Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Welcome to the New Year, same as the old year.

Except there's no Olympics and no Diamond Jubilee to distract us this time.

A perfect example of this is the simply inexplicable continued role of Iain Duncan-Smith, a man who older relatives of mine would have described as being, "dimmer than a TocH lamp". Matthew Norman wrote a hugely interesting, not to mention entertaining hatchet job on him in yesterday's Independent. The Guardian, as expected, were not much more sympathetic. The Telegraph were a little better, but that's only to be expected.

Norman makes the observation that the chants at the PDC darts championship  show that the government's attempts to demonise the poor are working. It would be seductively easy to follow this logic and attempt to extrapolate this to produce a wider demonising of the the north too, but that would be too simple. After all, many extremely poor parts of England are only a handful of miles from the PDC Championship's venue of Alexandra Palace.

there does, as Norman points out, appear to have a been a fairly concerted attempt by some to paint the poor almost as vermin and while there does seem to be be some short term evidence that some might be buying into the "scrounger" mythology, there is much more to suggest that as a longer term strategy, IDS and Gideon Gideon George Osborne might be playing a dangerous game.

There are a number of reasons why this is the case. The first is that to equate benefit claimants with indolence is very dangerous.The DWP's own figures, for example, suggest that there were more people (around 100,000 more people) claiming housing benefit who were in work, compared to those who were not. More people in lower paid jobs are finding it harder to make ends meet. And April is only going to see things get worse. The introduction of IDS's Universal Credit system is due to arrive at exactly the same time that local authorities have to inflict the latest round of spending cuts on local services.  Many of the communities who need these services most will have them ripped away. Much has been made, for exmaple, of Newcastle City Council's decision to completely cut its Arts funding, for example, might seem less serious. But it affects the jobs of those working in those venues. Middlesbrough is hit just as hard, with its programme of cuts pointing the way to a bleak 2013 for many families.

Many of these cuts are in the North of England, a place where many of the poorest communities can be found. But they are not exclusively there. And this is second reason why the "scrounger" tactic is so very dangerous: in the 1980s it was very easy to set up a North-South antagonism, when older, traditionally northern industries (shipbuilding, steel, etc.) were being dismantled. But now, with retailing in spasms and the economy stalling almost everywhere, that antagonism is more difficult to sustain. There may be a North-South dived, but now parts of the South are suffering too.

There is another reason why IDS and Osborne might find their tactics problematic. Thatcher, hateful as she was, was the daughter of a shopkeeper. A woman who was recognisably not from a position of great privilege, not from the working classes, but from the aspirational middle class. There were many who could at least identify with her background and worldview.  Now, however, most of the hectoring about the poor seems to be emanating from men like Osborne and IDS with little intellectual power, nor even empathy with the lives of the people with whom they are playing. There's Iain Duncan-Smith, a man who was such a disaster as Conservative leader that Michael Howard was seen as a more preferable alternative. And then there's Osborne, a man who sums up the culture of entitlement, entitled (literally) as he is, and never having had a job at all until sashaying into the constituency held a little earlier by Neil Hamilton.

In short, being lectured about poverty by men who know nothing about poverty is likely to make people, many of whom are dicing with its possibility at least, increasingly angry. And to keep on lecturing people about it past the point of sense seems, to me at least, to be the very nadir of stupidity.

In other stupid news:
  • Conservative backbencher Alec Shelbrooke has apparently also proposed a Bill to stop all claimants buying anything with payments other than essentials such as food, clothing, energy, travel and housing.  Fine. Let's do it. But let's also extend that to the system of MP's allowances, and let the Fees Office buy requested items requested by "honourable" members. Let's not show any undue favouritism to the unwashed scum, shall we?
  • Coalition Rail Minister Norman Baker claims "rail fares are not that expensive" on the day that increases massively above inflation in some cases are rolled out. Nice to see a man whose work-related rail fares are paid for out of allowances being a massive bell-end and rubbing rail passengers' noses in it.
Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh chums!

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