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.


told MPs it would provide an opportunity for out-of-work families to “take charge of their finances in the same way as they will need to when they get back into employment”.

It would also end the “damaging perception” of benefits claimants as “financially reckless”.

We need to stop the “socially destructive state-funded way of living”, he argued, adding that welfare benefits were designed to be a temporary safety net in times of need, “a hand up, not simply a hand out”.

Though of course Scroungercard wouldn’t in any respect be “a hand up”. Nor does Shelbrooke really explain why using a stigmatising and restrictive card to control what unemployed people and low-paid people can buy with their benefits-money will actually help them.

But then, he doesn’t have to.

You see, back in the reshuffle, when Mike Penning was appointed Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Alec Shelbrooke, who had since November 2010 been PPS to the then-Minister of State for Transport Theresa Villiers, tweeted happily:

Autocorrect is a pain, isn’t it?

Alec Shelbrooke had been PPS to Villiers when she was Minister of State for Transport, but when she became Secretary of State for Northern Ireland he did not follow her as PPS: he became PPS to her junior minister, Mike Penning.

He then blamed autocorrect and “the level of debate”.

The Telegraph noted at the time:

Before joining Parliament, Mr Shelbrook was a project manager at the University of Leeds and on the Conservative Party website lists his favourite pastimes as football, motor racing, cricket and music and 5 a-side football.

Before his move to the Northern Ireland Office, Mr Shelbrooke, who grew up in Gravesend, Kent, was PPS to the then-Transport Minister, Theresa Villiers, winning the promotion just a few months after being elected.

Alec Shelbrooke came up with ScroungerCard. He wasn’t actually the inventor of the idea – it’s the Azure Card for failed asylum seekers, rolled out across the UK for anyone unemployed. The idea of forcing welfare recipients to use Azure Cards was being lobbied for at the Conservative conference by Mastercard and the Progressive Conservatism Project at Demos.

Alec Shelbrooke will have been cynically aware that a policy proposal put forward by an MP who’s just one step up from backbencher, doesn’t stand a chance of actually being rolled out across the whole of the UK. But he could put forward a Bill under the 10 Minute Rule that would – he hoped – draw much more attention than the Northern Island gaffe:

This morning [18th December] in the Commons, Alec Shelbrooke, the Member of Parliament for Elmet and Rothwell introduced a Bill calling for the introduction of a Welfare Cash Card to prevent welfare claimants from buying what Mr Shelbrooke called “NEDD” (Non-Essential, Desirable and often Damaging) items, including cigarettes, alcohol, paid television and gambling. This would apply to all claimants in work and out of work, and would cover all benefits other than disability payments and the basic state pension.

Alec Shelbrooke with his dog BorisAlec Shelbrooke argued that

“Even if this Bill creates the slightest chance of raising these children out of poverty, reducing the chances of them going to school hungry or simply being subjected to secondary inhalation of smoke, then I would argue it is worth it,” he said.

Other things poor people “waste” money on: food and care for their pets. I somehow doubt the Welfare Cash Card would allow poor people to spend money on unsensible things like dog food. That’s Alec Shelbrooke with his dog Boris, by the way.

Interestingly, Alec Shelbrooke voted against the ban on smoking in public places. His objection to people on a low income being allowed to smoke evidently doesn’t extend to protecting pub and club employees from breathing in the secondary smoke of people wealthier than themselves.

Meanwhile, someone who actually wants to help:

Vic Goddard, whose secondary school in Harlow, Passmores Academy, is rated outstanding by Ofsted, told the Guardian that even children with a parent or parents in work were often struggling and having to choose between heating their homes, buying their children clothes or having enough food.

He said: “It’s not because the parents are bone idle. It’s not the stereotype of scrounging parents. These people are not happy their children are hungry, or aren’t warm enough. But they don’t know what to do about it because there’s no jobs.”

Forcing small businesses out of trade because benefits-claimants are only allowed to use their card at approved stores to buy approved goods isn’t going to help create any jobs, or lessen any hunger. But it’ll do nicely to shame and penalise the poor.

Dottore Hackenapuss - ScroungerCard
Scroungercard cartoon by @DocHackenbush

Shelbrooke claimed on Twitter that the emails he was getting from his constituents were supportive of it (and he cited the Demos poll, which they would have paid for as part of their lobbying for it with Mastercard):

So I tweeted a link to his website contact form, and invited people to respond to him about his idea for a Scrounger Card aka Azure Card for all benefits claimants.

Mo, who follows my blog, used the form to let him know what she thought, and got a snarky reply back from his office:

Mr Shelbrooke actually ‘openly’ requested emails from his own constituents on the matter as one individual on Twitter suggested his constituents weren’t supportive, which was a suggestion not reflective in the emails Mr Shelbrooke has received from his constituents.
I will pass on your comments to Mr Shelbrooke for consideration as he drafts his Second Reading.
Compliments of the Season.

She asked:

Are his proposals only to affect his constituency, then? Well, that’s fine! I’m all the way over here, I don’t suppose I ever have to worry about his proposals affecting me if I lose my job! 🙂

Well, in a sense, Alec Shelbrooke’s proposals will only affect his constitutency, because the usefulness of his policy proposal is:

For the Conservative/LibDem government:

  • This shifts the Overton Window over. Policy proposals for the unemployed that are not quite as bad as that look better by comparison.

For Alec Shelbrooke:

  • This brings his name forward into the media, makes it more likely that people will talk about him as the MP concerned with the Welfare Cash Card instead of the MP who referred to Northern Ireland as Northern Island, and
  • Given that his constituency, Elmet and Rothwell, has a 1.9% unemployment rate (substantially below the national average) the people who will be voting for him in 2015 are pretty much not going to be people who are unemployed or who know someone who is, certainly not the kind of people who would know anyone on an Azure Card.

Empty beer glass by Dick Staub
Just goes to show the level of debate, doesn’t it?

Ryan Bourne wrote in response to Alec Shelbrooke’s Bill today:

Conservatives should believe that individuals and families are better at knowing what is good for them than the state. More than that, we should believe that leaving people to make free choices is empowering to them, helping to foster a sense of individual responsibility. And previous analysis of child benefit suggests that most families do what is best for their children. An IFS study of the benefit found that the vast majority was spent on adult goods such as alcohol and adult clothes. Why? Not because parents were irresponsible. In fact, because most parents fully insure the necessities for their children as a first priority. Any debate about benefits therefore should be about their generosity, not what they are spent on.

There will no doubt be some parents who do not always act in the best interests of their children, but the vast majority do.

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Filed under Benefits, Elections, Politics

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