Tag: mike sivier

What the Jackie Walker debacle is really all about

By Daniel Margrain

In an excellent piece published by the Electronic Intifada (April 28, 2016), journalist Asa Winstanley shows how media outlets such as the Telegraph, Huffington Post and the Jewish Chronicle have been complicit in the systematic attempt to disorientate Labour Party members and supporters by either printing misleading misinformation or reproducing unsubstantiated accusations and smears against individuals all of which have contributed to a false media narrative regarding alleged antisemitism within the party.

Also in the piece, Winstanley outlines the links between right-wing, anti-Corbyn Labour and the pro- Israel lobby and meticulously shows how this lobby manufactured an ‘antisemitism crisis’, pinpointing the individuals involved, the tactics and dirty tricks used and the connections to individuals whose ties lead to pro-Israel groups both in London and Israel. Among the individuals Winstanley highlights are David Klemperer who opposed Corbyn’s run for the labour leadership (but has since been kicked out of the party), and former Israel lobby intern, Alex Chalmers.

Jewish Labour Movement

Arguably the most significant and influential figure behind the false claims of antisemitism that Winstanley cited in his piece, is former chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), Jeremy Newmark. It was while in charge of the JLC that Newmark gave evidence at a 2013 Employment Tribunal case alleging antisemitic behaviour by the University and College Union brought by one of its members. The case was dismissed by the judge in its entirety.

Newmark is currently chairperson of the Labour party-affiliated, Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). The JLM is also affiliated to the Israeli Labor Party and the World Zionist Organization. According to the UN, the latter pumps millions into building in the occupied West Bank through its settlement division. Clearly Newmark’s mission in rooting out ‘left antisemitism’ cannot be disentangled from his wider role as sympathizer and propagandist for the Zionist-Israel cause. Winstanley contends that no mainstream journalists “have disclosed Newmark’s long-standing role in the Israel lobby, or his record of lying about antisemitism.”

Pernicious

One particularly pernicious and unfounded antisemitism accusation during the last few weeks has involved long-standing, and until recently, reinstated Labour party member, Jackie Walker, who as the result of comments made at a private antisemitism training session on September 26, was removed from her role as Vice-Chair of Momentum prompting the Labour Party hierarchy to renew her suspension from the party.

Walker stands accused of four things: a) trivializing Holocaust Memorial Day, b) claiming that the threats of attacks on Jewish schools had been exaggerated, c) claiming she saw no need for definitions of antisemitism and d) commenting on the Jewish role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Although Walker was factually incorrect about the first point by claiming HMD only commemorated the Jewish Holocaust, it’s nevertheless true that the commemoration is one in which the Jewish narrative dominates. “My aim”, Walker said, “was to argue that there are no hierarchies of genocide; there is no way to quantify or qualitatively describe the indescribable, the indescribably inhumane acts that are part of our histories”.

In relation to the second point, it would appear that antisemitic attacks on Jewish schools have indeed been exaggerated (see below). In terms of point three, Walker didn’t claim she saw no need for definitions of antisemitism, as was claimed. What she actually said was “I still haven’t heard a definition of antisemitism that I can work with”. The context of Walker’s intervention is important: A few minutes before a (Jewish) attendee at the session asked the training session tutor, Mike Katz, of the Jewish Labour Movement, “We don’t know what you’re working from. Do you think you can give us what your definition of AS is?”

Katz replied, “The standard definition of antisemitism is actually the European Union Monitoring Centre.” It was at this point, that several other members objected to the use of the EUMC definition claiming it had no status and was deeply flawed. Walker was objecting to a deeply flawed 500 word ‘new antisemitism’ or even ‘antisemitic anti-zionism’ definition authored by attorney Kenneth Stern, that is so wide in scope as to encompass political criticisms of Israel.

The reason why it is so difficult for some people to disentangle antisemitism from legitimate criticisms of Zionism as a political ideology, is because the EUMC definition often cited by those who use it as a political weapon in order to blunt all criticism of illegal Israeli land grabs, is far too long and convoluted. Brian Klug, an Oxford academic who specializes in the study of antisemitism manages it in 21 words: “Antisemitism is a form of hostility to Jews as Jews, where Jews are perceived as something other than what they are”. Klug’s far more reasonable definition is almost certainly something Walker, and many other anti-Zionists, would be willing to work with.

The fourth reason why Zionists targeted Jackie Walker was because she had the temerity to admit that some of her Jewish ancestors were involved in the sugar and slave trade in the Caribbean and West Indies. Her position was misrepresented in the Zionist Jewish Chronicle who ran with the sensationalist headlineLabour suspends Momentum supporter who claimed Jews caused ‘an African holocaust’. On the basis of this egregious lie, the campaign against Jackie Walker, a dedicated and long standing anti-racist activist, began. Walker says:

My claim, as opposed to those made for me by the Jewish Chronicle, has never been that Jews played a disproportionate role in the Atlantic Slave Trade, merely that, as historians such as Arnold Wiznitzer noted, at a certain economic point, in specific regions where my ancestors lived, Jews played a dominant role as financiers of the sugar industry, as brokers and exporters of sugar, and as suppliers of Negro slaves on credit, accepting payment of capital and interest in sugar.”

Zionist Labour Movement? 

It’s clear that the treatment meted out to Walker by the the JLM, is indicative of a movement that does not represents Jews, rather, it represents Zionists. The JLM, in other words, is a misnomer and would more accurately described as a Zionist Labour Movement. Jackie Walker, although Jewish, is not a Zionist and is therefore not welcome in the organisation. However, non-Jewish Zionists are. The organisation’s own website states:

“The Jewish Labour Movement is also affiliated to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Zionist Federation of the UK, and organise within the World Zionist Organisation… Our objects: To maintain and promote Labour or Socialist Zionism as the movement for self-determination of the Jewish people within the state of Israel.”

The furor surrounding Jackie Walker, as Mike Sivier states, “is not about anti-Semitism; but removing a person who does not support Zionism from a position of influence.”

Antisemitic incidences

The attacks on Walker (as well as many others in which similar accusations of antisemitism have been invoked), appear to be emblematic of a much bigger problem that goes to the heart of UK-Israel relations. On the surface, the implication appears to be that antisemitism is more prevalent within the Labour Party compared with other political parties in Britain. However, the notion that incidences of antisemitism are more widespread in a party which historically has been at the forefront of anti-racist and anti-fascist campaigns, does not stand up to scrutiny.

How about the claim that antisemitism is more prevalent compared to other forms of racism in British society? Again, the answer is a negative. A 2015 survey by Pew for example, found that seven percent of the UK public held “unfavourable” views of Jews. By contrast, about a fifth held negative views of Muslims and almost two-fifths viewed Roma people unfavourably.

In the aftermath of the massacres in Gaza in 2014, the London Metropolitan police recorded 358 anti-Semitic offences. Two hundred and seventy three of these were online, 36 involved criminal damage and 38 constituted “harassment”. Eleven cases of assault were recorded in which four resulted in personal injury. One hundred and eighty thousand offences in these categories were recorded within the wider population throughout Metropolitan London. In other words, attacks against Jews in 2014 against a backdrop in which Gaza was being pulverized, made up only one in 500 of the total, while they made up around one in 86 of the population of London as a whole.

Community Security Trust (CST) figures for the first six months of this year show a rise of 15 per cent above those from the previous year. But this is from an extremely low base. The actual number of such incidents recorded for the first half of 2016 was 557. And that figure is still below that for 2014 when the Israeli assault on Gaza occurred. So claims that there has been a ‘surge’ in antisemitic incidences in recent years are false and misleading.

Moral panic

In response to a moral panic about ‘left antisemitism’ seemingly expanding without limit, a loosely-knit group of Jewish Labour Party supporters called Free Speech on Israel coalesced for an inaugural gathering in April. The fifteen-member group, which included Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics, Jonathan Rosenhead, found that over their lifetimes they could muster only a handful of antisemitic experiences between them. And, crucially, although in aggregate they had hundreds of years of Labour Party membership, not a single one of them had ever experienced an incident of antisemitism in the party.

These experiences would appear to tally with the findings of the Channel 4 Dispatches programme. Despite filming undercover for six months at political meetings in an attempt to discredit Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, the programme-makers could not find a single incidence of antisemitism among party activists. Nevertheless on the BBC Radio 4s Moral Maze programme, former representative of the Zionist Federation, Jonathan Sacerdoti – whose current job title is Director of Communications for the Campaign Against Antisemitism –  claimed that  Jews are being driven “in fear of their lives from Britain to Israel.”

Hyperbole

With this kind of highly exaggerated hyperbole, Sacerdoti appears to be confusing Britain’s multicultural, secular and pluralistic liberal democracy with the inherently racist, Zionist entity headed by a Prime Minister who sees himself as the leader of the whole of the Jewish world.  Clearly, it hadn’t occurred to either Sacerdoti or Netanyahu that Jews born in Britain are British, just like their Black or Asian counterparts. They are not Israeli. Therefore, Zionists can make no legitimate claim to lead or control the Jewish diaspora. To suggest otherwise is to replicate the false racist and sectarian-based meme that Zionists and Jews are synonymous, and therefore to attack Israel is “antisemitic.”

Netanyahu outwardly expressed this Jewish-Zionist conflated racism when he attempted to shift the blame for the Holocaust from Hitler on to the Grand Mufti. From the Zionist perspective, this makes sense given that Muslims are the joint enemy of both the European far-right and their Zionist allies.

The politics of ‘antisemitism’

The notion that British cities are rife with antisemitism, in which boycotts of Israel are regarded as emblematic, is a rationalization that serves a political purpose. Currently, the non-Jewish population of Israel stands at about a quarter of the total and the proportion is growing. The Zionists need to halt the demographic shift and the way to do that is to invent, provoke or exaggerate, in the UK and elsewhere, instances of the “new antisemitism.”

Zionism is threatened from within, so Israel needs a new influx of Jews in order for the Jewish state to survive in its current form. Indeed, antisemitism is the flesh and blood that Zionism and all related industries and institutions connected to it feed off in order for them to be able to continue justifying both their and Israel’s existence. The implied racism inherent in the notion that there is a correlation between Zionism and Judaism, is offensive to the silent majority of Jews who want nothing to do with the supremacist, racist state.

The UK government is losing the moral high ground by seeking to quash anti-Israel boycotts and prevent legitimate political activism more generally. Ultimately, it has to be a legitimate course of action in a democracy for a group of people to be able to pass a resolution condemning a country because they are opposed to its political values. The cynical attempts of right-wing Zionist elements within the hierarchy of the Labour Party to drive a wedge between traditionalists and Blairites, using the specter of antisemitism as their ideological weapon, is an obvious smokescreen as a basis in which to discredit all legitimate support for the Palestinians by influential or prominent figures both inside and outside the Labour Party. The deliberate misrepresentation of the views of Craig Murray by Zionists at the forefront of the anti-Corbyn campaign, is an example of this.

Israel lobby & the CHAC report

The appointment of the ultra-Zionist Mark Regev to the role of Israeli ambassador to the UK, arguably set in motion the failed Corbyn coup attempt in which the openly hostile anti-Corbyn figure John Mann, initially operated as the Zionists principal henchman. It was therefore unsurprising that Mann and the JLM, among others, praised the Commons Home Affairs Committee (CHAC) report ostensibly into antisemitism published a few days ago which all reasonable observers perceive as nothing other than a biased political weapon with which to attack Corbyn’s leadership.

In a Facebook post, Jeremy Corbyn commented on the report:

“Although the Committee heard evidence that 75 per cent of antisemitic incidents come from far right sources, and the report states there is no reliable evidence to suggest antisemitism is greater in Labour than other parties, much of the report focuses on the Labour Party.”

“The Committee heard evidence from too narrow a pool of opinion, and its then-chair rejected both Chakrabarti’s and the Jewish Labour Movement’s requests to appear and give evidence before it. Not a single woman was called to give oral evidence in public, and the report violates natural justice by criticising individuals without giving them a right to be heard.”

“The report unfairly criticises Shami Chakrabarti for not being sufficiently independent. This fails to acknowledge public statements that the offer to appoint Chakrabarti to the House of Lords came after completion of her report, and was based on her extensive legal and campaigning experience.

“Commissioning Chakrabarti was an unprecedented step for a political party, demonstrating Labour’s commitment to fight against antisemitism.”

The pro-Israel lobby, who have a significant financial stake in the Labour Party and whose influence spreads throughout the British political establishment more generally, clearly see Pro-Palestinian Corbyn as an anathema to their wider interests viz a viz Israel. Certainly the Hasbara propaganda web site, UK Media Watch, regard the witch-hunt against Corbyn, as well as the attempts by his detractors to disorientate the membership, as ‘a job well done’.

Conclusion

Politically, the purpose of the misuse of antisemitism by Zionists is to quash all legitimate criticisms of Israel, its oppression of the Palestinian people and, by extension, Muslim/Arab nationalist aspirations more generally. The attacks on Jackie Walker and others are political and represent a determined effort by the Israel lobby to make Britain’s Labour Party safe for Israel and Zionism. Ultimately, the contrived ‘antisemitism crisis’ within the party is outflanked by the far greater problems it has with modern day Zionist aspirations which are never addressed.

Israel’s ‘friends’ within the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), for example, continue to remain silent about the illegal ongoing dispossession of Palestinians from their land and the historical Zionist programme of ethnic cleansing of which Plan Dalet, the Koenig PlanOperation Cast Lead and Operation Protective Edge are historical manifestations. Ultimately, the real target of the Zionists is not Jackie Walker, but the prospect of a Corbyn-led UK Labour Government, which the Zionists view as a very real threat to their Eretz (Greater) Yisrael project of a territory stretching from the River Nile to the River Euphrates.

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Yvette Cooper: Imaginary wheelchair woman

By Daniel Margrain

Yvette Cooper (5257912357).jpg

Those who were paying attention during Yvetcte Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership would have been aware of the undisclosed £75,000 businessman Dan Jarvis contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.

The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to that scandal at the time. Over a year later on September 24, following what columnist Fraser Nelson described tellingly as “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him, the Corbyn critic and New Labour MP for Normanton, Ponefract, Castleford and Nottingley tweeted the following:

Congratulations re-elected today. Now the work starts to hold everyone together, build support across country & take Tories on

Clearly, a day is a long time for liars to avoid tripping over their own pronouncements. Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a deeper wedge between the PLP and the membership.

Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy was to infer that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a misogynist for his use of emotionally charged language in defending the “appalling” treatment of disabled people by the last government.

The context in which McDonnell made his remark is set against a backdrop in which former secretary of state for work and pensions, Esther McVey, planned to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of a Tory who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing.

What was also revealing was the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to their reporting of McDonnell’s comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this suggestion.

Selective outrage is what many of us have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May last year, independent journalist, Mike Sivier reported on Yvette “imaginary wheelchairs” Cooper’s criticism of those “using stigmatising language about benefit claimants”.

But as an article from April 13, 2010 below illustrates, while in office as Labour’s secretary of state for work and pensions, Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan Smith.

Indeed, the policy plans outlined by Cooper were subsequently adopted by the Coalition government under the tutelage of Esther McVey. In policy terms, it would thus appear Cooper has more in common with McVey than she does with McDonnell. This, and her disdain towards both Corbyn and McDonnell and the mass membership they represent, explains her outburst. She was not motivated by sisterly love.

This is the relevant part of the 2010 article implicating Cooper’s policy outlook with that of the Tories she supposedly despises:

“Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.

The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps.  Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.

Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points.  And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.

There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group.  But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.

If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised.  But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election…..”

Cooper’s deeds and words are yet another illustration as to the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy as represented by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on the one hand, and the ruling Tory establishment on the other, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose.

 

Victorian Holocausts & the Tory killing machine

By Daniel Margrain

Author Milan Kundera’s aphorism that “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” might well have been written for Britain’s poor, mentally ill and disabled who lately have slipped from the media headlines and hence the consciousness of the wider public. To their credit, shortly before the last General Election, the Mirror newspaper reminded their readers how many ordinary mentally-ill and disabled people who had nothing to do with causing the financial crisis had committed suicide which the Tory government had attempted to cover-up.

Although initially the opposition from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to releasing figures highlighting the number of Incapacity Benefit and ESA claimants who had died between November 2011 and May 2014 was solid, increasing political pressure from below meant that they were eventually forced into releasing the information by the Information Commissioner (IC). The DWP Secretary at that time, Iain Duncan Smith, who admitted that his department has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants, disingenuously insisted that there was no evidence of a ‘causal link’ between the governments work capability assessment (WCA) and the subsequent 590 recorded deaths from suicide, despite the fact that the coroners findings stated that all of the deaths “certainly aren’t linked to any other cause”.

It’s clear that the DWP under Iain Duncan Smith practiced ‘chequebook euthanasia’  in which “WCA assessors used psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill towards suicide in order to reduce the ‘burden’ on society caused by these “useless eaters”.  A year down the line, and with Duncan Smith gone, many people hoped that there would be a change in policy direction. But this has been to no avail. After announcing that the government had “no further plans” for benefit cuts in March of this year, Duncan Smith’s replacement, Stephen Crabb has recently said to have gone back on his word.

Crabb has implied that six years of “welfare reforms” (euphemism for £12 billion of cuts) look set to continue for the sick and disabled which will almost certainly result in yet more unnecessary deaths among some of the most vulnerable people in the country. Mike Sivier has correctly, in my view, described this Tory policy as a “war of attrition” that “may clearly be seen as a genocide”. This form of ‘chequebook euthanasia’ would not be possible without the intervention of Chancellor, Gideon Osborne, who oversees the writing of the cheques.

The attempts by the Tories to humiliate and inflict immense suffering on the weakest in society, in what film-maker Ken Loach described as the British governments “conscious cruelty” towards them, would not have come as any surprise to Osborne’s Victorian counterparts. These Victorian politicians would have shared with the Tory Chancellor an ideological commitment towards ending ‘welfare dependency’ which then, as now, lofty sounding morals were regularly evoked.

One of Osborne’s prominent 19th century counterparts was ‘India’s Nero’, Lord Lytton. Queen Victoria’s ‘favourite opium-smoking poet’, vehemently opposed efforts to interfere with ‘market forces’. In 1877-78 he rubber-stamped the export of a record amount of wheat grain to Europe rather than relieve starvation in India. During the late 19th century, India, under Lytton, had effectively become a Utilitarian laboratory where millions of lives were wagered against dogmatic faith in omnipotent markets overcoming the “inconvenience of dearth”.

A similar Utilitarian laboratory had been established by Britain in Ireland during this late Victorian period. Under the tutelage of free market zealot, Chancellor Lord Charles Trevelyan, the Irish famine ‘relief effort’ was put into place that resulted in a politically-induced genocide no different in principle to the ‘chequebook euthanasia’ policy of the modern day Tories. The tragedy of the famine is commemorated by people from all over the world who, next Saturday (May 21), will descend on the beautiful County Mayo coastline in the west of Ireland to take part in the annual ten mile Famine Walk from Doo Lough to Louisburgh – the town where on the night of March 30, 1849, hundreds of starving people arrived seeking relief and workhouse shelter.

They were met at the shelter by the local Poor Law guardians whose role was to ‘inspect’them as certification for their ‘official pauper’ status. This would then supposedly entitle them to a ration of food to be eaten the following morning at a fishing establishment called Delphi Lodge owned by the Marquess of Sligo, ten miles away. Many didn’t arrive at their destination having died from exposure to the harsh elements or through starvation. The few that did make it were refused the relief they were told they were entitled to and they died on their homeward journey, with the bodies remaining where they fell.

Such tragedies were common in Ireland in the mid-19th century. By 1871 the population of Ireland had halved, with at least 1.5 million dead. Two million fled to America, many of them dying during the voyage or on arrival. The historian and critic, Terry Eagleton, describes the famine as “the greatest social disaster of 19th century Europe, an event with something of the characteristics of a low-level nuclear attack.”  In echoing the kind of detached but scornful class-based attitude the contemporary ruling elite have towards their working class minions Trevelyan, in a rather casually racist manner, said of the Irish:

“The great evil with which we have to contend, is not the physical evil of the famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.”

Lord Clarendon, an establishment Anthony Wedgewood (Tony) Benn, of his day, pleaded with the Liberal PM, Lord Russell to intervene, stating:

“Surely this is a state of things to justify you asking the House of Commons for an advance. For I don’t think there is another legislature in Europe that would disregard such suffering as now exists in the west of Ireland, or coldly persist in such a policy of extermination.”

Clarendon’s call for Russell to intervene wasn’t heeded and neither were similar calls to prevent famines in other nations during the Victorian colonial era – China, India, Egypt, Korea, Brazil, Russia, Ethiopia and Sudan. In the latter two countries alone, an estimated one-third of the populations died. The European empires, together with Japan and the United States, rapaciously exploited the opportunity to wrest new colonies, expropriate communal lands, and tap novel sources of plantation and mine labour. As Mike Davis points out:

“What seemed from a metropolitan perspective the nineteenth century’s final blaze of imperial glory was, from an Asian or African viewpoint, only the hideous light of a giant funeral pyre. The total human toll…could not of been less than 30 million victims. Fifty million dead might not be unrealistic.”

The famines of the Victorian era continue to resonate today. Then, as now, they are a symptom of social and economic policies that result in unnecessary deaths. Even in the 19th century this was well understood. The radical journalist and humanitarian, William Digby, principal chronicler of the 1876 Madras famine, as well as famed naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, for example, both viewed mass starvation as an avoidable political tragedy not ‘natural’ disaster. Published in 1898, Wallace characterized the famines in India and China, together with the slum poverty of the industrial cities, as “the most terrible failures of the century.”

Millions died, not outside the capitalist system but in the very process of being forcibly incorporated into its economic and political structures. Indeed, they were murdered by the theological application of the sacred principles of Smith, Locke, Hobbes, Bentham, Malthus and Mill in much the same way as hundreds, or perhaps even thousands, of today’s poor, mentally ill and disabled have, under the Tories, died as a result of the neoclassical economic Chicago School’s application of the sacred principles of Friedman and Stigler. The consensus view among the ruling class of the Victorian era was that famine was deemed to be morally justifiable as a “salutary cure for over-population.”

Today, over 3 million of the world’s children die (needlessly) from hunger. Indebted countries are forced to export food as a ‘free-market’ commodity while the producers are denied their own produce and many of them go hungry, and their children starve. That is what happened in Ireland and India. In Trevelyan and Lytton’s day it was known as Liberalism. Today it is known as ‘neoliberalism’. “England made the famine”, wrote the Irish socialist, James Connolly, “by a rigid application of the economic principles that lie at the base of capitalist society.” In essence, nothing has changed. The ruling class attitude towards the poor and sick who suffer as a result of the political consequences and actions of those who rule over them, is as embedded today as it was a century and a half ago.

‘I Was Only Following Orders.’

By Daniel Margrain

I was only following orders of my superiors” was a not an adequate defense for Nazi war criminals”. The legal precedent set by the Nuremberg Principle IV states:

“The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”

Back in December The Poor Side of Life made the following observation:

I was stopped by a homeless chap who wanted to congratulate us on our hard work. He said that he hated this Job Centre. His friend who lived on the streets with him had been sanctioned after being taken off the sickness benefits that he was on and was put on Job seekers Allowance. He had severe mental health and addiction problems. He was sanctioned, and without warm clothes and very little food he fell asleep on the streets and never woke up. He died of hypothermia. People had passed him and thought that he was asleep. He didn’t stand a chance. And what do the Job Centre staff say? “We are only following orders.” 

On August 27 the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that the number who died while claiming incapacity benefits between January 2011 and February 2014 was a shocking 91,740. This represents an increase to an average of 99 deaths per day or 692 per week, between the start of December 2011 and the end of February 2014 – compared with 32 deaths per day/222 per week between January and November 2011. DWP figures also show that some 2,380 people have died after being found fit for work and losing benefits.

Canadian Disability Studies specialist and disability activist Samuel Miller, has been communicating frequently and voluntarily, since January 2012, to senior United Nations officials, on the welfare crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled. The campaigning seems to have worked as the U.N seems likely to set up an inquiry into the sheer brutality and callousness of Iain Duncan Smith and his department.

Duncan Smiths attacks on the most vulnerable in society are being undertaken on the basis of the Tory support for austerity which is one of the greatest ever confidence tricks perpetuated on the British public. The reality is austerity under the behest of civil servants’ following orders, kills the poorest whilst the pockets of the wealthiest get fatter.

Do We Need the U.N To Protect Us From Our Own Government?

Protesters
Protesters demonstrate against benefit cuts in London in 2014. Photograph: Guy Corbishley/Demotix/Corbis

The shocking news that in two years up to February last year some 2,380 disabled claimants died within two weeks of being assessed as fit for work as part of the governments Work Capability Assessment Programme (WCAP), is finally beginning to make the mainstream. I am a regular listener to LBC Radio and the issue is now a regular feature of many phone in shows. How long it will take before it makes peak time BBC television news bulletins is another matter, but at least the topic is making some inroads which has to be encouraging.

Such is the sheer brutality and callousness of Iain Duncan Smith, that the U.N now proposes to act in circumstances where the government resists. At the very least, the potential setting up of a U.N inquiry into Tory welfare reforms on the back of the deaths in the manner of, for example, Goldstone, could theoretically, in the longer term, result in the man responsible for causing untold misery and suffering being brought to justice.

But even if the U.N ultimately proves to be toothless as it was in terms of the misnamed Israel-Gaza conflict, the negative publicity they will generate for the government will be invaluable. Secondly, and even more importantly, the WCAP must be stopped in its tracks irrespective of the U.Ns findings. But short of electing an effective opposition into power worthy of the name, how can this be achieved in the short term?

Currently, as Michael Meacher acknowledged, parliament has no power to instigate an immediate emergency debate, Neither has it the power to force an inquiry into the workings of WCAP. So leaving aside the proposed U.N intervention, the options appear to be extremely limited. Questions have been raised in the House regarding the deaths but these were sidestepped. In any case, it’s telling that the questions were only asked in the first place because of a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.

The figures only came to light (conveniently) during the recent bank holiday, clearly in the expectation that they would be forgotten about. But it took nearly four months for them to be released and only then after pressure was applied as a result of a ruling by the Information Commissioner. The DWP had appealed against the Information Commissioner’s ruling and only gave up when campaigning blogger Mike Sivier submitted an application for the appeal to be struck out as an abuse of process. As Mike says, the DWP’s response to his FoI request shows three things very clearly

Firstly, that the DWP is very bad at responding to FoI requests – in terms of both timing and content. The response is deliberately written to make it as opaque as possible, and does not include all the information I requested, and this reflects poorly on both the department and its ministers. Therefore I shall be writing to the First-tier Tribunal (information rights), asking that a hearing scheduled for November 10 should still take place because the DWP has not answered my request.

Secondly, that despite the poor quality of the report, it is clear that the work capability assessment is not fit for purpose and the misallocation of people with long term illnesses – either into the work-related activity group or into the jobs market, classified ‘fit for work’ – has certainly led to needless deaths. Iain Duncan Smith said as much last week but it should not save him. Evidence that this was the case has been available since December 2011, when the number of deaths of people on ESA tripled – yes, tripled – in comparison with the average for the previous 11 months. The DWP and its ministers have been hiding this information from us for nearly four years. In the eyes of the law, that is criminal negligence – corporate manslaughter.

Thirdly, that the principles on which Employment and Support Allowance was designed are causing deaths. When Mrs Mike’s Contributory ESA ran out (she used to be in the work-related activity group), her benefit was cut off with no notification or advice about what to do next. How many others have received the same treatment? Many, it seems, according to the DWP’s statistics which show that the number of ‘unknown’ cases (into which these people are thrown as their NI credits are still paid) has dropped while the proportion of deaths in that group has increased hugely, year on year.

The fact that the issues relating to the WCAP are only now beginning to enter the wider public consciousness and, moreover, almost certainly reveal the tip of a much larger ice berg will, in years to come, be regarded as one of the greatest domestic political scandals of recent times.

The fact that the deaths have been brought into the open should be sufficient justification for the scrapping of the WCAP with immediate effect with a view to bringing a prosecution forward for all those responsible for hiding the facts from us for so long. I wonder if Blair and Duncan Smith like the same prison food?

Duncan Smith, Duplicity And The Deficit

Regular bloggers who have followed the career of the government minister for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, will be familiar with his propensity for sophistry, obfuscation and obtrusiveness. If by chance you are not familiar with the man, you might be forgiven, having seen the recent interview he gave with Dermot Murnaghan regarding the ‘fake letters’ row, that his portrayal by critical bloggers and others has been unfair.

I was astonished just how much of an easy ride he was given by the Sky News anchor. Thankfully, a small minority within the mainstream media are actually prepared to undertake the job that they are paid to do by bringing power to account, as opposed to acquiescing to it. One journalist worthy of the name is LBC Radio’s James O’Brien.

Up until a few days ago, I wasn’t aware of the 2013 interview Duncan Smith gave with O’Brien following the court of appeal Poundland scandal. In the interview Duncan Smith is exposed for the compulsive liar he is.

What follows is an edited transcript of the interview which is illuminating, not least because it would tend to support the assertion by blogger Mike Sivier that Duncan Smith is incompetent in his role as work and pensions secretary. After reading the 2013 interview transcript below you might actually be inclined to question his sanity:

JOB: ” Current figures suggest that 2.5 million people in the UK are claiming Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) while job vacancies stand at around half a million.Today eight available jobs at Costa Coffee in Nottingham attracted 1,700 applications. There appears to be something of a disconnect between these two states’ of affairs.”

IDS: “The figures show that 83% of those seeking full time work are in full time work. 17% of those who are looking for full time work can’t find it and are taking part time work.”

JOB: “No Mr Duncan Smith. There could be 2.5 million people looking for full time work. You are confining yourself to people who have found it.”

IDS: “No, I’m talking about those looking for work. The reality is, those who seek full time work are finding full time work.”

JOB: “But 2.5 million people haven’t found work.”

IDS: “But those are the people who are seeking work. That’s what I’m saying.”

JOB: “The people who are finding jobs are finding full time work, but there are still millions of people who are not finding jobs….The woman who was stacking shelves [at Poundland] wanted to be paid for it.”

IDS: “But she was paid for it. The tax payer was paying her for Gods sake.”

JOB: “Let me read you the official Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) response to an official petition to abolish workfare. ‘We do not have work for your benefit or workfare schemes in this country’. This is a further response to a freedom of information (FOI) request from your department. ‘Benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration for the activity’. So explain to me how she [the Poundland shelf stacker] can ‘earn’ her Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) in a country where benefit is not paid as remuneration’?”

IDS: “Because the work experience programme is one you volunteer to do. We do not have a workfare programme…We changed the rules so that young people can do work experience for up to two months and still receive their JSA benefit.”

JOB: “But the court of appeal has ruled that they are forced into these programmes.”

IDS: “What the court of appeal found is that it’s not against their human rights to do it.”

JOB: “I haven’t mentioned human rights.”

IDS: “This is a voluntary scheme. Most people want it, enjoy it, and get something out of it.”

JOB: “I need to clarify this point. You used the word ‘earn’ to describe the payment of JSA to somebody working for a highly profitable company like Poundland. That’s your phrase. But then we learned from your department that benefit is not paid to the claimant as remuneration. Those two positions are completely irreconcilable”.

IDS: “No they are not. Listen, they volunteered to do this. We’ve allowed them to continue to receive JSA at the same time they are doing their work experience.”

JOB: “What she was saying is she wasn’t paid.”

IDS: “But she was. The taxpayer paid her JSA. We have allowed people to do work experience and not lose their JSA.”

JOB: “So it’s remuneration for working?”

IDS: “In the past she would have lost her JSA.”

JOB: “So the benefit is payment for the work.?”

IDS: “I don’t understand what you are concerned about.”

JOB: “She is getting paid for doing the work at Poundland with her JSA. It is a pay packet.”

IDS: “It is work experience. She has volunteered to go on the work experience programme.”

JOB: “Because she had been lied to about what it would involve, as the court of appeal found last week.”

IDS: “They did not find that she was lied to.”

JOB: “They said they needed to clarify what the regulations were.”

IDS: “The regulations were around the withdrawal of benefit if she failed to comply with what she agreed to do.”

JOB: “Which only works if the benefit is a reward for doing the work experience.”

IDS: “You clearly haven’t read what the judgement said.”

JOB: “I’ve read every word of it.”

IDS: “With respect, you need to understand it.”

JOB: “With respect to you, I do. Insulting me, doesn’t advance the argument in any way.”

IDS: “This debate is going nowhere….Are you saying these kids shouldn’t be doing work experience.”?

JOB: “I’m saying, if they are working, they should be paid for it. It’s quite straightforward. You are, why shouldn’t they”?

IDS: “They are on JSA. The taxpayer is paying them.”

JOB: “So What’s the minimum wage legislation for”?

IDS: “This is work experience for up to two months….”

JOB: “The bottom line is, you are using benefits to pay an incredibly cheap workforce to subsidize incredibly profitable companies at the tax payers expense, and passing it off as some kind of assault on a feckless generation.”

IDS: “I don’t agree with that.”

JOB: “Of course you don’t. 17,000 people in Nottingham applied for eight jobs.”

IDS: “Look, there are more people in work today than at anytime since records began.”

JOB: “What a strange observation. There are many more people alive today. What would you say to the 1,692 people who failed.”

IDS: “The reality is that in that area there are 15,000 vacancies and the claimant count their is still falling.”

JOB: “Is that really what you would say to them”?

IDS: “I would say that you have to keep looking for jobs. We are moving in the right direction and that’s a positive.”

JOB: “Sorry, you’ve lost me. To the 1,692 people who have failed to get a job in a coffee shop, you say it’s a positive”?

IDS: “I didn’t say that.”

JOB: “Yes you did.”

IDS: “The positive figures today are a good indication that the private sector is creating jobs, there are more people in work, more vacancies and the claimant count is falling. These are positives…There are half a million vacancies on a daily basis in the UK.”

JOB: “For two and a half million job seekers. The astonishing thing is you think that a benefit is a payment for work done.”

IDS: “I think that the work experience programme is a great success and I’m very proud of it.”

JOB: “Apart from the little wobble in the court of appeal last week.”

IDS: “We’ve changed the regulations going forward.”

JOB: “So the thing you are proud of has now been changed”?

IDS: “No, the programmes are the same.”

JOB: “But the regulations have changed”?

IDS: “The court of appeal has said that the regulations need tightening up and we’ve tightened them up.”

JOB: “Iain Duncan Smith, many thanks for your time.”

Perhaps Duncan Smith believes that subsidizing multinational companies to take on cheap labour will help reduce the deficit the Tories are constantly pontificating needs reducing.

Equality And Social Justice – Cameron Style

The mainstream media today confirmed the Tories commitment to equality and social justice with their announcement of their plans to ensure that UK citizens aged 18-22 are (in line with anti-EU discrimination law), to be exempt from the same rights to tax credits, child benefit and housing benefit as their immigrant counterparts.

Government lawyers have stated: “Imposing additional requirements on EU workers that do not apply to a member state’s own workers constitutes direct discrimination which is prohibited under current EU law” (1).

So, apparently, in order to be compliant with EU law, UK citizens within the 18-22 age group must forgo these benefits on the basis that it’s discriminatory because immigrants are not entitled to them.

But instead of raising the bar by insisting that both UK citizens and immigrants within this age range be entitled to benefits on an equal basis, the Tories have decided to lower it by insisting that neither group are entitled to anything. In other words, equality in the gutter as opposed to equality at the dinner table.

The reason so many immigrants – many of whom risk their lives –  want to come here is because of the perception that the UK is a relative economic powerhouse. However, any cuts to benefits will not deter people who are primarily motivated by the need to improve the lives of themselves and their families as a result of perceived greater work opportunities this country allegedly offers.

The government have done nothing to dispel myths that the UK is a land of milk and honey. This would suggest that their plan to cut welfare across the board in order to adhere to EU law was planned. As blogger Mike Sivier put it: “The migrant situation is a crisis of the Tories’ own making and they are using it to hammer their own fellow citizens” (2).

So what next do the government have in the pipeline you might reasonably ask?

The Tories are ideologically opposed to the welfare state. This latest move is, I would suggest, part and parcel of their intention to get rid of it altogether by stealth. It’s a remarkable state of affairs when our only hope out of this morass appears to be Jeremy Corbyn.