Category: Election

Sturgeon’s threats demonstrate the anti-democratic, uncooperative inflexibility of nationalism

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Thanks to Dr Éoin Clarke for the infographic

Nicola Sturgeon threatened that she would be prepared to have her MPs vote down a Labour Budget if Ed Miliband was not prepared to cut a deal with the Nationalists at Westminster. Taking part in a live televised debate in Edinburgh with the leaders of the other three main Scottish parties, Ms Sturgeon said she intended to block Labour’s first Budget before negotiating a series of amendments. The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader’s position, revealed just days ahead of Thursday’s general election, was immediately seized upon by the Conservatives as the tedious stuck record styled electioneering “evidence” yet again that a Labour government supported by Ms Sturgeon’s party would result in “absolute chaos” for the country.

Bravo, Nicola Sturgeon. She seems determined to allow a Conservatve victory because of her constant and unqualified attacks on the Labour Party, the issuing of threats like this one, and the perpetuation of nationalist myths aimed at undermining the chance of a Labour victory. It’s bad enough with the Tories’ scaremongering in the press about the prospect of a Labour/Scottish National Party coalition, without Sturgeon fueling it.

I have to add that Cameron’s claim, repeated ad nauseum, that a minority Labour government would be held hostage by the SNP is purely propagandarised tosh. The truth is that the SNP will not in reality be able to hold a minority Labour government hostage unless the Tories allow them to do so, because of course, the Tories also get to vote on things like budgets, defence and so forth, in Parliament.

Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy said that Sturgeon had already threatened to block his party’s Queen’s Speech.

It’s worth a reminder at this point that crucially, the Scottish National Party’s spending plans imply deeper cuts than Labour’s plans entail over the next five years, as the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said in a report last month, highlighting a “considerable disconnect” between the nationalists’ rhetoric on austerity and their policies.

“The “anti-austerity rhetoric” of the Scottish National Party is not matched by its detailed spending plans and it would impose deeper cuts than Labour,” said the respected independent fiscal watchdog. The IFS also said that austerity would last longer under the SNP than under the other parties.

Furthermore, the IFS stated: “There is a considerable disconnect between this [SNP] rhetoric and their stated plans for total spending, which imply a lower level of spending by 2019–20 than Labour’s plans.”

This exposes Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to portray Labour as “Tory-lite” on spending cuts for the outright lie that it is. Sturgeon is no longer credible on every claim she has made, parading the SNP as the only alternative to austerity. In plain language, Carl Emmerson, deputy Director of the IFS said: “There would be more spending cuts under the SNP than under Labour or the Liberal Democrats according to the numbers in the SNP manifesto.”

Shadow Scottish Secretary and Scottish Labour Glasgow East candidate Margaret Curran said: “For all the bombast and the bluster of the SNP it has now been conclusively shown that their anti-austerity posturing is nothing more than a front. Their plans would extend austerity and harm Scotland. And as is always the case the cuts would be felt by the poorest and most vulnerable in our communities. We cannot let that happen.”

She added: “The choice is now simple – continued austerity with the SNP, or an end to Tory austerity with Scottish Labour.”

Nicola Sturgeon claimed to have committed her party to kicking the Tories out of Downing Street. It might be a tad tricky for her to explain to her supporters a Commons vote which could, in theory, allow the Tories back in again. That’s why, it’s was a positive move on Miliband’s part to call her bluff.

And let’s look carefully at the details: Milband has not ruled out the possibility of discussions, consultations, or taking into consideration SNP views when framing future legislation. But he has made it clear he will not be manipulated or threatened.

The Conservative plans to eliminate the deficit implied at least £10bn a year of unspecified cuts to child benefit, tax credits, housing benefit, disability benefits and other working age benefits out of a total budget of about £100bn,” the IFS said in their report

Even if these cuts were achieved, the Tories would have to cut unprotected departments’ budgets by another 18 per cent in real terms, about the same amount again as over the past five years. These cuts are also unspecified by the Conservatives, who have chosen, undemocratically, to hide the details from the electorate. We simply cannot risk another term of devastating Tory cuts to our welfare, public services and the NHS. Especially considering that risk would be founded on misinformation and lies.

Sturgeon’s most recent revelation that the party could bring the Budget of a Labour government down came under fire from Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s deputy leader in Scotland.

Ms Dugdale said: “Many people who have trusted Nicola Sturgeon will be shocked to hear her say she will vote down a ­Labour Budget. A Budget which will bring in measures such as the mansion tax and the bankers’ bonus tax.

“This shows that the people of Scotland should not gamble with the SNP.”

Ed Miliband, a principled internationalist, said: “Nationalism never built a school. It never lifted people out of poverty. It never created a welfare state that healed the sick and protected our most vulnerable. Nationalism cannot create the jobs we need.”

“Labour believes in “the principles of sharing and solidarity”, he added, “that underpin the partnerships of four nations in the modern UK.”

He said: “If we set England against Scotland, if we set any part of our country against another, it does not help working people, it harms working people. It undermines the ability to share resources. It drives down wages and conditions in the race to the bottom.”

Mr Miliband hit back at Ms Sturgeon’s claims that if Labour “fails to work with the SNP,” this would see David Cameron win a second term as Prime Minister. He added that if the Scottish Nationalists win dozens of seats from Labour in Scotland, this would increase Tory chances of being the largest party.

Mr Miliband vowed: “I will never put the Tories into government. I have spent my entire political career fighting them.”

However Nicola Sturgeon has spent most of her career fighting the Labour Party and propagating lies about them. (See A crib sheet of responses to the crib sheet of lies about the Labour Party: Part one and Part Two.)

Sturgeon has suggested that though the SNP could be relied upon to help “lock out” the Tories from power, she would “be inclined,” if voting in England, to endorse the Greens.

Doing the latter, it should be observed, makes achieving the former rather less likely. The more Green MPs there are the fewer Labour MPs there are and the fewer Labour MPs there are the more probable it is that David Cameron somehow stumbles his way into a second term. Sturgeon has some strange logic.

Given that the IFS have said that the true scale of the gap between Labour and the Tories has been further revealed – director Paul Johnson said at the post-Budget briefing: “Our latest estimates suggest that Labour would be able to meet its fiscal targets with no cuts at all after 2015-16,” Sturgeon’s ridiculously unevidenced, pure electioneering claim that Labour are “Tory-lite” – so easily refuted – is just one of the many lies she has told, and gives us good reason not to trust her.

If the SNP remain so aggressively uncompromising, divisive, chancing manipulation instead of cooperation, they will usher in another Tory government at Westminster, and in that event, they will certainly face paying a heavy political price among their supporters – as happened in 1979. Unfortunately, the rest of the UK will also pay a heavy price.

Despite Sturgeon’s undoubted rhetoric skill, Scottish nationalism continues to be what all nationalism always has been: parochial, vicious, ugly, divisive and insular. It’s evident that this has fostered a narrow tribalism, an inability to negotiate, or to build cooperation, and an inability to understand and comprehend the rational, logic and legitimacy of differing opinions, which is very evident in the non-democratic threats that Sturgeon has issued. It’s a pity she doesn’t oppose the Conservatives, rather than attacking the only viable progressive party for the UK. Sturgeon presents a superficial progressive rhetoric with no integrity, and no grounding in reality. The SNP’s self-claimed progressive credentials don’t stand up to scrutiny. When Sturgeon was asked at her manifesto launch to name a redistributive policy enacted by the SNP in Holyrood, she was unable to cite a single example.

Sturgeon simply chats about progressive ideas to advance the regressive goal of separatism. It’s all style, with no real substance at all. Other than a clan SNP nationalist agenda.

For people living in England, NOTHING is more important than getting the Tories out. I suspect that is true for many in Scotland, too.  So please make sure that your vote is a considered, informed and responsible one. If the Tories get another term, we will lose all of the gains of our post-war settlement. We will see our Human Rights Act repealed, (Labour’s legislation, and Cameron has also pledged to leave the European Convention.) That is why we MUST ensure that the Tories don’t get the opportunity, preferably ever again.

The only sure way of defeating the Tories is with a Labour majority.

Related

The real progressive in the leader’s debate is Ed Miliband

SNP appeal to Tory voters: We are just like you

If you think the SNP are a left-wing force, think again – David Clark


 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes

Psychologists Against Austerity: mental health experts issue a rallying call against coalition policies.

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I wrote an article in March about the government plans to make the receipt of social security benefits for those with mental illnesses conditional on undergoing “state therapy.” I raised concern about ethical issues – such as consent, the inappropriateness of using behaviour modification as a form of “therapy,” and I criticised the proposed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) programme on methodological and theoretical grounds, as well as considering wider social implications.

The 2015 budget included plans to provide online CBT to 40,000 claimants and people on the Fit for Work programme, as well as putting therapists in more than 350 job centres.

Since I wrote, over 400 psychotherapists, counsellors and mental health practitioners have written an open letter, published by the Guardian, about the broader, profoundly disturbing psychological and quality-of-life implications of the coalition government’s austerity cuts and policies. However, the letter was particularly critical of the government’s benefits sanctions scheme, which has been condemned by many of us – human rights advocates across the state – as brutal, unjust, ill-conceived, ineffective and inhumane.

In particular, the letter stated that the government’s proposed policy of linking social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy” is utterly unacceptable. The measure, casually coined “get to work therapy,” was discussed by Chancellor for the Exchequer George Osborne during his last budget.

The letter’s supporters included psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach. She called the Conservative proposals “beyond shocking.” Echoing the concerns I raised earlier this year, she said:

“It undermines the fundamental principles of one’s right to physical and mental care – that you have to be able to consent and that the people you go to have to be highly trained and have your best interests and aren’t meeting targets.”

The letter’s signatories, all of whom are experts in the field of mental health, have said such a measure is counter-productive, “anti-therapeutic,” damaging and professionally unethical. The “intimidatory disciplinary regime” facing benefits claimants would be made even worse by further unacceptable proposals outlined in the budget.

Among the groups represented by the signatories were Psychologists Against Austerity, Britain’s Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, the Journal of Public Mental Health, and a range of academic institutions including Goldsmiths, Birkbeck, the University of London, the University of Amsterdam, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Brighton, Disabled People Against the Cuts and others.

More generally, the wider reality of a society thrown completely off-balance by the emotional toxicity of social conservatism combined with economic neoliberalism (which I have argued is manifestly authoritarian) is affecting Britain in profound and complex ways, the distressing effects of which are often most visible in therapist’s consulting rooms.

This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health.

The letter said that for now, we call on all the parties in this election to make it clear that they will urgently review such regressive, anti-therapeutic practices, and appropriately refashion their commitment to mental health if and when they enter government.

Andrew Samuels, an Essex University professor, and immediate past chair of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, said he believed there was “a bit of a public school ethos” behind the work-capability regime introduced under the conservative-liberal democrat coalition and new conservative plans.

Characterising the government attitude as “Pull yourself together man, for heaven’s sake,” Samuels added: “It is wholly inappropriate. It symbolises a society that has lost all moral compass.”

Absolutely. Public schools are notorious for a culture of bullying. However, it’s one thing to be treated as a privileged and insulated public school boy by a peer from an elite background to “character building” rhetoric, but quite another to adopt that same bullying approach towards the ill and most vulnerable citizens. All to justify an ideological drive to “shrink the state” and remove support from the poorest.

All of this said, public schools are regarded by many as institutions that inflict a particularly British form of child abuse and social control. I also think it has to be said that soul trauma and pain don’t respect social status.

Samuels insisted the open letter was not “pro-Labour” but was aimed at getting a review of measures taken and proposed over the past five years.

He said: “If Labour decides afterwards all this is in order, it will go on. But I don’t think it will.”

The Labour Party does value professional opinion and rational discourse. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are not widely recognised as a party that welcomes democratic, open debate, transparency and accountability. The Tories simply exclude critical professionals and representative organisations that may challenge and disagree from the discourse.

A spokesperson for Labour said mental health “is the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.”

“It’s essential that we give mental health the priority it deserves if we are to thrive as a nation and ensure the NHS remains sustainable for the future,” he said.

The Labour Party have pressured the government to “write parity of esteem between physical and mental health into law,” and in the response, Labour have stated that the party is committed to implementing this policy if elected in May.

The spokesman pledged the Labour will bring an end to the “scandal of the neglect of child mental health,” indicating a welcomed return to a comprehensive preventative approach. He said: “It is simply not right that when three-quarters of adult mental illnesses begin in childhood, children’s mental health services get just six per cent of the mental health budget.”

Richard House of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the letter’s main organiser, said there had been a mounting groundswell of concern: “When one hears story after story of dramatic negative health impacts, psychological and physical, after people are subjected to these back-to-work practices, the time has surely come for an ‘emotional audit’ of the impact of what, to many, appear to be heartless, un-thought-through policies that are merely penalising and punishing the already disadvantaged still further.”

Yes, the time has come for a change of government. On May 7, we must ensure that the regressive, oppressive regime of the past five years is replaced by a progressive, inclusive and democratic alternative.

Related

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

The just world fallacy

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

Mental Health Services in crisis because of Coalition cuts to funding

The Psychology of Austerity

A group of mental health professionals have come together under the banner of Psychologists Against Austerity (PAA) to highlight the psychological impact of austerity.

Now, with only a few weeks to go before the general election, PAA have started a campaign calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the psychological damage austerity has wreaked across the UK.

You can read more and sign our petition here: 38degrees/psychological costs of austerity inquiry.


 

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The real progressive in the leader’s debate is Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband has faced some vicious opposition over the past five years. Not just from the Tories, the press, big business and the establishment, but from the rival fringe parties claiming to be on the left. It’s because Miliband wants to create a new post-Thatcherite settlement for Britain. The Labour manifesto clearly signposts that intention.

Miliband understands that the growing chasm between the incomes of rich and poor and obscene levels of wealth inequality have shown that political collaboration with the wealthy has not delivered any “trickle down” to the poorest at all. As a society, we cannot afford to indulge the millionaires’ something for nothing culture.

We all know by now that despite the fact that our economy was in recovery from the consequences of the global crisis by the last quarter of 2009, due to the competence of the previous government, the Tories duped the public, using a narrative founded on panic-mongering and malicious lies  about an “economic firestorm” and “financial mess” to formulate further justification for redrafting the social contract on behalf of the elite, and extending an exclusive, undemocratic politics of privilege.

(See A list of official rebukes for Tory lies to appreciate something of the full extent of recognised lies the government have told the public.)

The cosseted elite are now engaged in an all out war to maintain the socio-economic status quo. Firstly they know that Ed Miliband has edited their script, abandoning the free-market fundamentalist consensus established by Thatcherism in favour of social democracy.

Secondly, the right-wing media barons who set the terms of what is deemed politically palatable, and who frame the parameters of debate in Britain have never forgiven Ed Miliband for his endorsement of Leveson, which they regard as an unacceptable threat to their power.

Thirdly, they know Labour under Ed Miliband is likely to win the 2015 election.

The fringe “alternative left” parties in competition for Labour votes have focused debate on the issue of cuts they claim Labour are proposing, which perhaps purposefully misses the more important point: Miliband’s whole approach to government isn’t about austerity at all: it’s about changing the status quo by shifting the balance of how the economy works and adjusting who the economy works for.

It struck me, listening to the televised debate earlier, that Miliband needs to reclaim the word “progressive” from those parties such as the Scottish Nationalists and the Greens, especially given that his economic plan and redistributive tax policies are the most progressive of all the opposition parties.

Indeed Miliband has bravely chosen to rehabilitate the word “taxation” and reintroduce the fundamental post-war settlement tenet that in order to have civilised and sustainable public services, everyone has to contribute their share, and the burden should not be placed on the poorest via consumption taxes (VAT for example) and policies such as the punitive, unfair bedroom tax. Wealthy people and big businesses, after all, use our infrastructure: roads, railways, schools, hospitals and other services. Yet far too many consider the very idea of paying income or corporation tax worthy of moral outrage. The real outrage is the Thatcherite consensus that social responsibility and duty should be regarded only as a moral framework for the vulnerable: the obligations of only the poorest.

During the televised debate, the fringe party leaders regurgitated electioneering lies, too. For example, Natalie Bennett deliberately misquoted Rachel Reeves, and not for the first time, claiming that Labour “ignored” the plight of those on benefits. (See Anyone worried about protecting the welfare state should concentrate on kicking out the Tories – Debbie Abrahams, which addresses this misquote, Labour would end this Government’s demonisation of benefits claimants – Chi Onwurah MP and Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments – by Kate Green.)

Miliband was accused by Farage of introducing Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), adding a “creeping” and “back door” privatisation element to the NHS, under New Labour, when in fact it was John Major that introduced PFI in 1992.

A priceless claim from Farage, since he does not want an NHS. Farage wants an Americanised private insurance system.

Sturgeon parroted the lie that the Labour Party had “voted with the Tories” for cuts totalling “£30 Billion,” accusing Miliband of being “Tory lite.” As was pointed out by Miliband, and again, later, on Question Time by Yvette Cooper, the Hansard record shows clearly that the vote was not about cuts, nor did the motion contain any reference to any sums of money.

However, the debate surprised me in that Miliband was not attacked quite as vigorously or as much as anticipated. Farage drew the most fire, causing deep discomfort amongst the audience and other leaders with his dogged and prejudiced pursuit of single issue politics, he was accused, rightly, of being divisive. Farage managed to further alienate UKIP by patronising Sturgeon and Bennett on the issue of immigration, and accusing both the studio audience and the BBC itself of “heavy left-wing bias.” Laugh out loud.

Leanne Wood responded scathingly to Farage’s anti-immigration rhetoric with: “Well I would disagree with my friend on the far right,” which met with applause and cheers from the audience, at her capturing of a neat double meaning.

Farage claimed: “My opponents are abusing me,” moments after he had himself been abusive towards the audience and other leaders, to which Wood responded with: “You abuse immigrants and those with HIV and then complain UKIP is being abused,” with deep disdain evident in her voice.

Miliband, described by many political commentators as the only prime ministerial party leader, responded in a measured, honest way to Farage’s drone about immigration with:  “The problem is, Nigel, you exploit people’s fears rather than addressing them,” raising more applause and cheers from the audience and creating a moment of tangible solidarity amongst the left leaders. Farage’s usual swagger departed.

On the subject of defence, the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru are clear that they would not renew Trident. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that the general public are not inclined towards unilateralism, no matter how persuasive the proposition and reasoning is. Labour have long-standing and close ties with the CND, but their previous unilateral disarmament philosophy lost them two elections, they were therefore pushed to adopt a position of multilateralism. That’s a by-product of genuine democracy. This said, some 75% of Labour parliamentary candidates do not support the renewal of Trident.

By far the most memorable moment of the debate came when Nicola Sturgeon declared that she will do anything to “kick the Tories out” – including proposing a coalition with a party she’s spent years fighting and telling lies about – she’ll do anything, except of course to honourably put aside electioneering for her own party in an election it can never win, to kick the Tories out.

She had previously said: “If Labour won’t be bold enough I think people should vote for parties that would hold them to account.”  As Ed Miliband pointed out, she meant vote SNP in Scotland, Green in England, Plaid in Wales, as she has previously urged the electorate, thus increasing the likelihood of another Tory government.

Sturgeon attempted to turn conventional wisdom on its head, despite her previous appeal to voters to fritter away the opportunity to get shot of the Tories, she proposed a Labour/SNP coalition, pleading: “We have a chance to kick David Cameron out of Downing Street. Don’t turn your back on that. People will never forgive you.”

Miliband, turning conventional wisdom the right way up again, gave a powerfully forthright response: “You fought Labour all your life, Nicola,” he said, adding: “I’ve fought the Tories all my life.”

“You want to gamble on getting rid of a Tory government; I can guarantee getting rid of a Tory government.”

“I’ve got fundamental disagreements with you, Nicola, because in the last few weeks you’ve revealed that you haven’t ruled out having a second referendum,” he said.

“We have profound differences – that’s why I’m not going to have a second coalition with the SNP, because I’m never going to put at risk our United Kingdom.”

Sturgeon has said that the SNP would not form a coalition with Labour, or agree a confidence and supply deal, without a deal on Trident, and Miliband has said categorically that it’s not on offer. That means that, effectively, that the SNP is reduced to supporting Labour on a confidence motion and then restricted in dealing with everything else on a case by case basis.

And if the SNP are genuinely not prepared to let in the Tories, they will support Labour on a confidence motion. It was difficult to miss the hint of pleading in Sturgeon’s pitch at the end the debate.  Miliband is in the much stronger position.

Miliband reminded Sturgeon that the SNP worked with the Tories in Edinburgh, their vote in 1979 put Thatcher in office.

Sturgeon isn’t consistent: either it doesn’t matter whether Labour or the Conservatives win the election or it does. Half the time the SNP would like you to believe it makes no difference; the rest of the time they acknowledge it does. Which is why we see ludicrous contradictions like the SNP leader advocating a vote for the Greens – a vote that, if delivered, would render the SNP’s notionally-preferred outcome less, not more, likely.

So, my enemies’ enemy is not always my friend, except when he can be useful. Now that’s a career politician who claims far too loudly that she isn’t.  Ho hum.

LP card
Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

And one more thing. Mr Cameron:

This unsnookered isle

1395990_559940054075527_258446375_nWriting in the New York Times, Paul Krugman said Britain’s performance since 2010, after the global financial crisis struck, has been “startlingly bad,” with a tentative recovery that began in 2009, which was stalled in the last quarter of 2010. In his article entitled This Snookered Isle, Krugman provides an indictment of the Coalition’s claims and their methods of managing the UK economy. Mr Krugman echoes many leading economists in Britain.

Krugman says: “Unfortunately, economic discourse in Britain is dominated by a misleading fixation on budget deficits. Worse, this bogus narrative has infected supposedly objective reporting; media organizations routinely present as fact propositions that are contentious if not just plain wrong.”

Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University has dubbed this narrative “mediamacro.” As his coinage suggests, this is what you hear all the time on TV and read in British newspapers, presented not as the view of one side of the political debate, but as simple fact.

Yet none of it is true.

Krugman goes on to ask: “Was the Labour government that ruled Britain before the crisis profligate? [As so often claimed by the Conservatives.] Nobody thought so at the time.”

In 2007, government debt as a percentage of G.D.P. was close to its lowest level in a century (and well below the level in the United States), while the budget deficit was quite small. The only way to make those numbers look bad is to claim that the British economy in 2007 was operating far above capacity, inflating tax receipts. But if that had been true, Britain should have been experiencing high inflation, which it wasn’t.

What about growth? When the current British government came to power in 2010, it imposed harsh austerity — and the British economy, which had been recovering from the 2008 global slump, soon began slumping again. In response, Prime Minister David Cameron’s government backed off, putting plans for further austerity on hold (but without admitting that it was doing any such thing). And growth resumed.” (See also: The Return of Expansionary Austerity.)

He adds: “If this counts as a policy success, why not try repeatedly hitting yourself in the face for a few minutes? After all, it will feel great when you stop.

Given all this, you might wonder how mediamacro gained such a hold on British discourse. Don’t blame economists. As Mr. Wren-Lewis points out, very few British academics (as opposed to economists employed by the financial industry) accept the proposition that austerity has been vindicated. This media orthodoxy has become entrenched despite, not because of, what serious economists had to say.”

Cameron has misled the public by making Government debt analogous with personal debt. It isn’t. If a person misses a mortgage payment, for example, they may risk damaging their credit rating, and possibly even losing their home. So if we owe money, we need to find a way to pay it back as soon as possible. But government debt does not need to be paid back overnight – in fact, it’s widely recognised to be potentially damaging to do so.

In an economy, one person’s spending is another person’s income. So when the government cuts spending, it reduces people’s income, leading to less business, more unemployment, and a vicious spiral of slowing down the economy.

Osborne’s austerity measures have achieved nothing, except deepening poverty, widening economic inequality, and suffering for the poorest and most vulnerable communities – and Osborne announced in his Autumn statement that we face at least four more years of it, should the Tories gain office again.

Austerity is not an economic necessity, nor is it temporary measure to balance the books, but rather, it reflects the Conservative’s long-standing ideological commitment to dismantle the gains and achievements of the post war settlement: public services, the welfare state and the National Health Service. This is where most of the cuts have been aimed.

With a shortfall in tax receipts set to increase the size of the deficit by at least £25 billion during the next parliament, the Office for Budget Responsibility have said the only way Osborne could balance the books would be through shrinking the state to a level not seen since before the Second World War: “Total public spending is now projected to fall to 35.2 percent of GDP by 2019-20, taking it below the previous post-war lows reached in 1957-8 and 1999-2000 to what would probably be its lowest level in 80 years”. Robert Chote.

Despite facing a global recession, the Labour Government invested in our public services, and borrowed substantially less in thirteen years than the Coalition have in just five years. UK citizens were sheltered very well from the worst consequences of the global bank-induced crash.

Gordon Brown got it right in his championing of the G20 fiscal stimulus, agreed at the London summit of early April 2010, which was a continuation of his policies that had served to steer the UK economy out of the consequences of a global recession, and to protect citizens from those consequences.

Osborne’s policy of imposing austerity and budget cuts on an economy that was actually recovering was a catastrophic error. The austerity cuts propelled the economy backwards and into depression; and, far from using public spending as a countervailing force against the cutbacks in private sector investment, the Coalition’s budget cuts served to aggravate the crisis. Many people are suffering terribly as a consequence, many have been reduced to a struggle for basic survival.

The Conservatives have been engaged in a significant transfer of income from the least well-off half of the population to the more affluent in the past five years. Those with the lowest incomes have been hit hardest by austerity. Deliberately so.

It’s inconceivable that Coalition policies were formulated for anything other than profiting the wealthy at the expense of the poorest.

The following cuts came into force in April 2013:

  • 1 April – Housing benefit cut, including the introduction of the bedroom tax
  • 1 April – Council tax benefit cut
  • 1 April – Legal Aid savagely cut
  • 6 April – Tax credit and child benefit cut
  • 7 April – Maternity and paternity pay cut
  • 8 April – 1% cap on the rise of in working-age benefits (for the next three years)
  • 8 April – Disability living allowance replaced by personal independence payment (PIP)
  • 15 April – Cap on the total amount of benefit working-age people can receive.

Here are some of the Tory “incentives” and consquences for the wealthy:

In November last year, my proposition was also verified in a study of the cumulative impact of tax and welfare changes, from in-work benefits to council tax support, to the cut in the top rate of income tax and an increase in tax-free personal allowances, the report concluded that Coalition policy has been regressive across the income spectrum.

Its authors, Paola De Agostini and Professor Holly Sutherland at the university of Essex, and Professor John Hills at the LSE, wrote: “Whether we have all been ‘in it together’, making equivalent sacrifices through the period of austerity, is a central question in understanding the record of the coalition government … It is clear that the changes did not lead to uniform changes in people’s incomes. The reforms had the effect of making an income transfer from the poorer half of households (and some of the very richest) to most of the richer half, with no net effect on the public finances.

“In effect, the reductions in benefits and tax credits financed the cuts in taxes. Some groups were clear losers on average – including lone-parent families, large families, children, and middle-aged people (at the age when many are parents).”

Last year, the scale of Britain’s growing inequality was revealed by a report from the leading charity, Oxfam, showing that the country’s five richest families now own more wealth than the poorest 20% of the population.

Oxfam urged the chancellor to use the 2014 spring budget to make an assault on tax avoidance and introduce a living wage, in a report highlighting how a handful of the super-rich, headed by the Duke of Westminster, have more money and financial assets than 12.6 million Britons put together.

In the report,  A Tale of Two Britains, Oxfam said the poorest 20% in the UK had wealth totalling £28.1bn – an average of £2,230 each. The latest rich list from Forbes magazine showed that the five top UK entries – the family of the Duke of Westminster, David and Simon Reuben, the Hinduja brothers, the Cadogan family, and Sports Direct retail boss Mike Ashley – between them had property, savings and other assets worth £28.2bn.

And:

Increasing inequality is a sign of economic failure rather than success. It’s far from inevitable – a result of political choices that can be reversed.

The Labour Party have announced this week that tackling tax avoidance and evasion is a priority, and they plan to push emergency laws through parliament designed to impose far higher fines and close  tax loopholes. This move alone will raise more than £7.5bn a year in revenue for the Treasury. It’s a measure that sends out a clear message: the poorest people should not have to pay more to compensate for tax abuses by the rich.

Also announced this week was Labour’s intention to abolish archaic rules that allow wealthy “non-domiciles”, who live in the UK but claim to be domiciled overseas, to avoid paying tax in this country on what they earn outside of Britain.

Labour’s careful, costed and evidence-based policies also include: a Bankers’ Bonus Tax; a Mansion Tax; repeal of the Bedroom Tax; a reversal of the Pension Tax relief that the Tories gifted to millionaires; a reversal of the Tory Tax cut for Hedge Funds; freezing gas and electricity bills for every home a the UK for at least 20 months; the big energy firms will be split up and governed by a new tougher regulator to end overcharging; banning exploitative zero hour contracts; introduction of a living wage (already introduced by some Labour councils); a reversal of the £107,000 tax break that the Tories have given to the millionaires; reintroduction of the 50p tax; scrapping George Osborne’s “Shares for Rights” scheme that has opened up a tax loophole of £1 billion; ensuring Water Companies place the poorest households on a Social Tariff that makes it easier for them to pay their Water Bills; breaking up the banks and separating retail banking from investment banking; introduction of measures to prevent corporate tax avoidance, scrapping the Profit Tax Cut (Corporation Tax) that George Osborne has already announced for 2015 and many more.

These are not austerity measures. They are much needed, strongly redistributive policies.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has recently found what most of us already knew: that income inequality actually stifles economic growth in some of the world’s wealthiest countries, whilst the redistribution of wealth via taxes and benefits encourages growth.

Will the super-rich leave the UK, bag, baggage and all, as the right-wing scaremongers bleat, if we have a fair government that expects tax contributions from the cosseted rich? I seriously doubt it. They could start an exodus to New York I suppose, a city with a currently heavier tax regime, yet curiously not short of thousands of super-rich residents.

Ask yourself this: what are these tax-evading, hoarding and loudly complaining people actually contributing to our society? As far as I can see, they are supported by enormous state handouts, at everyone elses’ expense. They are propped up in their greed for ever-increasing profits,

Tax avoidance is costing us at least £70bn each year.

The most costly benefit payments in the UK are Tax Credits, Housing Benefit and Child Benefit, totalling £56.4bn a year.  These are not out of work benefits.  Some 65% of the total spent on working age benefits, is paid to people in work, whose wages are below subsistence levels.

Add to that the corporate tax benefits, such as the value of the cheap credit made available to banks and other business, the insurance schemes run by the government to protect exporters, the marketing for British business laid on by Vince Cable’s ministry, the public procurement from the private sector … a recent study conducted by Kevin Farnsworth, a senior lecturer in social policy at the University of York, concludes that direct corporate welfare costs British taxpayers just short of £85bn a year.

The Tory’s justification for allowing exploitative tax avoiders to have all of their own way is the mythological “trickle down effect.” Or “voodoo economics” to Keynsians. It was also known as the “horse and sparrow theory” a couple of centuries back. The idea being that if you feed a horse plenty of oats, the sparrows in it’s wake will also be fed .

And we are most certainly being fed horsesh*t.

It’s time to put an end to corporate welfare, and state handouts to the wealthy. We can do that by voting for a Labour government.

And if some thieving, hoarding, greedy misers threaten to leave the UK, why, I think I’ll offer to help them pack.

rich keep millonsBig thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

A few facts about the deficit and the economy, since the Tories are determined to peddle pre-election lies

correct versionThe study can be found here.

From the excellent Richard Murphy:

I think this graph tells a story very few seem to know about:

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 09.36.30All data is from the HM Treasury Pocket Bank for 30 September. I have extrapolated 2014/15 borrowing from the August data to suggest whole year borrowing of just over £107 billion based on average proportion of total year borrowing to 31 August over the past five years.

The conclusions are stark: the Coalition has borrowed more than four times more a year than 3.3 times a year what Labour did, on average.

In five years the Coalition has borrowed more than Labour did in 13, by a considerable margin.

And there wasn’t an unforeseen banking crisis on the Coalition’s watch.

So why is the story still told that it is Labour who borrowed too much? Purely objectively that makes no sense and says that there is another entirely different story to be told here.

From the excellent Simon Wren-Lewis, Professor of economics, who explains how Tory austerity has actually wrecked Britain’s economy, not helped it. Radio 4 World At One, today. (4 minutes)

Just more proof of what we already know – not only that austerity wrecks an economy, but that the Tories were going to make their cuts ANYWAY, because that’s what they believe in, and simply used the Global Crash of 2007-8 as their excuse, and the previous government as their scapegoat. With many thanks to Robert Livingstone for capturing both audios: Listen here.

And from the excellent Professor David Blanchflower austerity has prevented recovery: Listen here.

proper BlondIdeology is the reason for the Tory austerity cuts and not economic necessity.

Austerity has not encouraged investment in the UK:

The Coalition have a track record of lying and trying to mislead the public. David Cameron has now been rebuked several times for making false claims: on NHS spending, the rising national debt and the impact of his tax rises and deep spending cuts on economic growth. The Tories invented figures to claim people are now “better off”, but which totally ignored and excluded an account of the impact of significant factors like the rise in VAT, the cost of living, cuts to tax credits and other benefits.

The government is committing fraud on a grand scale. The reason for such deceit has nothing to do with public finances or the state of the economy, and everything to do with shrinking the public realm. There is an irreducibly ideological dimension to Tory economics, and by making it sound “scientific” when really, it’s more akin to philosophy or Tory buck passing, they attempt to lend it an air of authority and legitimacy it does not deserve.

The only thing that unites Tories is wealth, they mostly thrive on creating social divisions. The Tories have used a justification narrative based on a moral entrepreneur approach to scapegoat and vilify vulnerable social groups in order to justify transferring our public wealth to private bank accounts, behind the façade of austerity. What we are witnessing is a governments’ nonchalant adherence to Tory ideology, no matter what the consequences for the poorest, the sick and disabled, the unemployed and most vulnerable. Or the economy.

The Tories peddled the lie that due to Labour’s management of the economy, the UK was “on the brink bankruptcy” and claim the solution to is to cut government spending with a painful programme of austerity cuts. Of course the UK economy was growing in 2010 when the Tories took over and was subsequently plunged back into recession by Osborne’s austerity policies which have meant that the economy has not grown at all under the coalition; and for much of their tenure , it has been contracting.

Many economist have said consistently that this is the wrong approach. The best solution is to borrow or, better, create money to invest in infrastructure. But what we have instead is Osbornes’ closed economy, with a colossal redistribution of public funds to few private businesses and millionaires, who are sat on our money, whilst the government is steadily removing even more of our public capital through deep cuts. There is no investment in the infrastructure, public services – it’s a framework of increasing and devastating socio-economic entropy.

The Tories seem to think we have forgotten that it was they that lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite pledges to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.

The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories, who have borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13. In fact this Tory administration have borrowed more than every single Labour government ever, combined.

The Tories have seized an opportunity to dismantle the institutions they have always hated since the post-war social democratic settlement – institutions of health, welfare, education, culture and human rights which should be provided for all citizens. The Tories attempt to destroy fundamental public support for the health, education and welfare of its people. Offering and inflicting only regressive, punitive policies and devastating cuts, the Tories lie to drag the compliant, conforming and increasingly shell-shocked electorate along as they dismantle our social democracy, our public services, fundamental rights and the very basis of our civilisation.

Whenever this authoritarian government have been challenged and opposed effectively, they simply ignore or edit the law, veto tribunal rulings or invoke archaic government privilege to bypass opposition and to get their own way with unpopular policies, such as The Health and Social Care Bill and the Welfare “Reforms”.

That a government needs to engage in such underhanded methods to pass their policy through the legislative process, and justify such policies by lying, and by the malevolent scapegoating of vulnerable sections of society via the media, informs us that those policies are not addressing public needs, and wishes; that they are not democratically motivated or processed and that they reflect a political ideology which does not accommodate social and economic realities, nor is it fitting for a so-called first world liberal democracy that is a signatory to several international human rights charters to witness a government so deceptive and arbitrary in its approach to legitimacy.

Here is a catalogue of officially recognised Tory lies used to justify their unjustifiable policies  which have resulted in official reprimands.

Related:

The Tory election strategy is more of the same: Tories being conservative with the truth.

The Great Debt Lie and the Myth of the Structural Deficit.

One of the most destructive Tory myths has been officially debunked.

“The mess we inherited” – some facts with which to fight the Tory Big Lies.

Political scrapbook: Telegraph business leaders letter ‘was padded out with Sam Cam’s luvvie friends’

correct beecroft
tory liesThanks to the excellent Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.

The Conservative’s negative campaign strategy: “share the lies and win a prize”

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The Office of National Statistics (ONS) said that David Cameron has presided over an economy with the weakest productivity record of any government since the second world war, and revealed that output per worker fell again in the final three months of 2014.

In a separate blow to the credibility of the government, two-thirds of leading UK economists said they believed George Osborne’s austerity strategy had been damaging for the economy.

The Centre for Macroeconomics polled 50 leading economists, (as opposed to Tory donors and “business leaders” with an agenda) asking them whether they agreed that the government’s deficit-reduction strategy had a positive impact on growth and employment. One third disagreed and a further third strongly disagreed.

Furthermore, 77% feel that the outcome of the general election will have serious (“non-trivial”) consequences for the economy, and are clearly not in favour of the Conservatives’ “long-term economic plan.”

The Tories seem to think we have forgotten that they lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite Osborne’s pledges to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.

The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories, who have borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13. In fact this Tory administration have borrowed more than every single Labour government ever, combined. This hardly reflects economic competence on the part of the Conservatives, and that applies even if we accept the Conservative’s limited terms of economic competence, too.

Every single Tory government since and including Thatcher’s administration have caused extremely damaging and avoidable economic recessions. Labour did not cause the global crash, and the last Labour government sheltered us very well from the fall out of the banking crisis, without imposing austerity on the poorest citizens. Labour borrowed less in thirteen years than the Tories have in four years. We were in economic recovery by 2010. Labour have an excellent economic track record.

However, despite this, over on the Conservative campaign site, the focus is on the economy. Or more precisely, on how Labour “wrecked” or “will wreck” the economy. Yet Osborne was rebuked by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for making outrageous claims that Labour left the country “close to bankruptcy.” The economy was officially recovered and growing following the global crash, by the last quarter of 2009, so the Tories and Clegg are lying when they claim they “inherited a mess.” Furthermore, within months of the Coalition taking office, we were back in recession.

It’s remarkable that despite George Osborne’s solid five-year track record of failure, the Tories still mechanically repeat the “always cleaning up Labour’s mess” lie, as if increasing the national debt by 11% of GDP in 13 years, mitigated by a global recession, caused by bankers, as Labour did, is somehow significantly worse than George Osborne’s unmitigated record of increasing the national debt by 26% in just 5 years. Osborne has ironically demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically cut spending and massively increase debt. Austerity doesn’t work as a means of reducing debt, but works exceptionally well as a smokescreen for an ideologically-driven reduction of the state.

There are no positive messages on offer from the Conservatives to potential voters of an aspirational nature on their site, instead, all we see are desperate “warnings” about a Labour government, which border on hysteria, and some have veered from labels such as “Trotskyism” to scenes from 28 Days Later.

The entire Conservative campaign lacks warmth, honesty and any sense of social responsibility. It’s nothing to do with engaging democratically with the electorate, rather, it’s all about manipulating people using fear-mongering and despicable lies. Don’t believe me? Take a look at their track record.

It’s strikingly apparent that the Tories have typified the “playground bully” approach to campaigning, fully intent on spreading lies to discredit the opposition any way they can, whilst avoiding open debate and scrutiny at all costs. Because the Conservatives have no genuine and positive policies to offer most of the electorate.

An example from the Tory “Share the Facts” site:

The truth: Cameron’s ‘warning’ on Labour’s £3,000 ‘tax rise’ was shot down within hours by the respected think tank, the Institute for Fiscal Study (IFS). Despite being debunked, this lie is still up on the Tory site.

This Tory lie carries an opportunity to earn 50 points towards a prize if you share it. Further points are awarded if the post is subsequently shared, too. So not only are the Tories bribing people to share lies, they are encouraging people to persuade others to share the lies.

How it works:

Share the Facts is a great way to play your part in the most important election campaign for a generation. By sharing videos, graphics and blog posts with friends, you can help get the message out about everything we’re doing to secure a better future – and how Labour would put it all at risk.

Every week, Share the Facts users help our content reach over 3 million people – and if you sign up too, the number will be even greater. You’ll get points for every post you share – with rewards for those doing most to support the campaign.

EARNING POINTS

You’ll be awarded points for 3 things:

  1. Sharing a post – you immediately receive the number of points shown on the post
  2. When your friends click the post you’ve shared – 10 extra points
  3. When your friends react to your post (i.e. like, share or retweet) – 10 extra points

The Conservatives have already been accused of trying to “buy the General Election” by quietly raising the legal spending limit by £6.2 million to £32.7m amidst concern from the Electoral Commission over undue influence. The party has reportedly amassed a war chest of more than £70 million.

Last year it emerged that the Tories have spent thousands of pounds on advertising to encourage Facebook users to “like” Cameron’s page.

One motive for offering rewards to share lies and buying Facebook “likes” is to create an illusion of consensus. People sharing posts and adding “likes,” will lend to a false impression that the Tories are credible, making legitimate claims and that people agree with them.

Bribery is defined as an act of giving money or gifts that alters the behaviour of the recipient. In operant conditioning, which the Tories use a lot in policy-making aimed at “changing behaviours,” positive reinforcement is based on the idea that behaviours followed by a reward tend to be repeated.

This is an element of a discredited psychological theory known as behaviourism, which is linked with totalitarian thinking. The Tories are using behaviourist techniques via policies on an unconsenting population.

However, the methods used in welfare policies, for example, are not about positive reinforcement. Punishment , not reward is being used on the poorest citizens instead to “change behaviours” or incentivise people to work. Benefit sanctions, which were made an integral part of benefit conditionality in the Tories’ welfare “reforms,” are one example. If you think this is far-fetched, then you can always read up a little about the extensive, baleful influence of the government’s Behavioural Insights Team (Nudge Unit) on the framing and justification of Tory policy.

The Tory “share the facts” tactic also draws on well-known propaganda techniques. The first is called Bandwagon –  this is an “inevitable-victory” appeal that attempts to persuade the target audience to join in and take the course of action that “everyone else is taking.” The second technique is called Join the crowd, which reinforces people’s natural desire to be on the “winning side.” This technique is used to convince the audience that a programme is an expression of an irresistible mass movement and that it is in their best interest to join.

This is not just a deceptive government: it’s a very dangerously anti-democratic one. If they gain office again, the Tories will repeal our Human Rights Act and say they will withdraw from the European Convention.

Human rights are the bedrock of our democracy.

The Tories will destroy what remains of our welfare provision, National Health Service and other public services. This is the truth.

Research has shown that Conservatism is the enclave for those with socially destructive dark triad personality traits (Machiavellianism, Narcissismand Psychopathy). Tories share the same regressive social Darwinist ideology, so they will always formulate the same policies that divide society into steep hierarchies of wealth and privilege, resulting in massive inequalities, suffering and poverty, lies, corruption and indifference to the majority of the publics’ needs.

These are basic truths that the Tories are trying to divert your attention from, by lying and by attempting to bribe people into complicity in sharing those lies.

Voting is deeply emotional for many people. But for me, the Conservative’s negative campaigning reinforces the negative emotions I feel about the Tories, not the Labour Party. It highlights the Conservatives as the nasty party, trying to manipulate the electorate rather than presenting authentic reasons why they should be retained in government. The negative campaigning says much more about the Tories than it does about those they attack.

But the fact that the Tories do attack so viciously and persistently indicates very clearly that they see the Labour party as a significant threat to their increasingly hierarchical status quo.

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Related

Some of the promises the Tories are trying to delete from the internet.

Cameron’s pre-election contract: a catalogue of lies.

Cam weakness

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone 


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It’s time to end the lie that Labour and Tories are ‘the same’ on austerity – Sunny Hundal & Sue Jones

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It is a claim so ubiquitous that most people repeat it without even having to explain it:

‘there’s hardly any difference between the main political parties’.

It’s a claim the Greens, SNP and UKIP now repeat endlessly without being challenged. It is also a claim exposed as complete falsehood last week.

For all the Chancellor’s giveaways and triumphant rhetoric during the Budget, the most significant change was a capitulation to Labour’s charge that the Tories were cutting spending to 1930s levels. In fact the difference between Labour and Tories – especially on economic matters – is the biggest it has been in over a generation. To claim otherwise is to be ignorant of the facts.

Let’s go over the numbers first. In December last year, Osborne said he would slash government spending until it reached 35.2% of GDP, a level last reached during the 1930s.

Rather than accept the cuts, Labour attacked his plans as “extreme and ideological” and said they would not match Osborne’s race to the bottom.

The difference between Labour and Tory plans on spending is colossal. To cut spending to 35.2%, the IFS said Osborne would have to cut departmental spending by £55bn from 2015 to 2020, over £20bn more than what has been slashed over the last five years. Key government departments would have to cut spending by over 50%, after already being cut to the bone. It would render many of them useless.

Labour plans are significantly different but lost in technical detail, which has allowed many on the left to wrongly claim they are the same. Firstly, they have committed to raising taxes to cut the UK’s £90 billion yearly budget deficit (i.e. the 50p rate, Mansion tax, bankers’ bonus tax, a higher bank levy), while Osborne has pledged to focus on spending cuts rather than tax rises.

More importantly, the Tories plan an overall budget surplus by 2018-19, while Labour has only committed to a current budget surplus in the next parliament. This sounds like a boring technical detail – and in many ways it is – but the practical difference is vast.

It means that while Coalition had planned over £55 Billion in spending cuts, Labour had pledged only to plug potentially a £4 Billion gap – which could even come from tax rises. A difference of Labour and Tory plans of more than £50 Billion is not to be sniffed at (in comparison the entire Scottish Budget of 2014 was £35 Billion).

To claim that Labour and Tory ‘austerity’ is the same, as some on the left have done, isn’t just ludicrous but a bare-faced lie. It illustrates a huge distortion of the facts. Of course, the Greens and SNP have an interest in saying that Labour and Tories are the same, but that doesn’t make it true.

Last week was significant because Osborne was forced into a u-turn on the biggest issue of the past five years. Of course, the press played this down. He retreated, somewhat slightly, from extreme austerity: pledging to cut spending to 36% of GDP rather than 35.2%. This mostly came from the OBR’s projection that spending on debt interest in 2019-20 will be £9bn less than it expected earlier.

But Osborne’s sleight-of-hand had bigger meaning for Labour: now it means they don’t have to make any cuts over the next parliament, as the IFS pointed out. The difference between the two parties is now even more stark.

To the naysayers who still maintain that Labour and Tories are ‘the same’, a bit more explanation is required. Last year Osborne said he would publish a ‘Budget Responsibility Charter’ and test whether Labour would vote for it. It put Labour in a lose-lose position: they would be painted as ‘profligate’ if they didn’t sign up, and painted as signing up to Tory austerity by the left if they did. Neither was true, since signing up was consistent with Labour’s initial plans. Labour decided to avoid Osborne’s trap and he didn’t bother publishing the Charter. It changed nothing.

Furthermore, the claim that Labour has signed up to Tory austerity until 2016 is untrue. As a matter of technicality, Labour cannot reverse plans already put in place for that fiscal year after being elected.

This has always been a somewhat technical debate, obfuscated by many who have an axe to grind. For political and economic reasons, Labour could never be like Syriza, so it has always been ridiculous to hope it could. Plus, it’s easy for the Greens and SNP to make wild claims about rejecting austerity without spelling out how a massive increase in spending required would be funded.

I suspect that most people who have already decided that Labour and Tories are the same won’t ever be convinced. Labour’s plans won’t catch the world on fire, but to claim they are the same as Tory austerity plans is a lie that has finally been laid to rest.

With big thanks to Labourlist author Sunny Hundal.

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Recently, the SNP, Greens, TUSC and other parties on the so-called  left have made the claim that: “Labour voted for austerity.” This is such a blatant lie. The vote, clearly stated on the Hansard record (see 13 Jan 2015: Column 738, Charter for Budget Responsibility), was pertaining strictly to the motion: “That the Charter for Budget Responsibility: Autumn Statement 2014 update, which was laid before this House on 15 December 2014, be approved.”  That isn’t about austerity at all.

The charter sets out that the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) will continue to monitor our fiscal rules. As we know, the OBR has written extremely critical economic forecasts and analysis of austerity and the Tory spending cuts, clearly expressing the risks that the Chancellor is running and the scale of the damage his strategy will inflict on what remains of our public services.

Furthermore, austerity and fiscal figures are not mentioned at all in the Charter.

It’s worth noting that whilst Ed Balls challenged Osborne, there was a curious silence from the SNP and the Green Party. It was Ed Balls that challenged Osborne’s outrageous claims regarding “halving the deficit”- such a blatant lie, upon which even the exceedingly Conservative Spectator spluttered contempt. Or any of the other lies, some of which have already earned the Conservatives official rebukes from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). (See “bankruptcy lie” for example, on the hyperlinked article)

Furthermore, it’s about time that some MP’s, including Caroline Lucas, amongst others, recognised that there is a fundamental difference between the meaning of the word budget and the word austerity. Conflating the two for the purpose of politicking is unprincipled and dishonest.

It’s also worth noting from the same debate on the Hansard record:

13 Jan 2015 : Column 746

Caroline Lucas: Does the Chancellor agree with me that with the feeble and inconsistent opposition coming from the Labour Front Bench, there is a very good reason for seeing the SNP, the Greens and Plaid as the real opposition on this issue because we are clear and consistent about the fact that austerity is not working?

Mr Osborne: That shows why we want the hon. Lady’s party in the TV debates.

Yes, I just bet they do, to collaborate with the Tories in attacking and undermining the Labour Party, not the Coalition, who are, after all, the ones responsible for introducing austerity measures. I don’t imagine for a moment that Osborne values further challenges to his outrageous claims of efficacy regarding austerity measures.

What is very evident when you read through this debate, is that Ed Balls and a couple of other Labour MPs presented the ONLY challenges to Osborne on this matter, just to reiterate this important point.

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It’s also worth bearing in mind that Ed Miliband established the International ANTI-austerity Alliance. Back in 2012, Miliband said: “There is a grip of centre-right leadership on Europe which has said there’s only one way forward and that’s austerity, and you’ve got to have a decisive move away from that.(See also: Labour leader Ed Miliband’s anti-austerity alliance will fight for the European dream.)

And why would Miliband be attending ANTI-austerity protests if he supported austerity?

Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London

Labour leader Ed Miliband speaks on stage to over 150,000 at Hyde Park, during the TUC organised protest against austerity measures in London.

It’s interesting to see the Chicago Tribune’s article: Ed Balls, UK’s anti-austerity finance chief in waiting.  Balls dismissed Osborne as a “downgraded chancellor” after Britain lost its triple-A credit rating.

One of his main charges has been that the government is unfairly spreading the economic pain it deems necessary to fix the economy. Austerity cuts are the burden of the poorest citizens.

Balls says that a decision to cut the top tax rate amounts to an unjustified “tax cut for millionaires”, whilst his party has been scathing of the Conservative “reform” of the welfare system.

A point echoed many times by Ed Miliband, too. Accusing the government of making lower or no income groups pay for the recovery while shielding the rich is a claim which strikes a chord with some voters who view Cameron and his government – many of whom were educated at the same top fee-paying school – as out of touch.

Caroline Lucas was born in Malvern to Conservative parents and attended Malvern Girls’ College (which became Malvern St James in 2006), a fee-paying private school. Ed Miliband, on the other hand, went to a comprehensive school.

Polls also show that many voters approve of the government’s drive to rein in welfare costs and the government has demanded that Labour spell out what they would do to fix the economy. They have, but with understandable caution.

Labour’s careful, costed and evidence-based policies include: a Bankers’ Bonus Tax; a Mansion Tax; repeal of the Bedroom Tax; a reversal of the Pension Tax relief that the Tories gifted to millionaires; a reversal of the Tory Tax cut for Hedge Funds; freezing gas and electricity bills for every home a the UK for at least 20 months; the big energy firms will be split up and governed by a new tougher regulator to end overcharging; banning exploitative zero hour contracts; introduction of a living wage (already introduced by some Labour councils); a reversal of the £107,000 tax break that the Tories have given to the millionaires; reintroduction of the 50p tax; scrapping George Osborne’s “Shares for Rights” scheme that has opened up a tax loophole of £1 billion; ensuring Water Companies place the poorest households on a Social Tariff that makes it easier for them to pay their Water Bills; breaking up the banks and separating retail banking from investment banking; introduction of measures to prevent corporate tax avoidance, scrapping the Profit Tax Cut (Corporation Tax) that George Osborne has already announced for 2015 and many more.

These are not austerity measures. They are strongly redistributive policies.

It’s difficult enough opposing the manipulative, lying authoritarian Conservative-led government, without having to constantly counter lies and smears from fringe parties claiming to be on the Left, while propping up the Right simply to gain votes and undermine the only feasible opposition to the Tories, currently.

Shame on them.

Sue Jones

Related

Labour’s fiscal targets mean cuts could end next year – Labourlist

Labour’s fiscal responsibility and caution isn’t austerity, so stop doing Lynton Crosby’s job for him.

The ultimate aim of the “allthesame” lie is division and disempowerment of the Left.

Narxism

Electioneering and grandstanding: how to tell the difference between a moral political party and a moralistic one.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Not “weird” but wonderful: Miliband will win the battle for number 10.

I’ve often heard people remark how surprised they are at just how handsome, sincere and at ease Ed Miliband is when they meet him in person. That’s because the controlled and  biased media have worked hard to purposefully present a purely fictional image of an opposition leader that is weird, arkward, geeky, weak, unattractive and unelectable. But nothing could be further from the truth.

The large discrepancy between Tory media portrayals and reality are a key reason why Cameron didn’t want the televised head-to-head debates with Miliband to go ahead. During his interview with the self-declared “one nation”conservative Jeremy Paxman, Miliband very cleverly highlighted the disparity in fictional creations of the media by his casual dismissal of them, stating that he didn’t care what the media says about him: he cares what the public think.

This not only demonstrates that Miliband values sincerity and solid, needs-led public policy content over superficial image management as a leader, (Cameron by contrast certainly favours PR style-management over content,) it draws a clear dividing line between what is real and what is not, what really matters and what does not, for the public to plainly see.

The public finally got to see the real Ed Miliband – confident, strong, keen to listen rather than just keen to answer, eloquent, sincere, spontaneous (indicating his fundamental honesty) and remarkably, he remembered people’s names.

Even dealing with the deeply personal and undoubtedly difficult questions about his relationship with his brother from the audience, Miliband was positive, smiling – his honesty, warmth and being at ease with his own emotions shone through.

He said: “I thought someone needed to lead the Labour Party who would move us on from New Labour.”

Many people will agree with that. David Miliband is a Blairite, had he been elected party leader, the Labour Party would have stood still, rather than progressing as it has with Ed Miliband at the helm.

Paxman’s attempts at making Miliband look weak failed spectacularly.  Miliband gave some excellent responses regarding questions about Labour’s borrowing record during the global banking crisis, (I particularly like his reference to the fact that it was a global recession, and that he said there is need for reform of the banking and finance sector,) and he disclosed Labour’s intention of redistribution policies with reference to the question about Labour’s mansion tax proposal.

Paxman then attempted to intimidate and bruise, using very personal questions to try and undermine Miliband and make him appear “weak”, inadvertantly allowing him to show his genuine strength instead. I was delighted to hear Miliband point out that he had refused to back proposed bombing raids on Syria despite immense pressure from Barack Obama – the “leader of the free world” – and Cameron. Miliband led the revolt against attacking Syria, which included a handful of Tories, much to Cameron’s fury at the time. (See: David Cameron accused Ed Miliband of ‘siding with Russia’ over Syria).

Miliband confirmed his potential to be a strong PM with a definitive, slightly corny but nonetheless pleasing, applause-inducing best line of the night: “Am I tough enough? Hell yes, I’m tough enough”. 

Five years of Tory media reverse psychology on the public have been reversed masterfully by Ed Miliband in just a few minutes.

Miliband was very assertive and responsive, allowing nothing to faze him when Paxman turned the heat up:“You don’t get to decide the outcome of the general election: the public do. You’re important, Jeremy, but you’re not that important,” he retorted when Paxman suggested that a hung parliament was pre-destined.

Miliband intelligently turned what others would see as daunting media portrayals of his “weakness” into an opportunity to his advantage, re-framing himself as a strong leader who had been continually underestimated – someone whose warmth, decency and calm, rational responsiveness is mistaken for weakness. This is a man who was told he couldn’t beat his brother during the leadership vote (he did) and who was told he couldn’t become prime minister (he can and will).

Miliband presented himself as the decent conviction politician that he is, as someone who has clearly defined principles and integrity. He was passionate, warm, sincere, assertive, positive and at times, very witty and good humoured.

David Cameron, who had an easier ride from Paxman, emerged rattled, red-faced and bruised by Mr Paxman’s questions – particularly on the rise of food banks and zero-hour contracts. He displayed a fundamental hypocrisy when, after dismissing criticism of the impact of zero-hour contracts on others, he was forced to admit that he couldn’t survive on them himself. Cameron evaded answering  and floundered when he was pressed. Miliband did not, providing clear, incisive answers throughout.

Miliband came across an honest, contained, very human, responsive, fluent, warm and inspiring leader, who refused, largely, to be placed on the defensive. He conveyed the key values behind his politics very well: a passionate desire to reduce inequality, which resonates with many voters and it sincerely reflects Miliband’s personal principles, as well as the rationale for his distinctive brand of democratic socialism.

Cameron, in contrast, came across as out of control, disingenuous, incoherent, lacking in principles and sound judgement, as well as integrity, especially when Paxman said that many voters found it “problematic” that Cameron had chosen to surround himself with people like Clarkson, ex-HSBC boss Lord Green and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson. Paxman asked: “What do you have in common with all these rich people?”

But although Cameron was quick on the uptake, he couldn’t bluster a defence, replying with: “The aspersion you are trying to cast is completely ridiculous.”

I think not. A corrupt scoundrel that has surrounded himself with other corrupt scoundrels is an accurate measure of it. The elitist “old boy network” world of Cameron, here, contrasts starkly with Miliband’s world-view, with strong emphasis on the core principle of equality.

Cameron’s sense of class-based entitlement has always been weakness which he has tried and failed to parade as a strength.

Mr Cameron was forced to confess that he had not asked Lord Green about tax avoidance in HSBC’s Swiss branch at the time of his appointment as a trade minister but said that: “all the normal processes and procedures were followed” and said that allegations the bank helped clients dodge tax had emerged only “subsequently.”

A good exposure there from Paxman. And in fairness, he did grill Cameron on broken promises concerning the NHS, VAT, debt, food banks, zero-hour contracts and immigration, which tore open the coalition’s presented record showing them as being somewhat conservative with the truth.

Paxman claimed that Miliband had made erroneous estimates of unemployment and the level of wages, and I was satisfied when Miliband corrected him, stating what most of us know is true: wage levels have dropped since 2010. There was little opportunity for Miliband to discuss unemployment, however, once again, most of us know that insecure types of self-employment, benefit sanctions and workfare, amongst other things, have been used to massage the coalition’s employment figures. This was the recent finding of the cross-party Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions, recently.

I think Paxman knew he had been out-manoeuvred by the end of the session. Not by cunning and strategy, but by fundamental honesty and unflinching courage: Miliband didn’t flounder or falter once. It’s revealing that the session closed with Paxman asking Miliband: “Are you okay?” 

This was probably a face-saving tactic on Paxman’s part, as Miliband had trounced his attempts at showing him as “weak”, but it was also a revealing, apologetic attempt at compensation for the fact that he went too far with the personal elements in his questions in a deliberate attempt to undermine him. Miliband was quick to retort, perceptively: “I’m fine thanks, are you?”

Miliband’s pronounced strategy for overcoming a poor, most evilly contrived media-invented image is “be yourself.” It works very well, as everyone else is taken …

And Cameron, being a PR man, can only offer us superficial soundbites that don’t connect up, he has no real self to fall back on: he’s all ego and no soul.

Regardless of polls, I have faith that the British public will recognise a winning, decent, sincere Prime Minister with depth and principles that will serve in the best interests of the country rather than the best interests of his privileged peer group, like the ever-corruptible Cameron has.

Miliband has promised to fight a campaign founded on hope and optimism: he is determined to show that Britain can do better. He is so right.

Well done Ed Miliband!

10424302_677497562319775_766713150422913861_n
 Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

Update: It’s been reported that Ed Miliband was punched and pushed by protesters wearing Alex Salmond masks, prior to the televised debate, by the Telegraph, Mirror and Express. The earlier incident, described as extremely aggressive and intimidating, did not hamper Mr Miliband’s performance in the first TV set piece of the election campaign. There is some speculation that the masked men that carried out the attack were Tory supporters, rather than Scottish Nationalists.

It does, however, possibly change the context in which Jeremy Paxman asked Ed Milband if was okay at the close of the session, as he may have known about the undoubtedly harrowing experience that Mr Milband had encountered just hours before. That would of course change Mr Paxman’s motive entirely.

Either way, the opposition leader turned up for the debates, apparently undaunted, and his performance was excellent. This is further indication of what an admirable, strong and courageous man of character Ed Milband is.

The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

The power of positive thinking.

The government invests a lot of time and money in “nudging” people to accept the unacceptable.

George Osborne announced in the budget that the government will be funding a “package of measures” to improve employment outcomes which will entail putting Cognitive Behaviour therapists in more than 350 job centres to provide “support” to those with “common mental health conditions,” and making online access to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy available for people who are claiming employment support allowance (ESA) and job seekers allowance (JSA).

From the HM Treasury document – Budget 2015, page 64: 1.236:

“Budget 2015 also announces a package of measures to improve employment outcomes for people with mental health conditions. Starting from early 2016, the government will provide online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to 40,000 Employment and Support Allowance and Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants and individuals being supported by Fit for Work. From summer 2015, the government will also begin to co-locate Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) therapists in over 350 Jobcentres, to provide integrated employment and mental health support to claimants with common mental health conditions.”

The government put up an online contract notice which specifically states:

“This provision is designed to support people with common mental health conditions to prepare for and move into work, with intervention at the earliest possible point in a claim to benefit or access to the Fit for Work service.”

Under the government’s plans, therapists from the NHS’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme would support jobcentre staff to assess and treat claimants, who may be referred to online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses.

We really must question the ethics of linking receipt of welfare with “state therapy,” which, upon closer scrutiny, is not therapy at all. Linked to such a narrow outcome – getting a job – this is nothing more than a blunt behaviour modification programme. The fact that the Conservatives plan to make receipt of benefits contingent on participation in “treatment” worryingly takes away the fundamental right of consent.

Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is used to change how you think (“Cognitive”) and what you do (“Behaviour”). It bypasses emotions, personal history and narrative, to a large extent, and tends to focus on the “here and now.”

CBT is an approach that facilitates the identification of “negative thinking patterns” and associated “problematic behaviours” and challenges them. This approach is, at first glance, a problem-solving approach. However, it is of course premised on the assumption that interpreting situations “negatively” is a bad thing, and that thinking positively about difficult or distressing events is beneficial.

The onus is on the individual to adapt to their distress and difficult circumstances by perceiving their circumstances in a stoical and purely rational way.

So we need to ask what are the circumstances that the government are expecting people claiming welfare support to accept stoically. Sanctions? Work fare? Being forced to accept very poorly paid work, abysmal working conditions and no security? The loss of social support, public services and essential safety nets?  Stigma? Starvation and destitution? State punishment and exclusion?

It’s all very well challenging people’s thoughts but for whom is CBT being used, and for what purpose? Seems to me that this is about helping those people on the wrong side of punitive government policy to accept and accommodate that, and to mute negative responses to negative situations. CBT in this context is not based on a genuinely liberational approach, nor is it based on any sort of democratic dialogue. It’s all about modifying and controlling behaviour, particularly when it’s aimed at such a narrow, politically defined and highly specific outcome.

CBT is too often founded on blunt oversimplifications of what causes human distress – for example, in this case it is assumed that the causes of unemployment are psychological rather than sociopolitical, and that assumption authorises intrusive state interventions that encode a distinctly Conservative moral framework which places responsibility on the individual, who is characterised as “faulty” in some way.

There is also an underpinning assumption that working is good for mental health, and that being in employment indicates mental wellbeing. However, isn’t it more likely the case that healthier people are in work, those who aren’t well enough to work don’t?

It’s well-established that poverty is strongly linked with a higher likelihood of being diagnosed with a mental illness. But that does not mean working is therefore somehow “good” in some way, for mental wellbeing. Therapy does not address social conditions and context, and so it permits society to look the other way, while the government continue to present mental disorder as an individual weakness or vulnerability, and a consequence of “worklessness” rather than a fairly predictable result of living a stigmatised, marginalised existence of material deprivation.

Inequality and poverty are political constructions and arise because of ideology and policy-formulated socioeconomic circumstances, but the Conservatives have transformed established explanations into a project of constructing behavioural and emotional problems as “medical diagnoses” for politically-created (and wholly ideologically endorsed) socioeconomic problems.

Austerity, which targets the poorest citizens disproportionately for cuts to their lifeline income and essential services, was one ideologically-driven political decision taken among alternative, effective and more humane choices.

The government are not strangers to behaviour modification techniques and have been applying crude behaviourism to public policy, drawing on the “expertise”of the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT)  – the “Nudge Unit” – that they established and installed in the Cabinet Office in 2010. (See Mind the Mindspace, which outlines some of the implications of a government extending operant conditioning via policies to an unconsenting public.)

It is disadvantaged people and excluded groups who are the primary targets of enormously pseudoscientific, coercive and punitive psychopolicy interventions. It’s a kind of technocratic ‘fix’, designed solely to align the perceptions and behaviours of those citizens failed and harmed by our current socioeconomic organisation to nonetheless accommodate and accept neoliberal outcomes.

The casual manner in which advocates of behaviourism dismiss the right of people to behave in accordance with their own feelings, intuition and instincts exposes their authoritarian (not “libertarian paternalistic”) ambitions.

It’s frankly terrifying that our so-called democratic government is waging an ideological crusade directed at altering citizens’ thoughts and behaviour, and avoiding any accountability, sidestepping any engagement in potentially difficult political debate about their policies and the impacts that they have.

The objectives adopted by the Nudge Unit choice architects, politico-therapists and psychocrats are entirely about the state micromanagement of public perceptions and behaviours.

These objectives resemble ambitions usually associated with totalitarian regimes. This is a gross state intrusion into a previously private domain – our thoughts, perceptions and behaviours. Not only is this government trespassing on an intimate, existential level; it is tampering with – editing – our perceptions and experiences, damaging and isolating the poorest citizens, burdening them with the blame for the consequences of state policies while also editing out state responsibilities towards citizens.

Both CBT and Nudge are aimed at pushing people in ways that bypass reasoning. The assumption is that because our decision-making ability is limited we need to use non-rational means to persuade people to do what is “good” for them. But who has the moral authority to decide that? This is not about helping people make better choices – it’s about coercing people to make the choices that policymakers want them to make. And again, those “choices” are based on enforcing conformity to the ideological commitments of policymakers.

This psychocratic turn is in diametric opposition to Enlightenment narratives – it fosters a profound anti-rationality and anti-autonomy approach, it’s not remotely democratic: it’s based on a ridiculous premise that people use their freedom and liberty poorly, but somehow, those passing that judgement on everyone else are exempted from such judgements themselves. It is also extends profoundly anti-humanistic consequences.

Apparently, some people think that everyone else is susceptible to flawed thinking and behaviours, but that theory magically excludes the theorist from such human failings, since they are claiming some objective, mind-independent vantage point – a position far away from the rest of us. It’s like saying: this is your “human nature” but not ours.

Whether or not we agree on the efficacy of CBT as a therapeutic model in principle is a small consideration which is overshadowed by the fact that the government are using such “therapeutic” techniques as a highly partisan tool – to enforce traditional Tory biases and prejudices and to achieve their ideologically-driven policy agenda.

CBT will be deployed in job centres to simply favour the political objectives of neoliberal Conservatism: propping up an anti-progressive austerity agenda, regressive ideology, endorsing an ever-shrinking state, while reflecting a profound  Tory misanthropy.

The social problems arising because of a lack of provision will remain unaddressed and unchallenged because of the Conservative paradigm shift in positivist – causal explanations of political and social problems: it’s not down to policy, it’s all the fault of individuals (who are of course those individuals affected adversely by state policy.)

CBT is a short-term treatment, which is cheap and simple to deliver. I suspect this is one other reason for it becoming more popular with the Coalition than is warranted.

CBT has limitations for treating certain groups, including people with severe and treatment-resistant depression and those with personality disorders.

Studies concerning the efficacy of CBT have consistently found high drop-out rates compared to other treatments, with the numbers abandoning therapy often being more than five times higher than other treatments groups. (P. Cuijpers,  A. van Straten, G.  Andersson & P. Van Oppen. (2008)).

Researchers analysed several clinical trials that measured the efficacy of CBT administered to young people who self-injure. The researchers concluded that none of them were found to be efficacious. (See: Task force on the promotion and dissemination of psychological procedures: A reported adopted by the Division 12 Board – D. Chambless, K. Babich, P. Crits-Christoph,  E. Frank, M. Gilson & R. Montgomery. (1993)).

CBT fails fundamentally on a theoretical level: it lacks basic clarity, depth and coherence. It doesn’t provide a definition of “clear and correct” thinking – curiously, CBT theorists develop a framework for determining distorted thinking without developing a framework for “cognitive clarity” or what would be deemed “healthy, normal thinking.” This has left a large space for partisan definitions and political agendas.

And why is irrational thinking considered to be a source of mental and emotional distress when there is no evidence of rational thinking causing psychological wellbeing? Furthermore, social psychology has never demonstrated that the normal cognitive processes (whatever they are) of the average person are irrational.

CBT is deterministic: it denies agency and any degree of free-will. Human behaviour, in this view, is determined by the cognitive processes invoked by external stimuli. It focuses on the former, ignoring the latter. CBT theory basically contends that what you feel is somehow not very important to why you do what you do and think what you think.

But human beings are not automata: we are complex and multi-faceted. Our emotionality is a fundamental part of being human, too – our emotional bonds and attachments, and our interactions with significant others over time contribute hugely to shaping who we are: we are socially situated and contextualised. We are intersubjective, reciprocal and intentional beings. A therapy that sidelines how we feel must surely, at best, be regarded as superficial in its efficacy, scope and reach.

Moreover, in emphasising thought processes to the exclusion of complex and legitimate emotions, therapists may contribute to the harmful repression and denial of feelings.

CBT encourages an unhealthy avoidance of psychological discomfort and distress by diverting thoughts from the source of discomfort. CBT may rouse immature, neurotic and pathological defence mechanisms. It devalues resilience based on mature coping strategies such as openness, courage, mindfulness, acceptance and emotional self-sufficiency.

Not only is that psychologically unhealthy for a person, it’s bad for society as it desensitises and de-empathises people, stultifies learning from experience by disconnecting people’s thoughts from their circumstances and from others. It discourages personal development and stifles ‘resilience’.

Perhaps the most damning criticism of CBT is that it encourages self-deception and self-blame within clients and patients, because it maintains the status quo. The basic premise of cognitive therapy is: except for how the patient thinks, everything is okay. You can see why this would appeal to the Conservatives.

Poor mental health is often linked with poverty (Melzer et al. 2004) poor community integration, and competitiveness among social groups (Arrindell et al., 2003). Key questions arise as to the efficacy, therefore, of working with individuals, when much research suggests community work would be much more effective (Orford, 2008).

The Beacon Project (Stuteley, 2002) was pioneered by health workers who supported those with depression and other health problems by working with their whole community – addressing their basic social needs and developing mutual social support systems. There were significant changes in physical and mental health for the whole community, showing the benefits of fostering a psychology of mutual support, altruism, cooperation and collaboration: building social capital.

Human needs, public services and provisions, developmental processes, social relationships and contexts are important to any comprehensive model of mental health. Community work offers something that CBT can’t: unlimited scope and reach, sustainable, self-perpetuating, long-lasting provision with an inbuilt preventative agenda. It’s also a prefigurative model. As such, it is founded on democratic principles and the values of  genuine dialogue.

But the government has no interest in addressing mental health and wellbeing or building social support provisions. The government insists that people’s problems are self-generated and endogenous. But the socioeconomic context, policy decisions and consequences are the fundamental cause of unemployment, poverty and much mental distress.

When people are affected by social problems with structural causes, such as poverty and inequality, this in turn leads to a lack of opportunity, economic disadvantage and deprivation, unemployment, ill-health, absolute poverty (increasingly), poor housing, political scapegoating and punishment via policy, it’s ludicrously and grossly unfair to further stigmatise them and claim that their problems arise because of how they think and behave.

For the Tories, the only aim of CBT is a strongly emphasised participation in the labour-market, with minimal expectations of the state and minimal reliance on public services.

“Social problems are often the consequence of the choices that people make.” David Cameron.

No. Social problems are most often the consequence of a government that uses policy to create social inequality, poverty, social exclusion and extremely challenging economic circumstances for those people who have the least to start with. The government uses denial and a process of individualising blame for the problems caused by this government’s ideological austerity programme, which is used to legitimise further cruel constraint by those socio-economic factors caused by the government.

The Tories would have us believe that poor people suddenly become inadequate whenever we have a Tory government. They don’t, but they do become poorer. They are then held responsible and punished for the consequences of Conservatism.

If anyone needs to change the way they think, it’s certainly the Conservatives.

Update June 26, 2015: Mental health workers protest at move to integrate clinic with jobcentre

“This month Prof Jamie Hacker Hughes, president of the British Psychological Society (BPS), pointed out recent research which presented evidence that claimants had been forced to accept psychological treatment. Researchers from Hubbub and Birkbeck, University of London, found unemployment was being rebranded as a psychological disorder in many advanced economies, with interventions being introduced to promote a positive outlook or leave claimants of welfare to face sanctions.

Dave Harper, a reader in clinical psychology at the University of East London, told the Guardian he believed there was an ideological agenda driving the government’s proposals.

“We are in a recession,” Harper said. “There are not many jobs out there and this is implying that unemployed people are to blame for their situation. It’s shifting the focus away from economic policy and on to the individual.”

As a BPS member, I was happy to see a clear, ethical statement from the President.

Related

The just world fallacy

Cameron’s Nudge that knocked democracy down – a summary of the implications of Nudge theory

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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Osborne’s razor, smoke and mirrors

10407927_677369232332608_5384979058089243718_n“I get madder every day
‘Cause what you do ‘n’ what you say
Affects my life in such a way
I learned to hate it every minute
Cocaine decisions . . .” Frank Zappa.

“All your dreams are made
when you’re chained to the mirror with a razor blade.” One of the Gallagher brothers.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has asked Osborne to specify how he will reach targets announced in the budget, given that the poorest had been the hardest hit by draconian benefit cuts already. The IFS say the worst of the UK’s spending cuts are still to come.

Paul Johnson, the IFS director, said:

“But it is now almost two years since he announced his intention of cutting welfare spending by £12bn. Since then the main announcement has been the plan not to cut anything from the main pensioner benefits.

We have been told about no more than £2bn of the planned cuts to working-age benefits. And, remember, apparently the ‘plan’ is to have those £12bn of cuts in place by 2017-18. It is time we knew more about what they might actually involve.”

A senior Conservative minister said the party would not spell out all its welfare cuts until after the general election. David Gauke, the Treasury secretary, was pressed repeatedly on the BBC’s Daily Politics to explain if the Tories would detail their planned welfare cuts beyond the £3billion previously specified.

He replied: “We will set it out nearer the time which will be after the election.

Such cuts are normally agreed as part of a wider spending review.”

How very convenient. But Osborne had no reservations announcing the cuts, despite the implication that they haven’t yet been agreed.

And the Government spending cuts set out for after the general election are the toughest out of 32 most advanced economies worldwide, according to the IFS.

Johnson said that Osborne will need to make unprecedented cuts in welfare to meet targets. At a glance, if we take into account the entire period of tax increases and spending cuts since deficit reduction began under the last Labour government in early 2010, it appears that the richest had been the biggest losers.

However, Johnson said: “Looking only at changes implemented by the coalition the poorest have seen the biggest proportionate losses.”

This is indeed confirmed by many studies and even a glance at coalition policies show how the wealthiest have been compensated by a variety of state handouts, including a tax “break” of £107,000 each per year, whilst the poorest are forced into food bank queues in desperation and are increasingly being made homeless because of punitive policies such as benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax and council tax.

Meanwhile, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said the current plans put public services at risk and called for a “balanced and fair way to get the deficit down”.

He said: “Labour will make sensible spending cuts in non-protected areas, but we will also reverse David Cameron’s £3bn tax cut for the top 1% of earners.”  Quite properly so.

Labour’s fiscal target, of balancing the current budget as soon as possible in the next parliament, whilst allowing for some borrowing to fund infrastructure investment, would require far less stringent cuts than the Tories’ plans, according to the IFS. Labour could meet its aim by cutting departmental spending by just £5.2bn, or 1.4%.

Also see: Labour’s fiscal targets mean cuts could end next year – Labourlist.

As a society we cannot possibly accommodate a further 12 billion cut from welfare spending. It’s not that Osborne can’t answer the IFS challenge: he won’t. He’s being conservative with the truth – which is that we cannot afford to reduce any more from welfare without ending welfare provision as we know it.

The Tories fully intended that the welfare “reforms” were the beginning of the end of our welfare state. The welfare “reforms” (welfare cuts) were ushered in strictly because of the despotic use of “financial privilege” by Cameron to bypass the widespread and vehement opposition to the Bill.

At the time, I emailed the entire House of Lords, imploringly. My second email simply said: the welfare reforms must not happen. Many of the peers and members replied, and many responded with “agreed.” But Cameron made them happen and apparently felt no obligation to observe the niceties of democratic process.

The Tories clearly have no intention of ensuring a safety net for citizens and have plotted to dismantle our welfare state since the Thatcher era. This is a long-planned outcome for the Tories. Our social security and public services are in serious jeopardy.

How did we become a nation where the affluent begrudge every penny that they pay in tax, whilst the poorest are suffering, starving and dying? The wealthy have been permitted to hoard obscenely in private whilst the poorest people’s incomes are regarded as being public property.

The Tories have always seen taxing the wealthy as a sin. But we now have a class of millionaires that shriek in outrage at the very idea of contributing responsibly to a society that they take so much from. These miserable wretches are supremely unconcerned that the bedroom tax contravenes human rights, that it’s draconian, that human beings are suffering terribly because of it. Yet just the prospect of the rich paying a mansion tax turns some of them into howling, indignant, hideously self-obsessed, petulant, tantruming mard asses.

This is what conservatism cultivates: punishment and suffering for the poor, indifference, indolent greed and spoilt brat syndrome for the wealthy. (I know there are remarkable exceptions, J K Rowling being someone who immediately came to mind.)

Economic and social success is founded on dependency (and interdependency) on others. And in a perverse way, so is poverty.

Our public services and social safety nets are not inconvenient social burdens that require the recoiling, carping wealthy to be “robbed” via taxes. They are created as a collectively owned means of guarding against the risks, hazards and tragedies that every single person may confront – of a serious illness or an accident that leaves us disabled – and we all face frailties associated with ageing. Anyone can lose their job. No-one deserves any of these events and none of them are caused by “scrounging” or “fecklessness.”

Paying tax means we pay for our own provision, and contribute towards the support of others. That’s what civilised nations do: support citizens who become vulnerable. It’s worth bearing in mind that the majority of people claiming benefit have worked and paid tax, including most disabled people.

And everyone pays VAT.

If the Tories get in office again, we will regress as a society, back to before the post-war settlement gave us civilised and civilising protections, practices and institutions.

I hope we never find out what that level and degree of inequality means.

The Tories have stripped so much away from our society that they have worn away the veneer of civilisation, it’s so fragile and thin. They have eroded the mechanisms of democracy. This doesn’t affect only our social institutions and public services: it also has profound implications for human relationships – how we relate to each other, how we regard each other.

The Tories reduce us and create Hobbesian dystopias. Their scorched earth policies will fundamentally change our behaviours from cooperative and interdependent to a “survival of the fittest” competitiveness, where ultimately, for many, every day is a test and there are no social provisions, supports and resources left to allow basic acts of kindness amongst us.

This really is a race to the bottom.

We have the most corrupt, uncivilised, barbaric, ignoble government of our lifetime. On May  7th we have an opportunity to vote them out and we really must.

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)Thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes