Tag: Thatcher

Prologue to the Chilcot Report

 

“The children of Iraq have names.
Their names are not collateral damage.”

David Krieger, peace wager, founder and president of The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.

“I saw things that I won’t forget for as long as I live… When you hear people shouting the words ‘gas’ or ‘chemicals’ — and you hear those shouts spreading among the people — that is when terror begins to take hold, especially among the children and the women. Your loved ones, your friends, you see them walking and then falling like leaves to the ground. It is a situation that cannot be described — birds began falling from their nests; then other animals, then humans. It was total annihilation. Whoever was able to walk out of the town, left on foot. Whoever had a car, left by car. But whoever had too many children to carry on their shoulders, they stayed in the town and succumbed to the gas.”

Kherwan. From: Halabja: Survivors talk about horror of attack, continuing ordeal.

“It was life frozen. Life had stopped, like watching a film and suddenly it hangs on one frame. It was a new kind of death to me. (…) The aftermath was worse. Victims were still being brought in. Some villagers came to our chopper. They had 15 or 16 beautiful children, begging us to take them to hospital. So all the press sat there and we were each handed a child to carry. As we took off, fluid came out of my little girl’s mouth and she died in my arms.”

Photo journalist Kaveh Golestan, describing the Halabja Massacre, a chemical weapon attack on Kurdish people that took place on March 16, 1988, which was part of the Iraqi Al-Anfal Genocide Campaign.

All lives are equally precious. 

Many good writers have added their own footnotes to the Chilcot report. However, there is a broader context to the war in Iraq, which has been edited from the mainstream narrative. There doesn’t seem to be anyone writing about that context. In fact that’s been purged from the conversation. I don’t like to see issues reduced to political opportunism and party politics, but that has happened, too. 

“Lamp post or bonfire for Mr Blair.” Gosh, we get to choose.

But the mainstream column of truth has more than one hole in it. 

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a temporary solace, a curious savage satisfaction and a kind of sublimation value to be had in simply hating Blair. I’ve done it. But it’s rather like trying to put an ocean onto a teaspoon in the long run. Besides, whilst I know emotions are a fundamental part of being human, and as such are important, I also value rational discourse, too. There’s so much more to be said on this, regarding the historic political expedience of successive western governments, which has had catastrophic humanitarian consequences beyond the Iraq invasion. That must not be excluded from mainstream conversation. The UK government also played a part in arming a brutal dictator with chemical weapons, which resulted in atrocities and genocide.

For the record, I protested against the Iraq war. I didn’t like Tony Blair because he betrayed the working-class, he was an advocate of neoliberalism. I didn’t like his anti-terrorism laws or his anti-social behaviour legislation, which were repressive and symptomatic of a horrible “lowest common denominator” type of populism creeping into public policy. But I nonetheless valued some of his social policy programme, most of which the current government are so busy trying to repeal. That’s a clear indication that at least most of his social policies were not ideologically Conservative, even if his economic approach was, albeit a diluted version.

The Equality Act, the Human Rights Act, the Worker’s Rights and Union laws, the Every Child Matters Policy (repealed the day after the Tories took office in 2010 by Michael Gove), animal welfare legislation and the Gender Recognition Act, repeal of Section 28, were all examples of very good public policies. Saying that does not make me  a “Blairite.” It simply makes me someone who looks critically at policy with a balanced and evidence-based approach. Everyone knows what Blair did wrong, few are prepared to recognise nowadays what he actually got right.

All of this said, as an ideological experiment, New Labour’s dabble with neoliberalism has had profoundly damaging consequences for the Labour Movement, and the Left more generally. It resulted in widespread disillusionment, a sense of working-class disenfranchisement and alienation, factionism, infighting and disunity. But much of this, curiously, only became clearly evident from 2010 onwards, when a much harsher neoliberal government gained Office, imposing a strict and devastating austerity programme and an unprecedented authoritarianism on the UK. 

So, the man who worked with Mo Mowlem, sitting down with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness to broker peace with the Good Friday Agreement, is now regarded only as a “warmonger.”

Meanwhile I’m utterly bewildered, watching on as Jeremy Corbyn, a staunchly anti-neoliberal leader and the thoroughly decent bloke that I voted for, is being hung by the Bolsheviks, on orders from the Mensheviks. No-one is ever good enough to lead the Labour Party, apparently. It beggars belief and shows a fairly widespread lack of joined-up thinking. At the very least, it shows how rubbish the Left are at organisation, strategic thinking and tactical voting, from grassroots level upwards. We really need to learn. Because a class-war waging authoritarian government imposing such an unforgiving ideological brand of Conservative neoliberalism and desolating austerity can never be better than a Labour government, be it under the leadership of Ed Miliband or Jeremy Corbyn.

I digress. 

Some history

In 2003, most of the Ulster Unionists and Conservatives voted to send British troops into military action in Iraq, the Conservative votes carried the motion that authorised the Iraq conflict, since 140 Labour MPs rebelled against their party’s whip. Robin Cook resigned and there was a memorable backbench rebellion. Jeremy Corbyn paid tribute to Cook yesterday in parliament, and said that he had: “said in a few hundred words what has been confirmed by this [Chilcot] report in more than two million.” All of the Liberal Democrats voted against military action, too. Let’s not forget the then Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, who was also an implacable opponent of the Iraq war, despicably demonised by the mainstream media. He’s officially vindicated by the Chilcot Report, like Cook and others. The Tory whip, John Randall, also resigned over his party’s stance on Iraq. Throughout the conflict, Blair remained the strongest supporter of the United States plan to invade Iraq, though originally seeking a UN Mandate. 

Parliament gave Blair the go-ahead for the Iraq war. It highlights a big problem with democracy: we didn’t vote for that. In the end, despite a total of seven resignations from the government, and three from the Tory shadow cabinet, the Iraq war happened. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Iain Duncan Smith had led Conservative MPs in demanding a rush to war from 2002, too. 

Before the invasion, the (then) UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, advised Blair that the war would be in breach of international law for six reasons, ranging from the lack of a second United Nations resolution to UN inspector Hans Blix’s continuing search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Ten days later on 7 March 2003, as UK troops were massing in Kuwait, Lord Goldsmith changed his mind, saying:

“I remain of the opinion that the safest legal course would be to secure the adoption of a further resolution to authorise the use of force … Nevertheless, having regard to the information on the negotiating history which I have been given and to the arguments of the US Administration which I heard in Washington, I accept that a reasonable case can be made that resolution 1441 is capable in principle of reviving the authorisation in 678 without a further resolution.”

He concluded his revised analysis, saying that “regime change cannot be the objective of military action.”

From John Major’s Commons Statement on the first Gulf War – 17th January 1991: Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) In view of the precipitate abandonment of sanctions and the onslaught of this bloody conflict, will the Government learn some lessons? For example, the arms and ammunition used against our service men will have been sold to Iraq by western nations. Indeed, components for the manufacture of arms have been sold from this nation. Will the Government make serious efforts to develop an arms embargo to curtail the wretched trade in arms throughout the rest of the world and make sure that the opportunity for conflicts such as this is limited? Or do the Government intend to put profit before peace?

It emerged that during the first Gulf War, “friendly fire” killed more British troops than the Iraqis did – of 16 British soldiers who died, nine were killed by Americans. Of 148 Americans who died, 35 were killed by friendly fire. Iraqi deaths were estimated at 50,000, with 100,000 wounded.

Some more history: when our friend Saddam was gassing Kurdish people.

Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 with the support of the Arab states, the UK, United States, and Europe. Many viewed Iraq as “an agent of the civilized world.” So they said. The blatant disregard of international law and violations of international borders were completely ignored,  Iraq received economic and military support from its allies, who turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical warfare against the Kurds and the Iranians, and to Iraq’s efforts to develop a nuclear programme. The United States provided diplomatic and military aid, financial aid and also supplied Iraq with “satellite photos showing Iranian deployments.

The US had opened full diplomatic relations with Iraq, the country was removed from the US list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Former United States Assistant Secretary of Defense Noel Koch later stated: “No one had any doubts about [the Iraqis’] continued involvement in terrorism… The real reason was to help them succeed in the war against Iran, because the West, Russia and China feared the potential expansion of revolutionary Iran’s influence in the region.” 

The biological weapons programme

During the early 1980s, five German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin to Iraq. Strains of “dual-use ” biological agents and material from France also helped advance Iraq’s biological warfare programme. From the United States, in addition to exporting the advanced computers, some of which were used to develop Iraq’s nuclear programme, American Type Culture Collection – a non-profit organisation, and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples to Iraq up until 1989, which Iraq claimed to need for medical research.

These materials included botulism, anthrax and West Nile virus, camel pox, rotavirus, Brucella melitensis, and Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene). Some of these were used for vaccine development, whilst others were used in Iraq’s bioweapons research programme. Details of the bioweapon programme surfaced only in the wake of the Gulf War (1990–91)

During UN inspections in 1998, it was evident that Hussein had overseen prisoners tied to stakes and bombarded with anthrax and chemical weapons for experimental purposes. These experiments began in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War, after initial experiments had been carried out on sheep and camels. Dozens of prisoners are believed to have died in terrible agony during the programme. According to an article in the London Sunday Times:

“In one incident, Iranian prisoners of war are said to have been tied up and killed by bacteria from a shell detonated nearby. Others were exposed to an aerosol of anthrax sprayed into a chamber while doctors watched behind a glass screen. Two British-trained scientists have been identified as leading figures in the programme …”

The deployment of chemical weapons

On 16 March 1988, the Kurdish town of Halabja was attacked with chemical weapons, using a mix of mustard gas and nerve agents, 5,000 civilians were massacred, 10,000 more were maimed, disfigured or seriously debilitated. Thousands more died from the after effects of the attack. The massacre was part of the Al-Anfal Campaign – a genocide programme designed to reassert central control of the mostly Kurdish population of rural northern Iraq and defeat the Kurdish peshmerga rebel forces. Hussein’s goals were to systematically terrorize and exterminate the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, to silence Hussein’s critics, and to test the effectiveness of his chemical and biological weapons.

Hussein launched chemical attacks against 40 Kurdish villages and on thousands of innocent civilians in 1987-88. The United States now maintains that Saddam ordered the attack to terrorize the Kurdish population in northern Iraq, but Hussein’s regime claimed at the time that Iran was responsible for the attacks. Apparently, the US supported this account of events, changing the story several years later. The Al-Anfal genocide campaign also targeted Assyrians, Turkoman people, Shabaks and Yazidis people and Mandeans, many villages belonging to these ethnic groups were also completely destroyed. Human Rights Watch estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people were killed. Some Kurdish sources put the number higher, estimating that some 182,000 Kurds were killed in total.

Iraqi Kurds have been especially critical of the UK, given its support and arms shipments to Saddam Hussein during the 1980s. The extent to which Margaret Thatcher’s government was responsible for arming Iraq was revealed in 2011, when secret government files from 1981 were made public. The documents show Thatcher’s approval of large military contracts with Iraq and indicate her turning a blind eye to ongoing private sales of allegedly “non-lethal” military equipment. According to the documents, she sought to “exploit Iraq’s potentialities as a promising market for the sale of defence equipment.”  So the “free-markets” of the West aren’t morally discerning at all. Nor are those promoting them. Whilst the world turned a blind eye, many thousands died as a direct consequence. 

John Major’s government faced an ongoing inquiry into how ministers such as Alan Clark had encouraged businesses to supply arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, in breach of the official UN arms embargo, and how senior ministers had, on legal advice, attempted to withhold evidence of this official connivance when directors of Matrix Churchill were put on trial for breaking the embargo. It’s funny, the things we forget when someone else is drawing all the fire. Despite the interview with John Pilger, and the Scott Inquiry.

The Iraq Arms scandal period coincided roughly with the 8 years of war between Iraq and Iran, when Margaret Thatcher was the UK Prime Minister. The revelations prompted the Scott Inquiry, set up in 1992 after the collapse of the Matrix Churchill trial, which reported in 1996. Four directors of Matrix Churchill, a British machine tools manufacturer in Coventry, were put on trial for supplying “equipment and knowledge” to Iraq, but in 1992 the trial collapsed when it became clear that the company had been advised by senior government ministers and officials on how best to circumvent its own arms embargo. Much of both the report itself and the Inquiry’s evidence remain classified.

Sir Richard Scott’s three-year inquiry led him to conclude that the government had secretly “eased” UN and its own guidelines on arms sales to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The British Cabinet had set up a secret sub-committee to oversee the project, with both the Home Office (MI5) and MI6 ordered to support the illegal exports. Michael Heseltine, Willie Whitelaw, Francis Pym, Geoffrey Howe and the then PM Thatcher gave the project government approval. During the 1992 Matrix Churchill trial, ex-Minister Alan Clark said “The interests of the West were best served by Iran and Iraq fighting each other, and the longer the better.”

It is inconceivable that Major, as Foreign Secretary in 1989, could have been unaware of the Matrix Churchill export to Iraq. The affair caused a major scandal which contributed to growing dissatisfaction with the then Conservative government of John Major and somewhat ironically contributed to the victory of Tony Blair’s New Labour at the 1997 general election.

By the end of the 1980s, Baghdad had acquired a massive arsenal – enabling it to fight against Iran and launch offensive operations such as Al-Anfal. 

In 1990, a case of nuclear triggers bound for Iraq were seized at Heathrow Airport. The British government also financed a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas. A chemical plant which the United States said was a key component in Iraq’s chemical warfare arsenal was secretly built by Britain in 1985. Documents show British ministers knew at the time that the £14m plant, called Falluja 2, was likely to be used for mustard and nerve gas production. 

Paul Channon, then trade minister, concealed the existence of the chlorine plant contract from the US administration, which was quite properly pressing for controls on such types of exports. He also instructed the export credit guarantee department (ECGD) to keep details of the deal secret from the public.

The papers show that Mr Channon rejected a “strong plea” from a Foreign Office minister, Richard Luce, that the deal would ruin Britain’s image in the world if news got out: “I consider it essential everything possible be done to oppose the proposed sale and to deny the company concerned ECGD cover”.

The Ministry of Defence also warned that it could be used to make chemical weapons. But Mr Channon, in support of Mrs Thatcher’s policy of supporting the dictator, said: “A ban would do our other trade prospects in Iraq no good.”

Saddam Hussein was internationally condemned for his use of chemical weapons during the 1980s against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1980s, he pursued an extensive biological weapons programme and a nuclear weapons programme, though as far as we know, no nuclear bombs were built.

However, the United States and the UK blocked condemnation of Iraq’s known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On March 21, 1986 the United Nations Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces.” This statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained). The UN confirmed that Iraq was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops after dispatching a team of specialists to the area in 1984, and again in 1986 and 1987, to verify the claims of the use.

By 2002, according to reports from the previous UN inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that remained unaccounted for. UN weapons inspectors, the United States, France, United Kingdom, Germany and other countries thought that this declaration failed to account for all of Iraq’s chemical and biological agents. Many of these countries had supplied the Iraqi regime with the technology to make the weapons in the 1980s during the Iran–Iraq War. However, there was no evidence of Iraq having built any nuclear weapons.

Oil on troubled slaughter

Declassified UK government documents indicate that the Iraq war was also about oil. At the time that the UK invaded, Iraq had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves – and government documents clearly state that oil was a consideration before the war. In May 2003, a Foreign Office strategy paper highlighted  government motives which related to Iraq’s oil resources:

“The future shape of the Iraqi industry will affect oil markets, and the functioning of Opec, in both of which we have a vital interest.”

and:

“… an oil sector open and attractive to foreign investment, with appropriate arrangements for the exploitation of new fields.”

Bush administration officials quite openly considered proposals that the United States tap Iraq’s oil to help pay for a military occupation. Such a move, however, fueled existing suspicion of US motives in Iraq. Officially, the White House agreed that oil revenue would play an important role during an occupation period, but only for the benefit of Iraqis, according to a National Security Council spokesman. 

But there were strong advocates inside the administration, including in the White House, for appropriating the oil funds as “spoils of war,” according to a source who has been briefed by participants in the talks. “There are people in the White House who take the position that it’s all the spoils of war,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “We (the United States) take all the oil money until there is a new democratic government.” The source said the Justice Department had doubts about the legality of such a move.

Days after the US invasion, the (then) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told a congressional panel that Iraqi oil revenues would help pay for reconstructing the country, ie a cost of the war. “The oil revenue of that country could bring between 50 and 100 billion dollars over the course of the next two or three years. We’re dealing with a country that could really finance its own reconstruction, and relatively soon,” he said.

One month before the war, the White House press secretary at the time, Ari Fleischer, said Iraq “is a rather wealthy country … And so there are a variety of means that Iraq has to be able to shoulder much of the burden for their own reconstruction.”

Britain co-sponsored a resolution in the Security Council which gave the US and UK control over Iraq’s oil revenues. Far from “all oil revenues” being used for the Iraqi people, Resolution 1483 continued to make deductions from Iraq’s oil earnings to pay compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

David Whyte and Greg Muttitt have pointed out that:Buried in deep in volume 9 of the 2.6 million-word report, Chilcot refers to government documents that explicitly state the oil objective, and outlining how Britain pursued that objective throughout the occupation. But he does not consider this evidence in his analysis or conclusions. Oil considerations do not even appear in the report’s 150-page summary.

To many people around the world, it was obvious that oil was a central issue, as Iraq itself had nearly a tenth of the world’s oil reserves, and together with its neighbouring countries nearly two thirds. There was a clear public interest in understanding how that affected UK decisions. Chilcot failed to explore it.

Section 10.3 of the report, in volume 9, records that senior government officials met secretly with BP and Shell on at several occasions (denied at the time) to discuss their commercial interests in obtaining contracts. Chilcot did not release the minutes, but we had obtained them under the Freedom of Information Act: they are posted here. In unusually expressive terms for a civil service write-up, one of the meeting’s minutes began, “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP are desperate to get in there” (emphasis in original).

That same section 10.3 refers to numerous documents revealing the UK’s evolving actions to shape the structure of the Iraqi oil industry, throughout the occupation until 2009. The government did so in close coordination with BP and Shell. This full story was told in Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq.

Despite US and UK denial that oil was a war aim, American troops were detailed to secure oil facilities as they fought their way to Baghdad in 2003. And while former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld shrugged off the orgy of looting after the fall of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad, the Oil Ministry – alone of all the seats of power in the Iraqi capital – was under American guard.

Chilcot does include references to several pre-war documents that identify a British objective to use Iraqi oil to boost Britain’s own energy supplies. For example, a February 2002 Cabinet Office paper stated that the UK’s Iraq policy falls “within our objectives of preserving peace and stability in the Gulf and ensuring energy security”. But the Foreign Office strategy paper in May 2003, which Chilcot omitted, was even more explicit.

Chilcot also acknowledges that the British government was angling to ensure British oil firms could exploit the UK’s involvement in the war. Chilcot’s documentation confirms, for example, that the US and UK worked together to privatise Iraqi oil production and guarantee a takeover from foreign companies.

“By 2010 we will need [a further] 50 million barrels a day. The Middle East, with two-thirds of the oil and the lowest cost, is still where the prize lies”

Dick Cheney; US Vice-President, 1999

Operation Avarice

In 2005, the CIA collaborated with the Army Intelligence Corps, contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had possession and knowledge of all the legacy chemical WMD stockpiles and munitions in Iraq. The Operation was classified, most of the armed forces knew nothing about it. Chemical specialists and ordnance disposal units were assigned to the task of destroying and disposing of the recovered WMDs. It’s unknown who the individual is, or how the weapons had come into his/herpossession. Nonetheless, the person cooperated with US intelligence and sold all of the chemical WMDs to the units heading Operation Avarice. As a result, the CIA and army intelligence acquired over 400 rockets, missiles, and other chemical weapons in varying states of operational viability.

At one point, 150 separate rockets containing chemical agents were traded. Chemical experts then destroyed the weapons. Some of the weapons analysed had a concentration of nerve agents much higher than military intelligence had expected Iraq held the capabilities to develop, with the highest “agent purity of up to 25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons”, which was considered highly lethal.

The mission resulted in the largest recovery of chemical weapons during the Iraq war. It was confirmed that these weapons were remnants of the Iraqi weapons programme first developed during the Iran-Iraq war and also confirmed that the Hussein government had failed to dismantle and dispose WMDs in its possession. The collaboration between US military intelligence and the unnamed Iraqi proprietor resulted in minimal attacks on US military and coalition personnel or Iraqi citizenry from WMDs on a scale seen during the Iran-Iraq war, although small-scale attacks still occurred. Operation Avarice did succeed, however, in keeping the weapons off the black market.

Conclusions

The West, including the UK, had supplied Iraq with the components for manufacturing weapons of mass destruction. Prior to Blair taking office, there was the Scott Inquiry and a wake of revelations and scandals from the Thatcher administration regarding the supply of components for the assembly of WMDs (biological and chemical weapons are also classified as WMDs). Had that not been the case, there may well have been a little more clarity about Iraq’s arsenal and capabilities in 2003. Either way, I would never endorse the war. However, it is still worth considering that the UK-funded Falluja 2 featured in Colin Powell’s dossier of reasons why the world should go to war against Iraq, which was presented to the UN security council. 

Spy satellite pictures of Falluja 2, identifying it as a chemical weapons site, were previously published by the CIA, and a report by Britain’s joint intelligence committee, published with Tony Blair’s imprimatur, also focused on Falluja 2 as a rebuilt plant “formerly associated with the chemical warfare programme.” Blair also knew that we (the UK, along with the US and other countries) had sold Iraq the components for building WMDs previously, under the Thatcher/Reagan administrations. 

UN weapons inspectors toured the Falluja 2 plant in 2002 and Hans Blix, the chief inspector, reported to the security council that the chemical equipment there might have to be destroyed.

Thatcher’s government covertly supplied Iraq with armsfrom spare tank parts, terrain-following radar and Hawk fighter jets to military air and naval bases, all sold from the UK to Saddam Hussein’s despotic regime. 

“Contracts worth over £150m have been concluded [with Iraq] in the last six months including one for £34m (for armoured recovery vehicles through Jordan)” wrote Thomas Trenchard, a junior minister, in a secret letter to Mrs Thatcher in March 1981.

The letter also says that a meeting with Saddam Hussein “represent a significant step forward in establishing a working relationship with Iraq which … should produce both political and major commercial benefits”.

Mrs Thatcher wrote by hand at the top of the letter that she was “very pleased” by the progress being made.

Throughout her premiership Mrs Thatcher took a key role in securing deals for British defence companies, calling her efforts “battling for Britain”. Partly thanks to “free marketeering” efforts, the UK climbed from being the fifth to the second-largest supplier of military equipment over the decade. The terrible escalating logic of neoliberalism just sweeps humane, ethical and rational considerations triumphantly out of its way as it advances.

On record is the mercenary and duplicitous Thatcher’s greatest defence coup over the decade, which was the Al-Yamamah contract with Saudi Arabia in 1985 and 1988, one of the largest arms deals in history worth about £40bn to British Aerospace and other British companies. The push to sell arms in Iraq, encouraged by the privatisation of British Aerospace in 1981, in the end caused serious embarrassment when, in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Britain then found itself at war with the country they had been selling weapons to just a few months earlier. Such are the risks of unregulated “market forces”, and unfettered free-trade.

As mentioned, another consequence was the Scott Report, published in 1996, which gave a very damming assessment of the Conservative government’s role in selling arms to the Middle East through the 1980s. The released report also shows that some in the government were concerned about Mrs Thatcher’s “aggressive arms sales policy.”

Monstrous free-marketeering. 

One prime ministerial brief in January 1981 warned that “if we expose ourselves to serious accusations of breach of neutrality obligation [in Iraq] or deviousness our efforts could backfire”.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait almost certainly never would have happened without the US and the UK’s support for Iraq during the eighties. And even once it had happened, it could have been reversed without war.

Blair’s actions in initiating an unwarranted, unwanted and unforgivable war are the very tip of a very big shitberg, most of which is submerged in the murky waters of public amnesia, selective focus and party political opportunism. The war prior to that was even more unforgivable. If Blair lied or misled parliament, it can’t ever, nonetheless, touch the utterly monstrous Machiavellianism and psychopathy of his political predecessors. That doesn’t excuse what Blair did, but it would be disingenuous to disregard the broader context and history of successive government’s iniquity that led to the Iraq wars. The UK’s previous involvement in selling arms to a despot has had horrific consequences, most of which are being obscured simply because of a media and public unwillingness to recognise them. 

Most of the many thousands of Kurds that were massacred by Saddam Hussein were women and children. The UK is partly responsible for the Al-Anfal genocide. Not because of Blair’s actions, but because of Thatcher’s.

The first Gulf War probably would never have happened had Saddam Hussein not been armed by the West. It would have been very difficult to justify had Hussein not invaded Kuwait. On the balance of probabilities, nor would the second war, though oil was a significant motivating factor for the Iraq invasion, it would have been much more difficult to justify without reference to Hussein’s previous use of WMDs , which the West had provided illegally in the 80s. That permitted speculation and suspicion that some of those weapons still existed after the Gulf War to be used as a justification. 

We can’t make complete sense of events and learn anything of value if we only take a partial and ahistoric view, because the meaningful context in which events are situated matters a lot, too. Our collective short-sightedness has had terrible and ongoing consequences. 

Kurdish civilians and children matter just as much as Iraqi civilians and children. It would be without heart, hypocritical, compassionless, incoherent and unconscientious of us not to acknowledge that. 

Related

The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons

Margaret Thatcher and Iraq

How £1bn was lost when Thatcher propped up Saddam

CIA Report: Prewar Movement of WMD Material Out of Iraq

CIA: Biological Warfare. Annex B (2004)

Excerpts from “The Death Lobby. How the West Armed Iraq”

Britain’s dirty secret

Iraqi bio-scientist breaks silence

The real motive for the Iraq war is buried under the 2.6 million words of the Chilcot report

 

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Research finds strong correlation between Work Capability Assessment and suicide

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In England between 2010 and 2013, just over one million recipients of the main out-of-work disability benefit, Employment Support Allowance (ESA) had their eligibility reassessed using a new stringent functional (as opposed to medical) checklist – the Work Capability Assessment.

Doctors, disability rights organisations, mental health chaities and individual campaigners, such as myself, have raised concerns that this has had an adverse effect on the mental health of claimants, but there have been no population level studies exploring the health effects of this or similar policies, until now.

Research, conducted by B Barr, D Taylor-Robinson, D Stuckler, R Loopstra, A Reeves, and M Whitehead, has established a link between the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and suicide. The research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (which is peer-reviewed,) and carried out by social scientists from a variety of backgrounds, from the universities of Oxford and Liverpool, scrutinised the rates of mental health issues and suicide in different local authorities in England.

The study found that the authorities with a greater number of people undergoing WCAs also have more people reporting mental health problems, more people being prescribed antidepressants, and more people taking their own lives. The research found that every 10,000 assessments led to around six suicides.

For comparison in terms of statistical significance, isotretinoin, an acne medication which was notoriously linked to suicides, is associated with around four extra deaths per 10,000 treatments.

The researchers estimate that for every 10,000 people reassessed, you would expect to see an additional six suicides (95% confidence interval (CI) 2 to 9), an extra 2,700 reports of mental health problems (95% CI 548 to 4,840) and 7,020 extra antidepressants prescriptions (95% CI 3,930 to 10,100). By convention, 95% certainty is considered high enough for researchers to draw conclusions that can be generalised from samples to populations.

There have been more than 1 million assessments since the WCA was introduced, which suggests that there may be more than 600 people who have taken their own lives who would otherwise have not. The researchers say: “Our study provides evidence that the policy in England of reassessing the eligibility of benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health.”

There have been earlier claims and evidence that the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) reforms have led to deaths. However, the DWP has persistently refused to release data which would make it possible to assess whether the death rate for people found fit for work is higher than would be expected.

Both the assessment and appeals process itself, which is widely reported to be stressful, and the financial hardship that occurs when people are denied disability benefits, could result in negative health effects. There is good evidence that loss of income, particularly for people already on low incomes, increases the risk of common mental health problems.

People undergoing a WCA are likely to be particularly vulnerable to the adverse mental health consequences of this policy because a very high proportion have a pre-existing mental health problem. Furthermore, those with physical chronic illness are more prone to mental health problems such as reactive depression, and sometimes, forms of depression that are associated with the illness itself.

The research included efforts to rule out other possible causes of suicide – to eliminate potential confounding variables and bias – for example, there is no similar effect found in people over 65, who are not subject to the WCA – and so the results suggest that the link between the WCA and suicide is not due to “confounding” factors, but is most likely causal.

The Department for Work and Pensions has rejected the study’s findings. A spokesperson said in a statement: “This report is wholly misleading, and the authors themselves caution that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.” 

However, the DWP have no grounds for their own claim whatsoever. Whilst correlation isn’t quite the same thing as cause and effect, it often strongly hints at a causal link, and as such, warrants further investigation. It certainly ought to raise concern from the DWP and ministers, regarding the negative impact of policy on many of the UK’s most vulnerable citizens.

The association with the WCA and its adverse effects is, after all, more clearly defined than the one between the drug isotretinoin and suicide, and the drug was withdrawn in the US and some European Member States.

In the UK, it is now (as of November last year) prescribed only under strict monitoring conditions, and patients are provided with warnings about the possibility of adverse psychiatric effects. No such warning and monitoring exists regarding the possible adverse psychiatric effects of the WCA. In fact the government have stifled both enquiry into a causal link and discussion of even the possibility there may be such a causal link, despite being presented with much evidence of a strongly indicated correlative association.

Dr Benjamin Barr, one of the researchers from Liverpool University, said that a causal link was likely: “Whilst we cannot prove from our analysis that this is causal, there are various reasons why this is a likely explanation,” he said.

He agreed that a study looking specifically at people who had undergone a WCA would be more precise, but added that the DWP has not released that information.

Dr Barr said: “If the DWP has data on this they should make it openly available to independent analysis.” He added that the DWP has so far chosen not to run a trial of its own into a link between WCAs and suicides.

The researchers found that those local areas where a greater proportion of the population were exposed to the reassessment process experienced a greater increase in three adverse mental health outcomes – suicides, self-reported mental health problems and antidepressant prescribing.

These associations were independent of baseline conditions in the areas, including baseline prevalence of benefit receipt, long-term time trends in these outcomes, economic trends and other characteristics associated with risk of mental ill-health. These increases followed – rather than preceded – the reassessment process.

The report concluded that the study results have important implications for policy. The WCA and reassessment policy was introduced without prior evidence of its potential impact or any plans to evaluate its effects. Given that doctors and other health professional have professional and statutory duties to protect and promote the health of patients and the public, this evidence that the process is potentially harming the recipients of these assessments raises serious ethical issues for those involved.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has also said the research was of “high quality”, adding that it called into question the wisdom of the Government’s reforms.

Last year, coroner Mary Hassell told the DWP she had concluded that the “trigger” for Michael O’Sullivan’s suicide was his fit for work assessment.

“During the course of the inquest, the evidence revealed matters giving rise to concerns. In my opinion, there is a risk that future deaths will occur unless action is taken,” she wrote in the document, known as a Prevention of Future Deaths or regulation 28 report.

At the inquest, Hassell said O’Sullivan had been suffering from long-term anxiety and depression, “but the intense anxiety which triggered his suicide was caused by his recent assessment by the Department for Work and Pensions [benefits agency] as being fit for work and his view of the likely consequences of that”.

The inquest heard that the DWP assessing doctor, a former orthopaedic surgeon, did not factor in the views of any of the three doctors treating O’Sullivan. The coroner said O’Sullivan was never asked about suicidal thoughts, despite writing them down in a DWP questionnaire.

Previously, the loss or reduction of benefits has been cited by coroners as a factor in deaths and suicides of claimants.

The DWP have so far failed to respond coherently, other than with a denial of a “causal” link.

You can read the full research report here.

It’s not the only time that Conservative austerity policies have been implicated in causing harm to citizens. Nor is it the only time that Conservatives have responded with utter indifference to the disproportionately negative impact of their policies on the poorest people. 

A study from Durham University, which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concluded that as a result of unnecessary recession, unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, Margaret Thatcher’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of wellbeing.

The research shows that there was a massive increase in income inequality under Baroness Thatcher – the richest 0.01 per cent of society had 28 times the mean national average income in 1978 but 70 times the average in 1990, and UK poverty rates went up from 6.7 per cent in 1975 to 12 per cent in 1985. Suicides increased.

Co-author Professor Clare Bambra from the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing at Durham University, commented: “Our paper shows the importance of politics and of the decisions of governments and politicians in driving health inequalities and population health. Advancements in public health will be limited if governments continue to pursue neoliberal economic policies – such as the current welfare state cuts being carried out under the guise of austerity.”

David Cameron’s government has gone much further than Thatcher ever did in cutting essential support and services for protected social groups, such as sick and disabled people, and poorer citizens.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

From homes fit for heroes to the end of secure, lifelong social housing tenancies

Social housing arose to supply uncrowded, well-built homes on secure tenancies at reasonable rents to primarily working class people. The First World War indirectly provided a new impetus for house building programmes, when the poor physical health and condition of many urban recruits to the army raised alarm. This led to a post-war campaign – Homes fit for heroes and in 1919 the Government first required councils to provide housing, helping them to do so through the provision of subsidies, under the Housing Act 1919.

Determined to “lift the shadow of the workhouse from the homes of the poor”, David Lloyd George also promised “a land fit for heroes.” But it was after the Second World War that council house building programmes and inner city slum clearance began in earnest. There was and still is a constant demand for social housing, and “waiting lists” are maintained, with preference being given to those in greatest need.

The post-war settlement refers to an era of public policy consensus that included support for collectivism, a mixed economy, access to justice, healthcare, social housing and a broader welfare state. It lasted until the monetarism and privatisation programmes of the New Right government of Thatcher.

Thatcher’s “right to buy” scheme depleted social housing stock, and there was a sharp decline in the building of new council homes, as she legislated to prevent councils reinvesting money from the sales of housing in building new council houses.

Now the Conservative government is planning to scrap lifetime security of tenure for renters in council and housing association properties, in favour of in favour of fixed-term contracts, according to housing industry reports. Up until recently, most tenants in council and housing association properties had lifetime security, compare to private renters who generally face six-month or one year tenancies.

However, the Tory bedroom tax has eroded the very idea of secure social housing tenure, because people on unemployment benefits, low wages and particularly disabled people now face either an unaffordable housing benefit penalty (and therefore a rise in the amount they have to pay in rent) if they are deemed to be “under-occupying” their home.

Now, under government plans, social landlords will no longer be able to automatically issue tenancies on a lifetime basis and would instead be forced to offer fixed-term lets for prospective tenants.

Although social landlords have been allowed to issue five-year tenancies since the Government changed the law in 2012, only around 1 in 10 new tenancies have seen the offer taken up.

In July the government said it would review the use of lifetime tenancies and limit their use. Civil servants have briefed several sector figures in the last few weeks that this strategy will go as far as preventing landlords offering lifetime tenancies to new tenants.

The Government and the social housing sector recently had a major disagreement over Tory plans to extend its Right To Buy policy to housing associations.

Landlords initially threatened legal action over the proposals when they first appeared in the Tory manifesto, but were apparently encouraged to agree a deal that involved no primary legislation.

The Government recently cut social housing rents in the budget but is planning to raise them for higher earners, under a new policy dubbed “pay to stay”.

Although Natalie Elphicke, co-author of the Treasury-commissioned House/Elphicke review of council house building, has previously urged that lifetime tenancies are restricted to groups such as those in “extreme old age” or “highly disabled” people, at the moment there is no guarrantee  that this will happen.

Michael Gelling, chair of the Tenants and Residents Organisations of England (TAROE), said the prospect was “alarming”, and that long-term tenancies gave tenants and communities stability.

Civil servants are said to be briefing industry figures on the changes, with an official announcement due within the next few months.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government told Inside Housing: “More details will be available in due course.”

547145_195460507271672_1145852710_nCourtesy of Robert Livingstone

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.

Tory policies are class contingent, express prejudice and are discriminatory

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Conservatives persistently peddle a fallacy that they don’t subscribe to an ideological belief system.
Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history and the arrival of a post-ideological world. But Fukuyama’s declarations were really just New Right ideology incognito.

I always saw Fukuyama as an ardent champion of ultra-neoliberalism, and he disguised his neo-conservatist ideology behind apparently benign virtue words and phrases (as part of a propaganda technique called Glittering Generalities), such as “Man’s universal right to freedom.” 

He meant the same sort of self-interested “freedom” as Ayn Rand – “a free mind and a free market are corollaries.” He meant the same kind of implicit Social Darwinist notions long-held by Conservatives like Herbert Spencer – where the market rather than evolution decides who is “free,” who survives; and as we know, that’s rigged in favour of a minority of rich and powerful people, by rich and powerful people. Tory ideology does not ever yield a remotely utilitarian outcome.

Fukuyama’s ideas have been absorbed culturally, and serve to naturalise the dominance of the Right, to stifle the rationale for critical debate and discredit alternatives. Not all “common sense” is established by consensus, nor does it always make sense. Tacit assumptions and prejudices often lie beneath the stock of glittering generalities and comforting soundbites that are quite commonly what passes as public and political acumen.

To quote Owen Jones:

“Since they were founded as a modern political force in 1834, the Conservatives have acted as the parliamentary wing of the wealthy elite. When I was at university, a one-time very senior Tory figure put it succinctly at an off-the-record gathering: the Conservative Party, he explained, was a “coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.”

It’s not just that Tories don’t reflect working class interests though. It’s much worse. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards unemployed, sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government.

A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support; by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not; by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without having the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly, this will kill them.

Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.

Government policies are expressed political intentions, regarding how our society is organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences.

Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.

Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example; and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socioeconomic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.

Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy, based on archaic methods of operant conditioning, reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates a considerable degree of authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy.

(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)

The Tories employ a variety of strategies to attempt to justify their ideology, narratives and policies amongst which are techniques of neutralisation. These are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal.  There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility; denial of injury; denial of victims; condemnation of the condemners and an appeal to higher loyalties.

The recognition of techniques of neutralisation by David Matza and Gresham Sykes happened during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency at the time, and they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralisation to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to distort meanings, to withhold, or to deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.

For example, when the Tories habitually and dishonestly use the word “reform” in reference to cutting public funding or support and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax is “helping” people into workorhelping child poverty– when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.

Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.

These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”; this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up to being so, nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.

But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.

This was taken from a longer article, in part – Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

Briefing on How Cuts Are Targeted – Dr Simon Duffy

Inverted totalitarianism and neoliberalism. Oh dear.

There is no such thing as a ‘one nation’ Tory: they always create two nations

Inequality has risen: Incomes increased for the richest last year, but fell for everyone else

The UK is now the most unequal country in EU, and Cameron has been very conservative with the truth

Cameron’s Gini and the hidden hierarchy of worth

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

‘We are raising more money for the rich’ revisited: some thoughts

UK becomes the first country to face a UN inquiry into disability rights violations

Aktion Arbeitsscheu Reich, Human Rights and infrahumanisation

A list of official rebukes for Tory lies

demcracyPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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

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“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

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame. Part 3 – the Tories want to repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act

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Political theories of poverty vary across the political spectrum, with those on the right tending to individualise social problems more generally, and those on the left tending to socialise them. Very different policy implications stem from each perspective.

Since the Thatcher era, the New Right have developed a distinctive behaviourist approach to poverty, founded on the idea that poor people are poor because they lack certain qualities and traits.

In 2013, Iain Duncan Smith worked on developingbetter measures of child povertyto provide a “more accurate reflection of the reality of child poverty.” According to the Conservatives, poverty isn’t caused by a lack of income.

The Coalition conducted a weighted and biased consultation at the time that did little more than provide a Conservative ideological framework in the form of leading questions, to catch carefully calculated, led and subliminally shaped public responses.

Iain Duncan Smith has indicated he will repeal the 2010 Child Poverty Act, which committed the government to a target of eradicating child poverty in the UK by 2020. He has dispensed with the current relative definition of poverty (anyone in a household beneath 60% of median income), abandoned the targets and introduced a new (although rather unclear) definition: the child poverty target is to be replaced with a new duty to report levels of educational attainment, “worklessness” and addiction, rather than relative material deprivation and disadvantage.

Duncan Smith argues that the measures set originally by Tony Blair are a “poor measure of poverty”, and he claims that families can fall or go above the relative poverty line for reasons that have little to do with their material wealth.

Using the Centre for Social Justice’s 2012 report Rethinking Child Poverty, (set up by none other than Iain Duncan Smith in 2004) to support his ideological perspective, Duncan Smith’s account of UK poverty is defined by bad parenting, by alcohol dependency and drug-addiction.

There is of course very little focus on accounts of parents who are poor because they are unemployed or in low-paid work. Or because of government policies that are directed at rewarding wealthy people and punishing poor people. (See also: We are raising more money for the rich.) Duncan Smith said:

“We know in households with unstable relationships, where debt and addiction destabilise families, where parents lack employment skills, where children just aren’t ready to start school, these children don’t have the same chances in life as others. It is self evident.”

Of course it’s also “self-evident” that debt, addiction and unstable relationships happen to wealthy people as well, so as far as causal explanations of poverty go, this one certainly lacks credibility and coherence.

Furthermore, I propose that a lack of opportunities and life chances arise from the cumulative effects of discriminatory economic and social structures and policies. Iain Duncan Smith went on to say:

“They cannot break out of that cycle of disadvantage. We are currently developing these measures right now – family breakdown, problem debt and drug and alcohol dependency – and we will report each year on these life chances as well.”

The Conservatives are claiming that poverty arises because of the “faulty” lifestyle choices of people with personal deficits and aim to reconstruct the identities of poor people via psychopolitical interventions, but it is only through a wholesale commitment to eliminating poverty by addressing unemployment, underemployment, job insecurity, low paid work, inadequate welfare support and institutionalised inequalities that any meaningful social progress can be made.

Over the last five years, the UK has become the most unequal country in Europe, on the basis of income distribution and wages. If that increase in inequality arose because of individual failings, as the Conservatives are claiming, why have those personal failings only become apparent so suddenly within the past five years? The Child Poverty Action Group voiced concerns :

“The statement isn’t about strengthening efforts to end child poverty, but about burying the failure of the government’s child poverty approach. And with more cuts coming down the line, child poverty is set to rise.”

The Bell Swerve

Iain Duncan Smith draws on a framework of ideas that was shaped to a large extent by the white male supremacist musings of Charles Murray, the controversial ultra-conservative American sociologist that exhumed social Darwinism and gave the bones of it originally to Bush and Thatcher to re-cast.

Murray’s New Right culture of poverty theory popularised notions that poverty is caused by an individual’s personal deficits and character flaws; that the poor have earned their position in society; the poor deserve to be poor because this is a reflection of their lack of qualities and level of abilities. Murray’s very controversial work The Bell Curve was a novel of racist pseudoscience and manipulated, misleading statistics which he used to propose that social inequality is caused by the genetic inferiority of the black and Latino communities, women and the poor.

According to Murray, disadvantaged groups are disadvantaged because, on average, they cannot compete with white men, who are intellectually, psychologically and morally superior. Murray advocates the total elimination of the welfare state, arguing that public policy cannot overcome the “innate deficiencies” that cause unequal social and educational outcomes.

Many critics, including myself, regard Murray as a white supremacist, a nationalist that has a long history of advocating discredited ideas that are rooted in eugenics. Nonetheless, Murray has had a significant influence on Conservative thinking about welfare in particular, both here in the UK and across the Atlantic.

“Unless the government sets out a clear target for improving the life chances of the poorest families, its agenda for healing social division in our country will lack both ambition and credibility.”

The Children’s Commissioner issued a statement regarding the repeal of the Child Poverty Act:

“The Child Poverty Act targets were not just about relative poverty – which is a measure of inequality, important in itself – but also included a measure of material deprivation. Critically, the new measures proposed today would not include any tangible measure of poverty, hunger, cold, or deprivation of any kind. Poverty is a financial measure. Unemployment statistics and statistics on educational attainment are already collected.

“The majority of children living in poverty have at least one parent who is working. Employment is important but if wages do not rise substantially in relation to living costs it will not provide a route out of poverty alone. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has today published a report stating that families with children working full-time on the National Minimum Wage are now 15% short of the Minimum Income Standard that people believe offers an acceptable standard of living.  Today’s announcement will effectively confine to history any figures on the millions of children being raised in families who experience in-work poverty denying them necessities such as adequate food, clothing and heating.”

Last year, the Children’s Commissioner said that the increasing inequality which has resulted from the cuts, and in particular, the welfare reforms, means that Britain is now in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from the adverse effects of government economic measures.

Austerity cuts are disproportionately targeted at the poorest. It’s particularly shameful that absolute poverty has returned to Britain since 2010, given that we are the 5th wealthiest nation in the world. That indicates clearly just how much inequality has increased under the Conservatives since 2010.

Poverty and inequality are a consequence of the way that society is organised, political decision-making and how resources are allocated through discriminatory government policies.

Poverty arises because of the behaviour of the powerful and wealthy, not the poor.

___

See also:

The Poverty of Responsibility and the Politics of Blame

The poverty of responsibility and the politics of blame – part 2

The just world fallacy

The right-wing moral hobby horse: thrift and self-help, but only for the poor

The New New Poor Law

UK Wealth Divide widens, with inequality heading for “most unequal country in the developed world”

Poor people are poor because they don’t know how to get something from nothing

1957929_293215800829475_303676825_oPictures courtesy of  Robert Livingstone

WORKING FOR PATIENTS OR NOT? – a guest post by Suzanne Kelsey

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A guest post by Suzanne Kelsey, who is a key campaigner for the NHS, amongst other things.

In 1988, when Margaret Thatcher had been in office for some 9 years, and the very foundations of our NHS had been shaken with more of the public encouraged to use private medical care,  there were serious concerns about capacity in the hospital services as waiting lists increased and wards closed.  The Conservative government appointed a group of people, without consulting the health professions, to look at this growing problem.

As a result of this the NHS experienced the most significant cultural shift since its inception with a White Paper entitled, ‘Working for Patients, ’ which proposed what we now  know as the ‘Internal Market’ and the development of the purchase provider split. GPs become the purchaser and the hospitals are the providers. This passed into law as the NHS and Community Care Act 1990. Understandably there was a great deal of opposition from trade unions, Labour and the general public but it went ahead as did the Private Finance Initiative in 1992 implemented for the first time in the UK by the Conservative government of John Major.

There is no doubt that further major problems were created for our NHS, although I would question if on the same scale as we are currently witnessing with the threat of complete privatisation and the sell-off of our publically funded service to huge private international companies, who have been waiting in the wings for quite some time and would have been rubbing their hands in glee some years ago if Thatcher and the Conservatives had continued in office.

The definition of ‘privatisation’ also needs to be acknowledged because with the downgrading of facilities and existing provision struggling to meet demands, more and more people will become anxious and tempted to pay for their treatment even if it is to ensure they have a hospital bed!

We must never let this practice become the ‘norm.’ Campaigners must ensure that the ‘free at point of use’ core principle is upheld or we will be taken back to pre-war years, removing freedom from fear that was fought long and hard for by our champions of social justice. At the same time we must remember the mantra, ‘public health not private wealth’ with numerous examples available to us of how private companies will always put profits before patients, but more of that later.

When Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 he inherited a very impoverished NHS and although we expected him to abolish the internal market this did not happen, perhaps for a variety of justifiable reasons. How do you replace crumbling hospitals and inadequate resources without massively raising taxes, whilst also limiting the upheaval that had already been caused?

Alan Milburn was Minister of State at the Department of Health during this time and he stated that after years of the Tory’s gross underfunding, there was absolutely no money to fund the infrastructure, hence the use of John Major’s PFI initiative. Labour therefore it would seem had little choice but to implement this because of the historic neglect of the NHS under the Conservatives that led to understaffing and an NHS unable to manage with the rising expectations of the population, coupled with the costly advances in modern medicine and technology.

A global recession, which was not Labour’s fault, further compounded the challenges of meeting the complex needs of the nation’s health care. Dennis Skinner MP for Bolsover Derbyshire, passionately summarised this in parliament in 2014 when he stated; ‘Between 1997 and 2010 Labour dragged the NHS from the depths of degradation that the Tories had left it in and hoisted it back to the pinnacles of achievement.’

I would like to pose some questions to those experts of marketisation and competition. My knowledge is very limited on the economic implications but I am learning, slowly but surely, through my long involvement with local and national campaigning, speaking to key people in politics and campaign groups, who are also passionate about our NHS. I become increasingly frustrated when people continually blame Labour for the introduction of privatisation  Yes Blair did carry on certain aspects of it which was a disappointment for many, including me, but perhaps my arguments surely go some way to addressing why this was.

  •  My first question is in the title of this article; ‘IS THIS WORKNG FOR PATIENTS OR NOT?’
  •  If Labour had made such massive inroads into privatisation surely there would have been no need for the Coalition’s unwieldy and costly three billion pound reforms, so huge they were just about visible from outer space and the truth is many of those who voted for it would not have time to read it fully. The bill was a long time in the writing and despite the pause because of massive opposition it was nevertheless hastily introduced by the Coalition, despite all the election promises, notably, ‘there will be no top down reorganisation of the NHS.’ They have as predicted caused unprecedented chaos and in fact a major crisis in our NHS, with exhausted frontline workers propping up a system, becoming totally stressed, angry and demoralised.

Many of the population are afraid of becoming ill, because of worrying inadequacies not only at primary and secondary health care levels but also in social care. The frail and elderly feel a burden as they are constantly labelled as ‘bed blockers,’ Thus long queues have been created to see your GP and at A+E, the gateway to the hospital, all of which can result in a lack of timely care. In contrast however Labour ensured patient satisfaction was at its highest with waiting times were at their lowest and the NHS during their time was lauded as one of the best, if not the best health service in the world.

  • Were the massive and unprecedented reforms therefore unnecessary and unjustified?
  • What are the implications for binding private contracts that have taken place across large swathes of the country if hopefully there is a change of government?
  • What lesson have been learnt from the withdrawal of Circle, the private company that took over Hitchingbrooke hospital, with claims of managers installed by these private operators creating a ‘blame culture?’ Allegedly Circle were willing to ensure local GPs incurred financial losses as long as it meant corporations continued to make a profit and the damning report about the quality of care in this hospital is shocking. CQC inspecting the hospital felt obliged to intervene when they became fearful of a sickening child and Professor Mike Richards the chief inspector of hospitals said that the findings were the worst it had ever published.
  • Clive Efford Labour MP for Eltham, South East London,   presented a private members bill to parliament in November 2014,which in order to avoid further top down reorganisation, focussed on the most damaging aspects of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, that gave powers to competition regulators to interfere in decisions of local health care commissioners. The most significant change is that the Secretary of State is once again accountable to you and me through parliament. If the bill is passed he can no longer avoid answering parliamentary questions by saying that it is down to local decision making and not his responsibility. Efford’s Bill also provides that neither EU competition rules nor EU procurement rules will apply. That is an important change from the present because, at the moment, a disappointed private provider can sue an NHS commissioner for damages for failing to put a service out to tender or running a tender process wrongly. My thanks to Clive Efford for that explanation and for securing a vote of 241 for the bill to 18 against.
  • How is this Bill progressing and how it is being supported by NHS campaign groups and health professionals.
  • If the Conservatives are allowed to waltz back in by a public who have been influenced by the hype and propaganda through a biased media and/or have become disengaged, disenchanted or disillusioned , or indeed confused by the outrageous claims of some minor parties who seem to be making it up as they go along, what do we do next!?

I hear talk of a revolution being the only answer from those extremists who are likely to be the least affected by one. Perhaps we would do well to remember that our NHS has just seen the biggest revolution since its inception in 1948. Unfortunately we have seen a glimpse into our future and the outcomes are dire, if we do not use our votes wisely.

Suzanne Kelsey 1stFebruary 2015

http://www.nhshistory.net/shorthistory.htm#_ednref15

http://www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/thenhs/nhshistory/Pages/NHShistory1948.aspx

https://abetternhs.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/commissioning-and-the-purchaser-provider-split/

http://www.healthp.org/node/71

http://labourlist.org/2014/11/commons-pass-vote-on-clive-effords-nhs-bill/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/11333986/Damning-report-as-first-private-firm-to-run-NHS-hospital-pulls-out.html

Battle with GPs led to Circle’s retreat from Hinchingbrooke hospital,   The Guardian, January 9, 2015

Hinchingbrooke staff in CQC abuse concerns fear bosses BBC, September 29, 2014

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/uks-healthcare-ranked-the-best-out-of-11-western-countries-with-us-coming-last-9542833.html