Some thoughts came to mind:
Welcome to the year of the Snake 2013/14 will it be tears of joy or tears of sorrow for great fight against the Con-Dem coalition of millionaires.
If you thought the Labour was bad on assulting British society was bad then cast your eyes on Coalition continuing assaults on British society dole queues may already be growing and soup kitchens doing roaring business, but this is the year when “austerity” really starts to bite hard and whilst the tuff nose partner in crime Lib dems (Fibdems) continue to to bed the Conservatives.
Council budgets are set to be slashed. Hundreds of thousands of public servants will be shown the way to the jobcentre. Vital benefit payments will be snatched from the hands of the disabled and the penniless. And the hated Health and Social Care Act will effectively destroy the NHS as we know it.
The left and labour movement have only months remaining to defend all that we fought for and won, or see the rewards of decades of struggle looted from us by an illegitimate coalition of spivs, crooks, liars and wealthy idlers.
But the first question we would put to Ms O’Grady in her new role is: so what now?
It’s a waste of breath to talk of calling on the government to change course. It’s been facing such calls from day one and has ignored every single one.
The great TUC demonstration on March 26 2011 didn’t stop the cuts. Nor did criticism even from right-wing economists who are increasingly forced to admit the obvious truth that austerity will deepen the recession, not end it.
Nor did mounting hostility even among the Tory faithful in the shires and the right-wing media, who fear the very real prospect of their party being cast into the electoral wilderness for another generation as punishment for this savagery.
If rational argument won’t work, and media condemnation won’t work, and mass protest won’t work, then we need to escalate our fightback.
It is not enough simply to sit back, watch and wait for the return of a Labour government as activists we need to lead the fight back now with the support of our Labour colleagues let them know why we elected them in the first place to help the working, and middle classes in the time of our needs.
Lets not forget “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”
That means preparing for co-ordinated and general lobbying action of our Labour MPs at the House of Commons.
But despite decades of attacks on trade union rights, and low paid workers and unemployment experts say that such an act is still a legal act.
It also still has the power to make governments tremble in their boots.
There is a great deal of work to be done to make it happen. Unions need to identify what they want and what they’re capable of, and plan a joint strategy accordingly.
This is precisely what TUC delegates backed at their September Congress.
The detail is a question for trade unions themselves to answer based on a level-headed assessment of the needs of the hour.
But the broader question is not in doubt. We need co-ordinated and general strike to save what is left of our welfare state and lay the foundations for a new, better, socialist society.
And we need it as soon as the labour movement can deliver it.
You’d be forgiven this week for thinking every paper in the country had merged with the Daily Mail. It was shaping up to be a desperately slow news week. And then, like manna from a bitter, paranoid, ethnically homogenous heaven, the Daily Mail headline came up with a headline too good for any editor to resist. “Hit The Gym Or Jog On, Fatties On Benefits Told,” it screamed.
For once, unusually for the Mail, it’s actually true. The sombre-sounding think tank the Local Government Information Unit drummed up this brilliant wheeze in A Dose Of Localism: The Role Of Councils In Public Health, co-authored by the Tory-controlled Westminster council.
You may recall them as the friendly folk who sought to ban soup kitchens around Westminster cathedral last year.
Weighing in at just 10 pages, with not a single footnote or reference to the vast body of public health research, the offending report includes such daring recommendations as “create and develop healthy sustainable places” and “ensure a healthy standard of living for all.”
It’s not all entirely buzz-words, mind you. There’s talk of doctors offering prescriptions for exercise at local pools, gyms and the like. That’s not a bad idea, even if a 33 per cent discount on a gym membership is still out of many people’s reach.
Then, amid the dross, there’s a paragraph simply titled “Welfare.”
It states: “Relocalisation of council tax benefit and housing benefit combined with new technologies provide an opportunity for councils to embed financial incentives for behaviours that promote public health.
“The increasing use of smart cards for access to leisure facilities, for instance, provides councils with a significant amount of data on usage patterns. Where an exercise package is prescribed to a resident, housing and council tax benefit payments could be varied to reward or incentivise residents.”
That’s the pitch in its entirety. Not “is there evidence to suggest this is an effective approach?” or “Has the medical community demonstrated any support for this?” or even “What are the ethical and practical implications of making people with existing health conditions homeless?”
It’s little surprise then that the report’s author Laurie Thraves moonlights for the Tory-founded think tank Reform, he of the same incisive mind who would scrap tuition fee caps entirely and who was among the first to tout for police and crime commissioners.
Nor is it a surprise that Westminster council leader Philippa Roe has already endorsed the report as “exactly the sort of bright, forward-thinking and radical ideas that need to be looked at.”
Presumably she will also look at reversing her council’s decision last year to close the Jubilee Sports Centre in one of the most deprived wards in the entire country, with the nearest centre now half a mile away on the decidedly more posh Regent Street.
Meanwhile literally hundreds more centres across Britain face a similar fate under the Con-Dems‘ cuts to local authority budgets.
As it happens there’s no clear relationship between obesity, class and income. The health survey for England, administered by the Department of Health, has consistently shown in recent years that the lowest obesity rates are among the poorest fifth of working-age men and the very richest fifth of working-age women.
We proles still have generally worse health. Official figures show below-average earners are three times more likely to develop a long-term illness or disability in middle age than high earners. But obesity isn’t necessarily one of them.
So Westminster’s pitch for the biggest benefit loser is less about targeting those most in need than simply manipulating those who are most vulnerable.
At least in this instance claimants will have the medical community fighting on their side for the sake of the patient-doctor relationship – if anything, the scheme seems likely to leave people afraid of visiting their GP for fear of losing their benefits.
And in that regard, Atos’s tick-box testing of disabled claimants has given us all the case studies we need.
A cynical spectator might even think it simply another pretext for stripping away benefits, in much the same way that “localism” has become a pretext for defunding public services. But Tories, cynical? Never.
See extracts from George Osborne:
Spelt out in his first budget, any tax and benefits system needs to pass three tests: it must be simple… fair… and support work, aspiration and those who do the right thing.
His changes to child benefit, which come into force in January, fail all three tests abysmally.
Far from being easy to understand, they are so convoluted that HMRC is recruiting 1,000 extra staff to join the 8,500 on standby to handle a flood of queries.
This is after letters to parents, only now being sent out, were delayed for months while the taxman struggled to find words to explain the complexities.
As for the Chancellor’s second test, where is the fairness in cutting child benefit for some families with an income of just over £50,000 a year, while others on up to £100,000 will lose not a penny?
So much for saying taxes should ‘ask the most from those who can most afford it’.
Failing his third test, too, the changes offer a range of perverse incentives to do the wrong thing – discouraging aspiration to work for a pay rise, while punishing stay-at-home mothers and couples who remain together to raise their young.
To remove any doubt about how ill-conceived these changes are, Mr Osborne need only read the list of questions HMRC snoopers will be asking parents to check the validity of claims:
Is there a ‘volatile history’ of repeated splits and reconciliations in your relationship? Who pays the children’s pocket money? Do you tend to spend your leisure time together or separately?
When such intrusive questions become the taxman’s concern, isn’t it a sure sign that something is hideously wrong?
In these desperate economic times, there may be powerful arguments for denying benefits to those who don’t need them. But this is not the way to do it.
If Mr Osborne has any more changes up his sleeve, he should remember his three tests – and practise what he preaches.
Case for LCP inquiry
When one of the country’s most eminent cancer specialists breaks ranks to condemn NHS-approved treatment of the dying as ‘negligent’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘morally bad medicine’, the Government must surely take notice.
Indeed, Professor Mark Glaser’s deeply disturbing verdict on the Liverpool Care Pathway, which he says is routinely used to free beds by hastening death, should be compulsory reading for anyone lulled by the assurances of the medical Establishment.
Today, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to announce that doctors will be banned from putting patients on the LCP without families’ informed consent.
Welcome though it is, his swift action in response to the Mail’s harrowing reports from relatives can only be a first step.
As this paper has always acknowledged, there are no black-and-white answers to the hugely complex moral and humanitarian questions surrounding treatment of the terminally ill.
But this is all the more reason why Mr Hunt should heed Professor Glaser’s call for a full investigation – not just an inquiry run by champions of the LCP.
Coalition tug of war
As British utilities, airports and firms such as Cadbury’s fall into foreign hands – even defence giant BAE is threatened – this paper welcomed Lord Heseltine’s plan that ministers should block takeovers that fail a public interest test.
Yet barely is the ink dry on the veteran Tory’s report than Vince Cable rejects the idea, declaring he won’t support ‘economic nationalism’.
How much longer must decision-making be put on hold, while Tories and Lib Dems pull in opposite directions?