Tag: Theresa May

Tory racism is embedded in policy and clearly evident in Tory social media groups

racism

A Conservative councillor has been suspended by the Conservative Party after a Facebook group he moderates was found to contain several Islamophobic and racist comments.

Martyn York, a Conservative councillor in Wellingborough, was a moderator for “Boris Johnson: Supporters’ Group”, which included  members whose comments called for the bombing of mosques around the UK. Dorinda Bailey, a former Conservative council candidate, has also been accused of supporting Islamophobia with her comments following a post in the group calling for mosques to be bombed.

Furthermore, the group, which has 4,800 members, can only be joined after receiving approval from moderators, and its guidelines explicitly call on members not to post hate speech. 

Comments in the group, however, seriously violate these rules, with several referring to Muslims as “ragheads” and calling immigrants “cockroaches”.

In one comment, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is called a “conniving little muzrat”, and Muslim Labour MP Naz Shah is also targeted with abuse and told to “p*** off to [her] own country”.

Someone posted in the group that any mosques “found to preach hate” should be shut down, another group member responded: “Bomb the f****** lot.” 

Bailey responded, without a trace of irony: “I agree, but any chance you could edit your comment please. No swearing policy.”

There were also comments in the group telling an African solider to “p*** off back to Africa” and for Labour MP Fiona Onasanya to be “put on a banana boat back home”.

After the offensive posts were brought to his attention, Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis confirmed York’s suspension and said Bailey was no longer a member of the party.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, said this was further evidence of a “significant problem”.

“A Facebook group led by Conservative politicians containing unashamed bigotry has made it completely apparent that there is a significant problem with racism and Islamophobia within the party of government,” a spokesperson for the MCB said.

“Polls revealing that half of all Conservative voters in 2017 believe Islam to be a threat to the British way of life have shown how widespread this sentiment is. We reiterate our call for the government to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia and lead by example by committing to tackle bigotry everywhere, not just where it’s politically convenient.”

There government were happy enough to ensure an inquiry into the allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party, and ‘inappropriate’ posts on social media took place. However, the conclusions of the Home Office Committee contradicted the claims being made on the right and among the neoliberal centrists, about the Labour party.

Nonetheless, the claims have continued, indicating a degree of underpinning political expedience and media misdirection.commons-select-committee-antisemitism

That is not to say there is no antisemitism at all among Labour party members, and where allegations arise, those MUST be addressed. However, it does indicate that political and media claims that the party is ‘institutionally antisemitic’ are completely unfounded. 

It is also absolutely reasonable to point this out. 

Unlawful and discriminatory Conservative policy

Meanwhile the Conservatives have continued to embed their prejudices and racism in  discriminatory policies. For example, in 2014 Theresa May was the Home Secretary who introduced the disgraceful Hostile Environment legislation that ultimately led to the Windrush scandal.  On March 1st 2019 a central mechanism of that legislation was ruled unlawful by the High Court because of the way it has unleashed a wave of racism, and because it was found to violate the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Judge Martin Spencer found the policy caused landlords to discriminate against both black and ethnic minority British people and foreign UK residents.

He also ruled that rolling out the scheme in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland without further evaluation would be “irrational” and breach equality laws.

“The evidence, when taken together, strongly showed not only that landlords are discriminating against potential tenants on grounds of nationality and ethnicity but also that they are doing so because of the scheme,” Mr Justice Spencer told the court on Friday.

He added “It is my view that the scheme introduced by the government does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate, but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not.”

The changes that came into force in 2016 required private landlords to check the immigration status of potential tenants, or face unlimited fines or even prison for renting to undocumented migrants, coercing landlords into becoming agents of the state, effectively.

Judge Martin Spencer said: “The government cannot wash its hands of responsibility for the discrimination which is taking place by asserting that such discrimination is carried out by landlords acting contrary to the intention of the scheme.”

He also said he had found that Right to Rent had “little or no effect” on controlling immigration and that the Home Office had “not come close” to justifying it.

The legal challenge was launched by the Residential Landlords Association (RLA) and Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI), which called Right to Rent a “key plank of Theresa May’s hostile environment” policy.

Chai Patel, JCWI legal policy director, said: “Now that the High Court has confirmed that Ms May’s policy actively causes discrimination, parliament must act immediately to scrap it.

“But we all know that this sort of discrimination, caused by making private individuals into border guards, affects almost every aspect of public life – it has crept into our banks, hospitals, and schools. Today’s judgment only reveals the tip of the iceberg and demonstrates why the Hostile Environment must be dismantled.” 

John Stewart, policy manager for the RLA, called the ruling a “damning critique of a flagship government policy”. 

He added : “We have warned all along that turning landlords into untrained and unwilling border police would lead to the exact form of discrimination the court has found.” 

Rather than accept the High Court’s findings, a Home Office spokesperson has said that an independent mystery shopping exercise found “no evidence of systemic discrimination”.

“We are disappointed with the judgement and we have been granted permission to appeal, which reflects the important points of law that were considered in the case. In the meantime, we are giving careful consideration to the judge’s comments,” he added.

I have written at length about the prejudiced, discriminatory and unlawful policies that the Conservatives have directed at ill and disabled people over the last few years. I also submitted evidence to the United Nations on this matter. However, the UN’s findings of “grave and systematic violations” of disabled peoples’ human rights, and the examples of structural violence inflicted on our politically marginalised community currently fails to get the media attention that mere allegations of antisemitism within the Labour party attracts.

People are suffering harm and psychological distress, and increasingly, some are dying, as a direct consequence of oppressive, cruel, illegal and dangerously authoritarian Conservative policies, while shamefully, much of the media prefers to look the other way.

That is, where the state directs them to ‘look’. 

If you’ve ever wondered how some societies have permitted conscious cruelty to flourish, to the point where entire groups are targeted with oppressive and discriminatory policies resulting in distress, harm and death, I have to tell you that it’s pretty much like this.

Allport's ladder

 


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Theresa May considering scrapping Human Rights Act following Brexit

humanrights

The prime minister is to consider repealing the Human Rights Act after Brexit, despite promising she is “committed” to its protections, a minister has revealed. This is, after all, a government that has always tended to regard the human rights of some social groups as nothing more than a bureaucratic inconvenience. Many of us have been very concerned about the implications of Brexit for human rights in the UK.

The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee has exchanged correspondence with the Government about clarifying the wording of the Political Declaration regarding the European Convention on Human Rights. 

There is no justification for editing or repealing the Human Rights Act itself, that would make Britain the first European country to regress in the level and degree of our human rights protection. It is through times of recession and times of affluence alike that our rights ought to be the foundation of our society, upon which the Magna Carta, the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act were built – protecting the most vulnerable citizens from the powerful and ensuring those who govern are accountable to the rule of law.

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.

Nonetheless, the government will decide on the future of the landmark legislation once “the process of leaving the EU concludes”, according to a letter submitted to a parliamentary inquiry.

This disclosure comes despite the Brexit white paper stating last year that the UK would remain in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), after  following a warning from the European Union (EU) that pulling out would jeopardise a future security deal. However, the prime minister has previously pledged to leave the ECHR, expressing frustration because there was no Commons majority for doing so. 

It is in this context of previous statements of intent that the wording of the letter was described as “troubling” by the Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee, which has warned that the letter casts doubt on more recent, repeated pledges from the government to protect the ECHR.

“Is the government sincere in its commitment to the ECHR?”, Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws, the committee’s chair, asked.

“If so, why has it failed to give assurances that it will not repeal or reform the Human Rights Act, which in essence incorporates the rights set out in the ECHR into domestic British law?”

The committee wrote to the Ministry of Justice after the alarm was raised by the wording of the political declaration, which was agreed with the EU in December alongside the legally binding divorce deal.

The declaration said the UK would merely agree “to respect the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights” – dropping the previous pledge of being “committed” to it. Previous plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a ‘British Bill of Rights’ appeared in the 2010 Programme for Government, and in the Conservative manifesto in 2015. included an emphasis on interpreting rights more subjectively, rather than regarding them as ‘absolute’. 

In response, Edward Argar, a junior justice minister, wrote: “The difference in wording does not represent a change in the UK’s position on the ECHR

A central tenet of our future relationship with the EU is our mutual belief in the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

But he went on to suggest that the Human Rights Act may be scrapped when Brexit is concluded.

He wrote: “Our manifesto committed to not repealing or replacing the Human Rights Act while the process of EU exit is underway.” 

“It is right that we wait until the process of leaving the EU concludes before considering the matter further in the full knowledge of the new constitutional landscape.

Many Conservatives are critical of Labour’s Human Rights Act, claiming it gives “too many rights to criminals” and some have even claimed it undermines “personal responsibility.”

However, in 2015 Amnesty UK commissioned a poll that indicated the British public are not particularly willing to see any change to existing Human Rights legislation, with only one in 10 people in the UK (11%) believing that scrapping the Human Rights Act should be a government aim.

It’s extremely worrying that a government thinks it should pick and choose which rights we are entitled to and select who they deem worthy of them. The whole point of rights and protections is that they are universal: they must apply to everyone equally in order to work at all.

It took people in the UK a very long time to claim the rights we have and we mustn’t let the Conservatives take them away with the stroke of a pen.

The peers said it would imperil human rights if the government “intend to break the formal link” between the UK courts and the EHCR.

Baroness Kennedy said: “Again and again we are told that the government is committed to the European Convention on Human Rights, but without a concrete commitment, and with messaging that is changing and becoming diluted.”

The government have played a long game, however, and have almost certainly always intended to repeal the Human Rights Act. One issue that prevented that happening over the last few years is the Good Friday Agreement, as the Labour government also committed to incorporate the European Convention of Human ECHR into the law of Northern Ireland and to the establishment of a Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. 

The politics of regression

In 2015, wrote about how the government has quietly edited the ministerial code, which was updated on October 15  without any announcement at all. The code sets out the standard of conduct expected of ministers. The latest version of the code is missing a key element regarding complicity with international law.

The previous code, issued in 2010, said there was an “overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations and to uphold the administration of justice and to protect the integrity of public life”.

The new version of the code has been edited to say only that there is an“overarching duty on ministers to comply with the law and to protect the integrity of public life”.

Conservative party policy document had revealed that the ministerial code will be rewritten in the context of the UK withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. In order to help achieve these aims the document says: “We will amend the ministerial code to remove any ambiguity in the current rules about the duty of ministers to follow the will of Parliament in the UK.”

In the original Conservative proposals to scrap our existing human rights framework, and replace it with their own, one sentence from the misleadingly titled document –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 or universally applied – they will be subject to state stipulations and caveats. And discrimination. 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 Conservatives’ motivation for changing our human rights legislation is to allow reinterpretations to work around the new legislation when they deem it necessary. The internationally agreed rights that the Conservatives have always seen as being open to interpretation will become considerably prone to ideological bias, prejudice and open to subjective challenge.

Breaking the formal link between the European Court of Human Rights and British law would mean any judgement from Europe would be treated as “advisory” only, rather than legally binding, and would need to be “approved” by parliament. Such a Bill would profoundly disempower citizens because it will shift the balance of democracy completely, placing power almost entirely in the hands of the state.

Whatever constitutional or political configurations emerge following Brexit, the present threat to rights and equality is a major threat to citizens’ liberties and freedoms. It demands coherent and collective action in the public interest.  

 

Related

Concerns about the impact of Brexit on the human rights of disabled people in update report to UNCRPD

A strong case for the Human Rights Act

 


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A motion of no confidence in the government is just the start of a wider process

The Press Association has provided this helpful guide to the motion of no-confidence, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to bring about a general election. The vote is scheduled to be held tomorrow afternoon.

It is the first time the procedure has been used under the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed by the coalition government under David Cameron.

This is how it will work:

Mr Corbyn will move the motion tabled in his name as Leader of the Opposition and will speak first in the debate scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

The Prime Minister will then speak for the government and at the end of proceedings at 7pm, MPs will vote.

If the government wins there will not be a general election and ministers will carry on in office.

If the government loses, the Act states there must be an “early” election unless the government can regain the confidence of the House by winning a confidence vote within 14 days.

During that two-week period there is no statutory limit on how many times a confidence motion can be brought forward and voted on.

In the course of that period the opposition may seek to form alliances within the Commons to demonstrate that they are the party most likely to command the confidence of the House and therefore should be given the opportunity to form a government.


The shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner has already suggested that the PM could face a series of confidence votes in the coming weeks.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said the SNP supports Jeremy Corbyn’s confidence motion. Describing the vote as “a defeat of historic proportions for the prime minister and her government”, Sturgeon said:

It has been crystal clear for months that the prime minister’s approach was heading for a crushing defeat. Instead of facing up to that fact, she wasted valuable time with her postponement of the meaningful vote in December. There is no more time to waste.

It’s almost certain that all of the other opposition parties will support the motion. But the DUP have already stated that they will support the government tomorrow, which was expected.

Here are the figures for how the parties voted on Theresa May’s deal:

 

You can sign the petition (here) to register your own no confidence in Theresa May’s government, and demand a general election.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Amber Rudd seems confused about the difference between ‘compassion’ and ‘conscious cruelty’

rudd

Image courtesy of Getty Images.

Last week, Amber Rudd made the claim that Universal Credit is “delivered with professionalism and care and compassion.”

However, it is clear – in the words of the public accounts committee, last year – that there is a very real “culture of indifference” within the Department for Work and Pensions and wider government.

Quite often, that “indifference” spills over into conscious cruelty – the term coined by  filmmaker Ken Loach for the UK social security system, during the filming of I, Daniel Blake.

In December, Amber Rudd appeared to strike a conciliatory tone, in in her first appearance before the work and pensions select committee, saying she was enthusiastic about Universal Credit but would not rush the rollout of the new system simply to meet ‘arbitrary timetables.’ Although she acknowledged concerns about the often devastating impact of the social security cuts on the most vulnerable citizens, she said her aim was to ‘restore public confidence’ in Universal Credit.

The problem is that ministers such as Amber Rudd are rather more concerned that Universal Credit has proved politically toxic for the government as a result of policy and design flaws, such as a five-week wait for an initial payment that have left thousands of people in debt, suffering from depression, and reliant on food banks, rather than the devastating impacts an chaos it is wreaking on citizens.

The government is in a weakened position, and is looking to secure support from the opposition for Theresa May’s Brexit deal. The PM has even recently phoned  union leaders to try and garner their support, which is an unprecedented move for a Conservative leader. So it’s unlikely that the ‘conciliatory’ tone is sincere or likely to last beyond the threats to power that the government currently faces. 

Rudd was responding to MPs’ concerns that up to 1 million ill and disabled claimants are at risk of destitution and isolation when they are transferred on to universal credit over the next three years, at the time.

Let’s not forget that last November, Rudd has used her first appearance in the House of Commons as work and pensions secretary to condemn an independent UN inquiry into poverty in the UK, over what she claimed was the “extraordinary political nature” of its language. Her response was about damage limitation to the government’s reputation rather than about engaging with the empirical evidence and recommendations presented in Philip Alston’s report.

The UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights said the government had inflicted poverty on people through austerity and called levels of child poverty “not just a disgrace but a social calamity and an economic disaster”. He also heavily criticised Universal Credit, which had been beset by ‘problems’ since its inception.

Asked about the tone of the UN report, May’s spokesman said: “We strongly disagree with the analysis.” However, it was a meticulously evidenced ‘analysis.’ The evidence for the report was provided by many people who have been adversely affected – and some people’s lives have been utterly devastated –  by austerity and the Conservative’s welfare ‘reforms’.

However, Rudd has nonetheless publicly promised to deliver “a fair, compassionate and efficient benefits system”, claiming that it has “good intentions” at its heart. 

What ‘good intentions are those?’

Dr Heather Wetherell, a GP, posted the following on Twitter last year:

Dear @DWP,

When a distraught mother has lost her young daughter, please can you tell me why you wont accept “grief reaction” as a sick note diagnosis? Telling a grieving mum this is not an illness is extremely insensitive. You have also wasted NHS time.

She added: “3 days after her daughter died, she got call from the DWP saying did she realise she couldn’t claim Attendance Allowance anymore & had to sign on Job Seekers. Mother panicked & found herself at a job interview the following week – at which she broke down in tears.

“She phoned me in a state on way home from the interview. I was horrified they had put her through this. I’m so upset by it all.”

Wetherell says that when her patient informed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of her bereavement and she was told,  “that’s not an illness… You need to go to your doctor and get a proper/better diagnosis” (she can’t recall exactly which word they used, but remembers feeling totally humiliated and felt they thought she was a fraud.)

Last year, Kirsty Scott told how her 19-year-old son and husband died within 18 months of each other. However, despite suffering physical and mental health conditions with a severely disabled son to look after, she was refused Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

She said: “Getting into the workhouse would have been an easier option.

“When my letter was sent to refuse me ESA it did not reflect what had gone on in the assessment.

“The language used was disgusting – things like ‘it is a lifestyle choice not to get out of bed’ or ‘the death of two close family members did not impact on my life enough’.

“I had lost my son and my husband, I was caring for a disabled son. Half of my family gone and they thought it was ok to say these things to me?

“I can’t tell you what it felt like when I got that letter, the desperation. It was like they thought I lied.

“There was no humanity in it whatsoever. My mental health went downhill.”

Clearly, the UK’s social security system does not facilitate people’s human rights, nor does it protect their dignity. DWP staff don’t practice safeguarding or even recognise a trauma informed approach to protect vulnerable citizens. It seems that callousness and cruelty have become habituated within the administrative structure, entrenched in policy designs within an ideological framework that has normalised the intended ‘hostile environment’.

Government policies are expressed political intentions regarding how our society is to be organised and governed. They have calculated social and economic aims and consequences. In democratic societies, citizens’ accounts of the impacts of policies ought to matter.

However, in the UK, the way that policies are justified and implemented is being increasingly detached from their aims and consequences, partly because democratic processes and basic human rights are being disassembled or side-stepped, and partly because the government employs the widespread use of linguistic strategies and techniques of persuasion to intentionally divert us from their aims and the consequences of their ideologically (rather than rationally) driven policies.

Furthermore, Conservative policies have become increasingly detached from public interests and needs.

Over the last 8 years, the Conservatives have coldly conceived society as a hierarchy of human value, from the pinnacle of supremicism, self-appointed authority and from behind their fact proof ideological screen. They have historically cast the poorest and the most vulnerable citizens as the putative “enemies of civilization.” Social Darwinism is written in bold throughout their policies.

There has never been a clearer contrast between the values and approach of the two main political parties: the Conservatives are authoritarian, they plainly imply that some people’s lives don’t matter – the food bank debate and the bedroom tax debate are further examples of cruelty, and of how Conservatives have reduced human subjects to objects of derision.

While Labour MPs spoke out in the debates about the terrible difficulties that vulnerable families in their constituencies are facing, we were faced with the unedifying spectacle of Tory MPs laughing, jeering and shouting their spiteful glee at the plight of those people that this government have intentionally impoverished – after all, policies are plain and legislated statements of intent.

By contrast, the Labour Party have fostered a counter-narrative that is decent, democratic, inclusive and centralises the fundamental equal worth of each human life. Labour’s policies are intentionally founded on a strong commitment to human rights – without which there can be no meaningful social justice and democracy.

The Conservatives have always been stunted in their vision for society by their own elitism and  preoccupation with the superficial characteristics and taxonomic ranking of human beings – the emphasis being on “what” we are  rather than the rather more important “who” we are. Because of this lack of social intelligence, the government has undermined our progress as a society, stifled human potential and failed to value human diversity and failed to recognise the equal worth of every citizen’s life, because of their own assembled fantasy of corrosive, elitist ideological myths.

I would like to thank Tom Pride for his article DWP tells grieving mother to find job 3 days after death of young child: “grief is not an illness”, which has informed some of this one. 


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Prime minister phones union leaders in desperate attempt to peddle her Brexit deal

theresa may on phone

Theresa May has taken the completely unprecedented move for a Conservative PM of telephoning union leaders, including Unite’s Len McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, to lobby support for her Brexit plans ahead of next week’s Commons showdown. 

I think he gave her pleading a swerve.

She also called Tim Roache, the general secretary of the GMB union. It was the first time she had spoken to either man since she became Prime Minister in 2016, indicating her desperation. Downing Street has also confirmed that she plans to call other union leaders, thought to include Unison’s Dave Prentis, in the run-up to Tuesday’s “meaningful vote” on her Brexit blueprint.

I’m sure the draconian policies designed to stifle trade union freedoms, which took our country down a dark path, will have been forgotten by now. We’ve all really valued the big move away from freedom and towards greater control for the state over our lives over the last eight years. Who could possibly object to state micromanagement and such authoritarian attacks on unions and collective bargaining, diminishing citizen freedoms that are not theirs to give away.

The EU Social Charter of Rights was intentionally excluded by May’s government from the Withdrawal Bill. Many Conservatives see Brexit as an opportunity for more deregulation and ‘cutting red tape.’ Priti Patel, for example, said: “If we could just halve the EU social and employment legislation we could deliver a £4.3bn boost to the economy.”

A boost for whom?

When Conservatives talk of a boost to the economy, they are usually referring a boost in private profits that comes at the expense of ordinary citizens.

Back in 1984, Margaret Thatcher reached the absurd conclusion it wasn’t possible for someone to be in a union and be loyal to their country. Consequently, GCHQ employees in Cheltenham were denied their basic rights and could no longer have the protection of a union at work. Fourteen workers who refused to give up their union membership cards were unceremoniously sacked.

In 2013, the coalition government introduced fees for taking cases to employment tribunals, claiming it would cut “weak and unnecessary cases”. This not only limited access to justice for some of the most vulnerable citizens in our society, it also gave some of the most unscrupulous bosses free reign exploit people, to abuse health and safety and employment law, knowing there was little chance of being called to account.  In July 2017, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tribunal fees were unlawful and the government was forced to reimburse all those who had paid them. This is a prime example of a vindictive government policy which hurt employees.

In 2015, when the Conservatives were elected with an overall majority, they attacked the trade unions and their right to organise and strike. The right to strike is a fundamental freedom in our democracy.

Now the Conservatives have the brass neck to treat worker’s rights as a mere bargaining chip to get their own way. A means to an end, nothing more. I’m pleased to say that Roache gave her a scornful rebuff to her bargaining bid. He said: “I represent 620,000 working people and it’s about time their voices were heard. After nearly three years I’m glad the Prime Minister finally picked up the phone.

“As you would expect, I was very clear about GMB’s position – the deal on the table isn’t good enough and non-binding assurances on workers’ rights won’t cut it.”

“If the deal genuinely did the the job for GMB members, our union would support it, but it doesn’t,” he added.

Both unions came out against her deal, saying her efforts to woo them were nowhere near enough to get their support. 

May’s approach is all the more surprising because of her previous lack of engagement with the TUC’s Frances O’Grady, revealing last year that she had only met the PM once since she came to power.

The PM has also launched an attempt to sell the merits of her withdrawal agreement to Labour backbenchers in an apparent recognition that she needs to reach out to opposition MPs to avert a very heavy defeat. The government is also preparing to back an amendment tabled by Labour MPs John Mann, Caroline Flint, Lisa Nandy and Gareth Snell to give stronger guarantees that EU workers’ rights and environmental safeguards are enshrined in British law.

Mann met the PM last night along with others, including Flint and Snell, to discuss working together.

It’s rather late in the day for the PM to suddenly declare her concern for worker’s rights. The Conservatives have spent the last eight years destroying people’s job security, and any opportunity for worker’s to exercise collective bargaining. People claiming social security, for example, are coerced into accepting any employment, regardless of pay or conditions, otherwise they face sanction – the withdrawal of their lifeline support, which is barely enough, as it is, to meet basic living costs. 

May has gone out of her way to meet small groups of Labour MPs from strongly Leave-supporting constituencies. Nandy, the MP for Wigan, told the BBC that the PM would only win backing for her agreement if she negotiated with the majority of MPs opposed to no deal or a hard Brexit.

“That’s the importance of what happened this week. Finally there seems to be a recognition from the Conservative leadership that they are going to have to do that,” she said.

Downing Street described May’s contact with union leaders as “constructive” and denied that the move was a sign of desperation.

A spokeswoman said: “It’s part of her ongoing engagement with leaders from across the United Kingdom.”

She added: “The PM speaks to leaders across a range of industries, business groups, and has done that consistently throughout this process and today she spoke to a couple of union leaders and there will be further engagement in the days ahead.”

The news comes as a fresh analysis from the BBC indicates that the PM could face a whopping 228 vote loss. 

 

Related

The link between Trade Unionism and equality 

 


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A Conservative MP defends Jeremy Corbyn as he responds to Conservative’s dead cat strategy – allegations of ‘sexism’

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was accused of calling Prime Minister Theresa May a “stupid woman” in parliament today. 

Corbyn was seen after the alleged event on parliamentary footage muttering after he sat down following an exchange with a particularly vindictive May at the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions session during which she peevishly mocked him for not calling a vote of confidence in the government, turning the debate quite literally into utterly disrespectful pantomime.

A number of Conservative MPs demanded that Speaker of the House John Bercow  intervened but he refused, stating that he hadn’t heard Corbyn utter the alleged phrase. That resulted in Conservative MP and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom aggressively critcising Bercow, saying the speaker had not apologised for calling her a “stupid woman” earlier in the year. 

Some of the media claimed that ‘lip speakers’ said Corbyn had said “stupid woman”. The BBC said that this was unanimously agreed among lip readers. However it isn’t:

alison

Corbyn stated: “I referred to those who I believe were seeking to turn a debate about the national crisis facing our country into a pantomime as ‘stupid people’,’ he said. ‘I did not use the words ‘stupid woman’ about the Prime Minister or anyone else, and am completely opposed to the use of sexist or misogynist language in absolutely any form at all.”

It’s very true that the Conservatives, taking their cue from the prime minister, turned PMQs into an utterly disrespectful, diversionary and vindictive pantomime, complete with the usual spiteful smirks, and barn yard braying that the Conservatives have normalised in the Commons . You can see the clip of the pantomime here 

Professional lip readers have been divided on what they think he said.

Desmond Swayne MP

One Conservative MP, Desmond Swayne, has actually defended Corbyn, saying that condemning what an MP might have said under their breath is entering the “realms of thought crime”.

He said: “What unnerved me was the enthusiasm with which colleagues preyed-in-aid the skills of lip-readers to work out exactly what he said.

“I sometimes whisper things under my breath: They are my private thoughts, perhaps to be shared with a close neighbour only, that’s why I whisper them rather than stating them out loud for the record.

“The notion that we should be watched by lip-readers to see what we are whispering, so that we can be hauled before the authorities (in this case Mr Speaker), is deeply worrying.

“This is dangerous territory: we are on a slippery slope to the ‘thought crime’ of which George Orwell so eloquently warned in his novel 1984. We should make it compulsory New Year reading for all MPs.”

I thought the Conservatives were actually using 1984 as a manual.

Swayne is right. No-one in the media seems worried that a man mumbling something  to himself that no-one actually heard warrants the authoritarian response of employing lip readers to police the thoughts and quiet mutterings of the leader of the opposition. The abuse and rudeness he has to confront day after day in the Commons is conveniently ignored, of course. Shame on the majority of mainstream media outlets for printing from the Tory PR crib sheet without question.

Around 200 Tory MPs clamoured to make a point of order, amid howls of outrage and shrieked demands for an apology.

It’s extraordinary that the government have become the first in the UK to be found in contempt of parliament, they have systematically avoided accountability, they have conducted Commons debates behaving disruptively, maliciously, without decorum, showing the utmost disrespect towards opposition parties and the general public. 

The Labour leader’s spokesman had said afterwards that Corbyn had said ‘stupid people’, referring generally to Conservative MPs who were not taking the issues being debated seriously. That’s an understatement, the Conservatives were behaving as they usually do, as vindictive, baying barn yard bullies.

He said he had confirmed the word spoken with the Labour leader personally, adding: “He did not call her a stupid woman and so I don’t think there’s any basis for an apology.” before adding the following insightful words: “Anyone interested in the crisis facing the country?”

It’s a dead cat

Dead cat strategy refers to the introduction of a dramatic, shocking, or sensationalist topic to divert discourse away from a more damaging topic. Not to be confused with Wag the Dog, which is a 1997 black comedy film where a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer fabricate a war to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal. It was produced and directed by Barry Levinson. Wag the Dog was released one month before the outbreak of the Lewinsky scandal and the subsequent bombing of the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Sudan by the Clinton administration in August 1998, which prompted the media to draw comparisons between the film and reality. The comparison was made again in December 1998 when the administration initiated a bombing campaign of Iraq just prior to Clinton’s impeachment over the Lewinsky scandal.

Diversionary strategies are just what the term implies: tactics used to try to derail and silence an argument rather than address it. It’s a somewhat overused strategy by the Tories, it typically involves diverting the discussion by attempting to aggressively shame an opponent or critic complete with complicit crib sheeted multiple media echoes and variations of “Shame on you”. 

Raise the issue of racism, and the Conservatives will call you racist. Highlight some example of bullying and you are ‘the real bully’. Express concern about low wages for the working majority and you are accused of waging ‘class warfare’. Black is white, up is down, and nowhere does this actually make sense.

The Conservatives have become masters of public spin campaigns to distract or neutralise legitimate debate about issues.

 


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A letter to Theresa May from a cancer patient who was turned down for PIP

Paige Garratt was just 22 when she was diagnosed with advanced, stage 4 Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes and lungs.

Last month, i published a story about how a benefits assessor visited her during her chemotherapy treatment and decided she was ‘not sick enough’ for Personal Independence Payment (PIP). She had lost all of her hair and was so ill during the home visit she couldn’t raise her head off the sofa. 

Here, Paige shares an open letter to the Prime Minister:

Dear Theresa May,

I cried when I opened the letter that said I wasn’t entitled to some help when I was extremely sick.

It’s hard to find the words to describe the panic and despair you feel having been diagnosed with cancer. It’s utterly, utterly, terrifying.

Can you imagine having to deal with everything cancer brings, then a stranger decides you’re not ‘sick enough’ for some financial help from the Government? 

It’s physically exhausting to go through round after round of chemotherapy and your body feels ravaged. There’s the nausea, brain fog, sleep problems and hair loss.

Then there’s the worries over the possible permanent damage – it was such a knock to be warned the treatment may rob me of my fertility at aged 22. It could have also affected my heart and lungs.

On top of that, you can’t go to work so you’re on basic statutory sick pay. But the bills still need paying, plus there’s the cost of the trips to the hospital (three times a week for my chemotherapy). 

The heating bills went up too and I needed new warmer clothing as the chemo gave me the chills. Knowing I wasn’t getting any support meant I had to force myself to go back to work when I still felt extremely ill – I shouldn’t have had to do this.

Can you imagine having to deal with everything cancer brings, including the stress of how you’ll pay your bills, then a stranger decides you’re not ‘sick enough’ for some financial help from the Government?

The very last thing cancer patients should be worrying about is finances – but that’s what your ‘austerity measures’ are doing to us.

The whole process of claiming was lengthy. It took two months to get a response to my initial application – and another month for the home visit to take place – and by this time I had used up all my savings.

Yet the benefits assessor decided I didn’t need any help with caring for myself while battling cancer and chemotherapy.

Then why did my mum have to take three months of work to take care of me, as I was unable to do basic things such as feed and wash myself some days?

On the home visit, the chemo had made my head so heavy I couldn’t hold it up without using my hands, so I had it rested on the arm of the sofa the whole time.

How could the person who assessed me genuinely not see that I was broken? She wrote down that my mental health did not seem to be affected. She didn’t even ask me how I was feeling.

The assessors are not blind – as human beings they must see when genuinely needy people are struggling. There’s just one reason they are making these decisions – because of your  ‘austerity measures’.

I was made to feel like I was lying, a fraud.

I am not. I am a hard working person who was working not one but two jobs, so that I could support myself and save up for a house deposit when I was struck by cancer.

Your Government says it wants to come down on the benefit scroungers who abuse the system. I am not one of them – your cut backs are hurting genuine people in need.

Because I had to spend all my savings I have to start from the bottom financially. How is this fair? I have paid my taxes to your Government and I deserve help when I need it. We all do.

The response to the story about me was overwhelming. A leading doctor said my case showed “our country has reached a new low of callousness”.

One person on Twitter suggested I hadn’t been clever enough to play the system. Why should cancer patients and other people with serious illnesses have to think like that on top of everything they’re dealing with?

How do you think it makes someone like me feel, when I read that private firms Independent Assessment Services (formerly known as Atos) and Capita raked in in more than £250 million for carrying out these gruelling medical assessments – a £40m increase in funding despite widespread concerns with the system? 

Mrs May, why are you rewarding them for making desperately ill people destitute? 

I went back to work at the bakery too soon, trying to manage two hours a day but standing on my feet all day completely knocked me. Then with my CLIC sargent social worker’s help, I managed to successfully appeal the decision and was awarded PIP in May this year. 

This was around seven months after I had first been diagnosed. People with cancer need the financial help when they’re off work sick and struggling.

The way I was treated by your Government added extra stress during the darkest days of my life.

People are dying because of benefit cut backs. Mrs May, will you reply to my question to you: Are you going to carry on treating sick and disabled people this way?

Paige finished her chemotherapy in March this year and a scan has shown she is in remission.

She said  “The whole experience of PIP has been so negative and de-humanising. I was made to feel like I’m doing something wrong for being ill.”

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson gave the usual crib sheet drivel as a response: “We are committed to supporting people with disabilities and health conditions. We support 1.88 million people through PIP and 1.97 million people through DLA. We have never spent more on benefits for disabled people and people with long-term health conditions, totalling over £50bn a year – up £7bn since 2010. Under PIP, 30% of claimants receive the highest rate of support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.

“But we constantly seek to improve the quality of PIP assessments. We have commissioned to independent reviews of PIP, and most recently announced that we will pilot video recording of assessments, improving confidence in the assessment process. We will continue to reassess the quality of the process to ensure that it works well for everyone.”

Included in the amount spent on ‘benefits for disabled people’ is the extortionate and ever-rising cost of paying for inept, profiteering private companies to deliver the completely unfit for purpose assessments.

The DWP seem to think they are personally paying for ill and disabled people’s support. However, most have worked and contributed tax to the social security system, and should be able to reasonably expect support in their time of need. Yet all too often people are de-humanised, and treated without dignity, respect and compassion when they turn to the state provision they have contributed to, when they become vulnerable because of ill health.

The government has clearly mismanaged our public funds, because week after week I see people who are seriously ill and need crucial support being refused their lifeline by the state.

After five years and a lot of critical feedback from people going through the PIP process and from charities and allied associates, academics and shadow ministers, you would expect that it would ‘work well for everyone’ by now.

Related

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Fear of losing disability support led a vulnerable man to a horrific suicide

Disabled mum took fatal overdose after she was refused PIP 

A man with multiple sclerosis lost his PIP award after assessment report was dishonestly edited during ‘audit’

 


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