Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Back to real politics

I want to start by talking about real life.

Because all of us, all of us engaged in politics. find real life sometimes embarrassing.

It is in the nature of my job that, since if I am in court at 10am there is no point in going into the office first, I drive to work each morning listening to a radio phone in.

Nicky Campbell on Five Live or Call Kaye on Radio Scotland.

And the callers are sometimes shocking in the absolutism of their opinions.

On Call Kaye we've had six months of “Secret Oil Fields” on one side against, on occasion, “The Queen should have Salmond arrested for Treason” on the other .

But that argument, the people having spoken, is at least over for the minute. Or, as it is slowly sinking in, the generation.

And so we are left with real politics. The haves (and their permanent allies the rich) against the have nots and their supposed permanent concern, the poor.

Only it is not nearly as simple as that.

For, when faced with the argument that there is no distinction between the deserving and the undeserving poor , nobody stops to ask the former group if they agree with that distinction.

And the Tories get that much better than my own, increasingly detached from real life, political leadership.

Nobody who listened to Five Live this morning would be in any doubt of that.

I understand the logic of Tax Credits. That, whatever your circumstance, the State should guarantee your subsistence.

Except that if you asked virtually any working recipient of tax credits how they felt about that deal they would respond that it is not the deal they would want.  That going to work each day should, in itself, provide them with sufficient income to support  themselves. That certainly, if they had children,  they would welcome a non means tested boost in the form of universal Child Benefit but that they certainly do not want to have to fill in a form every year to establish how “poor” they were in order to qualify for additional support.

So, I say this. As a Labour man all my days, an increase in the minimum wage and of the basic Income tax allowance is surely the way forward for us rather than lumping all of the “poor” in together. There is a legitimate prejudice in favour of the deserving.

And nobody understands that better than the cleverer Tories. I will come back to that.

For I want to move on to a slightly different point. Immigration.

I understand the motivation of immigration.

I’m not in favour of “benefit tourism” but, let’s be honest, that’s a pretty small issue. The vast, vast majority of immigrants to this Country come here to work.

For there is work here.

So much work that kids from the Maghreb hang on to the underside of trucks to cross from Calais to Dover. That others from China allow themselves to be locked in containers for 72 Hours or more with nothing but some bottled water and a communal bucket for a toilet. That others still from the sub continent spend their families’  life savings to get on a flight to Heathrow to make a dubious claim for asylum in the knowledge that if it succeeds there will be no looking back.

But even all of these are small beer compared to those from Poland and the Baltic Republics and, yes, from Romania who will, temporarily at least, desert their families to pick fruit or pack potatoes or care for us in our dotage.

And yet we are asked to believe that there are those, born here,  who, recession or boom, have been unable to find any form of work for ten years or more no further away than in the town of their birth.

And, more to the point, asked to accept that the very, very basic subsistence that the State allows them (and I accept the very, very bit of that) should nonetheless go up each year in line with inflation while the wages of the deserving poor do not.

So when Osborne announced Yesterday that this was going to stop he was appealing not to the “Haves”, let alone to the “Rich”.  He has the votes of the latter and in securing the votes of the former he is unlikely to succeed on the basis of pure economics.

No, this was an appeal to the deserving poor or, put more bluntly, to the working poor.

The Tory bit of this was in the still continuing attack on Tax Credits and Housing Benefit for those in work. That was stupid politics. For despite hating having to depend on them the working poor appreciate that they nonetheless do.

But if Osborne had said that means tested benefit for those physically fit but “unable”, long term, to find work would not just fail to keep place with inflation but would actually decline to nil..................

I want to end with an anecdote.

Some years back I had a client who opened a late night carry out restaurant in Bellshill.

He advertised for staff in the local Job Centre.

An assistant chef and a kitchen porter.

No qualifications required but minimum wage and unsociable hours. Some training in one job, nothing but hard work in the other.  My client would concede that himself.

Nobody applied.

Until  two lads turned up at his door one day wondering if he had any vacancies. So he gave them the jobs.

Three months  later he was raided by the immigration service.  It transpired  one of his employees was a student who had over stayed his visa. The other had a false identity and, in truth, no papers at all. My client was fined £10,000 for employing “illegals”. His two employees were deported.

But during this whole episode, in an area with more than 10% nominal unemployment, nobody else at all had applied for either of the jobs.

We need to move on from the “Coal not Dole” narrative. It had its time and its merit.  I was there. But it was thirty years past.


If, long term, you can work but you won’t work then you should starve.

I’d die in the last ditch for the qualifications on that: childcare responsibilities; illness or disability; temporary circumstance.

But that said, I repeat.  If, long term, you can work but you won’t work you should starve.

And I say that confident that, faced with that choice, nobody would starve.

Real politics. Osborne gets that. Here’s hoping so do the Eds.

1 comment: