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Welfare for Whom?

One of Lord Vader’s minions, Iain Duncan Smith (aside: I love how many failed leaders are in the Cabinet. Great fun.), has announced his ‘radical’ new reforms for welfare designed, apparently, to help the poor no longer be poor. It is based on a simple idea – that those who don’t work but can work should take any work that is offered to them. work work work. Needless to say this has a number of ontological issues. Let me explain:

The configuration of responsibilities over rights can however be useful. Many have argued that such a configuration is less likely to breed dependents, and fosters a society where all citizens play a meaningful role in social, political and civic life. For example, Lawrence Mead suggests that ‘[u]nless the poor display better citizenship, especially by working, generous antipoverty policies could become indefensible’ (Mead 1997: 207). In other words, without responsibilities rights are virtually meaningless, as there is nothing to base them against. However it seems Mead takes this argument to its logical extreme, as the above quotation can easily be interpreted as ‘unless the poor display better citizenship by becoming less poor’. There is obviously a rather large value judgement to be made if this is the case. However, this seems to be the underlying rationale for much of the welfare reform agenda (i.e. conditions placed upon citizens that must be met before welfare assistance is provided, or welfare activiation/workfare policies – see Jessop 1993; Dwyer 1998; 2004; Handler 2004).

The quote is a paragraph from my PhD literature review, talking about welfare reform in the UK and how it has many strands of right wing thought in it. The above is wholly relevant to a LABOUR government. What do you think it’s going to be like under the ConDem government? Duncan Smith said that “We must be here to help people improve their lives, not just park them on long-term benefits. Aspiration, it seems, is in danger of becoming the preserve of the wealthy.” We must improve their lives. They are poor – their lives are crap. They are not working, therefore they contribute nothing to society. What is being prioritised here? Materialistic concerns. You’re not a worthwhile member of society unless you’re making money money money! Because money makes the world go round, my friends. Under a Labour government a large section of people are better off and some will moan. Under a Tory government a small number a better off – and people will moan, but no one will hear. And just in case you don’t remember or weren’t alive at the time, a little known PM called Thatcher also promised us the world in terms of aspiration and prosperity. So next time you’re in a run down Northern town, or walking past your local crime ridden broken down council estate, spare a thought for old Maggie.

Duncan Smith also rolled out the old favourite – benefit claimants shouldn’t be made worse off by working. Sounds to me like someone is going to reduce the amount of payment! But of course what you wont see is all the data that lead to benefits being pegged at the current level for a reason. Even less likely is you seeing the data that suggests that benefit payments should probably be higher, with practical issues keeping them from reaching those higher levels.

The Tories have also released some interesting stats on unemployment, saying that “almost five million people were on unemployment benefits, 1.4 million of whom had been receiving support for nine or more of the last 10 years” – this genuinely interests me, as it’s pretty common knowledge that for a fair chunk of Labour’s time in power, unemployment figures were at an all time low. So either these figures are incredibly specific, or they’ve been put out of context in another way. And how concerned really are the Tories when they’re allegedly planning to cut 80,000 youth jobs? Especially considering their claims that youth unemployment is a massive problem. Seems a bit counter intuitive to me.

Yvette Cooper makes a good point:

“If you look really at what the Conservatives are proposing, they talk about trying to get more people back into work.

“In fact, the only thing they have done so far is to cut £300 million from the employment programmes budget – including cutting one of the highest-quality programmes, the Future Jobs Fund – and that means cutting 80,000 youth jobs at a time when unemployment is too high”

Your maths doesn’t add up, Iain. And I guess you had better hope people don’t pay attention to the specifics, otherwise (hopefully) people will see straight through it.

I predicted that the Tories’ first point of call was going to be cutting public services. And haven’t they just! It’s hard being so right ;)

I shall leave you with this:

Dennis Skinner

The High Court injunction on Unite is laughably undemocratic

If you’ve been living under a particularly large rock for some time, you may not be aware of the current dispute between Unite the Union and BA. Get thee to a news source (as an aside I’m happy to see that Iceland have taken a strong stance on the issue).

The injunction put on Unite members is laughable, and shows the extent to which unions have been emasculated and prevented from doing their job – one which I think is incredibly important. BA issued a call to its staff – staff that are now too afraid to speak out lest they lose their jobs.

Now, apart from the fact that it is totally wrong to be able to legally stop a strike to a non-essential service in such a manner, what gets me more is the evidence upon which this ‘case’ is based. Apparently Unite did not declare the 11 spoilt ballot papers in the correct manner. This is the technicality that allowed the High Court to rule the strike unlawful. Note how BA’s conduct throughout the situation has only been commented on negatively by the union. Westminster certainly knows which side its bread is buttered on.

I also notice that despite much larger, much more worrying incidences of balloting blunders, we are not having a rerun of the General Election in the affected constituencies.

What worries me the most is the entirely undemocratic precedent this sets. Industrial action has become much easier to stop. Just get your lawyers to find a nice little loophole and you’re set. Great for business and I’m sure it will calm the nerves of those in power. Surely Unite should at least be given the chance to hold internal accountability proceedings? I will be interested to see the outcome of Unite’s appeal, but I don’t think I’ll hold my breath.  I will be avoiding BA for some time.

I can not help but find myself relieved that this did not happen whilst Labour was in government.

Labour must take the initiative

It’s not often when a period out of power can be seen as a wholly good thing. But for Labour, that is exactly what it is. This is a time to reflect, to come to terms with what has happened to the party, and to renew. And the key here is to renew. To recast itself as an actual Labour Party, as opposed to being part of the establishment. The leadership election provides that very opportunity.

Electing a new leader should involve sending a message that things will change.  Unfortunately, the majority of candidates will not change Labour a great deal. You may get more nods here, or more hat tips there, but by and large New Labour will remain and the cycle will repeat itself. Let’s also not kid ourselves as to why the Tories got the most parliamentary seats – people were sick of Labour and wanted a change. The only alternative was… The Tories*.

This election should be seen by Labour as a call from the people that they are sick of the triangulation, the veiled neoliberal policies, presented to the public as ‘necessary’ and ‘the only choice’. And the immediate price both the Party and the people will pay? Negative constitutional changes and £6bn of cuts. And that’s just for this year. Where do you think these cuts will come from? All too often, ‘government waste’ becomes a by word for public services. Watch this space.

Labour has a chance to reconnect with its core vote (who have already proven they are happy to dealign themselves). The banking crisis proves that the free market was never free (and never will be) and that government should have a role in regulation. Which countries weathered the financial crisis the best? The Nordic countries – Sweden, Denmark and Finland – countries that happen to be social democratic and have a relatively high level of financial regulation.  And ask yourselves this: who advocates a free market? Those with power and money. Those who, in a world without financial regulations, have enough influence to make a killing. The free market is a failed idea because it implies a power vacuum. It should be no surprise that those who fill that vacuum already have the resources to do so. Hence the importance of organised labour – of unions and co-ops – and hence the importance of Labour reconnecting with its roots. We don’t need another power hungry party. We need a party that represents those who need representing. You may be able to achieve more with power, but power corrupts.

In the space of a few days after the ConDem party came to power, over 2000 people joined Labour. That is unprecedented. We should use this new energy and this new interest to build a new Labour Party. A true Labour Party. If anyone who reads this remembers my Dirty Leftie blog, you might remember a little phrase I liked to throw around the place - True Labour, not New Labour. That is as true today as it has ever been.

This could be a really exciting time for Labour and for the labour movement in general. We will be attacked left right and centre, but we must stay strong. We must not pass up this historic opportunity to regain control of the reins and to start bringing the party more in line with its core principles. We can not keep banging on about one or two key achievements, however good they may have been.  That wont change Labour’s general performance over the last 13 years. Now is the time, people!

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the Red Flag flying here!

*Note I have not mentioned the coalition, as my prediction is the Lib Dems will become more and more marginalised as time goes on. We all know the deputy PM has little power, for example.

A little sing-song to kick things off

Chorus
And the Red Flag was no match for the Blue and Yellow Banner
Hoisted so high for those wanting power
Cowards did flinch and traitors did sneer
And the worker was left where no one could hear

Verse 1
The Red Rose is wilting, the Yellow Bird can’t fly
But a blue blooded Tree’s roots will not die
While power is paramount, money’s the key
The voters can’t hate what the voters can’t see

Chorus

Verse 2
Unions get ready you’re in for a fight
It may have been bad ’till election night
Well the people have spoken, but we can’t hear their voice
The enemy’s mandate is a privileged choice

Chorus

Verse 3
Observe politician, a comrade in the plight
Of a disenfranchised people, up till the time
Power’s the issue above all progress
Coveting the crime, excuse is duress

Chorus

Verse 4
Clegg is a weasel, Cameron’s a lie
Brown is a patsy, leader and fall guy
Battling for power but who to represent?
The voiceless forgotten, the cycle never ends.

Chorus