The Jeremy Clarkson Distraction

That Jeremy Clarkson should be fired is pretty much indisputable, The Guardian’s Owen Jones explains why here. Clarkson’s continuing employment with the BBC is not, however, what this article will be discussing.

The Clarkson debate came out of nowhere to dominate the news cycle and political discourse since details of the fracas emerged on the 9th of March (Derailing coverage of a major Ed Miliband interview). His list of supporters include David Cameron, and now apparently his hunger striking daughter Nancy, not to mention the million plus people who signed the petition calling for his reinstatement.

But where did this petition come from? A right-wing blogger called Paul Staines, better known as his pseudonym Guido Fawkes. The self-confessed anti-establishment blogger, who incidentally is better connected to the Conservative Party than your average Daily Mail journalists, created and publicised the campaign for Jeremy’s reinstatement. The campaign has dominated the hearts and the minds of ordinary voters for the past fortnight, it has distracted attention away from David Cameron’s cowardly refusal to engage in a leader’s debate, it has distracted attention away from George Osborne’s vote buying budget. In the midst of the most important general election campaign for a generation the biggest discussion taking place in the United Kingdom is whether a talentless middle age man should keep his job after conducting a racially aggravated assault on a co-worker.

The campaign of distraction, led by Paul Staines, culminated in a former vice-president of Conservative Future, the youth wing of the Tory Party, driving a tank across London to BBC headquarters. This blatant headline grabbing act happened before the petition had reached the one million signatures mark Staines said would trigger the stunt.

In short what we have is a Troy outlier, obstinately crusading on behalf of the common man, getting his Tory mate to drive a tank across London to stop a rich toff losing his job. Meanwhile Staines’ friends in government poll rating spike after a budget giveaway, with the public to distracted by Clarksongate to properly see the budget for what it is. So much for being anti-establishment eh Paul?

 

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Liberal Democrats – Clinging onto Power

Nick Clegg has attempted the few Liberal Democrat loyalists left by claiming his party “stands up for the moderate majority” and “If you want a stable government that won’t lurch to the extremes of left or right, then you have to vote for it.” In a rather Machiavellian move Clegg is angling to position himself as Kingmaker after the election on May 7.

How Nick Clegg feels a government propped up by his soon to be resoundingly rejected Lib Dems will confer any legitimacy is a mystery. Current projections put the Lib Dems on course to win as few as 19 seats[i], down from their 2010 result of 57. The party has consistently polled below the incipient Green Party, as well as seeing the Green Party over take his Lib Dems as the third biggest party in England & Wales, yet Clegg still sees his party as fit for government.

Happily the obscenely undemocratic prospect of Nick Clegg the perpetual Deputy Prime Minister is remote, much to his chagrin. 19 seats is unlikely enough to push David Cameron’s Conservatives over the finish line. While the Labour Party would surly turn to a progressive alliance first, only landing on the Liberal Democrats as a last resort and probably with the condition of Nick Clegg’s head. Given Cleggs demand for Gordon Brown to quit during talks over a Rainbow Alliance in 2010 the chance of seeing Nick Clegg’s face in government again seem slim, even if he does manage to hold his Sheffield Hallam seat.  

Nick Clegg wishes you wouldn’t keep taking his stuff, and then when he comes to get it back, throwing it to someone else so he can’t have it back.

[i] http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/ukpr-projection-2

Route to a Better Democracy 2 – Let Parliament Crumble

 Parliament

 

Part two of a series “Route to a Better Democracy” where the DWP examines the case for replacing the Palace of Westminster.

Speaker John Bercow has said parliament will have to be abandoned within twenty years  unless serious renovations are made. £3bn must be spent to make the building safe and inhabitable. Heating, water, draining and electrical systems in the 19th century building are described as “extremely antiquated.” It seems parliamentary procedures and practices are, for some reason, left off this list. Rather than spend £3bn on renovation, the money would be better spent by abandoning the old and embracing the new; in the name of democracy.

Parliament has the appearance and atmosphere of a colonial gentleman’s club. Prime Minister’s Questions resembles a playground slagging match; the only thing missing is cants of “fight, fight, fight!” Women are disproportionately filled with revulsion at parliament, and no wonder considering the arrival of “Blair’s Babes” was met with cries of MELLONS.

The hypocrisy of MPs referring to other members as Honourable or Right Honourable , while obviously despising each other only serves to make people think parliament has nothing to do with them. It creates distance between those who rule and those who govern.

The pomp and ceremony of the Black Rod and the state opening of parliament look ridiculous when compared to the lives of people in the poorest regions of the country. Which brings me to the fact that the rules and regulations of parliament have no bearing on the lives of the people of the UK. This serves to make MPs an insular bunch who have no concept of what life is like outside of the Westminster bubble.

A new Parliament

Let the palace of Westminster turn to rubble, and be left as monument to the folly of the past. With £3bn a new parliament could be built away from London, in a more central position. In one stroke the institution would be more relevant to those outside of Greater London.

The new parliament should be built in a horseshoe shape, a subtle nudge away from adversarial politics and towards compromise. This move could encourage more women to get into politics.

The weekly Prime Minister dodges the question time should be abolished, it’s simply embarrassing. MPs heckling and jeering should be hulled out of parliament and summarily executed suspended without pay.

Voting by physically walking into a room is abhorrent, open to gross abuses of power from the executive. Votes should be conducted electronically, as they are in the European Parliament.

A modern building should be built to foster a new way of doing government. We should not be looking to the past and an institution that only outlawed marital rape in 1991 for governance. We should look to the future and a new parliament that is fit to govern in the modern age.

 

Route to a Better Democracy – Compulsory Voting ?

Part one of a series “Route to a Better Democracy” where the DWP examines the case for Compulsory Voting.

 

Voting is compulsory, with various degrees of enforcement, in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cyprus, Ecuador, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Nauru, Peru, Singapore, and Uruguay. These countries consider voting a civic duty, akin to jury service.

In federal election 94% of registered Australians turned up to vote. The penalty for not voting is minimal, a fine of $10 or roughly £10. Just 65% of people voted in the 2010 UK general election.[1]

Why voter turnout is a problem

A more detailed breakdown of voter turnout reveals more worrisome trends. Just 44% of 18-24 year olds voted. 76% of over 65s voted.[2]

18-24 year olds, those with arguably the biggest stake in the future of the country, overwhelmingly intend to cast their votes on the left; traditionally with the Labour Party but more recently with the Green Party. Over 65s are polar opposites, voting in huge numbers for right wing parties; be they the Conservatives or UKIP. 10 Million People in this country are now over 65[3].

This disparity in voting leaves the coalition government pandering to over 65s at the cost of the young. The Tories court the grey vote on one hand; by promising to keep paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest pensioners (A move which could cost 100 million pounds), and paying market smashing interest rates on pensioner bonds.

With the other hand they plan to abolish jobseekers allowance for 18-21 year olds and stop housing benefits for those under 25.

These policies will bring deprivation and stagnation to our young population. Yet the fed up, lied to, and alienated Generation Y stubbornly refuses to vote in large numbers.  

A potential solution

“Don’t let the Liberals make our democracy the plaything of cashed up interest groups.” Julia Gillard on a Liberal plot to repeal compulsory voting.

Compulsory voting protects the rights of marginalised groups, the disenfranchised, and the poor.

In the UK home owners are 19% more likely to vote than those on Housing Benefit, is it any wonder that interest rates remain low while housing benefit is inadequate at best?

Young women are 11% less likely to vote than their male counterparts [4], is this why women only make up 22%[5] of MPS?

Compulsory voting protects the right of the vulnerable. It forces politicians to appeal to broader constituencies, while curtailing the power of small but politically potent groups.

Extremist parties will find it harder to gain a foothold under a compulsory vote system; their views will need to appeal to the majority, not the plurality.

Political power will be thrust into the hands of voters, “None of the above” will appear on ballots. Enabling voters to force a second vote if they aren’t satisfied with the candidates on offer.

Those who genuinely don’t wish to participate could choose none of the above or simply spoil their ballot. The right to show dissatisfaction with political system will still exist.

What I have proposed is an extreme solution, but the problems and injustices that face the marginalised are also extreme. Protecting the rights of those alienated by the system is paramount to a free and fair democracy, protecting the vulnerable is paramount to the future of any country.

 

[1] https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2613/How-Britain-Voted-in

[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/key-issues-for-the-new-parliament/value-for-money-in-public-services/the-ageing-population/

[4] https://www.ipsos-mori.com/researchpublications/researcharchive/2613/How-Britain-Voted-in

[5] http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/research/key-issues-for-the-new-parliament/the-new-parliament/characteristics-of-the-new-house-of-commons/

Inside the Jobcentre – An Employees Tale

 My experience working in a job centre call centre as it transitioned from taking Income Support claims to pursuing people on Employment and Support allowance; looking for any reason to remove their benefits.

 

I  became employed by the Department for Work and Pensions in July 2014 as part of an apprenticeship scheme that saw hundreds of people hired across the country. I initially had reservations about applying for the job as I have serious concerns about how the DWP carries out its business; however, being unemployed at the time, application was mandatory. Initially the job was to take inbound telephony claims for Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance.

During the period of training and first few months I managed to calm my conscience. My training providers talked about how we would be helping people, who were often vulnerable, in their time of need. I was even able to bend the rules a little to help as much as I could. I once spent about an hour helping one woman who was struggling with intense anxiety. Anxiety that was only exacerbated by being declared fit for work during a benefits reassessment. She cried through the entire call.

Despite this I kept hearing snippets of the attitude that many staff members held. People were willing, even excited at the chance to end calls and refuse to take claims. They subtly, but surely made it clear they felt the claimants were beneath them and not to be trusted.

About two months into my contract the entire contact centre got called into a meeting. A bunch of suits told us of exciting times to come, the end of the drudgery of taking claims. We were transferred to a small but growing part of the DWP. The group made outbound calls to people claiming various benefits. The purpose of these calls was to use information gleaned from other government departments to try to find reasons to remove people’s benefits.

The response of my colleagues worried and distressed me. There was excitement and anticipation. They couldn’t wait to get stuck in and take money back from the scroungers. The particular scroungers we were tasked with chasing were sick people, ESA claimants.

A month had to pass before we were due to start the training for the new job. I tried to tell myself I would help whoever I could, that I had bills to pay so I had to do the job. But the feeling of disgust at what I would have to do would not go away. I began applying for other jobs.

I discussed my fears with my manager, I told her that only 0.7% of money spent on benefits is lost to fraud, I told her amount of money withheld from deserving claimants dwarfs the money lost to fraud, I told her I thought it was abhorrent that we would accuse poor sick people of fraud. She told me to suck it up.

I got much the same from other colleagues I talked to. “Who cares they deserve it.”

Finally the first day of training came. I saw first-hand the people who would be my bosses and the mentality they held. In a speech that lasted over an hour the head of the department spouted ideological bullshit, the crowd lapped it up.

She told us that, since its creation, her department had saved enough money to buy an entire new hospital (Or fund tax cuts for the rich I thought).

She told us how the work of one of her team had ended up on Saints and Scroungers, and if we worked hard enough we could too. (She thought appearing on that disgusting show was a good thing!)

She told us how people were often scared off benefits after receiving a phone call even though no fault could be found.

She told us how members of her team rarely took their full holiday entitlement; they loved hounding the benefit scroungers more than they loved a vacation.

I quit the next day.

We must challenge the prevailing attitude that has taken hold of our Job Centres . The presumption of guilt must end, to the assumption of idleness must end, and the ideological dogma ruling our Job Centres must end. These people are supposed to provide a social security, instead they only serve to provide social ostraczation.

Perhaps this is too much to ask. Not long ago I bumped into a former colleague, he described his new job to me as “Giving bums and hobos a hard time.” Apparently he thought this would help them to “Sort their lives out.”

Low Pay – and How The Parties Plan to Deal with It

A look at the cost of living crisis, and the plans the political parties have drawn up to combat it.

The Problem

Supermarket receipt

The spectre of low pay hangs over the heads of the poorest and neediest British citizens. Since 2010 over a million people have been pushed onto poverty wage, meaning that most people in poverty in this country are in employment. The country has experienced the biggest drop in living standards since the Victorian era. While the billions spent on Working Tax Credits end up subsidizing corporations such as Tesco, and Sports Direct.

The living wage foundation says that £7.85 per hour is a wage that is high enough to maintain a normal standard of living. The minimum wage is  £6.50 p/h.  The six major parties (Including the SNP as they could be the third largest party in parliament after May 7) all have different visions on how to deal with the cost of living crisis.  

The Plans in Brief 

The Conservatives

George Osborne said in 2014 that the country can now afford to raise the minimum wage above inflation but I find no explicit number pledged.

The main thrust of their plans to improve the lot of the low waged is to increase the tax-free personal allowance to £12,500.

The Labour Party

The Labour have pledge to preside over a rise in the minimum wage to £8 p/h by 2020.

They also plan to reintroduce the 10p tax rate, which they claim will lower tax for 24 million people. They also have plans to introduce tax breaks for companies paying the living wage.

The Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat policy appears to focus on removing minimum wage workers from paying income tax; which they will do by raising the income tax personal allowance to £12,500, but not until 2020.

There is little mention of any action on the minimum wage.

The Scottish National Party

The SNP are fighting for the powers to set minimum age to be devolved to Holyrood, where they will increase the minimum wage at least in line with inflation. It is their stated aim to eventually pay a living wage.

UK Independence Party

UKIP’s policy rests entirely on increasing the lower income tax threshold. They are the most generous offering a rise to £13,500.

The Green Party

The Greens are promising the immediate implementation of a Living Wage after May the 7th with a promise that nobody will be paid less than £10 p/h by 2020. The differential in minimum wage based on age will also be abolished.

Income tax plans are in flux until the publication of their manifesto, as they have presumably been rewritten after the dropping of the Citizens Income policy.

The analysis

Increasing the tax threshold at which lower earners start paying income tax, offered by the Conservatives, the LibDems, and UKIP appears to be a sensible idea. No doubt it would have some effect on the finances of millions.

However large sections of people employed on minimum wage are part-time workers; meaning they pay little or no income tax, so for many this policy means nothing. Indeed income tax for the low waged is a relatively small burden when compared to Council Tax and VAT. Meaning their energies might be better spent in Council Tax reform.

Labour’s commitment to an £8 p/h minimum wage by 2020 is questionable. The minimum wage has not yet recovered, in real terms, to pre-crash levels. To beat the pre-crash levels the minimum wage would have need to be around £8.50 p/h by 2020.

The SNP have a slightly fairer offering, at least the minimum wage would keep pace with inflation. However without a commitment to a Living Wage people are still going to struggling to make ends meet.

The Green Party are the only party advocating an immediate change to a living wage, which is a noble and achievable aim. Obviously the vested interests of big businesses and the CBI are lobbying hard against the policy in Westminster, using scare tactics of job losses, but they did the same when the minimum wage was introduced in 1998. There were no job losses then, nor will there be any now.   

min wage

The establishment parties’ policies are at best timid, and at worst harmful. A revolution is needed to crush the cost of living crisis, but it will not come from Westminster.

Originally posted on Quazen.com

In Defence of Jobseekers Allowance

This article seeks to address the concerns of the small but vocal minority of people who see Jobseekers Allowance as a problem, a leach on society. The “I have a job so why can’t they get one” crowd, that twists the welfare debate to such a degree that common sense is no longer heard.

Job Centre: The number of JSA claimants fell by 1.6% month-on-month.

The idea behind Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) is to help people into work. The reality is something different, something sinister.

If JSA was suddenly cancelled, the cost for the country would be far more than the £4.2bn a year the government currently spends on JSA. They would have to turn to food banks to live, they are driven to innumerable health problems which drive them to the NHS costing far more than £72.40 a week for JSA.

It’s like putting oil in the car, it costs you some money your engine doesn’t seize up and cost you hundreds more in repairs.

We can’t assume that these people are “lazy scroungers who want to sit on their arse while indulging in drinking and drug taking. Just 70p out of every £100 is lost to fraud.

The media fuelled by the coalition government) force feed us ideological dogma about the benefit system. They are lying to us to make people angry, to make hard working people scared, so they conform to an economic system that is run by the rich and for the rich. If people are angry about the benefits system it’s easy to miss the massive fraud which big business and the super-rich engage in endemically.

HMRC estimates that some £30bn (Other sources put it at closer to £100bn) is under paid in tax while benefit fraud stands at £1.6bn. That is the real scandal to be angry about

Companies like HSBC are helping their wealthy customers break the law to avoid paying tax. Others use dodgy connections with politicians to make millions, while they systematically erode the rights of workers making trade union action impossible.

The costs of joblessness are enormous, local governments alone are spending £345 million a year to support homeless people, mental health issues can plague people for decades and cost millions in upkeep. A jobless person forced off JSA, for one of the innumerable and spurious reason, could then be forced into theft to feed their starving families;  then the tax payer would ending up footing a much large bill for housing them in prison.

Giving the jobless a wage they can survive on and taking them out of the climate of intimidation, fear, and bullying that they encounter at the Job Centre could help hundreds of thousands of people into work. These people need money for bus tickets to get to interviews, cash for interview clothes, and a supportive environment where they are not dehumanized and demoralized; only then they will find work.

DWP - headless woman interpreted as having a headache

What’s more once you help more people into work the economy will grow. More people will be paying taxes and creating wealth. More people will be spending money allowing businesses to grow and employ yet more people.

But big business and the super-rich don’t want this, they want more people out of work because it suppresses wages, and makes it easier to fire people.

Jobseekers Allowance is an invaluable safety net, one which helps this country grow and prosper. Reform are needed, cuts are not.

 

Originally published on Socyberty