Friday, October 22, 2010

The test for the decent Lib Dem rank-and-file : at what point do they say 'up with this we will not put'?

Probably all of us who hold (to one degree or another) a partisan political stance are sometimes guilty of making mischief at another party's expense when we know that the true position is at least marginally more nuanced than we care to let on. But my conscience is clear on that score over the last 36 hours or so - I've been genuinely dumbfounded not only by the extent of devastation that is being wreaked on the poorest and most vulnerable in society, but more particularly by the Orwellian attempts to pretend that black is white and that "those with the broadest shoulders are bearing the greatest burden". I had a rare chat about politics with my mother this evening, and her final comment to me was this - "the truly frightening thing is that they're in for the next five years". Well, perhaps - but that isn't a future that's yet set in stone. And this time the people who ultimately get to choose whether it comes to pass aren't the headbanger No Turning Back brigade of the Tory right, but a group of people who for the most part actually care about social justice - the Lib Dem rank-and-file. So, knowing what they now know, why wouldn't they seize the opportunity to put a stop to the horrors that lie in wait?

We've heard all the rationalisations by now. "Coalition is about compromise, not about getting everything you believe in" - OK, but what if the Liberal Democrats could have delivered more of their principles through a cooperative and hardheaded approach to politics outside this government? A more limited confidence-and-supply deal with the Tories would have left them free to join a principled ad hoc alliance with Labour, the nationalist parties and the Greens to vote down the most gratuitously vicious of the welfare cuts announced on Wednesday. As for "we don't want to do this, but we had no choice", that argument is always the last resort of the political scoundrel. Just because the government had to do something about the deficit, it doesn't somehow follow that singling out the very poorest as the group to be squeezed until the pips squeak was unavoidable. That was a choice, and to pretend otherwise not only insults the intelligence of the electorate, it insults the intelligence of those otherwise decent Lib Dems who are frantically pretending to themselves. If they look at this CSR at it truly is, and not the Hollywood version in which glossy graphics are always at hand to magically prove it's all very progressive, can they honestly say that this is what they entered politics to achieve? More pertinently, can they say that it doesn't in many senses represent the polar opposite of what they entered politics to achieve?

And if Scottish Lib Dem members were looking for reassurance last night as their consciences and opinion poll ratings started to prick, they certainly wouldn't have found it in Michael Moore's excruciating appearance on Newsnight Scotland. His remarkable ignorance about (and disinterest in) the impact of the welfare cuts in his designated patch has of course been well-documented, but something else also leapt out at me. When Gordon Brewer asked him if someone on Employment and Support Allowance in a deprived part of Glasgow would have their money cut off if they'd failed to get back into work after one year in spite of their most genuine endeavours, Moore said this -

"we are not going to allow a situation where people get trapped on benefit for year after year"

Bearing in mind the context in which he gave that answer, the only possible inference to draw is that Moore's curious idea of "liberating" people from being trapped on benefit is simply to remove their benefit regardless of whether they have work or not (or indeed any means of properly supporting themselves at all). Of course, there are some on the right of politics who genuinely believe in the brutal logic that if you leave people to sink or swim, many will find a way of swimming. There may even be a grain of truth in that - but inherent in that logic is that if some are bound to sink rather than swim, that's a price worth paying. Again, is that really typical of the values that most Lib Dems came into politics to further? For the Orange Book tendency now at the apex of the party the answer may well be yes, but what about the rest?

8 comments:

  1. Ezio Auditore da Firenze - Protecting Florence from Westminster's cutsOctober 22, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    EIGHT PERCENT.

    That is all.

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  2. I hope that's not all, Ezio - eight per cent may be concentrating a few minds, but six per cent would concentrate them even more.

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  3. Time for some floor crossing I think. Maybe not to join Labour. Maybe just as Independents.

    I wonder how the Scottish Liberals are feeling about Danny Alexander and that fool Michael Moore.

    If I were a Liberal voter I'd be keen to hear what Tavish has to say about them at least, if not the rest of the Liberal ministers before I did any voting in May.

    If I were a Liberal Democrat activist, I'd be most uncomfortable standing on doorsteps. I foresee big problems.

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  4. Moore is an idiot pure and simple to have implied that people in Glasgow would be dumped off benefits altogether. As I understand it people applying for Employment Support Allowance can get it in any of three ways: 1) as a job seeker where they will get £65 per week. The other two relate to being incapacitated for work and require a capability assessment which will allow access to: 2) incapacitated person who needs help to get back to work and will get £91 per week (the same as Incapacity Benefit now) 3) severely incapacitated person who cannot work at all and gets £95 per week.

    Now as I understand it the 12 month time limit is going to apply to people in the 2) bracket. Who after their year on £91 per week will go onto the £65 per week as a job seeker. That is not that different to now where a new assessment is done for IB every 2 years. People in 2 &3 will not need to attend the job centre to sign on and will not need to actively be seeking work but people on 1 will.

    As yet we don’t know more details of for example whether after the 12 months people can reapply to be reassessed and go back on the higher money for another 12 months. We will have to wait and see!

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  5. The cababilty assesment will comprise a points based form and a physical assesment conducted by a mediacl professional who will doubtless have a target of people to get off the more expensive options. You can see where I am going with this no doubt. Those who are work shy but reasonably intelligent will quickly be able to figure out where to put the right tick and what buzz words to say at the assesment. Those who are really needy, or a bit slow will quickly be targeted as easy to get off the higher rates and unlikely to create a fuss. In addition the number of appeals against these decisions is likely to rocket. Currently the period of time it takes an appeal is 30+ days and they are talking of getting rid of 500,000 staff so it wont take a genius to figure out what will happen there.

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  6. Munguin, there are still a lot of ambiguities to this, but I've formed the very strong impression that people will not necessarily be moved onto a lower rate of benefit after a year - the intention seems to be that it will be withdrawn altogether if the person has a partner in work. The idea is to bring ESA into line with 'contributory JSA' which only lasts for six months before means-testing kicks in.

    Tris - my only worry about disgruntled Lib Dems crossing the floor is that once they do that they won't have the chance to push for withdrawal from the coalition from within the party.

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  7. James: My understanding was that they are removing the contribution based JSA altogether. JSA will henceforth be means tested.

    Yes, that's true James but they are not making much headway in that, even with such towering (by Liberal standards) figures as Kennedy and Campbell. We need to see how they will vote on some of these frankly ridiculous proposals.

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  8. That’s a good point James, but I was working on the premise that benefit dependants in Glasgow on IB at the moment would be unlikely to have a partner in a position to trigger the means test. Moore I thought seemed to imply that you would be out on your ear no matter what and if that were true Glasgow already one of the most squalid and deprived areas of the UK would become a whole lot worse.

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