Tag: “allthesame” myth

The real “constitutional crisis” is Chris Grayling’s despotic tendencies and his undermining of the Rule of Law

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We have been hearing justifications for grotesquely unfair policies from the Conservatives a lot recently based on a claim that “we have a clear mandate to do this.” The concept of a government having a legitimate mandate to govern via the fair winning of a democratic election is a central component of representative democracy. However, new governments who attempt to introduce policies that they did not make explicit and public during an election campaign are said to not have a legitimate mandate to implement such policies.

Most of you will immediately think of the recent debates regarding the tax credit cuts, and the authoritarian threats to stifle legitimate criticism of government policies, but this is just the tip of a very deeply submerged iceberg.

I am currently researching an article about the hatchet man of justice, Chris Grayling, and his recent signaling of a crackdown on what he calls the “misuse” of freedom of information requests (FOI) as a means of researching “stories” for journalists. I’ll write about that particular symptom of Grayling’s syndrome of totalitarian thinking separately, as I got productively side-tracked.

I recently wrote an article about the government’s secret editing and amendment of the Ministerial Code Government turns its back on international laws, scrutiny and standards: it’s time to be very worried.

It’s not the first time, either: see also – A reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the UK Coalition have exempted themselves.

And of course this – Watchdog that scrutinises constitutional reform is quietly abolished and Tory proposals are likely to lead to constitutional crisis, thisThe Coming Tyranny and the Legal Aid Bill and this – Sabotaging judicial review is one of this government’s most vicious acts.

I have had concerns for some time that the Conservatives behave unaccountably, profoundly undemocratically, with a disregard of the obligations of a government to be open and transparent, and often, the Conservatives shield very secretive and damaging long term aims.

During a House of Lords debate on Judicial Review reforms, respected peer and lawyer Lord Pannick QC spoke of the constitutional importance of Judicial Review and the hazards in circumscribing it, personally addressing Mr Grayling on the issue of the Lord Chancellor’s incompetence:

“However inconvenient and embarrassing it is to Mr Grayling to have his decisions repeatedly ruled to be unlawful by our courts, however much he may resent the delays and costs of government illegality being exposed in court and however much he may prefer to focus on the identity of the claimant rather than the substance of their legal complaint, it remains the vital role of judicial review in this country to hold Ministers and civil servants to account in public, not for the merits of their decisions but for their compliance with the law of the land as stated by Parliament.”

Grayling’s time as Justice Secretary has been an unremitting disaster. He has lost seven times so far in the courts and is the least impartial lord chancellor we have known. Rather than accept that he has attempted to legislate illegally, instead we see him trying to dismantle the mechanisms of democracy and law to suit his despotic policy designs, regardless.

I found a letter from earlier this year, by chance, it’s a response from the lord chancellor Chris Grayling to a report by the House of Lords Constitution Committee published last December following its investigation into the office of the legally unqualified but disdainful and arrogant lord chancellor: 

The Rt Hon. the Lord Lang of Monkton DL
The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution
House of Lords,
London,
SW1A 0PW

The Right Honourable Chris Grayling MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice
102 Petty France
London SW 1H 9AJ
T 020 3334 3555
F 020 3334 3669E
general.queries @justice.gsi.gov.uk
http://www.gov.uk/moj
Our Ref: 20211

26 February 2015

Dear Lord Lang,

THE OFFICE OF LORD CHANCELLOR

The Government broadly welcomes the Committee’s Report on The office of Lord Chancellor and makes the following observations in response to a number of the specific recommendations.

The rule of law and judicial independence 

We invite the Government to agree that the rule of law extends beyond judicial independence and compliance with domestic and international law. It includes the tenet that the Government should seek to govern in accordance with constitutional principles, as well as the letter of the law. (Paragraph 25)

RESPONSE
The Government agrees that it should govern in accordance with constitutional principles and endorses the importance of the rule of law. However the Government does not endorse the view put forward in paragraphs 23 to 25 of the Committee’s Report in so far as it suggests that judges have power to insist that primary legislation passed by the UK Parliament “is not law which the courts will recognise”.

The Lord Chancellor’s duty to respect the rule of law extends beyond the policy remit of his or her department; it requires him or her to seek to ensure that the rule of law is upheld within Cabinet and across Government. We recommend that the Ministerial Code and the Cabinet Manual be revised accordingly. (Paragraph 50)

Page 2

To clarify the scope of the Lord Chancellor’s duty in relation to the rule of law, we recommend that the oath to “respect the rule of law” be amended to a promise to “respect and uphold the rule of law.”  (Paragraph 51)

RESPONSE
The Government believes that the Ministerial Code, Cabinet Manual and Oath of Office already accurately reflect ministerial responsibilities in relation to the rule of law. In particular, both the Ministerial Code and the Cabinet Manual note the role of the Law Officers in “helping ministers to act lawfully and in accordance with the rule of law”. The Government does not agree that there should be specific requirement on the Lord Chancellor in this respect, nor that the Code, Manual or Oath require amendment.

The Law Officers’ role in upholding the rule of law has always been important.

The changes to the office of Lord Chancellor over the last decade have made it even more so. As a result, we consider that it is imperative the Attorney General continues to attend all Cabinet meetings, and that they are adequately resourced not only in their role as legal advisers to the Government, but in their capacity as guardians of the rule of law. (Paragraph 79)

RESPONSE
The Government agrees with the Committee on the important role played by the Law Officers in upholding the rule of law. This view has been shared by successive governments. The Law Officers play this role, in particular, by advising on some of the most significant legal issues being dealt with by Government, through their significant public interest functions (for example bringing contempt proceedings) and through participating in the work of government as Ministers of the Crown. This includes the Attorney General participating in Cabinet meetings. Though the expectation is that the Attorney General will continue to attend all Cabinet meetings, this is ultimately a matter for the Prime Minister. The Government considers that the Law Officers are adequately resourced to fulfil their functions as they relate to the rule of law.

We recommend that the Law Officers give due consideration to the more reactive role of modern Lord Chancellors and ensure that the holder of that office is kept informed of potential issues within Government relating to the rule of law. (Paragraph 80)

RESPONSE
An important function of the Law Officers is keeping all Ministerial colleagues informed of significant legal issues. The relationship between the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General is an especially important one. The Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General meet regularly to discuss matters of common concern, including those that relate to the rule of law, and the expectation is that this will continue.

Page 3

A Constitutional Guardian in Government

There is no clear focus within Government for oversight of the constitution. We invite the Government to agree that a senior Cabinet minister should have responsibility for oversight of the constitution as a whole, even if other ministers have responsibility for specific constitutional reforms. In the light of the Lord Chancellor’s existing responsibility for the important constitutional principle of the rule of law, we consider that the Lord Chancellor is best placed to carry out this duty. (Paragraph 101)

RESPONSE
The Deputy Prime Minister is the relevant Secretary of State for constitutional policy and has been so since 2010. Senior ministerial oversight reflects the importance of the constitutional changes outlined in the Programme for Government. This arrangement gives a clear focus for the delivery of reforms including Individual Electoral Registration; the introduction of fixed term parliaments; changes to the laws of succession; regulation of the lobbying industry and proposals for the recall of MPs.

The Deputy Prime Minister works in close collaboration with the Prime Minister and other relevant Cabinet Ministers including the Lord Chancellor and Attorney General and is supported by two ministers, and officials from the Cabinet Office Constitution Group.

The Future of the Office

We recognise the advantages to appointing a Lord Chancellor with a legal or constitutional background. We do not consider that it is essential but, given the importance of the Lord Chancellor’s duties to the rule of law, these benefits should be given due consideration. (Paragraph 109)

RESPONSE
The Government welcomes the Committee’s acknowledgement that it is not essential for the Lord Chancellor to have a legal background.

We recommend that the Government either ensure that the Permanent Secretary supporting the Lord Chancellor at the Ministry of Justice is legally qualified, or appoint the top legal adviser in that department at permanent secretary level. (Paragraph 113)

RESPONSE
The Government does not agree that the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice need be legally qualified, nor that the department’s top legal adviser need be appointed at permanent secretary level. The Lord Chancellor and Permanent Secretary have access to high quality legal services provided by the Treasury Solicitor’s Department including direct access to the Treasury Solicitor and one of his Deputies at Director General level, should it be needed.

Page 4

Given the importance of the Lord Chancellor’s duty to uphold the rule of law, the Lord Chancellor should have a high rank in Cabinet and sufficient authority and seniority amongst his or her ministerial colleagues to carry out this duty effectively and impartially. (Paragraph 117)

RESPONSE
It is for the Prime Minister to determine the order of precedence of Cabinet Ministers.

The Lord Chancellor is currently and traditionally one of the highest officers of state. The Lord Chancellor should be a politician with significant ministerial or other relevant experience to ensure that the rule of law is defended in Cabinet by someone with sufficient authority and seniority. It is not necessary to be prescriptive: more important than age or lack of ambition is that the person appointed has a clear understanding of his or her duties in relation to the rule of law and a willingness to speak up for that principle in dealings with ministerial colleagues, including the Prime Minister. (Paragraph 125)

We urge Prime Ministers, when appointing Lord Chancellors, to give weight to the need for the qualities we have outlined in this report, and above all to consider the importance of the Lord Chancellor’s duty to uphold the rule of law across Government. (Paragraph 126)

RESPONSE
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 provides that the Prime Minister may not recommend an individual for appointment as Lord Chancellor unless he or she is satisfied that the individual is qualified by  experience. There is a range of evidence that the Prime Minister can take into account when reaching such a conclusion.

We recognise concerns that the combination of the office of Lord Chancellor with that of the Secretary of State for Justice could create a conflict of interests at the heart of the Ministry of Justice. However, upholding the rule of law remains central to the Lord Chancellor’s role and in practice the office is given additional authority by being combined with a significant department of state. (Paragraph 133)

RESPONSE
The Government welcomes the Committee’s agreement that combining the role of Lord Chancellor with that of Secretary of State for Justice strengthens the office.

 

CHRIS GRAYLING

The boldings are mine, the original copy of the letter may be viewed here.

I’m not a legal expert – nor is the lord chancellor – but I am someone with sufficient expertise to recognise when our long-standing laws and democratic processes are being side-stepped, deceitfully edited, re-written, or deleted to prop up an authoritarian government determined to impose a toxic, socially harmful and ideologically driven policy agenda, regardless of the consequences and public objection.

Don’t believe everything you think: cognitive dissonance

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“Some things have to be believed to be seen.” – Ralph Hodgson

I’ve often thought that once people identify with a political party, there is often an accompanying tendency to edit the world so that it conforms with their ideology. I suspect that exposure to more information about objective reality and politics quite often doesn’t affect partisan bias because people tend to only assimilate those “facts” that confirm what they already believe. Perhaps this is why many people become defensive, aggressive, incoherent and dogmatic when challenged with evidence that contradicts their fundamental world-view.

President Lyndon Johnson once said: It’s a heck of a lot easier to throw grenades than to catch them.

It’s always a good idea to look at who is lobbing the explosives, too. And to see if they are recycling their bombshells

It’s certainly the same with criticism, especially those which challenge our cherished beliefs. Critical thinking is a difficult and sometimes painful process. It requires facing often challenging and contradictory narratives about the fundamental nature of the world and ourselves, analysing and evaluating them. It also requires work: practice, time and effort. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Critical thinking is the foundation for intelligence, for making sound decisions, and for accommodating dissonant narratives within our own paradigm, and importantly, for understanding them.

“Knowledge” isn’t simply something arising from a closed fact-finding mission to confirm what we already hold as a theory of the world, but rather, it’s about understanding the diverse views of others who are part of our world, after all, and who contribute to its rich, meaningful pluralism.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that each account or theory of the world has equal merit and worth, but without a genuinely critical and open exploration of other views, we cannot know the worth of our own views, let alone anyone elses’. Knowledge isn’t something we have, either, it’s something we have to do. Learning is a process that is ongoing, and knowledge is always subject to challenges, revision and expansion.

Never has there been a greater need for critical thinking, yet it seems there has never been a time when that has been more difficult, because of the constant bombardment from the media of fragmented, discordant, conflicting, non-linear narratives, purposefully misdirecting and whopping lies, dead cat ploys, semantic thrifts, glittering generalities, government PR, Orwellian double-speak and other strategies being deployed to keep us in a state of fearful, confused, manipulable stupification and, to be terribly Marxist about this … in a state of false consciousness. Well, dazed and confused, at the very least.

This Adam Curtis video (below) was originally shown as part of Charlie Brooker’s 2014 Wipe show. It’s about strategies adopted by political leaders, here and abroad, to keep the population confused, uncertain what to believe or what to do – and therefore powerless.

Cognitive dissonance warfare is one weapon of choice. It isn’t just the Tories that use this method. 

We are subjected to an overwhelming barrage of partial accounts, contradictory accounts, screaming headlines, vicious lies, smears and ferocious mudslinging – negative campaigning in the media. It’s like being trapped in a hall of mirrors with Beelzebub, a few of hells’ myrmidons and your best friends, all in fancy dress.

So how do we escape the hall of mirrors?

Well, I’ve already discussed critical thinking. A good approach is to look for integrity, consistency and coherence in narratives, as well as evidence to support and refute the claims being made. And it’s important to examine scope  –  what those narratives accommodate – how comprehensive they are, how much they connect up, how much they make sense. If they involve personal attacks, this is generally a strategy of diversion, and  indicate the group flinging smears has less to offer the public than the person or being viciously attacked. 

It’s also worth understanding a little more about cognitive dissonance.

Leon Festinger: Let’s see what happens when you are stood up by the aliens.

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Leon Festinger is the social psychologist that proposed cognitive dissonance theory, which basically states that a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational, and often, maladaptive behaviour.

According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, an uncomfortable discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, we are motivated to reduce or eliminate it to achieve consonance (agreement).

How we do so seems to be very much our own business, with avoidance, biased perception and denial commonly used as a defence to eliminate our discomforts – but as I pointed out earlier, the only real and lasting solution is critical thinking.

Leon Festinger once infiltrated a flying saucer doomsday cult in the late 1950s. The members of this cult had given up their entire lives – left everything and everyone behind – because they believed that the world was about to end and that their faith would ensure that they would be the sole survivors of a global flood. Up until the fateful day, the cult shunned publicity and didn’t entertain journalists.

Festinger posed as a member of the group and was present when the foretold space ship failed to show up. He was particularly interested in what would happen next. How would the disappointed cult react to the failure of their prophecy?

In science, when a theory is challenged by evidence that contradicts it, adjustments or ad hoc hypotheses are sometimes formulated to preserve the theory, attempting to explain away anomalies. However, ad hoc hypotheses are often a key characteristic of pseudoscience, as they are used to ensure a theory is never falsified, no matter how much evidence accrues to falsify that theory. Ultimately, it’s a get out clause for failed theories.

In science, whilst we accommodate gaps in our knowledge, the use of many ad hoc hypotheses is frowned upon. (Einstein’s proposition of hidden variables is a good example of this method of accommodating anomaly: he used an ad hoc hypothesis to explain quantum mechanics and maintain the integrity of relativity theory: explaining quantum entanglement without action at a distance).

Ad hoc hypotheses are a widely used strategy in managing cognitive dissonance. So, after the failure of their prophecy and the non-materialisation of the rescue space ship, the cult suddenly wanted publicity. They wanted media attention. This was apparently so the world would know how their faith had helped save the entire planet from flood.

The hypothesis was that aliens had spared planet earth for their sake – and now their new role was to spread the word and make us all listen. This fascinated Festinger. He observed that the real motivation behind the apparently inexplicable response was the need to not face an uncomfortable truth and to re-assert emotional comfort and equilibrium – to smooth over the apparently unacceptable and whopping inconsistencies between prophecy and events.

Theory and reality.

Explanations of events such as the one offered by the doomsday cult are clearly not founded on a rational process: it’s largely an emotional defence mechanism that is rationalised post hoc. Festinger coined the term “cognitive dissonance” to describe the uncomfortable tension we feel when we experience conflicting thoughts or beliefs (cognitions), or engage in behavior that is apparently opposed to our stated beliefs.

What is particularly interesting is the lengths to which people will go to reduce the inner tension without accepting that they might, in fact, be wrong. They will accept almost any form of relief, other than admitting being at fault, or mistaken. If a person believes, for example, that they are not racist, but then they discriminate against someone on the basis of race, they are then faced with the discomfort of acknowledging that they are racist after all. In an attempt to escape this discomfort, they may seek to rationalise (explain away) their behaviour on some other grounds, which may be spurious, but which allows them to hold on to their otherwise discredited belief.

Many UKIP supporters, for example, often say something like: “I’m not racist though, my brother-in-law/ friend/ uncle’s wife is actually Indian/Chinese/African” and so forth.

Another example is the “allthesame” myth. When you present people with evidence that refutes what was originally a Tory propaganda soundbite, rather than acknowledging verifiable evidence, some people choose to start a hate campaign aimed at trying to attribute all kinds of bizarre “motives” to the person simply telling a truth. Truth and populist perspectives are often poles apart.

And such tactics serve only to fragment opposition to the Right even further. Dividing people by using blame and prejudice further weakens our opposition to oppression. The oppressed can be very oppressive, it has to be said.

Festinger quickly realised that our intolerance for cognitive dissonance could explain many mysteries and irrationalities of human behavior.

Politicians have utilised this intolerance to their advantage – most particularly the Right, who deploy rhetoric heavily steeped in propaganda and behavioural manipulation techniques. (See Cameron’s behaviourist Nudge Unit,  I’ve previously discussed the implications of such manipulation on an unconsenting public and the ramifications for democracy.)

Marshall McLuhan once said: There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

Objective truth does not change according to our inclination to want something else. Facing that may be difficult at times, but the alternative is simply the idle creation of pseudo-enclaves of fleeting comfort – illusions that distract and disempower us. And make us apathetic.

It’s worth noting that totalitarian and authoritarian regimes arise in societies where populations are politically disengaged and apathetic. If we want to change unpalatable truths – part of the way things are –  the only way to do so is to have the courage, first, to face those truths head-on.

We can’t lie those truths away. There are no short-cuts or real, tenable escapes from that. We have to work our way through the confusion, avoiding the appeal and brief comfort of avoidance strategies, defence mechanisms and flat denial – short-cuts down what is invariably a cul-de-sac – difficult though that often is.

Look at where we are: we have Tory small minds attempting to justify the Tory notion of a small state. But small states and competitive individualism foster adversarial relationships, and reduce us all. Small states and individualism disconnect us from others, sever any sense of social responsibility, mutuality, cooperation and obligation we have towards others.

It divides, isolates and fragments us. Neoliberal small states make us all smaller individuals, less coherent, less connected. Less comprehending. We lose touch with social reality when we disengage with others. We become less rational agents. More dissonant. How can we hold rational, reasoned and democratic debates to oppose what is little more than Tory superstition and prejudice?  

But we must.

Iain Duncan Smith’s “magical elitism” thinking – he’s just knows he’s right – is another indication that we don’t have a democratic government that is willing to engage in dialogue: we have an authoritarian one that is interested only in imposing its own incoherent neoliberal monologue on the masses.

The Queen’s Honours list shows us just what we have become as a society this past 4 years, and how little worth we place on intelligence, honour, basic coherence, decency and genuine achievement. The Maurice Mills MBE is a farce – he blamed Hurricane Katrina on gay people – it’s like open, raucous, insane, cackling laughter from a decrepit, senile, evil elite that has lived far too long. One that is completely detached from our society and its needs. That’s the reality.

Cognitive dissonance theory is an example of the political misuse of psychology which is being used as a means of thought micro-management to ensure that we don’t move and progress. Personal and social development – growth – by their very nature demand that we have the courage to seek to extend ourselves beyond what we know and where we are. It’s very uncomfortable to acknowledge that we are limited, especially when some of that is our own doing, but it’s also essential we do acknowledge it in order to at least try and transcend those limits, extend their context step by step and make progress.

There are no alien space ships to save us from ourselves or from our government. It’s down to us to seek and evaluate the truth, and there really are no shortcuts to positive change and progress. But we can take responsibilty to ensure that what we hold to be true and the decisions we make are fully and bravely informed.

cogDisMeter

The budget: from trickle-down to falling down, whilst holding hands with Herbert Spencer.

proper Blond
“We are moving Britain from a high welfare, high tax economy, to a lower welfare, lower tax society.”

George Osborne, 8 July 2015

The pro-wealthy and anti-humanist budget indicates clearly that the Conservatives are preoccupied with highlighting and cutting the state cost of sustaining the poorest citizens rather than the costs of subsidising the rich.

I’ve pointed out before that the Conservatives operate a perverse, dual logic: that wealthy people need support and encouragement – they are offered substantial financial incentives – in order to work and contribute to the economy, whereas poor people apparently need to be punished – by the imposition of financial cuts – in order to work and contribute to the economy.

That Osborne thinks it is acceptable to cut the lifeline benefits of sick and disabled people to pay for government failures, whilst offering significant cuts to corporation tax rates; raising the tax-free personal allowance and extending inheritance tax relief demonstrates very clearly that the myth of trickle-down is still driving New Right Conservative ideology, and that policy is not based on material socio-economic conditions and public need. (And Cameron is not a one-nation Tory, despite his claims.)

Research by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 indicates that wealth of the very wealthy does not trickle down to improve the economy, but tends to be amassed and sheltered in tax havens with a detrimental effect on the tax bases of the home economy.

A more recent report – Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality : A Global Perspective by the International Monetary Fund concluded in June this year that there is no trickle-down effect –  the rich simply get richer:

“We find that increasing the income share of the poor and the middle class actually increases growth while a rising income share of the top 20 percent results in lower growth—that is, when the rich get richer, benefits do not trickle down.”

It’s inconceivable that the Conservatives fail to recognise such policy measures will widen inequality. Conservatives regard inequality and social hierarchy as inevitable, necessary and functional to the economy. Furthermore, Conservatives hail greed and envy as emotions to be celebrated, since these drive competition.

Since the emergence of the New Right, from Thatcher to Cameron, we have witnessed an increasing entrenchment of Neoliberal principles, coupled with an aggressive, authoritarian brand of social conservatism that has an underpinning of crude, blunt social Darwinist philosophy, as carved out two centuries ago by the likes of Thomas Malthus and Herbert Spencer.

Spencer is best known for the expression “survival of the fittest,” which he coined in Principles of Biology (1864), after reading Charles Darwin’s work. Spencer extended natural selection into realms of sociology, political theory and ethics, ultimately contributing to the eugenics movement. He believed that struggle for survival spurred self-improvement which could be inherited. Maslow would disagree. All a struggle for survival motivates is just a struggle for survival.

Spencer’s ideas of laissez-faire; a survival-of-the-fittest brand of competitive individualism; minarchism – minimal state interference in the processes of natural law – and liking for private charity, are echoed loudly in the theories of 20th century thinkers such as Friedrich HayekMilton Friedman and Ayn Rand who each popularised Spencer’s ideas, whilst Neoliberal New Right Conservatives such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and David Cameron have translated these ideas into policies.

Ideology has considerable bearing on policies, and policies may be regarded as overt, objective statements of political intent. I’ve said many times over the past five years that Conservatives have forgotten that democracy is based on a process of dialogue between the public and government, ensuring that the public are represented: that governments are responsive, shaping policies that address identified social needs. Conservative policies are quite clearly no longer about reflecting citizen’s needs: they are increasingly authoritarian, and all about telling us how to be.

Conservatives have always coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, and they have, from their pinnacle of supremacist, self-appointed authority, historically cast the vulnerable and the poorest as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

Furthermore, such a combination of Neoliberal and Conservative political theory, explicitly opposes democratic goals and principles. Neoliberalism was originally used by academics on the Left as a pejorative to capture the policies of imposed exploitation, privatisation, and inequality.

Neoliberalism is now characterised by the use of international loans and other mechanisms to suppress unions, squash state regulation, elevate corporate privilege, privatise public services, and protect the holdings of the wealthy. The term became widely recognised shorthand for rule by the rich, authoritarianism and the imposition of limits on democracy.

Banks, corporations, the financial sector, and the very wealthy are exercising power and blocking any attempt to restructure the economic system that brought about the crash.

Meanwhile, the free market is a market free for powerful interests; the profit motive has transformed the organising value of social life, and those who the Conservatives evidently regard as collateral damage of this socio-economic dogma made manifest are paying the price for the global crash, with Osborne and the Conservatives constructing narratives that problematise welfare support, generating moral panic and folk devils to demonise the poorest citizens in need of support.

Growing social inequality generates a political necessity for cultivating social prejudices.

Such Othering narratives divert public attention from the fact that the right to a fair and just legal system, a protective and effective safety net for the poorest, free healthcare – all of the social gains of our post-war settlement – are all under attack.

I have said elsewhere that Conservative ideology is incompatible with our legal commitments to human rights. The United Nations declaration of Human Rights is founded on the central tenet that each and every human life has equal worth. The Conservatives don’t agree, preferring to organise society into hierarchies of worth and privilege.

Conservative austerity measures and further impending welfare cuts are not only a deliberate attack on the poorest and most vulnerable social groups; the range of welfare cuts do not conform to a human rights standard; the “reforms” represent a serious failure on the part of the government to comply with Britain’s legal international human rights obligations.

The cuts announced by the chancellor include a further reduction to the benefits cap – not only from £26,000 to £23,000, as promised in the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto, but down even further to £20,000 outside of London.

Child tax credit, housing benefit and working tax credit will be reduced, with child tax credit only being paid for the first two children. Presumably this is, to quote Iain Duncan Smith, to “incentivise behavioural change,” placing pressure on the poorest to “breed less,” though personally, being the direct, blunt, no-nonsense sort, I prefer to call it a nudge towards “eugenics by stealth.”

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission say that any cuts to tax credits will cut the incomes of 45 per cent of working families. These cuts are particularly controversial, since the benefits cap was partly justified as a way of “making work pay”  – a Conservative narrative that echoes the punitive 1834 New Poor Law Principle of less eligibility – see: The New New Poor Law.

The Government asserts that its welfare “reform” strategy is aimed at breaking the cycle of “worklessness” and dependency on the welfare system amongst the poorest families. It’s more punitive Poor Law rhetoric.

There’s no such thing as “worklessness”, it’s simply a blame apportioning word, made up by the Tories to hide the fact that they have destroyed the employment market, just as Thatcher did, and as the Conservatives always do.

Punishing the low paid, cutting the income of families who work for low wages directly contradicts the claim that the Conservatives are “making work pay.”

Yet Osborne has framed his welfare cuts with the “The best route out of poverty is work” mantra, claiming that slashing the social security budget by £46 billion in the next five years, (including cutting those benefits to disabled people, who have been assessed as unfit for work and placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and cutting in-work benefits, such as tax credits) is needed to make sure “work pays” and that: “we give a fair deal for those on welfare and a fair deal to the people, the taxpayers of this country who pay for it.”

The Conservatives always conveniently divide people into an ingroup of taxpayers and an outgroup of stigmatised others – non-tax payers. However, most people claiming benefits are either in work, and are not paid enough, through no fault of their own, to pay tax, or are pensioners who have worked most of their lives; or are unemployed, but have previously worked and contributed tax.

Most people claiming disability benefits have also worked and contributed tax, too.

Unemployment and in-work benefit claims are generally a measure of how well or poorly the government is handling the economy, not of how “lazy” or “incentivised” people are.

And only the Tories have the cheek to claim that raising the minimum wage (long overdue, especially given the hikes in the cost of living) is the introduction of a living wage. The basic idea is that these are the minimum pay rates needed so that workers have an acceptable standard of living. Over the last few years, wages have very quickly fallen far behind the ever-rising cost of living.

The increase is at a rate of £7.20 an hour for people over the age of 25.  Housing benefit will be withdrawn from those aged between 18 and 21, while tax credits and universal credits will be targeted at people on lower wages by reducing the level at which they are withdrawn.

The chancellor’s announcement amounted merely to an increase in the minimum wage, and the curbs on tax credits would hit low-paid workers in other ways, unfortunately.

Whilst the announcement of a phased increase in the minimum wage is welcome, it is difficult to see how this will reverse the increasing inequality that will be extended as a further consequence of this budget without a matching commitment to improving the structural framework – the quality and stability of employment available. As it is, we are now the most unequal country in EU.

If the government were sincerely interested in raising wages to make work genuinely pay, ministers would be encouraging rather than stifling trade unionism and collective bargaining. But instead we see further cuts to public sector pay in real terms year after year and the raising of the legal bar for industrial action so that strikes will be effectively outlawed in public services. And let’s not forget the grubby partisan policy of two years ago – the Let Lynton Lobby Gagging Act.

Rhys Moore, director of the Living Wage Foundation, said:

“Is this really a living wage? The living wage is calculated according to the cost of living whereas the Low Pay Commission calculates a rate according to what the market can bear. Without a change of remit for the Low Pay Commission this is effectively a higher national minimum wage and not a living wage.”

Those most affected by the extreme welfare cuts are those groups for which human rights law provides special protections. The UK government has already contravened the human rights of women, children, and disabled people.

The recent report of the UK Children’s Commissioner to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, published in July this year, says:

“Response to the global economic downturn, including the imposition of austerity measures and changes to the welfare system, has resulted in a failure to protect the most disadvantaged children and those in especially vulnerable groups from child poverty, preventing the realisation of their rights under Articles 26 and 27 [of the UN CRC] … Reductions to household income for poorer children as a result of tax, transfer and social security benefit changes have led to food and fuel poverty, and the sharply increased use of crisis food bank provision by families.”

The parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights recently reported on the UK’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and found it woefully lacking:

“Welfare cuts will ensure that the government is not in compliance with its international human rights obligations to realise a right to an adequate standard of living under Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights (ICESR) and a child’s right to an adequate standard of living under Article 27 of the UN CRC. Further it will be in breach of the statutory target to eliminate child poverty contained in the Child Poverty Act 2010.”

Just in case you missed it, there has been a very recent, suspiciously timed change to the definition of child poverty, and a proposed repeal of the Child Poverty Act – something that Iain Duncan Smith has been threatening to bring about since 2013.

It’s yet another ideologically directed Tory budget, dressed-up in the rhetoric of economic necessity, detached from public needs.

And Conservative ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor.

Related:

George Osborne’s Political MasterstrokeA View from the Attic

Osborne’s class spite wrapped in spin will feed a backlashSeumas Milne

Budget 2015: what welfare changes did George Osborne announce, and what do they mean?  New Statesman: The Staggers

How Osborne’s new cuts breach the UK’s human rights obligations, Lecturer in Law at Lancaster University

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Osborne’s razor: the Tory principle of parsimony is applied only to the poorest

The BBC expose a chasm between what the Coalition plan to do and what they want to disclose

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Thanks to Robert Livingstone

Human rights, the reintroduction of hanging and what we have lost

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Michael Gove, former Education Secretary, has been appointed Justice Secretary: he is now in charge of the Department for Justice. With this appointment, it is clear that Cameron has plans for potentially radical reform, and regards justice as an area that needs a hardened, radical and senior Tory politician to drive through changes that are likely to be controversial. Gove does have form.

Gove’s first task is to scrap the Human Rights Act, (HRA) which was the previous Labour government’s legislation designed to supplement the European Convention on Human Rights, it came into effect in 2000. The Act makes available a remedy for breach of Convention right without the need to go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

As I have previously reported, the rights protected by the Act are quite basic. They include the right to life, liberty and the right to a fair trial; protection from torture and ill-treatment; freedom of speech, thought, religion, conscience and assembly; the right to free elections; the right to fair access to the country’s education system; the right NOT to be given the death penalty; the right to marry and an overarching right not to be discriminated against.

Cameron has argued that it should be repealed just 15 years after its implementation … so that he can pass another unspecified Act – a British Bill of Rights. Why would any government object to citizens being afforded such established, basic protections, which are, after all, very simple internationally shared expectations of any first world liberal democracy?

One sentence from the misleadingly titled document that outlines how the Tories plan to scrap the Human Rights Act – Protecting Human Rights in the UK, (found on page 6 ) – is particularly chilling: “There will be a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged.”

Basically this means that human rights will no longer be absolute – they will be subject to stipulations and caveats. The government will establish a threshold below which Convention rights will not be engaged, allowing UK courts to strike out what are deemed trivial cases.

The Tories’ motivation for changing our human rights is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Tories have always seen as being open to interpretation will become much more parochial and open to subjective challenge.

Any precedent that allows a government room for manoeuvre around  basic and fundamental human rights is incredibly dangerous.

No other country has proposed de-incorporating a human rights treaty from its law so that it can introduce a Bill of Rights. The truly disturbing aspect of Cameron’s Bill of Rights pledge is that rather than manifestly building on the HRA, it’s predicated on its denigration and repeal. One has to wonder what his discomfort with the HRA is. The Act, after all, goes towards protecting the vulnerable from neglect of duty and abuse of power of the State. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was an International response to the atrocities of World War Two and the rise of fascism and totalitarianism.

During their last term, the Tories contravened the Human Rights of disabled people, women and children. It’s clear that we have a government that regards the rights of most of the population as an inconvenience to be brushed aside.

I also previously reported that Cameron has pledged to leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Cameron has expressed a wish to break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights. In future Britain’s courts will no longer be required to take into account rulings from the Court in Strasbourg.

Observation of Human Rights distinguishes democratic leaders from dictators and despots. Human Rights are the bedrock of our democracy, they are universal, and are a reflection of a society’s and a governments’ recognition of the equal worth of every citizens’ life. But the government have an ideology that is founded on distinctly social Darwinist principles.

These principles support economic neoliberalism and political conservatism. Class/social division is justified on the basis of “natural” inequalities among individuals, for the control of property is ludicrously claimed to be a correlate of superior and inherent moral attributes such as industriousness, temperance, and frugality. Attempts to reform society through state intervention, therefore, interfere with natural processes; unrestricted competition and defense of the status quo are in accord with biological selection, from this perspective. The poor are “unfit” and should not be supported and aided; in the struggle for existence, wealth is a sign of success. The Tories believe that some lives, therefore, “naturally” have much more value than others.

Gove, now the Justice Secretary, has previously called for hanging to be reintroduced. Writing in 1998 as a Times columnist, he said Britain was “wrong to abolish hanging” in the 1960s, when the death penalty was outlawed. Gove made the irrational claims that banning hanging  had “led to a corruption of our criminal justice system and the erosion of all our freedoms rather than “a great liberal victory,” as it was seen at the time.

Gove made the incoherent claim that banning hanging has made punishing innocent people “more likely,” he went on to conclude that public opinion had moved in favour of reintroducing hanging and that doing so could repair the broken trust between voters and politicians. Gove said he supported the “return of the noose out of respect for democracy”, and because it would force the courts to act with “scrupulous fairness.”

This deranged, barbaric relic actually said: “Hanging may seem barbarous, but the greater barbarity lies in the slow abandonment of our common law traditions. Were I ever alone in the dock I would not want to be arraigned before our flawed tribunals, knowing my freedom could be forfeit as a result of political pressures. I would prefer a fair trial, under the shadow of the noose.”

At the beginning of the 19th century, children in Britain were punished in the same way as adults. They were even sentenced to death for petty theft. It has historically been the case that the poorest tend to be executed, and it remains true: there are no millionaires on death row (See also: Amnesty International UK – Death penalty.)

In 1965, in the UK, Parliament passed Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act, temporarily abolishing capital punishment for murder for 5 years. The Act was then renewed in 1969, by the Labour government under Harold Wilson, making the abolition permanent.

And with the passage of Labour’s Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and their Human Rights Act 1998, the death penalty was finally officially abolished for all crimes in both civilian and military cases, also.

The Human Rights Act is to be abolished, and Cameron has pledged to withdraw from the European Convention. In case you missed the connection, repealing the Human Rights Act will make the reintroduction of capital punishment much easier. The full range of potential consequences of losing our human rights laws are truly terrifying to consider.

For those of you that have campaigned against the Labour Party, claiming that they aren’t quite “left” enough, despite the fact that Miliband was actually offering the most progressive, redistributive policies of ALL the parties, and smaller cuts and for less time. (I guess some of you never bothered reading the Institute of Fiscal Studies Report, or Labour’s manifesto).

Under a Labour government, our Human Rights, NHS and welfare would now be safe. The bedroom tax would now be repealed. We would be rebuilding and making progress as a society instead of regressing and fearfully discussing the threats of tyranny and the possibility of the reintroduction of capital punishment.

We are about to lose everything that made us a civilised first-world country, from our human rights to our post-war settlement: welfare, our National Health Service and what remains of our access to legal aid.

Until the people of this country take some responsibility and demand that politics is based on truth and the needs of the majority, we will continue to have a corrupt authoritarian elite serving only the wants of the 1%.

Love and solidarity to all my comrades, who are mutually grieving a future we have lost, and who acknowledge and face the losses yet to come.

It’s never been more important to help each other through, and we really are going to need to.

Many thanks to Robert Livingstone for his excellent memes.

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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Everyone matters: it’s time to vote for our lives – vote Labour

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)I published an article earlier this month from Debbie Abrahams and added a short piece by myself: Anyone worried about protecting the welfare state should concentrate on kicking out the Tories.

Benefits and Work published a very good article this week: Vote for your life – “dramatic”, “life-changing” cuts are coming, I have  reproduced the most salient parts of it here for those who don’t have access to their site. I’ve also added a few links with information.

“Dramatic” and “life-changing” benefits cuts will be imposed if the Tories are running the country after 7 May, Iain Duncan Smith has warned.

They could include taxing DLA, PIP and AA, axeing contribution-based ESA and JSA, cutting the work-related activity component of ESA to 50p, cutting carers allowance numbers by 40%, and making people pay the first 10% of their housing benefit.

For many, these will be life-threatening cuts, rather than life-changing ones.

But claimants are in a position to prevent them happening.

And it won’t take a miracle.

In fact, just an additional 5% turnout by working age claimants could have a dramatic and life-changing effect on Iain Duncan Smith and his plans instead.

But a higher turnout won’t happen by itself.  Many of the major charities and disability organisations have been scared into silence by the Lobbying Act. And the media has little interest in benefits cuts, other than to applaud them as a good thing.

So it looks like it’s up to ordinary claimants to make sure as many other claimants as possible understand the threat they are facing.

Dramatic cuts
Iain Duncan Smith told Andrew Marr last week he didn’t become a minister to make “cheese-paring” cuts. Instead he has ‘dramatic’ and ‘life-changing’ plans for claimants.

And the tool for those dramatic changes is £12 billion of cuts to benefits in the space of just two years.

So far, we only know where £2 billion of the cuts will come from – a freeze on working age benefits. But the Conservatives are refusing to say where the other savings will be made.

Hit list
A document leaked to the BBC, however, set out some of the cuts the Conservative party are considering, including:

  • Taxing DLA, PIP and AA.
  • Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits.
  • Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40%.
  • Limiting child benefit to the first two children.

There are other proposed cuts too, including replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.

Not enough cuts
But all of this will still not be enough.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS):

“If all of these were implemented, the total saving would be likely to fall well short of the missing £10 billion per year that the Conservatives intend to find by 2017–18”

So, what else might be in the firing line?

Housing benefit and ESA cuts
We know that pensioners benefits are protected. And JSA costs such a tiny amount compared to other benefits that further cuts there would make little difference.

Cuts to housing benefit are one possibility that the IFS have highlighted, however, as this makes up a large and growing proportion of the benefits bill.

The IFS have estimated that making everyone pay the first 10% of their housing benefit would save £2.5 billion over two years.

Another extremely strong contender is to cut the work-related activity component (WRAC) of ESA to just 50 pence.

We know that the Conservatives are keen to slash the WRAC, because they’ve considered doing it before.

Cutting the WRAC wouldn’t save huge amounts, probably less than £1 billion a year.

But combined with cuts to housing benefit and all the other cuts listed above, it would probably be enough.

What you can do
Is this all nothing more than unnecessarily distressing speculation? After all, we don’t know what cuts will be made until – and unless – the Tories are elected.

But by then it will be too late. As Andrew Marr said in his interview with Iain Duncan Smith, if the Conservatives won’t tell us which benefits will be cut, sick and disabled claimants will have to expect the worst:

“What I’m saying to you is if I was on welfare, if I was on disability benefit and I was told that you were taking £12 billion out of the budget, I would really need to know before I voted was I going to be hit. Or if I didn’t know that, I’d have to be assume that I was going to be hit.”

Iain Duncan Smith, Osborne and Cameron have all now said no details of the cuts will be given before the election. So there’s no time to lose.

Clearly, the most important thing is to make sure you are registered to vote and then actually vote for a candidate who can keep the Tories out, if that’s possible, in your constituency.

But there’s more.

Above all, alert other claimants and carers to the dramatic threat they face – because many people still have no idea how huge £12 billion in cuts in two years really is.

And then try to persuade them that voting isn’t a waste of time. Because it is no longer true that all the parties are the same.

Here at Benefits and Work we have no trust for either of the major parties. But Labour, regardless of your political preferences, don’t drool at the thought of cutting welfare in the way that the Tories do.

And the £7 billion savings Labour say they plan to make are very much smaller than the Conservative cuts. Even if every single pound Labour saved was from cutting benefits, instead of from other measures such as raising taxes from the wealthy, it would still amount to just over half the benefits cuts the Tories have guaranteed.

[To clarify, Labour have stated they will not be cutting benefits, but they will address the overall costs to the welfare budget, tackling high private sector rent, repealing the bedroom tax, reducing costs such as private contracts within the Depatment of Work and Pensions, for example. See: We can reduce the Welfare Budget by billions: simply get rid of Iain Duncan Smith. Kitty]

You can make a difference
And don’t imagine that your voice can’t make a difference.

Bar chart:  Tory Majority 333, claimant count 6840 Lancaster Fleetwood

This is a very close election so far.

There will be many seats where the winner’s majority is in the low hundreds, some where it will be less than a hundred. Even a 5% additional turnout by working age claimants – amounting to perhaps 400 voters in many constituencies – could make the difference between Labour and the Conservatives being the largest party.

If you can convince a handful of people to vote and to talk to other claimants, you could genuinely help to change the course of this election.

Remember, you’re not trying to persuade hard-faced, right wing tabloid readers that cutting benefits is wrong. That undoubtedly would be a waste of time.

You’re talking to people who already know how painful the Coalition benefits cuts have been – because they’ve been hit by them.

You just have to persuade them that it’s not time to despair.

It’s time to fight back.

It’s time to vote for your life.

Related

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

As predicted, Mandatory Review has effectively destroyed independent Tribunals

Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Committee

Osborne’s razor, smoke and mirrors

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.