Rachel Reeves became Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on 7th October, Iain Duncan Smith’s new opposite number, replacing Liam Byrne. (She was Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury from 7th October 2011, and she’s been MP for Leeds West since May 2010.) Her first interview as IDS’s Shadow was published in the Observer late on Saturday night – and Twitter exploded. Blogs to read: Paul Bernal’s “Dear Rachel Reeves”; Mike Sivier’s “Sort out the tax dodgers, Labour, then the benefit bill won’t be a problem”; Jayne Linney “Oh Dear Rachel Reeves – You Got it Badly Wrong!!”.
But in the shouting and the tumult, a handful of people seemed genuinely bewildered as to the problem with what Rachel Reeves had said:
Neither Andrew Spooner nor Hossylass seem to have noticed that while Rachel Reeves is enthusiastic about forcing people into “compulsory jobs”, she’s said nothing about what kind of pay those compulsory jobs will get – and she’s made clear that if you are unwilling or unable to be forced, a Labour government will just let you starve homeless.
If you have been unemployed for a year or two, you are desperate. Read Jack Monroe’s speech to the Conservative party conference. You don’t need a kick in the face, you need a job. And there aren’t enough jobs going.
Well, say the comfortable people who’ve never been there, isn’t that what Rachel Reeves is offering?
Imagine this scenario, then. A woman of 23, with a child to support, loses her job. She can’t find work. After a year, she’s summoned to the Job Centre and told that from now on, she’ll be stacking shelves in Tescos, on whatever pay the DWP choose to give her. If the pay isn’t enough to cover childcare? If the job is too far away and there’s no public transport? If she’s applied to Tesco a dozen times for a paid job and been told there were no vacancies because they can get all the compulsory labour they want from the Job Centre, no cost to themselves? If she wanted to find part-time or flexible work so that she could spend time caring for her child? Tough, says Rachel Reeves: take the compulsory job or we’re done with you, you can die on the street for all we care.
Someone must leak the letter Paul Dacre wrote the Guardian demanding a column….
“Out in the real world, it was a pretty serious week for news. The US was on the brink of budget default, a British court heard how for two years social workers failed to detect the mummified body of a four-year-old starved to death by his mother, and it was claimed that the then Labour health secretary had covered up unnecessary deaths in a NHS hospital six months before the election.”
A splendid opening from Paul Dacre, reminiscent of certain vast Russian novels:
“Eh bien, mon prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now merely estates, the private estates of the Buonaparte family. Non, I warn you, if you don’t say this means war, if you still defend all these vile acts, all these atrocities by an Antichrist (for I really do believe he is the Antichrist), then I no longer know you, you are no longer mon ami, you are no longer, as you put it, my devoted slave. But, anyway, how do you do, how are you? I see I am frightening you, do come and sit down and tell me what’s going on.”
Of course Paul Dacre forgot to mention that this claim about cover-ups was made by Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative health secretary, on Twitter: and that on being contacted by lawyers pointing out that this was libellous, Jeremy Hunt had to write to the Labour health secretary acknowledging that the claim wasn’t true.
That’s a perfect example of a Daily Mail political story in minature. Correct enough not to be legally actionable, but actually completely misleading.
In April 1989, the Sun published the infamous “The Truth” front-page slander of the Hillsborough tragedy and are still boycotted in Liverpool. It ought to have been a tremendous lesson to the tabloid industry that you can only go so far in peddling hate before you oversell it.
On Saturday 28th September, the Daily Mail published an article about Ralph Miliband. There were two problems with the article: the first, that it wasn’t true, was no different from any other smears the Daily Mail has cooked up in the past.
The second, that it had been published purely to traduce a dead man because he was the father of the current Labour party leader Ed Miliband, was so clear that even the usual supporters of Daily Mail politics found themselves choking on it: of the entire Conservative cabinet, only Michael Gove – who used to work for Rupert Murdoch at the Times and whose wife writes for Paul Dacre at the Daily Mail – defended the Mail: every other Conservative minister from David Cameron downward admitted that if that had been his father, subjected to Daily Mail attack after his death, they’d… well… they wouldn’t have been happy about it. Contemptuously, the Mail – and all the Mail employees, from Paul Dacre downward – have refused to apologise, claiming they were entirely justified in their smears of Ralph Miliband.
If you’re a Conservative/LibDem supporter, this must be like watching Titanic, except that Nick Clegg and David Cameron and Ed Miliband aren’t even as appealling as DiCaprio, Winslet, and Zane. The iceberg has hit, the ship is peeling apart and sinking, and yet you know the end of the movie is ages away and already seems to have been going on for far too long.
For the rest of us, though, things as much worse than simply enduring a long, long movie in the cinema as being on the Titanic was worse than taking part in the movie.
Paul Goodman, executive editor of ConservativeHome, offers four reasons why he does not believe the Tories can win a majority in 2015.
There is really just one reason, but it’s a shattering iceberg:
Austerity: The proclaimed conviction that if only enough people are unemployed or in work but struggling on a low income, plus essential services cut to the bone and cut again, then the economy will improve.
The belief that the economy must be destroyed in order to save it is essential to Tory thinking and was adopted by the LibDems with hardly a gulp. Labour can only lose if they adopt it too.
Nick Clegg’s New Year message leans heavily on things he had less than nothing to do with:
“The last twelve months have been lit up by moments that will stay with us forever. When Mo Farah approached the final stretch of the 10,000m final, who wasn’t up on their feet, screaming at the TV?
“When Nicola Adams beamed at the crowd after winning the first ever women’s Olympic boxing, who didn’t smile back? I was lucky enough to be there, and that’s one I’ll never forget.
“Was there anything more British than that drenched choir in the Jubilee River Pageant, singing Rule Britannia! in the pouring rain?
“Incredible images. Spectacular shows. Jaw-dropping personal triumphs.”
Sadly, none of them involved the Liberal Democratic party or its leader.
To be able to form a government the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons needs to be able to count on a minimum of 326 votes: otherwise, as soon as the government does something which the opposition cannot approve of, they can hold a vote of no confidence which the government will lose: Parliament is dissolved, a general election occurs.
The median age of the population of the UK is 40.2: the last time there was a general election called in those circumstances was October 1974. Over half the population are not old enough to remember this except as a historical report: no one under 56 is old enough to have voted in 1974, the year of two elections. Gordon Brown would have been 23 that year.
Ed Miliband wouldn’t yet have been 5: Nick Clegg was 7: David Cameron would have been 7 at the time of the first General Election in 1974, and the second happened the day after his 8th birthday.
Today Ahmed Abdullah Ahmed is being deported, if a campaign to let him stay does not succeed. I was tweeted this link by an independence supporter who argued (she didn’t have to argue with me it would be wrong to deport Ahmed, of course it would!) that Ahmed would not be deported from an independence Scotland. Well, I hope he wouldn’t be: he has been a refugee from Somalia for 20 years, he has lived in Britain for 7 years, he has a sister who has the right to remain in the UK – he should not have to go. (Action today!)
But I haven’t yet seen a definite policy committment from the supporters of an independent Scotland that would ensure refugees and asylum seekers who needed to stay in Scotland would be treated decently and helped to stay. For this to be more than “the sun will shine more often!” happy thoughts, independence needs a constitutional convention, and needs it long before autumn 2014.
Ed Miliband said:
“People can be Scottish and British, it’s OK. And if they feel primarily Scottish that’s fine too. But if they leave the UK they won’t be British any more: it stands to reason.”
There’s a general lesson there. Any time you find yourself ending a statement with “It stands to reason!” you are probably wrong. It often doesn’t.
Every government since 1993, when the Child Support Agency was founded, seems to think they can reform the CSA, and the coalition government is no exception.
Starting from 2013, the Conservatives/Liberal Democrats propose charging:
- £100 as an upfront fee (or £50 for parents on benefit) for those who want to use the future CSA. Only “Victims of domestic violence” will be exempt (although there is no detail on how this will be proved or checked).
- An on-going charge of between 7% and 12% on any maintenance paid to parents who rely on the future CSA to collect their child maintenance, as well as an extra 15-20% charge added to the non-resident parent’s payment.
How, exactly, is this going to help?
When the Child Support Agency was launched in 1993, it rapidly became the object of “more concentrated hatred than any other modern UK institution except the poll tax”. Partly that was because the formula established for the CSA by Act of Parliament for the first time set mandatory levels of child support payment equivalent to what a single mother got when she signed on the dole. Before the CSA, it had been the job of the judge in the divorce court to determine how much maintenance a divorced father should pay his children, and the judges – either out of ignorance for what children cost to bring up, or misplaced compassion for the poor man being divorced – generally set that rate far too low: maintenance of £10 or £20 a month per child. And low as it was, there was no mechanism for a mother to collect it except by taking her ex-husband to court.
I used to vote Labour consistently. I’ve never voted SNP. I believe in devolution, not independence.
I wrote a detailed takedown of one particular Labour MP, Douglas Alexander, who quite evidently has more loyalty to his party than to any left-wing principles, but this is a general complaint: where are the Labour MPs who are willing to show they stand for something other than just the status of being an MP?
Sixty-four years earlier Aneurin Bevan said:
Referring to Mr. Churchill’s “set-the-people-free” speech, Mr. Bevan said that the result of the free-for-all preferred by Churchill would have been cinemas, mansions, hotels, and theatres going up, but no houses for the poor. “in 1945 and 1946,” he said, “we were attacked on our housing policy by every spiv in the country – for what is Toryism, except organized spivery? They wanted to let the spivs loose.” As a result of controls, the well-to-do had not been able to build houses, but ordinary men and women were moving into their own homes. Progress could not be made without pain, and the important thing was to make the right people suffer the pain.
Scotland has oil. In 2001, the UK was producing 2.54 million barrels of oil per day from the Scottish waters (and using 1.699). Demand for oil has risen, but the revenue from the oil has dropped by about half. The silly season is already out on how the Unionists might resolve this if Scotland votes yes in autumn 2014: the English Democrats want to know how did our oil get under their water? and Lord Kilclooney suggests partitioning Scotland.
As ever, there’s some sound discussion about the legalities around the independence referendum at Peat Worrier:
While Wallace’s colleague, Michael Moore, has said that the UK Government would not attempt any legal challenge to Holyrood legislation authorising a referendum. Wallace’s statement, by contrast, at least still countenances the possibility. Given Moore’s ditheriness, and the range of wrangling interests pulling the coalition this way and that, I doubt too much stock should be put in whatever view the Secretary of State happens to be entertaining today. This was followed up by a piece in the Scotsman, in which Wallace kept open the possibility of litigation, to spike an SNP referendum, if the transfer of powers (with or without conditions) cannot be agreed between the parliaments.
But it looks like things are progressing – the Scottish Government have agreed to use the Electoral Commission, which suggests in turn that the Westminster coalition aren’t planning to try an undignified blocking strategy.
Joyce McMillan had some altogether sensible advice to give to Johann Lamont in the Scotsman yesterday:
Already facing a collapse in Labour votes and membership caused by the party’s movement to the Blairite right since the 1990s, and facing a triumphant Scottish National Party which has now become the focus of all hope for many centre-left Scottish voters, the new Labour leader now has to deal with her party leader’s decision to join the Prime Minister’s gang on the constitutional issue. She has to agree that Scotland should be made to hold a “binding” yes-no referendum on independence, and to rolling out Westminster Labour “big guns” to lead a government-inspired campaign designed to frighten the Scots into voting “no”.
Now tactically, of course, it is tempting for Labour to join the Tories in wrong-footing Alex Salmond, by demanding the straight yes-no referendum which he fears he cannot win. The First Minister has clearly been taken aback by the extent of his own success in demoralising the opposition parties in Scotland, which has left him without significant support in promoting the “devo-max” option which he also wants to see on the ballot paper; and Labour is doing all it can to prolong his pain.
This is the kind of moment, though, when serious political leaders have to take a step backward from the fray, and the consider the long-term future of the movement which they seek to represent. It’s this kind of courage and statesmanship that is now required of Johann Lamont. The party she leads was founded on trade union representation, on the co-operative consumer movement, and on a passionate belief in Scottish home rule as part of what we would now call a federal UK.