the state and families in 2008. This cost grew significantly as the number of people with dementia rose. A King’s Fund study estimated that the cost of dementia in England would rise from £14.9 billion per year in 2007 to £24 billion (at 2007 prices) by 2026, making up 74% of mental health service costs. Using £154Bn of assets to pay for £24Bn of expenditure is not only poor economics it is an invitation to fraud on an industrial scale.

The less well understood outcome will be a house price collapse leaving first time buyers in negative equity for the first time since the 1980s. In efforts to reduce the amount paid for Care Services, it will become rational for Carers of Dementia Sufferers to undervalue the property to bring the total estate under £100,000 for the purposes of means testing. Undervaluation to receive benefits is, in Social Security Law, fraud. Which will result in a market in avoidance and evasion promoting corruption. The policy, itself, is about effective money laundering which is, always, corrupt.

This undervaluation of properties will, inevitably, signal to the markets that house prices are dropping and so provide pressure to further reduce house prices. This will leave existing first time buyers at risk of negative equity. When Dementia Sufferers within the Dementia Tax Regime begin to die, First Time Buyers will sell to escape negative equity. Resulting in an extreme boom and crash market that will last for decades. The initial boom will be hailed as an economic miracle until the initial crash reveals the depth of the problem. In 2007 the National Audit Office estimated that £102 million could be saved by reducing the time people Dementia Sufferers stay in hospital.

A Lincolnshire case study they found that people with dementia on orthopaedic wards were staying over 24 days on average compared to under 17 days for people without. That increased length of Hospital stay is increasingly expensive as Private Contractors provide the service. At the same time, the Private Contractors, driven by profit, have no incentive to move Dementia sufferers out of Hospitals. The overall outcome is that Hospitals will become bed blocked by Private Contractors and that will feed back to poorer Accident and Emergency Service, longer waiting times and increased ill health in the general population.

The Dementia Tax is a poorly thought out policy that has one objective: releasing £154Bn of assets into financial markets. With the net contribution of £29Bn to the UK economy from the Insurance Sector in 2015, the indication is that the £154Bn will be a five year soft landing for the Insurance Sector on exit from the EU. That soft landing will, inevitably, be a source of capital flight from the UK to other EU capitals such as Dublin, Paris and Berlin. Which leaves the policy cascading out from the Health and Social Care Sector to cascade destabilisation across the Economy.

There are 379 authorised Life Insurance Companies in the UK. 200 are UK authorised and 179 are headquartered in another European country and passport in under the EU Third Life Directive. With the unfolding of Exit from the European Union, the Dementia Tax creates a mechanism for capital flight from the UK via those 179 passported Life Insurance companies. If the UK wishes to retain a working financial services relationship after exit then those 47.2% of Life Insurance Companies passported into the UK market will become the potential source of almost £73Bn of capital flight.

It is a poorly thought out, uncosted, scheme that seeks to buy time for the Tories. Given the public availability of information that can be used to cost the scheme, and the pieces of past research that show how poor equity-release is for solving financial problems, where did the Dementia Tax actually come from?

 

Sources: National Audit Office, Alzheimers Society, Association Of British Insurers. Picture: Madeline Von Foerster. “The Promise II” (Death And The Maiden).

Written by Hubert Huzzah

Woman was too scared to leave job centre during a heart attack as she feared being sanctioned

Salena Hannah (Photo: Adam Sorenson)

A woman who suffered a heart attack during a job centre in-work progression interview has said she was too scared to get up and leave to get medical help as she was afraid of ­losing her benefits. Salena Hannah, who works part-time, says that she had the attack during her appointment, but was ignored by the “callous” job centre interviewer.

She explained: “I had been suffering with chest pains for about two weeks and took a couple of sprays of GTN spray, to help with my angina, before I walked in to meet my interviewer.

“My job is under 16 hours, so I am forced to attend regular meetings, or my benefits might be stopped.

“I was feeling some really bad pains in my chest and I told her at least two or three times that I was in agony, but she was just so callous, she just kept ignoring me.

“I said I needed to go to the NHS walk-in centre immediately, but it fell on deaf ears. I was living in fear of being sanctioned and just felt trapped. I didn’t think I could leave or I would be sanctioned.”

Salena says she was forced to endure a 40-minute interview, while sweating profusely and suffering chest pains.

As soon as she left the interview, she went straight to a nearby NHS walk-in centre, where medics immediately called an ambulance and took her to hospital.

Blood tests revealed she had suffered a heart attack and she had to have surgery to have two stents inserted into her arteries.

Although Salina was discharged after three days in hospital, she suffered serious chest pains an hour after she got home, and had to return to hospital, where doctors inserted three more stents.

Salina is now recovering at home but is struggling for breath and feels constantly weak.

She said: “I was just dreading getting sanctioned. I just would not be able to afford to live if that happened, so pain or no pain, I had to endure that meeting.

“It is unbelievable how cruel the sanction scheme can be to people like me. It is almost like they are trained to be unfeeling.

Is that what Britain is coming to these days under a Tory Government?”

Salena, a mum of four, is bringing up her two grandsons aged 14 and 10 on her own. Had she been sanctioned, she would not have been able to provide for their basic needs.

At the time of her heart attack, she was working in a chip shop and was in receipt of JSA and housing benefit.

Last year, the The National Audit Office launched a scathing attack on the benefit sanctions system, saying that punishing people for “non-compliance” with welfare conditionality does more harm than good and costs more to enforce than it saves. There is no evidence that the pointlessly cruel welfare sanctions work at all. 

The report said that withholding benefits, which is now very commonplace, plunges claimants into hardship, hunger and depression. It also seriously jeopardises their health, since sanctions leave people without the means to meet the costs of food, fuel and often, shelter – and these are fundamental survival needs.

Dr Wanda Wyporska, director of The Equality Trust, said: “It’s disgusting to see how some of the most vulnerable people in society are treated.

“Our social security system is being slowly eroded and further cuts will see the poorest families hit even harder.”

Tim Roache, general secretary of the GMB, said: “You have to wonder if all compassion has been completely ripped from our system by continued austerity and cuts to frontline services.”

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “We would always encourage claimants who suddenly fall ill to seek medical attention, or to speak to a member of staff for assistance.”

The Department, however, is not focused not on helping individuals but on cutting welfare expenditure while hitting targets for doing so. 

In February, employer relationship manager at Jobcentre Plus in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland, who is based at the branch featured in the film I, Daniel Blake, said: “I, Daniel Blake is a representation … I hope people don’t think the film is a documentary, because it’s a story that doesn’t represent the reality we work in.”

“My team and I try to treat people as individuals, and we care about the work we do,” he told the Guardian. “There will be times when we get it wrong, but I don’t believe we are ever as wrong as how we are portrayed in this film.

“I remember talking about the film in the canteen. We were concerned about how it might affect our relationship with the people we were trying to help find work. How would they react to it?”

Ken Loach, however, defended the authenticity and realism of the film’s content. “I challenge anyone to find a single word in that film that isn’t true,” he said.

I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a joiner who has had a heart attack, and is no longer able to work. However, he becomes caught up in the nightmare bureacracy of the welfare state, is passed as “fit for work” at his work capability assessment, and is told he has to look for work. He suffers a second fatal heart attack just before his tribunal, as a consequence of the sustained psychological distress and strain he experiences because of the punitive Conservative welfare “reforms”. 

Damian Green, the work and pensions secretary, said the film was “monstrously unfair” – though he added he had not seen it. 

I wonder if Green considers his department’s lies “monstrously unfair”. For example, in August 2015, the DWP admitted to using fictional stories from made-up claimants on leaflets, despicably advertising the “positive impact” of benefit sanctions, following a Freedom of Information request from Welfare Weekly, claiming that they were for “illustrative purposes only” and admitting that it was “quite wrong” to pass these off as genuine quotes.

Later that month figures were released which showed that between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,650 people died shortly after their Work Capability Assessment told them that they should be finding workThe DWP had fought hard for the figures not to be released, with chief minister Iain Duncan Smith at one point telling Parliament that they did not exist.

Research published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health by Oxford University and Liverpool University, showed there were an additional 590 suicides between 2010 and 2013 in areas where Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were carried out. The researchers say that the DWP had introduced the policy of moving people off benefits without understanding the consequences. The research showed a correlation between worsening mental health and the assessments. The DWP of course denied the evidenced correlation between suicides and the WCA. 

I, Daniel Blake has been criticised by some media commentators, such as Toby Young (the Daily Mail) and the Sunday Times film critic Camilla Long who said it did not “ring true”. However, Hayley Squires, who plays a single mother in the film, said it showed “the absolute truth of what’s happening to millions of British people in this country” and accused Young and Long of “irresponsible journalism”.

The government’s controversial benefit sanctions regime can cause “damage to the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants and can lead to hunger, debt and destitution”, according to a damning new report, which debunks Tory myths that benefit sanctions – denying people who are already struggling the only means by which to support themselves and their families – “incentivise people into work.”

In a report titled Benefit Conditionality and Sanctions in Salford – One Year on, it was concluded that, far from than “incentivising” people to move into work, the sanctions regime actually serves as a demotivator and barrier, preventing people from engaging in appropriate training, volunteering and employment-related activities.

Furthermore, the sudden loss of income caused by removing benefits – through the imposition of a punitive sanctions regime – often damages people’s mental health, creates tensions within family relationships and may cause individuals to turn to crime in order to meet their basic survival needs.

Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett said: “People on benefits are already struggling to afford food, heating and essential costs. They can’t save so they have no financial safety net. They live in dread of being sanctioned  which isn’t the right frame of mind for job hunting, volunteering or going back into education.” Or for looking for more hours of work.

The cruel and inhumane way that Salena Hannah was treated by a job centre “advisor”, and the fear and dread that she felt at the prospect of being sanctioned, is real.

Susan Roberts’ despair following her PIP application being refused, which led to her suicide, was real.

David Clapson’s awful death, which was the result of grotesque government policies, is real.

David Sugg, who was so afraid of the catastrophic health impacts that the strain of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) may have had on him, left a letter for the local coroner, to be opened in the event of his sudden death. He feared the assessment would kill him. That is real.

George Vranjkovic’s extreme anxiety, agitation and fear facing the WCA, which he knows is designed to try and cut costs and take lifeline support from sick and disabled people, is real. He lost his lifeline support for six months previously. His panic attack the night before the WCA is real. 

A man who was forced to give up work with heart problems had his benefits stopped for failing to complete a WCA – after suffering a heart attack during the examination. That is real.

Sheila Holt, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was sectioned after being taken off Income Support. Days later she had a heart attack and fell into the coma. Nonetheless, she was sent a letter by Atos to ask why she was not working. That really happened. 

I co-run a support group on Facebook for sick and disabled people claiming disability benefits. I know from the accounts and everyday experience of many others just how stressful the assessment process is. It’s a terrible and shameful state of affairs when people who are already struggling with severe health problems are made even more vulnerable because of callous cost-cutting government policies. That is real.

It needs to change. That is real.

We are all, potentially, Daniel Blakes. That is real.

Dave Johns in I, Daniel Blake. (Mongrel Media)


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