Tag Archives: Cameron’s deckchair game on the Titanic

Alec Shelbrooke & Northern Island

Alec Shelbrooke on TwitterDoubless Alec Shelbrooke would rather not have had his job-shuffle in September headlined in the Telegraph as Alec Shelbrooke: Tory MP red faced after ‘Northern Island’ Twitter gaffe.

This is why, I should think, Shelbrooke – who was born in Kent, unsuccessfully stood for election in Wakefield in 2005 (Mary Creagh wonthe Shadow Environment Secretary), and won Elmet and Rothwell as the first MP in a new constituency created by the Boundary Commission in 2010 by a margin of 8.1% (4,521 votes) is trying to make a name for himself in some way that doesn’t bring back “Northern Island” jibes. If only half the people who voted LibDem last time vote Labour next time, Shelbrooke will be ousted in 2015.
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Maria Miller grinds slowly

Which member of the Privy Council is best qualified to be Chancellor of the Exchequer? It is not, obviously, George Osborne, who famously doesn’t even have O-grade maths and who is driving the UK into double-dip recession because he has no notion about economics beyond “tax cuts for the rich=GOOD”.

Oddly enough in a Tory Cabinet, it’s actually a comprehensive-school kid from Wales. Maria Miller, Minister for Women and Equalities

Maria Lewis went to Brynteg Comprehensive School/Ysgol Gyfun Brynteg in Bridgend and took a BSc in Economics at the LSE. (When she married Iain Miller in 1990 she took his surname and has stood for election as Maria Miller ever since.) She isn’t a crony of Cameron from the Bullingdon Club (they don’t let girls in), she didn’t go to Oxbridge, she wasn’t privately educated, and she didn’t marry into the web of privilege: she will never be one of the Secret Seven. I imagine as a member of the Conservative Party since she was 19 she’s got used to that kind of thing.

Maria Miller has been MP for Basingstoke since 2005. As she was born in 1964 she’ll be aware that to David Cameron (born 1966), she has a useful life only to 2018, even if the Tories scrape a win in 2015: Caroline Spelman was sacked in the reshuffle for being too old at 54.
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The Secret Seven

Secret Seven! The name evokes disdain or contempt among many readers who are otherwise ardent fans of Enid Blyton … for most of us the Secret Seven happens to be the least revered series in Blyton’s canon. Is this because the books were written for a younger set of readers? Could it be the smaller format? The perpetual scowl on the face of their highhanded leader, perhaps? -In Defence of the Secret Seven

Now the reshuffle’s over, the full Cabinet is thirty-two – sixteen a side, an unprecedented length for a Cabinet meeting as you can see from the table they use (screengrab off the news by Gaz Weetman):

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Hunt for the NHS

Jeremy Hunt isn’t just an unscrupulous toerag – we knew that. He’s now Health Secretary, despite believing that:

  • Homeopathy works*
  • That this House welcomes the positive contribution made to the health of the nation by the NHS homeopathic hospitals; notes that some six million people use complementary treatments each year; believes that complementary medicine has the potential to offer clinically-effective and cost-effective solutions to common health problems faced by NHS patients, including chronic difficult to treat conditions such as musculoskeletal and other chronic pain, eczema, depression, anxiety and insomnia, allergy, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome; expresses concern that NHS cuts are threatening the future of these hospitals; and calls on the Government actively to support these valuable national assets. (EDM 1240 in support of Homeopathic Hospitals, 2007, h/t Tom Chivers)

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The Spam Spiv

David Cameron has appointed Grant Shapps co-chairman of the Conservative Party in the latest Cabinet reshuffle.

The Tories have an image problem, you could say. George Osborne was booed tonight by 80,000 people at the Paralympic Games. The Conservatives are widely perceived as the party of arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of a hot pasty or a pint of milk, headed by men who went to Eton and were members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford, the government for millionaires by millionaires, the party of tax cuts for the rich and high unemployment, workfare, and lowered wages for everyone else, the coalition of broken promises and NHS privatisation. Indeed, they have an image problem.

The Chairman of the Conservative party is a Cabinet Minister when the Tories are in government, and runs the “party machine”: oversees Conservative Campaign Headquarters.

Grant Shapps is the Conservative MP for Welwyn Hatfield and was Minister of State for Housing & Local Government. Until Monday’s reshuffle. At about one this morning Huffington Post

has learned from senior government sources that Sayeeda Warsi has lost her job as Tory co-chairman and is replaced by Grant Shapps.

We have also been told that Sayeeda Warsi has been offered another seat at the Cabinet table. The role on offer at the time of writing is rumoured to be as a junior Foreign Office minister with a seat at the Cabinet table, a position she has not yet accepted.

Sayeeda Warsi is “not one of us“. She argued last Friday:

“If you look at the demographics, at where we need to be at the next election, we need more people in the North voting for us, more of what they call here ‘blue collar’ workers and I call the white working class. We need more people from urban areas voting for us, more people who are not white and more women.”

But if the Tory party were to believe they need to listen to a woman, who is moreover not white and who comes from a working class, immigrant background, how they have to change to appeal to voters – this would turn the whole ethos of the Tory party upside down.

No, what David Cameron and George Osborne are apt to think they need isn’t some kind of radical policy change: they need a campaign to change their image. They need a marketing man. Grant Shapps has an alternate career: he’s “Michael Green“.

On The Daily Income website, Grant Shapps looks like this:

Michael Green on http://www.thedailyincome.com/michael-green
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“One of Us! One of Us!”

In the last couple of days, David Cameron

threw his full support behind Mr Hunt insisting the Culture Secretary acted “wisely and fairly” and had given “a good account of himself” at the Leveson Inquiry.

Both David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt examined Hunt’s behaviour over the BSkyB bid, and Hunt decided

“I did think about my own position, but I had conducted the bid scrupulously, and I believed it was possible to demonstrate that, and I decided it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to go.”

Today, as it came out that Warsi had made a series of profitable “mistakes” when claiming MP expenses,

David Cameron has ordered an inquiry into whether Conservative Party co-chair Baroness Warsi breached the ministerial code when she was accompanied by a business partner on an official visit to Pakistan.

The Prime Minister called in Sir Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministerial interests, to investigate after she admitted failing to disclose her business relationship with Abid Hussain.

Sayeeda Warsi has apologised, and says she understands she should have declared her share in a spice business (Ruperts Recipes) and made clear she had a business link with Hussain. There also appears to be some question about whether she claimed for rent that she wasn’t paying when she stayed in a friend’s flat in London when attending the House of Lords. All in all, an independent investigation seems appropriate.

But as both Cameron and Hunt had decided there had been no breach of the Ministerial Code in Hunt’s case, there was no need to refer Jeremy Hunt to the independent investigator Continue reading

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Equality and Laws

“In brightest day, in blackest night, No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil’s might, Beware my power… Green Lantern’s light!“

In July 1940, Alan Scott put on green tights, a red top, a purple cape with green lining, and a green glowy ring, and fought crime. (Origin story: “The Lantern… I’m still holding on to it! What a queer light! Funny, I suddenly feel dizzy… going to faint…”) He was the first Green Lantern, and some people might wonder how he wasn’t outed as gay sooner. Nearly seventy-two years later, Alan Scott finally gets to kiss his boyfriend for the first time.


Introducing the Green Lantern - Alan Scott

We’re all supposed to be celebrating the sixty-year reign of Elizabeth II this weekend. Continue reading

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Dear LibDems, climb out of the window now

I woke up yesterday to a Tory on Twitter accusing all of us who have protested the NHS Reform of being “hysterical”. A Lib Dem suggested that we really shouldn’t call it privatisation because that’s just a dystopic fantasy. She and another LibDem were telling me that I shouldn’t blame the Liberal Democrats or the Tories because this was all Labour’s fault really, I ought to be complaining about what the Labour government were doing back when they were in power, not about what the Tories and LibDems are doing now.

[And by Friday, Lord Ashcroft had published a concern troll at ConHome: update below.]

The Ninth Doctor: She's climbing out the window, isn't she?

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Esther McVey is on the payroll to defend workfare

Esther McVey popped up on Twitter today in passionate defense of workfare. She’s been the Conservative MP for Wirral West since May 2010. As their MP, she’s supposed to represent her constituents.

In the constituencies of Wirral South and Wirral West, long-term youth unemployment rose by 100% last year.

Job seeking conditions are equally as dire for the over-50s: in Wirral South, long-term unemployment in this category was double the national average, and in Birkenhead it was nearly three times at 66.7%. (Letter to Wirral Globe, 14th February 2012)

But McVey is also the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chris Grayling as Minister of State for Employment. So while not getting a minister’s salary, she’s bound by the Ministerial Code in some respects.

Sarah Woollaston writes about her decision to refuse a post as PPS:

When I was asked if I would like to become a minister’s parliamentary private secretary (PPS), it sounded like a promotion – until I looked at the job description. It is in fact something of a Faustian pact: in return for the vague illusion of having the minister’s ear, I would have had to resign from the health select committee, agree to never speak on health matters and to always vote with the government. It turns out that about 150 out of 364 coalition MPs are on the so-called “payroll vote”, meaning that because of positions they hold, they have agreed to always vote with the government. Included among those 150 are around 45 who work as a PPS.

How could I justify taking such a role to my constituents in Totnes? How could I have looked them in the eye Continue reading

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Chris Grayling recommends slave labour

Chris Grayling MPChris Grayling, Conservative MP for Epsom and Ewell, is rather proud of the thousands of young people obliged to be shelf-stackers in Poundland and Tesco for no pay, in order to retain their JSA benefit:

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says that if jobseekers “express an interest” in an offer of work experience they must continue to work without pay, after a one-week cooling-off period or face having their benefits docked.

Young people have told the Guardian that they are doing up to 30 hours a week of unpaid labour and have to be available from 9am to 10pm.

In three such cases jobseekers also claim they were not told about the week’s cooling-off period, and that once they showed a willingness to take part in the scheme they were told by their case manager they would be stripped of their £53- a-week jobseekers allowance (JSA) if they backed out. Guardian, 15th November 2011

All you have to do is say “yes, I’m interested in work experience” – as who wouldn’t be? – and then you’re stacking shelves in a superstore, at no cost to the superstore, with the threat that if you don’t comply, your benefit gets docked.

Some figures to be considered.

£53 per week is what a young person on JSA has to live on. Even paid at the apprentice rate, a person working for 35 hours a week ought to be paid £91 – and 8 weeks shelfstacking is not rightly an apprenticeship for anything. A jobseeker over 20, should legally be paid £212.80 for their week’s work.

But Tesco and Poundland and the other companies taking advantage of Chris Grayling’s workfare don’t have to pay that; they get these workers for free, and they aren’t allowed to withdraw their labour or they lose even the £53 they have to live on.

Chris Grayling is MP and Minister for Employment. Contact details here. His basic salary is £134,565 per year: over twelve times what those jobseekers working in superstores ought to get paid on minimum wage, and close to 50 times what they actually do get.

But that’s not all. Chris Grayling also has access to the most extensive and unsupervised expenses scheme.

Within weeks of first being elected in 2001, he bought a flat in a six-storey block for £127,000. In 2002, he set up an unusual arrangement with the Parliamentary Fees Office, claiming £625 a month for mortgages on two separate properties, both the main home [in Ashtead - 17 miles or an hour by train from the House of Commons] and the new flat in Pimlico. This is usually against the rules, but Mr Grayling negotiated an agreement because he was unable to obtain a 100% mortgage on the London flat that he had bought.

That “arrangement” went on for 4 years, until 2006, during which time Chris Grayling claimed per month for his mortgage more than five times the jobseeker’s allowance in 2011.

Nor was this all. In the summer of 2005, after the May general election, evidently sure of his MP expenses now for another four or five years, Chris Grayling decided to have his flat refurbished. He was already claiming £15,000 a year for his flat in Pimlico and his house in Ashstead, 17 miles apart – it would have cost the taxpayer less to pay for a day return from Ashtead into London at peak rate, every day of the month, than to pay for a second mortgage in a London flat – but he wasn’t satisfied with that. In the financial year ending March 2006, Grayling claimed £9000 for refurbishment costs for that flat. That’s over three times more than the total paid to someone on jobseeker’s allowance in an entire year. It would take someone on minimum wage 42 weeks to earn, gross pay, what Grayling claimed between June 2005 and March 2006 – for the flat which mortgage he wasn’t paying for.

£24,000 is the maximum an MP is allowed to claim for their second home per year – over eight times as much as a person on JSA gets to live on: £8,000 more a year than the national median household income in the UK. It’s a nice little bonus in itself, as the living places bought using the second home allowance are the personal property of the MP – for Chris Grayling, who owns several flats on a “buy to let” basis, it’s an excellent addition to his properties in London.

But Chris Grayling wasn’t satisfied with that: He spread the costs for the refurbishment of the Pimlico property over two financial years.

This effectively allowed him to spread the costs over two years – whereas he would have been unable to claim all the costs in the 2005-06 financial year. For example, in June 2006, Mr Grayling submitted an invoice for £3,534 for service and maintenance on his block of flats, which included a service charge of £1,148 and a “balance brought forward” of £1,956. … In July 2006, Mr Grayling submitted a claim for £2,250. The invoice from the decorator was dated July 2006, and referred to “remedial and refurbishment works July 2005”. … If the various late receipts had been submitted in the 2005-06 financial year, they would have exceeded Mr Grayling’s second home allowance for the 12-month period by over £4,700. Telegraph, 11th May 2009

£4,700 is 20 times what someone on JSA gets paid in one month. A person on minimum wage would have to work 35 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for over two and a half years, to earn what Chris Grayling paid himself to refurbish the flat and pay the mortgage in those two financial years from 2005 to 2007.

Second homes allowance is the nicest bonus MPs get, but it’s not the only claim Chris Grayling makes. In one month in 2007, while being paid £63,291 per year – 4 times the national median wage – Grayling claimed £4700 “expenses”. That is, Grayling claimed for one month 1.7 times as much in expenses as someone on JSA gets to live on for a year. Someone on the minimum wage that Grayling denies to people who are working in Tescos for their JSA, would have to work for over five and a half years to earn Grayling’s basic annual wage.

Rayburn, who was also told by his jobcentre he would lose his benefits if he did not work without pay, said he spent almost two months stacking and cleaning shelves and sometimes doing night shifts.
“They said [my JSA] would be cut off if I didn’t do it.”
Asked if he thought he should have been paid, he said: “I reckon they should have paid me … I was basically doing what a normal member of staff does for Tesco. I had the uniform and I was in the staff canteen. I obviously got access to the food and drinks in the staff canteen … that’s what they let you do … but I got nothing else apart from that.”

In April 2011, Tesco reported full-year profits before tax of £3.54bn, up 11.3% from April 2010. In August 2010, Poundland announced expansion plans based on pre-tax profits that had gone up 130% to £19.1m. Other superstores using free labour in this way include Asda and Sainsbury’s.


Update: in February Chris Grayling claimed the only opposition to this was from Socialist Worker Party members – apparently he thinks SWP has a huge membership! – but by April he was blaming the “Polly Toynbee left”, possibly because she’s the only left-wing writer he’s ever read.


Update: Following the Panorama (Disabled or Faking It on BBC iPlayer) / Dispatches programmes tonight (30th July), I found a discussion on ConHome in 2007 about Grayling’s “tough love” ideas about welfare. Interestingly: not all the Tories who respond five years ago approve Grayling’s idea of “forcing” people into work.

—-
Update, 31st August:

After winning his case with the snooty people who want to get paid, Chris Grayling rolls out a new scheme:

Job-seeking graduates living in London are to be forced to work for three months unpaid in order to keep their benefits, the government has announced. That means they will be toiling for less than £1.87 per hour – even less than the pitiful wages that apprentices earn. And it gets worse. If the scheme is successful, it will be rolled out nationally.

Fresh from his department’s success crushing objections from Poundland intern Cait Reilly in court earlier this month, employment Minister Chris Grayling announced that 18- to 24-year-olds (including graduates) who have spent less than six months in employment since leaving education will now have to work for 30 hours a week for their £56-a-week jobseeker’s allowance. (That’s £1.87 an hour – we did the maths). He denied that it was “slave labour” and insisted it would help young Londoners improve their career prospects.

They will do ‘work experience placements’ in charities or social organisations – such as care homes – for 30 hours a week over 13 weeks. It is unclear how much real work these ‘placements’ will involve, but given that the idea is to banish the “something for nothing culture” that he feels is so prevalent among workless under-24s, we assume these will look very similar to proper jobs (only they will be unpaid, of course). The scheme will be tested this year in 16 London boroughs including the riot-hit areas of Croydon and Haringey. The Government then hopes to roll out the scheme across London and the rest of the UK.

Update, 4th September

Just to add injury to insult: Chris Grayling is now Justice Secretary. This is the man who thinks homophobes running a B&B should have a right to discriminate against LGBT people:

I think we need to allow people to have their own consciences,” he said. “I personally always took the view that, if you look at the case of should a Christian hotel owner have the right to exclude a gay couple from a hotel, I took the view that if it’s a question of somebody who’s doing a B&B in their own home, that individual should have the right to decide who does and who doesn’t come into their own home.”

Chris Grayling - Benefits Cheat

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