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Michael Meacher MP on Labour’s Defeat – Chartist AGM.

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Michael Meacher MP Backs Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader.

The Chartist AGM was held on Saturday at the University of Westminster. Around 40 people gathered to discuss, as democratic socialists, “post election perspectives”.

The meeting began with Michael Meacher, the veteran (as they say) MP for Oldham West and Royton. He talked of how we are on the left are in a “very bad place” after the election defeat.

Why had this happened ? – Meacher asked. While there is a need to look at detailed analysis of the polls, which will emerge – there are some points, the MP said, that could be made now.

The principal point is that the evidence is that the party lost because voters were not “prepared to trust Labour with finances”. The Conservatives had, during the whole Coalition period, been hammering away at the claim that the legacy of the Blair and the Brown years had been economic incompetence faced with the banking crisis and its aftermath. They had left a massive budget deficit that, the Tories claimed, only they were capable of dealing with.

The Labour Party had not met this message, repeated and repeated. They had not clearly pointed to the flimsy foundations of the Conservatives’ claims to economic competence. The ‘recovery’ was already “fizzling out”, wages had not recovered, and more employment (largely confined to London and the South-east) was above all in the precarious and badly paid work. The Coalition had not even been able to meet their own claims to resolve their own favourite problem – the deficit. Instead Ed Balls and the team around Miliband had accepted the right-wing premise that austerity was necessary.

With Labour unable to challenge the grounds of David Cameron and George Osborne’s economic strategy, the electorate preferred to place their confidence in the outgoing Tories instead of a new government.

Meacher then outlined an alternative to austerity, and long-term measures to deal with inequality. Fiscal policy should be a form of modern Keynesianism. Against “market fundamentalism” strategic areas of the economy would benefit from public intervention and control. The poor services offered by the privatised utilities and transport, had to be tackled, and manufacturing promoted.

Through the tax system and inside companies measures should be introduced to reduce, by a long-term and determined effort, the gulf between the sky-high salaries of the super-rich and ordinary people. This would also help increase public revenue and provide increased revenue for public services.

The AGM then heard a valuable contribution on the Greek left government, Syriza, by Isidoros Diakides (Greece Solidarity Campaign and a Haringey councillor). He painted a picture of just how severe the plight of the Greeks people had become.

The day’s debates that followed these well-argued talks were wide ranging. Many different points were raised. Meacher’s principal explanation for Labour’s defeat – the feeling that Miliband was not to be trusted with the economy – received support. However appealing Labour policies on issues such as the living wage and increased workers’ rights were, they had not stood up clearly to the Tories in this area. Accepting tight fiscal policy, and the need to cutting back on public spending, was a principal problem.

Austerity had to be fought. This was one of the reasons why Meacher had now “switched” support in the Labour Party leadership campaign to Jeremy Corbyn.

Yet some new Labour MPs had managed to win by reaching out into the community. The undermining of the ground of social democratic politics was discussed. The view that British politics could melt down and prepare the way for a Syriza or a Podemos did not get much backing. The differences between Greek, Spanish and our economies and politics were underlined, from the scale of the economic disaster in Greece to the extent of corruption in Spain, which stimulated the rise of these parties, were mentioned. Problems with Podemos, such as its vertical structure, were mentioned.

For others there was the issue of Scottish nationalism and the high vote for UKIP (despite their failure to secure more than one MP). It was suggested that constitutional issues remained central. A candidate who had stood for the Bermondsey  Republican Socialists in London took the view that the whole electoral process had become irrelevant.

Somebody pointed out that the Republican socialist had received 20 votes in the General Election (0.0%).

We think we can guess who that somebody was.

There was panel on migration, racism and nationalism.

Don Flynn (Migrant Rights Network) warned the meeting of a new clampdown on migrants. ‘Illegal’ workers will find their wages treated as criminal revenue and confiscated. Tehmina Kazi (Muslims for Secular Democracy) spoke on the twin threats of prejudice against Muslims and the rise of intolerant Islam. Secularism, universal rights, was the alternative to both. She cited, as a young woman her inspiration: Southall Black Sisters and the beloved Gita Segal.

Andy Greeg (Race on the Agenda) outlined the issues involved in different ethnic or ‘race’ policies and the problems of politics which depended on ‘community leaders’. He mentioned that the Conservatives had actively sought support from Hindus. The election results showed that the Tories had scored well in this constituency, and amongst Sikhs. Labour could not take the Black and Minority Vote for granted.

A high-point of the day was a talk, “Cartooning against the Coalition’, illustrated by magic lantern, by the cartoonist, Martin Rowson.

It is hard to recall the name of the politician whose face he described as resembling a “balloon full of sick”.

We will leave it to readers to imagine who it is.

More on Chartist Magazine

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn launches bid for the Party Leadership on Anti-austerity Platform.

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Jeremy Corbyn in Bid for Labour Leadership.

After the election John  McDonnell MP  made this analysis (LRC).

THIS IS THE DARKEST HOUR THAT SOCIALISTS IN BRITAIN HAVE FACED since the Attlee government fell in 1951. It isn’t just the scale of the electoral defeat – but the overwhelming incorporation of so much of the Labour Party into the political and economic system that the Labour Party was founded to transform.

…..

There are three immediate tasks. First, we have to recognise – even more than before – that with a Tory majority government the main forms of effective resistance will be on the streets, in occupations and on picket lines. This is a time for intensive activism. This is not some form of displacement activity from other forms of political engagement, but an essential role that the left, especially the Labour left, must now grasp more enthusiastically and with more determination than ever. ….

Second, the Labour left may not have the resources in Parliament to secure a left candidate on the ballot paper for the Labour leadership election but we do have the intellectual resources to dominate the ideological and policy debate in this leadership election……

Third, the crisis our class now faces means that the left needs to get real and get together. This is no time for sectarian division. Anyone who divides us is aiding and abetting the Tories and other forces of reaction. I do not think the threat of UKIP has gone away.

It is the first and second points which make the most impact (because frankly there are divisions about, above all, the EU Referendum which are not due to ‘sectarianism’ but to very deep divisions over Europe which are not going to go away).

Now we hear.

Jeremy Corbyn runs for Labour leader: Veteran MP launches surprise bid declaring other contenders are too right-wing reports the Daily Mirror,

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn tonight launches a surprise bid for the party leadership.

The left-winger revealed he wanted to give Labour members “a proper choice” when they elected a new chief.

He becomes the fifth MP to throw his hat into the ring, joining four already firmly-established contenders.

They are Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Coooper, Shadow Health Minister Liz Kendall and Shadow International Development Secretary Mary Creagh.

 Mr Corbyn believed the four declared candidates were too similar, saying: “They are not offering a clear enough alternative on the economic strategy and austerity, and our attitude to welfare expenditure.

“We think the left members of the party need to have a chance of a debate.”

On his Blog site Jeremy Corbyn wrote after the election,

Voting Revealed A Disjointed Britain: Labour’s Task Is To Unify And Equalise It.

The real issue is of course austerity. Ed Miliband made some brilliant points during the campaign about wages, working conditions, education opportunities and housing, and clearly was mobilising quite a lot of younger voters to support the party.

The problem was that while Chancellor George Osborne was claiming that austerity was working and thus ignoring the inequality and poverty created, Ed Balls was in essence saying that the only difference in Labour’s policy was that his economic strategy would simply take longer to deal with the deficit.

He was not offering to restore the funding that the Tories have cut in local government particularly, or reverse cuts to benefits over the past five years.

The reality is that within a few months the Tories are going to be in disarray over Europe and many will rapidly realise the horror of what has happened when they see rising poverty and further attacks on working conditions. Surely the need for Labour is to examine the economic strategy needed to develop a more equal society with full employment, decent housing and a fully funded and public NHS, rather than taking the advice of Peter Mandelson and Lord Sugar that we weren’t “appealing to big business.” By September we will know who the new Labour leader is, and the rules require that 35 Labour MPs nominate an individual to be a candidate. I hope there are enough Labour MPs prepared to support an anti-austerity candidate in the leadership election so that party members and affiliated supporters have a real choice.

Owen Jones notes (just published on the Guardian website),

It is up to Labour MPs whether party members and trade unionists will have the opportunity to have a meaningful debate. Under Ed Miliband’s leadership the threshold for how many nominations a leadership candidate must receive to appear on the ballot paper was raised to 15%. Unless 35 Labour MPs nominate Corbyn, this farce of a leadership contest will continue and the Labour party – and the country as a whole – will learn nothing from it.

Back in 2007, I worked for the prospective Labour leadership campaign of John McDonnell, a close ally of Corbyn. But after McDonnell outshone Gordon Brown in a single leadership hustings – with the soon-to-be-unopposed leader becoming evidently flustered during the course of the evening – the Brownite goons roared into action. They knew their man would win, but they feared an unexpectedly positive showing by McDonnell in both the debates and the final result. Arm-twisting and arm-breaking followed, and a coronation ensued. Brown never defined himself, and arguably fatally wounded his premiership from the outset.

……

Corbyn was an arch critic of New Labour, and ironically would be the sole real defender of New Labour’s record in the contest. He would fight a rearguard offensive against the lie that Blair and Brown caused the crisis by spending too much money on schools and hospitals – spending backed, penny for penny, by the Tories until the end of 2008. He will be able to draw from the findings of Britain’s leading pollster, John Curtice – who accurately predicted the outcome of the election; these findings dispute that Labour lost for being too leftwing, and underline that Labour lost Scotland partly for being too rightwing.

Corbyn could also draw on the conclusion of Peter Kellner, the YouGov pollster, that however Ed Miliband allowed himself to be portrayed, his policies were less radical than those of Tony Blair in 1997. He could nail why Labour lost: the implosion in Scotland, and the consequent anti-SNP hysteria; the lie of “overspending”; and the lack of any coherent alternative.

If Labour MPs deny the party and the country a genuine debate, it will reflect disastrously on them. It will do whoever emerges victorious no good, either. Labour has just suffered one of the worst defeats in its history. If the party doesn’t have the good sense to have a meaningful debate now, you might wonder why it doesn’t just pack up. So come on, Labour MPs. Put your future careers aside for party and national interest. Lend Corbyn a nomination, and let a real debate begin.

I agree with Owen Jones.

A Corbyn candidacy would allow us to have a real debate, on a range of issues.

Whether we agree with Corbyn on every stand he’s ever taken is irrelevant.

He is the only one stand up against austerity.

That is the main issue.

Let’s not forget that it’s not only Labour members who will have a say in the end: it’s us affiliated trade unionists.

Our unions have taken a stand against austerity.

We have campaigned with organisations like the People’s Assembly against austerity.

Many of us also campaigned for the Labour Party.

We deserve a chance to back a candidate who expresses our views.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JeremyCorbyn4Leader?hc_location=ufi

George Galloway to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

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Next Mayor of London.

 

George Galloway has become the latest candidate in a crowded field vying to succeed Boris Johnson as Mayor of London.

Johnson will be stepping down as mayor in next year’s election, after he was elected to represent Uxbridge in Parliament.

Hat-Tip DT.

 

Galloway tweeted the announcement, urging anyone that can help his campaign to get in touch. The tweet features his son patting the politician on the back, with the caption “you’ve got this”.

 

 

 

He is expected to gain strong support from this rebel group.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 28, 2015 at 3:56 pm

His Lordship Mandelson Stabs Labour Party in the Back -Again.

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Mandelson: Long History of Backstabbing. *

Labour is “headed downward” as the main leadership contenders are “unwilling to make hard policy choices” and break the link with the past, Lord Mandelson has said.  The former Labour business secretary said that the challenge facing the party is worse than it was in the 1980s as he accused Ed Miliband of embarking on an “unconvincing ideological crusade” and trying to wage “class war”.
He said that voters had been “justly cautious” about backing the party as he accused the former Labour leader of “pitting one half of the nation against the other”.

In a direct criticism of the candidates for the leadership, he accused them of trying to focus on party unity and continuity, “a luxury that is not open to them if they want to win”.

Telegraph.

 

* 1999 January  Mandelson branded back-stabber

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 19, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Our History. Roots of the British Socialist Movement. Duncan Bowie. Review.

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Our History. Roots of the British Socialist Movement. Duncan Bowie. Chartist and Socialist History Society, £4.

Edward Thompson once talked of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ approach to the labour movement’s past. That is, it’s ransacked for “forerunners” of present-day ideas. The academic left, no less than Leninists, tends to sift through our history, to remove the chaff of faulty thinkers. Few are willing to consider without the condescension of posterity the principles and actions of our political ancestors.

Every issue of Chartist contains an ‘Our History’ column by Duncan Bowie. The intention is to “draw attention to the writings of earlier radicals and socialists”. An individual is selected (the most recent is Fred Henderson, the first socialist elected to Norwich City Council – heard of him? I hadn’t) with a short biography and an extract from their work.

The present pamphlet contains the first 50 of these contributions. It begins with the People’s Charter of 1838, which argued for democratic universal franchise, and the “principle of self-government”. Following soon after is Bronterre O’Brien, the leader of the Jacobin tendency amongst the Chartists, underlines the early republicanism of the British left, with an introduction to Buonarroti’s history of Babeuf’s Conspiracy for Equality and a speech praising Robespierre in 1859. It ends with Keir Hardie in From Serfdom to Socialism (1907) stating that “Socialism implies the inherent equality of all human beings….Holding this to be true of all individuals, the Socialist applies it also it also to races…”

Duncan introduces us to William Linton, influenced (as was much of the 19th century European left) by the Italian republican Mazzini. His belief in the “perfectibility of the human race” may perhaps not be fashionable. But it’s a reminder that our past rests on far better foundations than those who would make us bow down before religious and racial difference. Women are represented: Annie Besant (in her socialist and rationalist pre-Theosophy period), Eleanor Marx and Isabella Ford – the first woman to speak at a Labour Party conference in support of a motion that women should be given the right to vote on the same terms as men.

Duncan has selected many who played a role in spreading socialist ideas into the labour movement and further afield. Radicals, by the end of the 19th century often aligned to the Liberal Party, those influenced by Henry George (the only non-British or Irish person represented) and his land reform programme gradually gives was to the formation of independent socialist organisations. The first British Marxist, Belford Bax, reminds us that Henry Hyndman’ England for All (1881) was not unique in that field. There is place for Christian socialists, Fabians, and, naturally for William Morris, one of the few Victorian socialist writers still widely read.

Our History is an abundance of riches. It is also dependable: Duncan has cross-referenced his articles with Labour and Radical Biographical dictionaries and has an extensive collection of the original literature. Perhaps one might extend the hint in O’Brien and Linton’s interest in other European radical and left wing thinkers to the impact that Louis Blanc had, during his long exile in London, on the British left. John Stuart Mill’s famous ‘Chapters on Socialism’ refer to him and to Blanqui, not to Marx.

A gem of a pamphlet we look forward to January’s Chartist for the next Our History.

PDF (earlier version)

Scotland: Nationalists Lose, and Demand More Powers.

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Loser expects Devolution Demands to be met “in Rapid Form”. 

The campaign for Scottish Independence lost the referendum.

“With the results in from all 32 council areas, the “No” side won with 2,001,926 votes over 1,617,989 for “Yes”.” (BBC)

With the grace and good humour of a stoat, a stoat that’s just had a rabbit snatched from its maw, Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP announced, “Scotland has, by a majority, decided not at this stage to become an independent country. And I accept that verdict of the people. And I call on all of Scotland to follow suit in accepting the democratic verdict of the people of Scotland.”

The First Minister of Scotland quickly added, “The unionist parties made vows late in the campaign to devolve more powers to Scotland. Scotland will expect these to be honoured in rapid form.” (Guardian)

Tommy Sheridan of ‘Solidarity’, tweeted, ” Bosses, Bankers, Billionaires & Millionaires unite with Labour MPs, Tories, UKIP & UK Establishment 2 celebrate Project Fear.”

Colin Fox Spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party found time to state (Sky), “The big story tonight is the astonishing levels of turnout in a political contest in Scotland, which is on a par with North Korea, China, Cuba and those places.I think it’s remarkable and I certainly want to pay tribute to the Yes campaigners who over the last two years have energised this country. Clearly both sides of the campaign deserve credit for those levels of turnout.

Commenting on the relatively lower turnout in Glasgow in comparison with other areas, Mr Fox said: “Glasgow’s turnout in the Scottish Parliament elections is usually 40% and it is now 75%, so that’s not to be sniffed at.Let’s hope we can keep it at that level, I think it’s astonishing. Nearly doubling the turnout in Glasgow is a significant achievement for Scotland’s biggest city, with the greatest deprivation and the biggest social problems.”

This mobilisation apparently was the most impressive aspect of the campaign to Red Pepper. Ken Ferguson wrote this breathless article in the Red-Green journal – before the referendum yesterday.

Whatever the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum on 18 September one thing is certain: the campaign waged by Yes has electrified large swathes of public opinion and reinvigorated democratic debate. The formal Yes campaign, launched two years ago, has been the public face of the pro-independence case. But this has been eclipsed by a burgeoning mass movement of unprecedented scale and breadth.

Ferguson saw many things in this movement, though not, apparently the loyalty to their ‘ain’ State by many of the Yes supporters.

The character and content of the campaign, with its stress on social justice, poverty and opposition to Trident (Scottish CND back Yes), is clearly of the left but it has now far outgrown the organisations of the left. The task, then, is to find an approach that keeps this movement mobilised and able to deal with whatever the referendum produces.

He then observed,

A No result poses even more difficult challenges. First, many of the layers of people – particularly youth – energised by the campaign would face a bitter defeat. It would be vital that the left acts to assess the result and how to deal with it to prevent disillusionment and demobilisation.

For the first time in many years the left has been part of, indeed helped to create, a mass movement that goes beyond the single issue of Yes and starts to open up a vision of a different Scotland and, more widely, a different world. Whatever the result, a democratic debate on how we find both a grassroots and electoral expression of that movement needs to take place immediately.

At its heart will be the need for the left, in dialogue with and not dictating to the mass movement, to win purchase for the kind of green, left democratic politics that energises the broad Yes movement. The consequences of not doing so were shown at the Euro elections, when early discussions of a red/green candidate backed by the Greens and the SSP fell by the wayside. Such an alliance might well have prevented UKIP winning Scotland’s fourth Euro seat and, while a bitter lesson, it also points to the prospects that exist if the left can grasp the opportunities to hand.

Democracy has been the driver of the Yes campaign’s aims and on 18 September it needs to be the watchword for the left whatever the result.

Energising, bitter lessons, democracy, and not a word about the hysterical patriotism of the Yes campaign’s supporters.

This stand is shared by the Radical Independence Campaign whose left-wing politics have been watered down (perhaps wisely in view of the above observation – they worked very closely with the SNP in the final days of the referendum, even organising joint canvassing) to this harmless statement,

We believe Scotland should be a people’s democracy, a society of equality, a great welfare state, a good neighbour, and pioneer a just economy.

More realistic are European observers who note the nationalism of the main party campaigning for the Yes vote, the SNP – whose name might be a clue in this respect.

In the French and Belgian media they call them “sovereigntists” – those who want Scottish sovereign power above everything else.

This, it is true, would be used to create a slightly different world, one in which another small state offers advantages to corporations in order to compete in the European Union, and makes sure its own party snaffles as much power and privilege as it can get.

The snaffling is proceeding with Salmond’s demands for “more power”.

Nobody can deny that the mild social democratic policies (on, for example, Student fees and prescription charges) of the Holyrood government have advantages over those pursued in the rest of the UK.

Some would argue that this is proof that they should be extended to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and not restricted to Alba.

This contrasts with the ambitious thinking of leftists prepared to settle, if not for socialist politics, at least for the radical ambition of a ‘break up’ of Britain.

Tom Nairn, a New Leftist  who enjoys close relations with the SNP, is known for this phrase. (1)

He called the British state, Ukania (on the model of the novelist Thomas Musil’s name for  the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Kakania), one of many unfunny jokes of which Nairn alone has the secret.

The end of this Prison of the Peoples would set the ….People free.

For reasons which are all too obvious a certain type of leftist dullard saw in this a call to “smash the (capitalist) state”.

On this basis the nationalist programme of standing up for one People, the Scots, became the cause of the Peoples.

The workers had a country, and that country was Scotland.

It would apparently be moving in a “republican” direction -despite not a  squeak on this change from the SNP.

Indeed Salmond seemed to think he would be anointed in power by the Queen, no doubt in full ceremonial dress.

Arguments which are harder to follow were used to assert that a separatist movement in the United Kingdom was in reality….internationalism. 

Another state would bring nations and the working classes of the world closer together.

And another state, and another……

This is the logic of the ‘negation of the negation’. It resembles Trotsky’s claim in Terrorism and Communism (1920), that “The road to socialism lies through a period of the highest possible intensification of the principle of the state … Just as a lamp, before going out, shoots up in a brilliant flame, so the state, before disappearing, assumes the form of the dictatorship of the proletariat…”

Stalin put paid to the application of that argument in the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, with Salmond still panting for ermine and the Royal blessing for independence, and many on the Scottish left continuing to believe in their ain state for their ain folk,  their ideas have not been fully refuted by their present defeat.

The ‘patriots’ of the SNP and the left seem determined to continue.

As indeed do UKIP – our next target.

(1) See (some parts dated) The Break-Up of Tom Nairn? Tom Nairn, Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, Verso, 2002. Hardback, 300pp, £15.99. Reviewed by Andrew Coates.

The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly. Review.

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How Should We Look at Work? 

The Work Agenda: What happened to the leisure society? Rory O’Kelly.

Chartist Free E-Book.

O Laziness, have pity on our long misery! O Laziness, mother of the arts and noble virtues, be thou the balm of human anguish!

Paul Lafrague. The Right to Be Lazy. 1880.

One of the sections of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century deals with the justification of colossal salaries and wealth. The media, he observes, is full of stories about business ‘stars’. They are used to indicate how graft and talent are rewarded. There is a “just inequality, based on merit, education, and the social utility of elites.” (1) Everything is slanted to suggest that that the majority of high-earners and the well-off deserve their rewards. Criticisms of pay and bonuses come when these are gained without apparent hard work.

Piketty enjoys pointing out that is impossible it is to demonstrate any connection between effort and reward in the modern economy. The part of social wealth going to Capital, and the well-off, increases regardless of individual cleverness or toil. Much depends on “luck”, the ability of top mangers to fix their own pay, and the influence of the wealthy to press for low taxes. Entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, turn into rentiers, with more cash as they get older, they live off an initial innovation that was rarely one person’s discovery in the first place. In sum, to those that have, shall be given.

Many accept this case. But there are deeper problems. It is not just that certain kinds of elite work are valued, leaving others – the majority – aside. Why is ‘work’ itself such a self-evident virtue that it makes those not-in-work look as if they are afflicted by vice? O’Kelly begins the excellent and thought-provoking The Work Agenda, by stating, “Work is seen as good in itself and maximising the number of people working and the amount of work done as self-evidently right.”

This assumption looks strange in the light of 1960s (and much later) predictions about automation and the ‘leisure society’. Paul Lafargue looked forward to a time when, thanks to the abundance created by technology, slogging your guts out was not the goal of existence. The 1970s and 1980s saw criticisms of ‘productivism’ and the cult of labour in socialist ideology. André Gorz’s Adieux aux proletariat (1981) took up these ideas. He suggested that in a “post-industrial” society people should control what is produced. They could share work according to need, and wants, with a universal guaranteed income, and more and more free-time. More modestly the French left in the late 1990s thought that the 35 Hour week would be a step in this direction.

Today, however, O’Kelly says, the obsession with the absolute value of ‘work’ blocks people from considering a “rational way of sharing the output of a society across all the members of society.” Many people may well spend time on benefits, over the course of a lifetime. Others, of a whole range of reasons, may be on them for much longer. Structural long-term unemployment is a feature of all Western societies, as is the need to help those who are incapacitated

Instead of recognizing this, and adapting social spending to it, governments, from Tony Blair onwards, have tried to push everybody into work – regardless of their medical condition, the needs of the labour market, and the rights or wishes of those to be pushed in this direction.

Putting the Disabled to Work.

The Work Agenda does not dwell on the ideology of work. Instead it is devoted to how the doctrine is used to undermine the basis of social benefits. This is most obvious from changes to the benefits for the disabled. The idea that ‘work is the best form of welfare’ is applied to the sick (which covers a multitude of diverse categories of people). There is an economic rationale, “Getting people into work is pursued primarily as a way of reducing transfers between working and non-working people; in simple terms: the cost of benefits.”

Fitting square pegs into round holes barely begins to cover the injustices that have resulted from these policies. Known to the general public through the scandals surrounding ATOS, and the ‘assessments’ of those claiming disability benefits, these are part of a much wider picture. O’Kelly’s background in the social security system helps him come to grips with the detail. He clearly knows the operations of what is now the DWP inside out, and uses them to great advantage.

The Work Agenda lays out the history and rationale of the present structure, “The driver behind the Welfare Reform Act 2007 and the creation of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was the belief that by changing the definition of incapacity sick or disabled people could be made capable of work.” As he notes, “Until recently the medical situation was taken as an objective starting point to which the benefit system then had to respond. The great change in 2007 was to take the needs of the benefit system as the starting point (my emphasis) and to change clinical definitions to conform to those needs.” This was, as we know, a Labour government, or ‘New Labour’,  that made this turn.

O’Kelly argues (on the basis of close acquaintance with the civil service decision-making) that there never was a time when large numbers of people were classified as medically unfit in order to reduce the unemployment figures. There were always rigorous tests. What has changed is that governments have decided to change their nature.

Now it might seem reasonable – and it’s repeated often enough – to assert that there are large numbers of people who “choose” not to work. But in the case of invalidity benefits there is a simple way of determining this: medical advice. Present legislation is designed to alter the character of this criterion. Instead even ill people can be judged “capable” of working – according to a fairly loose test of what being able to carry out basic tasks is, including those even those objectively unwell can do. This O’Kelly says, means. “Effectively moving sick people into employment without improving their health”. This process is “likely simply to transfer the costs of sickness from the benefit system to statutory sick pay and private sick pay schemes.”

The problem then is not that ATOS is a particularly venal organisation – though opinions might differ on this after the company’s dissembling and bleating about being harassed. It is the changed nature of the tests for incapacity that drives the injustices that they have caused.

A persistent case is that mental troubles are rarely easily definable according to a check-list of questions and a short interview with an assessor. There are plenty of other not always ‘visible’ illnesses. As the pamphlet indicates, “It is a striking fact that the classes of people whom the government is most anxious to take off benefits for incapacity overlap very largely with those whom no rational employer (in either the public or the private sector) would want to take on.” As somebody who has sat, during various employment courses, with people with very serious mental-health issues, and others with deep health problems, we might equally ask why they are obliged to take these “preparation for work” training schemes.

Back to First Principles.

Returning to question the principles he began with, O’Kelly makes the observation that “Work (i.e. paid work) is essentially economic activity; the creation of goods and services. It is not a form of welfare, it is not a form of therapy and it is not a punishment. It can of course be used in any of these ways, rather as a stiletto heel can be used to hammer a nail into a wall. It does not do the job very well, however, and it is not very good for the shoe either.”

The work agenda is used, in effect, to “Micro-manage the lives of the poor”. Not only the disabled on what is now the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), but anybody on benefits,

are now subjected to close surveillance over their lives. This erodes personal autonomy, and increases dependency. The DWP, and private companies gaining rent from public contracts, are entrusted with the power to grossly interfere in people’s lives. They claim rights over claimants. They have fewer and fewer responsibilities to them.

For those “success stories” who get off benefits, O’Kelly notes, “The present system does also however offer scope for giving notional employment (or self-employment) to people who are able to do very little and who will continue to get the great bulk of their income through the benefit system whether nominally ‘employed’ or not. Some of these people will get psychological benefits from ‘working’; for others the effect will be the reverse.”

It might be suggested, as O’Kelly does, that the Ministers in charge of these policies have little experience of the world of ordinary work themselves. More insidious is the influence of the welfare-to-work industry. They influence policy to an undue degree, essentially with their claims to propel people into the – self evidently good – world of work. That claimants dislike them and that they are unable to meet the demands of their contracts (notoriously over the Work Programme) and capable of dissembling about their operations, is ignored.

In the meantime few people question the absolute value of this “work”, or why so many people spend their lives in low-paid, insecure, unrewarding employment. Or why those with Capital get so much more, including a slice of the revenue of those obliged to claim benefits – forced onto the welfare-to-work schemes run with the profits of wealthy private contractors foremost in mind. The culmination of this process will come when claimants will, as the Help to Work programme intends, have to work for their benefits. (2)

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(1) Page 419 Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press. 2014.

(2) Picketty suggests that some free marketers propose the following “Instead of holding public debt via their financial investments, the wealthiest European households would becomes the direct owners of schools, hospitals, police stations, and so on. Everyone else would then have to pay rent to use these assets and continue to produce the associated public services.”(Page 541 – 2 Op cit). This is in effect happening in the United Kingdom, beginning with PFI. The welfare-to-work industry in effect is given a chunk of the welfare state and everybody’s taxes are used to pay rent to the owners of their enterprises.

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