Ticked boxes and triangulation that will take Ed to Number 10

A Thousand Cuts

Party membership these days is a judgement by the heart, not the head. Like an unrequited love, the belief is a drug on which the believer becomes hooked.

We saw this again during the Labour conference last week. Ed Miliband’s list of policy announcements have been hailed as everything from a return to social democracy, to a return to socialism. And whilst there is more substance to chew on than his One Nation guff a year ago, the substance merely confirms that what he is offering will not solve the myriad problems Britain faces.

Labour Party members have this desperate desire to believe. But what Miliband really gave us was the product of advisers and pollsters suggesting which boxes to tick as a means of hiding the triangulation that Labour is engaged in on austerity and welfare. It’s the oldest trick in the Labour book and the suckers are sucking…

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Yet more DWP illegality

The SKWAWKBOX

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A couple of weeks ago, I drew attention to how DWP minister Mark Hoban was unable, even in a formal response to an MP, to get his facts straight on the law regarding what the DWP’s Jobcentre Plus (JCP) is legally allowed to force – or ‘mandate’ – jobseekers to do.

Hoban thought that the DWP and its agents have the right to issue a ‘jobseeker’s direction’ (JSD) – an instruction that results in a sanction (suspension of benefits) if the jobseeker doesn’t comply – to make jobseekers use the highly-flawed and controversial Universal Jobmatch (UJM) system to look for jobs. They do not.

But it’s not just Mark Hoban’s ignorance. JCP advisers continue to break the law by imposing claimant commitments (CC) – the precursor to a JSD – that are completely illegal – and the SKWAWKBOX has documentary evidence.

I’ve received a copy, from a JCP insider…

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Wheels of the political machinery exposed…

Damian McBride, Brownian spin doctor has revealed himself in the Daily Mail and confirmed what those of us who have watched twitter already knew. Labour have a really horrible toxic culture, and their problem is not ideas, it’s that they behave like a cross between gangsters, and an horrible nasty factional posh boys club. Anyway it’s worth reading Mr.McBride describe the culture that formed the basis for Mr.Miliband’s political career and shaped the pond the labour guppies swim in.

Wheels of the political media machinery falling off, just as they are exposed and the internet means they can no longer be hidden. Quelle Surprise.

Grauniad gossip..

I like gossip. You hear some funny things, when you are not in that lefty media bubble. Now it’s no secret to those of us with an interest in that sort of thing, how difficult it is to get La Grauniad to run stories on benefits, housing and adult care policy, that amount to more than crying over cute poor people, and how grown up political priorities often take precedence. They like those stories in a silo where politicos can’t be upset by being informed. Because obviously that reality is threatening to political editorial over the next few years. Novelty povs being thrown to trolls has a limited appeal.

So when I heard the rumour that Dan Sabbagh, at la Grauniad, ex Lambeth Labour councillor, via Media Guardian, wanted to roll back on doing these stories, instead focusing on crime stories, I wasn’t surprised. What with an election approaching and priorities to protect. I think some people were a bit worried that that would be a major door shutting(not me).

What was suprising was the later rumour he got bollocked by someone senior, after the False Economy research on the bedroom tax was splashed all over the media, left and right, national and not, and he was told in future to make sure those stories were picked up. Presumably when the paper who rode the anti-cuts wave, are being outdone by John Humphreys and Newsnight, there were red faces. I don’t know if that is true, but I do like a bit of tattle tale.

I know it’s just unreliable tattle tale, but honestly sometimes it feels like the wheels are just coming off the political media machinery.

Legal Aid

This is not a post about the proceedings it relates to, or about my life, but as a blog which discusses social policy through the prism of experience, I felt it was important to mark the implications of being one of the last women in the UK to receive legal aid in a matter relating to family. Because the generations of mothers who come after me, have merited no discussion.

Legal aid is not a gift, nor is it free. Ir requires a considerable lump of money towards it each month. If and when any assets enter the equation, it becomes a loan and any money spent using it has to be repaid. Proceedings can rack up costs that eat houses and future financial security of participants. The mire of rules accompanying it, mean If financial circumstances change too dramatically, it can be lost with no chance to get it back because that part of the system is gone. A new parameter on the life of the person in receipt.

For many months the idea that I would be able to access legal advice, never mind someone to act for me, seemed a distant mirage designed to keep me wading through an endless bureaucratic desert.

What the legal aid changes mean, is that up and down the country in family courts, there are women in shoes worn for court, that aren’t really part of their day to day routine, willing their feet to move and take them into a room where they could face losing their children because the system they have to navigate is so overwhelming and over their heads. Litigants in person.

Women who stick out like a sore thumb in the endless, uniformly dressed ballet that is our court system, with papers that don’t resemble the carefully organised legal bundles of solicitors, not part of huddles formed by solicitors and Cafcass workers in stairwells, who usually form the cast. Having applied for orders they barely understand, at considerable cost. Clerks and ushers looking at them with pity or disdain. Mothers who are just trying to escape abuse, or take harm out of their children’s lives or free themselves from the control of someone else. Treated like criminals and made to feel responsible for not being solicitors and made to feel like abuse they have suffered is entirely their fault, and they are inconveniencing a system trying to end it. Or they are lying to get legal aid.

The majority of these women, will be so unprepared for the complexities of a court system that has developed over centuries, that they will lose. Regardless of the merits of their case. Regardless of the needs of their children. Against men who they used to be financially dependent on, financial dependence created by motherhood and protected by the state at all costs.

That financial inequality at the root of why they are there and why they will lose, at the root of why they are so vulnerable they need to approach the courts anyway. Their children will lose and the process they go through while that happens will eat away at childhoods, adjournment by adjournment. Proceedings made lengthy by the inexperience of those participating as courts choke with the extra strain.

Some of these women will be killed, many will be injured, many children will be injured and abused, some will die, and many mothers will just accept or be forced to by accept, by court order, that the lives of them and their children are now fear and control. By political consensus of a dying party system disconnected from their lives deliberately.

I don’t really know how to articulate what it takes to make your feet move, when you know that your ignorance and sheer inexperience in the room you are headed to, could result in a change that could make the life of you and your child into something barely worth living. I know the Children Act 1989 inside out, even if I don’t know the family court system, so I cannot even begin to speak for those women who do not even have that. So I thought I would approach this by describing the system that is more or less gone, the one that by some miracle has allowed me to be one of the last women in the UK to be part of it.

Whenever I have used a solicitor before, I have used that first half hour of free legal advice to decide who I will appoint, or more often than not, that half hour made me understand I did not need legal help at all. Saving everyone a lot of hassle. I have then used a solicitor I have paid for, and we have had a client solicitor relationship, one that is clearly defined and is established as the foundation of justice. They were working for me, to achieve what I needed. The purchase of a house, an agreement for this, a document for that. This is not so in family law.

That free half hour that could save you so much time, money and stress does not exist in family law. To get through the door of a solicitor, to get agreement not that you will get basic legal advice, but that you may apply for the funding that might one day allow it, you have to get your affairs completely in order. 3 months of bank statements, 3 years of accounts, up to date tax return receipts, housing costs, agreements, every last payment in your bank for 3 years that is not accounted for, even to the smallest £20 contribution to tiles from your landlord, a question asked in accusatory tone.  That is just to get through the door and to sit and face a solicitor in their office. They will not even let you in without this.

An hour long appointment where a solicitor is not even allowed to discuss with you the reasons you are there, beyond meeting the requirements of the remainder of the legal aid system. One slip up, one document that can’t be obtained, one figure that cannot be accounted for, even if that figure is less than £20, is a door that won’t open.

Orders within this system are generally not applied for with forethought but as a response to emergencies and crisis involving children, times of severe emotional distress. They are applied for with no legal advice, and if the application was wrong the wrath of  the court is on the applicant. Who should have sought legal advice. Anyone who has sought poor informal legal advice will pay for it.

Every inch of y our life raked over not for the proceedings at hand, but to satisfy the legal aid agency that you are deserving of access to justice. With no access to legal advice until this system has been navigated or until other moneys appear. This is before you get to the argy bargy of the courtroom, and often while that is being navigated with no one to assist.

Legal aid changes did not happen to a perfect system. The system is broken already by constant erosion and imposition of political will and disinterest on it’s labrynthine processes. It is people trapped in that mire and courts crumbling as they strain to accommodate the results. Endless telephone calls, where you are told that your ‘case’ has been passed to someone else, for something else, and they will have to do something before it can be passed to someone else. More letters demanding to know in detail about things you have not thought about in years. Solicitors waiting for your certificate, anxious not to spend money their firm will end up liable for, placing the burden on you demanding to know why things haven’t been done.

Means tests. Tests for the validity of your case. All while childhoods pass, adjournment by adjournment, no legal advice or representation to help those mothers navigate the system. So they stand outside courtrooms willing their feet to move, into rooms where they don’t understand what is happening and can mess it all up for their children, just with that lack of understanding. No legal advice available until that mire has been waded through successfully. Most will not receive legal advice at all now.

A legal aid certificate does not mean you will win or lose, but it means you enter that room with as much chance of justice as the other parties there. I don’t know if this post makes sense, it is writing about a system that doesn’t. From now on, more women willing be willing their feet to move for fear of her own inexperience, without someone to walk in beside them able to navigate that complexity, and make sure their case is heard.

Dear parents, you need to control your kids. Sincerely, non-parents

Love this.

The Matt Walsh Blog

To the fan I lost yesterday:

I don’t owe you an explanation, but I thought I’d offer one anyway. I do this more for your sake than mine. You see, maybe, as you later suggested, I was in a bad mood. Maybe I could have been a bit more polite about it. Maybe I’m more sensitive to it now that I have kids. Maybe I’m just sick of hearing these comments about parents. Maybe I know that my wife has to take the twins with her when she goes grocery shopping sometimes, so she could easily be on the receiving end of your sort of bullying. Maybe I took it personally.

Whatever the case, there I was, walking down the aisles of the grocery store looking for the ingredients for a new chili recipe I wanted to try. I heard the kid screaming from a distance; the whole store heard…

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CLARKSON TO FIGHT MILIBAND SEAT AT GENERAL ELECTION

This is genius. Jeremy Clarkson against Ed Miliwho? Who offends you more. It’s a tough one. I have a friend who has spent months poring over likely election results, he hadn’t factored this into his calculations.

Ian Bone

Jeremy Clarkson is preparing to stand in Doncaster North against Miliband. At a time when party politics and dull leaders is turning people off its likely we’ll see a load of celebrity independents. Russell Brand anyone?

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