I think those who hijacked the March on Saturday SHOULD apologise.

I didn’t attend the TUC March on Saturday. Gutted doesn’t even sum up how I felt, but I didn’t go. I watched it on television, I spoke to friends of mine throughout the day and night. I read their tweets. But by the end of the day, I had a very sour taste in my mouth. And the ‘anti-cuts’ movement took a very predictable turn.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast. I would have been in Fortnum and Mason I had a sleeping bag packed, I intended to stay on Trafalgar Square. So unbiased I am not. Interested in what is unfolding, I am.

March

 

I watched as Labour politicians hijacked the March. Ed Miliband appealing to the ‘mainstream majority’. Words which were careful not to undermine his commitment to welfare cuts and the cuts to Local Authorities which Labour had planned pre-election. After successive years of using Local Authorities as barely noticed scapegoats, taking pre-election cuts there was no public appetite for elsewhere.

He spoke movingly about the Sufffragettes, as he carefully ensured that he didn’t undermine his commitment to e nsure that there is no bridge for women to meet their basic living costs, should their marriage end after they have children. He invoked Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement, as he reframed a March where half a million people were marching for their jobs, their futures and their children’s futures- as a march for Labour as an alternative to a government whose economic and social policy they share.

Edmbusiness

Since the march, the Labour spin machine has turned on those whose direct action has filled the gap left by Labour’s lack of opposition.

I recall what happenened after Netroots. The digital conference where Labour tried to appropriate grassroots online opposition to cuts for political capital, attempting to marginalise anyone who doesn’t currently feel Labour offer a solution.Within days Ed Miliband was defining himself as the ‘progressive champion’  in the hope he could exploit that opposition. A role to be dropped as research by Searchlight showed that Blue Labour  was a more effective way of winning votes without abandoning the New Labour approach. We now see that strategy moved over to UkUncut

Outraged leading  Labour journalists, and lesser known Labour wannabes have declared their disgust at the hijacking of this protest by UKUncut. Upset that UKUncut had hijacked ‘their’ march. They have condemned the violence of 145 people who sat down peacefully in a Fortnum and Mason. They have glibly ignored the video evidence of those people being misled by the police. They said very little when a police application asking for stricter powers to tackle protestors was ready to go at 9am on Monday morning, after a peaceful march of half a million people resulted in 14 arrests for crimes beyond sitting down in a food shop. Have wilfully conflated the actions of one group, with the actions of a Blacbloc they know full well is a leaderless strategy likely to happen at any March on that scale. Twitter has been ablaze with Labour activists condeming the ‘hijacking’ of Saturday’s March without a trace of irony.

The attack that Labour are making on UKUncut is important.

UKUncut’s insistence that we discuss the tax avoidance culture that Labour helped to create, is as much of a threat to Labour as it is to the ‘Condemns’. Ed Miliband studiously avoids discussion of the debt bubble that is crippling his ‘squeezed middle’. He studiously avoids talking about the numbers of the squeezed middle who are welfare dependent, and never mentions those who are welfare dependent and in debt. He is as happy as the Condems to cast aside a working class, who will never earn enough not to need housing benefit, as irrelevant to Labour’s aims. Happy to watch as they morph from being taxpayers who need political representation, to disenfranchised benefit claimants who everyone else can be encouraged to blame.

Labour knows it cannot pursue equality any more, not while it pursues a market confidence that demands suppressed wages, destruction of public services and expansion of the debt bubble that is crippling his desired voters. So Labour turn on the ‘class war’.

These are just Middle Class kids. They should be ashamed. They should apologise for ‘hijacking’ a peaceful protest. Like those self appointed authentics(thanks very much to Jennifer Mahony, and our ‘left wing blogosphere’ for that title-some are going to be conflicted this week as they face the same treatment they didn’t realise they were dishing out), and those disabled people crying betrayal because Labour aren’t representing them. UKUncut need to be cast adrift. They should shut up. Stop dividing the movement. Stop interfering with Labour’s ability to unite people behind them. Stop undermining the mainstream majority Labour speak for. As a cherry on top there is female journalist who has the audacity not to claim to be reporting from the perspective of the dickswinging, Westminster centric bubble they have created: let Labour activists round on her.

Labour cannot afford to pursue economic equality, so a discourse has emerged where the pursuit of soci
al liberalism is different to the pursuit of economic equality.

There has been much discussion about the split between ‘liberal progressive values’, and the pursuit of material equality. About the split between middle class liberals, and those who want economic inequality addressed. This is not a split in values. This is a very real problem a political party face, as they try to figure out a way to tally an economic policy which shifts wealth upwards, and casts adrift the poorest in our society, with winning votes for being nicer than the Conservatives. The values are not incompatible, they are just not compatible with those who for whom self interest and power are more important. I am supposed to despise these ‘kids’ for being middle class, while launching myself into Labour’s arms, as they encourage people to look away from what is being done to the people and places I know.

I watch Labour systematically try to co-opt opposition to the cuts. Repeatedly try to marginalise those who dare to discuss what is happening outside their faux tribalism.

And I think apologies need to be made. Labour can apologise to the half a million people marching because of their policies. To the welfare dependent, in debt, squeezed middle, who will now pay for this crisis. While Labour encourages them to blame the poorest in our society it is washing it’s hands of. To the people whose children will never see university, or understand what it is to earn enough to gain access to a mortgage on a small house. And to the middle class kids Labour wants us to despise for having the gall to stand up and point out that several things are not quite right at the moment. To those fighting against cuts that affect them, who are seeing every turn hampered by a manufactured factionalism Labour need, in order to mask their role in creating the problems they face. I agree. The people who hijacked Saturday’s March should apologise. 

To be honest though, the list of things they need to apologise for, is so long I don’t think I would be awake by the time they got to UkUncut.

 

PS Added later. According to Labour activist- Labour not only didn’t hijack the march- they organised it. I wish they had told the group of friends I had going down specifically because they face losing their homes due to housing benefit cut, or the ESA claimants marching…

Me on Blue Labour.

Original can be found here.

Ed Miliband’s recent appointee to the House of Lords, Lord Glasman, is considered the “intellectual godfather” of the Labour party. This week he has been publicising his idea to win back Labour’s “working-class vote“.

Blue Labour. A solution that truly understands the findings of the recent research by Searchlight into British attitudes on race and identity politics. One that allows Labour to unite “working-class” voters and those who identify as the “squeezed” middle class, and doesn’t involve addressing the widening inequality their economic policies caused – or opposing the cuts they are trying not to be too visible in supporting. Labour should embrace the “values” that make the Sun and the Daily Mail Britain’s biggest selling newspapers.

Labour have been in a bind for a while. The birth of New Labour ensured that the pursuit of real economic equality had to cease. The shift of wealth upwards during the last government’s tenure was immense. Labour’s way of staying true to Labour values, whether we admit it or not, was public sector and welfare spending.

We have to be clear here. It was not benefits for our most vulnerable groups that got more generous. Labour was as willing as the coalition to win votes by turning the screw on the unemployed, and those too sick to work. Benefit rates were suppressed and conditions for claiming unemployment benefits have become extraordinarily difficult. The effect can clearly be seen in some of our poorest towns.

Some expansion in our welfare spending came from our ageing population; improved diagnosis for disabilities in children expanded our DLA bill. The number of incapacity benefit claims inevitably expanded to absorb the effects of deprivation. But Labour’s true failure lies in its spending on “in-work benefits”.

Tax credits and housing benefit bills expanded to subsidise artificially suppressed wages, and inflated housing and childcare costs. Swaths of our working population are now welfare dependent. Bringing tax credits and housing benefits under the coalition’s universal credit umbrella means a distinction between the deserving and undeserving recipients of state support is no longer necessary. With the lowest paid among these now lifted out of taxation, their identity as benefit claimants rather than the “taxpayers” political parties want to represent, is complete.

If you can’t afford to maintain an economic policy that creates gulfs of inequality, while using your social policy to protect people from its effects; if you are committed to a cuts agenda you are winning votes by opposing – what do you do? Addressing problems you created in government costs votes. Labour needs to recreate the “coalition” of middle-class and working-class voters that gave them their landslide victory in 1997.

In northern post-industrial towns, little apart from low paid, deskilled, insecure work, public sector jobs and welfare benefits replace the traditional industry that was suffocated. Towns where poverty’s effect on the public purse is in provision of services that cost more than it would to allow people a decent standard of living in the first place.

The “progressive” values Labour championed, while increasing the inequality that breeds alienation, are not shared by everyone. Poverty doesn’t generally create an air of solidarity, it fractures communities.

I have had discussions recently about the left’s reluctance to discuss working-class racism and misogyny. I can’t see that this is a problem confined to the “working class”, but economic hardship doesn’t really have track record of pulling communities together. It tends to exacerbate social problems, bring out our need to find someone to blame. We live in a society where I still have to explain to my four-year-old why “Paki” is not a word we use.

Labour never shied away from using the politics of fear and blame. Welfare scroungers, asbo kids, asylum seekers, Islamic extremists, immigrants. Discussion of the moral deficiency of benefit claimants has long been a substitute for political and economic debate, asylum-seeker is a dirty word, and “chav” is a word that no one wants applied to them. Organisations such as the EDL play on genuine alienation within marginalised communities, but their warped answers are legitimised by the rhetoric of successive governments.

The research from Searchlight didn’t just highlight the danger that the EDL narrative poses in times of hardship. It showed how many votes there are in exploiting prejudice and fear. Enough that you wouldn’t have to tackle the reasons for the economic insecurity that feeds them. Tackling the threat of far-right extremism might be worthwhile, but there are votes to be won in playing on fear of difference.

I was sent a joke about Conservatism and equality. A working-class white guy, a working-class black guy, and a rich white CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies. The CEO reaches across the table, takes 11 cookies, and then turns to the poor white guy and says: “Look out for that black guy he wants a piece of your cookie.” Blue Labour tells people they are right. Benefit scroungers and immigrants are the reason you don’t have enough cookies. Rather than trying to bring together the communities fragmented by neoliberalism, it encourages them to blame each other, and the weakest members within them.

It allows Labour to safely oppose cuts that are important to “middle-class” voters, while hands are washed of any responsibility to examine the effect on those who will suffer most. It uses a nostalgic working-class idea that doesn’t fit with the economic system Labour chose. One full-time wage being enough to feed and house your family, with the household’s main earner distributing that money round their community and family. It may rely on myths, inequality and prejudice but when people are looking for someone to blame when their hard work is getting them nowhere, it will win votes.

Some are concerned that the concept of Blue Labour will alienate those for whom Labour party membership is about “progressive values”. As the “squeezed middle” Miliband appears to want to represent, they are likely to stick around. He may even appear a saviour if he opposes cuts to services that affect them.

But it disenfranchises the mothers for whom welfare benefits are the only remaining bridge for the inequality they face, regardless of how hard they work. Those who becomes too sick to work, those who could
wo
rk more hours than they are awake and still need housing benefit, and those whose unpaid caring work allows the rest of our society to function. In the towns where industry was sacrificed to pay for our credit based growth, Labour is another party willing to ensure that the struggling “decent taxpayers” have someone to blame when they get nowhere.

Blue Labour is the only way “New” Labour can continue after a global financial crisis. With it Labour can unite a “working middle class”, without addressing any of the party’s failures. It casts those left behind adrift, convenient scapegoats for all societies ills. But if your only goal is to get Labour elected, it is too good an opportunity to miss.

Lessons learned from Japan

That people will use any tragedy, no matter how big, to hang their pre-existing opinions about nuclear power on.

Here is what I know. A country has faced a tsunami, an earthquake, and major problems at its nuclear power stations. They are still figuring out how to deal with this, fighting what is happening in Fukushima as we speak, and an entire country is trying to get back on their feet.

How about we wait till the country is out of crisis, before we start declaring there are lessons we have learned, policies that should be made?

I have no doubt that once this is over, a debate about our energy policies will ensue. That debate should be reasoned, and thorough and guided by evidence. I am sure that evidence coming out of Japan will be used. In the meantime, could we just offer support to the Japanese people and respect that as a country they are dealing with a crisis of proportions that are beyond imagination?

 

Enterprise in our public sector…

So the first link I opened today was a story about David Cameron being asked to intervene after a private company who run 250 care homes was ready to go under. The thousands of residents now face homelessness. So far so bad. Just another story about a private company showing the dangers of profit guiding the running of necessary public resources. Care for the elderly has long been a concrete example of how profiteering undermines care provision

Then the story deepens. Apparently this particular company has been shorted by hedge funds for months. Particular choice quotes from this article:‘is tempting to see this as bargain territory – with demographics implying care homes should be a sound business’ and ‘‘Like various stockmarket vehicles that have tried to exact high returns from basic industries using ambitious financing’.

High returns from basic industries using ambitious financing? If it all goes tits up, the government won’t let that many people become homeless? Your risks are protected!! This is what we want for the NHS right?

 

Pickle, Don’t Preserve: Pink

Pickle, Don’t Preserve

This is a post on the blog of @lucindee. A barrister and family law specialist.

Our eponymous hero Eric Pickles (Department for Communities and Local Government) has announced quite possibly the most wide sweeping and yet sketchy review of local authority social care and other duties (amongst many other things) (H/T Community Care). At first blush it looks harmless enough, strip away the regulatory red tape and let local authorities get on with the job at hand…A single, simple page on the Communities & Local Government website, with just a few streamlined words of explanation. So unprepossessing, so unremarkable. Simple enough to be dealt with via a survey monkey webform in fact *.chimp

As with any pickle, it may look mild enough on the plate of a ploughmans, but it may have a certain tang on closer inspection (sorry, cheesy pun).

So, let’s bring out the Branston: tastefully hidden in an unthreatening excel file, you will find (if you care to look) a list of 1078 items that Pickles thinks possibly he might get rid of. Included in this very very very very long spreadsheet, are pretty much all the core duties which underpin social care. By way of example, Mr Pickles thinks we might not need a duty towards children in need, a duty to promote the welfare or education of looked after children, or a duty to promote reasonable contact to children in care – in fact not even a duty to receive and keep a child in care where a care order is made.

Pause for breath… 

He also thinks we might not need a duty on local authorities to assist families through family assistance orders or the court through s37 reports (where the court suspects a child may be at risk of significant harm), nor that the duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within a local authorities area is strictly necessary. Oh and no s47 duty to investigate where there is a suspicion of harm.

I could go on, but essentially it would probably have been easier for Eric “Survey Monkey” Pickles to have asked if we should just ditch the Children Act 1989, since most of the core sections we know and love (or hate) are there, up for grabs – including s31. It’s a shame really, because there probably are some duties that could be ditched, but they are buried deep deep deep undercover of spreadsheet.

Oh. So. Many. Questions.

Like: What exactly IS the point of the Family Justice Review?

And: What does the Law Commission think about all this? Oh, we have an answer to this one – it might possibly be a little bit miffy as a result of not having been informed before the monkey was uncaged.

And: What does the Department of Education, the Ministry of Justice or any number of other agencies think about it? Or Eileen Munro for that matter?

And: Which particular monkey constructed the wholly substandard, fatuous, pointless, irritating, not at all user friendly webform which masquerades for a genuine attempt to get our views? Was he an overenthusiastic but slightly geeky yoof on work experience or an actual monkey? Or is this simply a product of lazy, sloppy approach to this review, which exposes a casual attitude towards the fundamental importance of the core elements of the Children Act as much as to the importance of undertaking proper, rigorous and accessible consultation?

Some of you may have nothing better to do with your time than tick radio boxes on a webform 1078 times (I kid you not – the webform appears to envisage that if you want to make specific comments on a particular duty you should complete the form once for each of those duties giving the appropriate reference number extracted from the very very very very very long excel spreadsheet). For those of you who don’t want to endure the tedium of exploring the irritations of a webform that leads you blindly through questions you don’t really want to answer, giving you the most minute of spaces in which to tackle a vast and serious topic, before submitting your form without warning – buried deep within the form is an email address, which I suggest you use instead to tell Mr Pickles what an utter gherkin this “informal exercise” is. It is this: burdens@communities.gsi.gov.uk (presumably the burden referred to in the email address is the burden imposed on those responding to the consultation and those tasked with sifting through the 1078 x numerous webforms?).

This is not a consultation, it’s a farce. The farce closes on 25 April.

*About Survey Monkey. Don’t think I’m being down on Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is a great service, but as with any market research tool the quality of the information it produces is heavily dependent on the way in which you ask the questions. I would hazard a guess that Survey Monkey is most likely to produce good results if you don’t take the name too literally and there is an actual homo sapiens constructing questions, and a survey structure which is likely to elicit useful answers. And it might just possibly not be the best way to get answers to 1078 separate questions which cover vast swathes of complex law and social policy and which are unlikely to elicit yes / no answers.

Enough with the blogging frenzy already…one final post for today…

Thought I should note here that Saudi Arabian troops have entered Bahrain to support the regime in dealing with protesters.

The brutal means already employed in Bahrain haven’t really been effective.

Does it count as internal intervention when it is one of our proxies, supporting yet another of our proxies, in quelling opposition to a regime upheld primarily by our money, for a long long time. Where are the dividing lines in these uprisings. They don’t appear to be geographical.

Actually, that question probably doesn’t require an answer. I think is becoming perfectly clear where the lines are.

Non hierarchical decision making, inclusion and dominance of voices?

The uprisings and social change we are seeing(and about to see) globally and locally, don’t have the form that they have had in the past. Technologies which allow global informal networks to communicate, mean the traditional hierarchies we are used to, are conspicuously absent.

Does this mean that the exclusion of voices which always results from one particular organisation dominating- won’t happen?

Answer is no. People organise naturally. But we have strange ways of organising as people. We are social beings, and even if there isn’t a hierachy- we make them. We make them with friendship groups, with voices who are louder than others. With the secret values, prejudices, likes and dislikes we all have. Our innate desire to be with people like us.

Even when hierachies are not official, or formal- they happen. And unless those within them constantly check to see whether they are actually being as open as they believe they are, are not marginalising people cos ‘their friend was upset’- are not ignoring voices because acceptance of that view as valid, means addressing flaws in their own thinking or perspective-then the potential to exclude is as great within informal hierarchies as it is in those which are artificially created. THe structural inequalities and privileges which occur as a result of gender, sexuality, class, age or even geography- still exist. They didn’t manifest in traditional hierarchies because of intent- they manifested because those hierarchies reflected the values of the society in which they developed.

The marginalisation that results does become more difficult to tackle, because the people dominating can always refer back to the absence of formal hierarchy and a stated desire to avoid it.

Checking privilege is something we generally ask others to do, but it is very very difficult to do in yourself.

Undeliverable cuts or removal of statutory duties?

I had a conversation a few months ago with a friend of mine who is in senior management in a local authority. She was not in a good state. As someone who has to sign off on the decisions affecting children in her local authority, she is well aware of the dangerous and appalling situations which trigger local authority action. The upshot of the conversation was that she knew the cuts being asked for were not deliverable. That to deliver the level of savings agreed, would bring about legal actions, and massive scandals as the consequences emerge. Would bring about  severe neglection of duties to children.

Her fear was that the cuts are not deliverable, but the damage that half delivered cuts would do would be worse. That the effect of savings half being made, and compromises going on with little overall design- would leave her local authority unable to function. Pissing in the wind, firefighting the crisis that result.

She couldn’t believe that the government would not be aware of this, and the conversation took a stark turn. She said the only way that these cuts were deliverable was if local authorities had no statutory duties to the children or adults that social care departments serve.

Last week Eric Pickles was the first of the coalition’s ministers to put forward how this would happen– apparently he would like to put basic statutory duties in some sort of raffle, so people could decide at a local level if they applied any more(in the context of other budgets which actually affect them being cut). Various agencies were outraged, some thought he was posturing. Some MPs expressed concern- it didn’t make the news.

A while ago, I wrote a post called false economy. It examined how  ill thought out attempts at short term savings cutting at what people need, would increase welfare spending as happened under Thatcher. That the common sense rhetoric used to justify these savings has a hollow ring of truth- but is ultimately bollocks. My central point was that unless you removed statutory duties, savings would be unlikely. It would appear that that cutting back of statutory duties is at least on the cards. And very likely to be attempted.

Most cuts that are happening are not actually cuts. Most are transfers of services to smaller private sector, voluntary organisations. Eventually, as has happened with social housing and social care- you get ever diminishing resources, managed by ever fractured webs of organisations- with tighter and tighter criteria for their particular service- with fewer and fewer people able to access. With increasing administration- as the referral procedures for that web of organisations gets tighter. With less and less accountability for service users.

Accountability remains because local authorities have a duty to meet statutory requirements. To protect children. THey act as case managers, to ensure that agencies are doing what is expected. And frequently they aren’t. The service user always has accountability, because even though the local authority doesnt actually own the service any more- the law says they have to make sure the need is met. The Childrens Act makes sure everyone knows that the childs welfare is paramount. Above all other considerations.

As a social worker, I saw first hand the effect of years of marketisation. The administration that results when an organisation which delivers services, is reduced to a bureacracy purchasing them. The cuts nationwide(which appear to have cross party approval if they hit Childrens Services and Adult Social Care first) already threaten to strike a killer blow to services which have steadily been broken and undermined by successive governments.

The workers in those services have been demonised as ‘enemies of enterprise'(ironic given the amount of bureacracy which results from reliance on the enterprise of private companies). It is only the requirement of legislation like the Childrens Act 1989, which has prevented successive governments from sounding the death knell. Voter friendly initiatives like Surestart have made a convenient badge for politicians to show their commitment to children, while they impose year on year cuts on Childrens Services.

Children’s Services have been fractured, underfunded, and undervalued for years. I had been worried about the effect that budget cuts would have. Now I am concerned that they won’t exist at all in future.

Social Care has always been a ‘cinderella’ service. Same goes for mental health, and drug services. When you have a service that exists almost entirely to mop up where society fails, people don’t want to acknowledge it. It is convenient to have it tucked away in local authorities, competing with street lights and grit budgets. All three political parties approved every stage of its undermining. And now all political parties are looking away as it disappears.

I don’t remember a debate about whether british children should expect the state to protect them from harm. I don’t recall a debate about older people and our responsibilities to them..  don’t recall a debate about the difference between want and need. In fact, I don’t recall much debate about anything but party political activists shouting tribal nonsense at each other. Still, am sure another Baby P or Victoria Climbie will happen soon enough to prick the British conscience for 5 minutes. Probably followed by the public stoning of a social worker or two.

I wonder what would have happened to me, had social workers not at least had a duty to protect me as a child or young person. Whether I would have survived. Or grown up to be who I am. I am fucking glad I am not working in Childrens Services any more. Who would want to be?